Safari is really just the Kiswahili word for a journey; but in English it has become synonymous with game viewing – and Kenya is where it all started. The colonial carve-up left the British with the drier northern part of East Africa, including the railway line from the coast to Lake Victoria and Uganda. From the hot coastal plain the scenery changes to the high plateau, through the Rift Valley and into the green western provinces on the shore of Lake Victoria. The whole of East Africa was, and still is, incredibly rich in wildlife.

Maasai Mara, Tsavo, Amboseli and the Aberdares are among Kenya’s well-known national parks. Even without the attractions of the safari, Kenya’s coast would be a world-class tourist destination, with golden palm-fringed beaches, coral reefs, the historic city of Mombasa and the idyllic island town of Lamu, Kenya’s answer to Zanzibar. Visitors arrive in Nairobi, the busy capital city with its glossy tower blocks, leafy residential areas, crowded back streets and muddy slums. Despite its reputation of being ‘Nairobbery’, it is a stimulating place. Following the political violence on 2013, peace – and tourism – has returned. Kenya produces good handicrafts, such as Maasai bead work and wood-carvings, which can be purchased from the producers themselves.







Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Displacement of Local Peoples:

Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.

Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.

One of the most alarming negative effects of tourism is the displacement of people from their homes and traditional occupations to make way for tourism developments. These are often multimillion dollar projects backed by powerful investors and local governments. Local people have little say in what happens. In northern Kenya, the Samburu district used to provide fertile grazing during the dry season for its pastoralists. Now, two national reserves have been created and the Samburu are forbidden to enter. Their watering hole, which provided them with the only pure water in the region, is now a turquoise blue swimming pool in the grounds of the Sarova Shaba Hotel. While tourists frolic, the Samburu have to rely on an inadequate water supply from the Uaso River for their cattle, which graze on land bare of grass. Jean Keefe, a writer on displacement in tourism claimed:

‘The plight of the Samburu is desperate… They were always self-sufficient in food; but without access to their dry-land grazing, their cattle are dying. The Samburu are now dependent on food aid to stay alive’

As one hunter-gatherer from Mau Forest, Kenya, commented:

‘When the whites first arrived in this area, they thought we were wild animals and chased us into the forest. Now that they have found out that we are people, they are chasing us out again.’

Furtermore Kenya, the Endorois were expelled from their lands to make way for a conservation area in 1973. They only received compensation 30 years later when they took their case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

Package holidays, All-inclusives & Economic Leakage:

The way in which the industry is organized means that, for the most part, consumers spend much of their holiday cash in buying the package – before they leave home. Much of that goes into the pockets of foreign owned companies in the host countries: not many nationals of poor countries get to own marble-floored hotels, shopping chains or flashy restaurants serving fusion food.

Statistics vary; but some people argue that what is known as economic ‘leakage’ – the extent to which local economies lose (or never receive) the revenue generated by tourism – is as high as four-fifths the cost of a holiday. Even if it’s not that high, leakage remains a serious problem for most host countries.

Studies have shown how this works. For example, you decide to go on holiday in Kenya, a country famous for its tourism (wildlife safaris, glorious Indian Ocean beaches). Kenya is glad to welcome you for tourism is its biggest foreign exchange earner. You book through your local high-street UK travel agent or through a large tour operator online: all well and good, and certainly very convenient for you, the customer.

Your holiday costs UK£1500. Of that, 40 per cent goes to the airline and 20 per cent to the tour operator. That leaves Kenya with 40 per cent. But that is not the end of the story because a quarter of that 40 per cent goes on imports (essential for keeping the tourists in the manner in which they are accustomed), while nearly one third is used to service Kenya’s debt. Your UK£1500 holiday leaves Kenya just UK£225 richer. None of this, however, reaches the Maasai, the pastoralist people who have lived for generations alongside the elephants and lion, wildebeests and antelopes: the animals you have come to see.

In fact, many Maasai no longer tend their cattle on the great grasslands. Displaced from their land to create wildlife parks, they live on the margins. The only way in which they can benefit from tourism is to give up their culture and go to work as waiters, dancers or souvenir-makers.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:

Workers Rights & Tourism:

One of the great defences of tourism is that it creates jobs. This is true. But what sort of jobs? Joshua, for example, works in a hotel on the Swahili coast in Kenya:

“I work 10- to 12-hour shifts and am paid 219 shillings (UK£1.50) a day; but not if you are sick or have a rest day. We are only meant to work eight hours a day; but if you don’t do overtime then there is no point coming back tomorrow. The managers tell the tour operators we are earning a good wage because the operators don’t want their clients to have to pay tips… Only the managers eat the food the tourists don’t finish. We are charged a full breakfast of 600 shillings. They treat us very badly. They make us show how much we have in our pockets to stop us keeping tips.”

Not all tourist workers, of course, suffer such bad pay and conditions. However, the tourist industry is notorious for being unorganized and exploitative. In much of the developing world, jobs in the tourist sector, many of which are casual, as they are in the UK and Europe, are characterized as being seasonal and part time, with a high turnover of staff.

Jobs in tourism are also vulnerable to external events, such as hurricanes or terrorism. Tourists do not take risks; they do not travel to what they perceive to be dangerous places; they can always go elsewhere.

When the tourists do not arrive, jobs are lost. This happened in the wake of the political violence in Kenya following its election in December 2008. The effect on the tourist industry was catastrophic. UK charter flights stopped flying there; the Foreign Office warned travellers to stay away. Even hotels on the coast – hundreds of miles away from the violence – were nearly empty. The headmaster of the Gede primary school near Malindi, a prime tourist coastal resort, told the Travel Trade Gazette (February, 2008) that three-quarters of his pupils’ parents had been laid off.

Beyond those who work within the hotel walls are unknown numbers of workers in the informal economy. These are taxi drivers, shoeshine boys, the vendors, tour guides, prostitutes – all desperate to pick up the odd ‘tourist dollar’ 

Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

Indigenous Tourism & Cultural Loss:

As we have extended the scope of our holidays into remote places, we now see ‘remote people’ as part of our holiday landscape. Our interest in other people’s cultures is not always sensitive. What are the implications, for example, of tourists viewing, filming & photographing tribal peoples who now demand payment in exchange for becoming models in their finery?

Performing for tourists has become an income earner for tribal groups all over the world. But the income comes with a price. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Indigenous people and tourism:

Hunting & Poaching:

Between 1970 and 1977, Kenya lost more than half of its elephants as a result of hunting and poaching. In order to protect its Elephant population Kenya introduced a hunting ban in 1977. Since this date wildlife tourism has developed rapidly to a point where it now accounts for over 12% of Kenya’s GDP. Though elephant hunting has been banned for a 34-year period in Kenya, poaching has not reduced. Given the poverty of many of the people, and the high value of elephant tusks, they are shipped overseas and sold on the black market. Although Kenya has many national parks and reserves protecting wildlife, elephant populations are still at risk, a problem which is made worse by corruption and some officials supplementing their income with permitting poaching.

Water Equity:

Tourists use more water than the ordinary consumer. Indeed, the water ‘footprint’ of the Western world, as in our carbon footprint, is very high. There are already serious water shortages worldwide and a prediction of ‘water wars’.

The United Nations has claimed that ‘The average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a third world villager would use to produce rice for 100 days.’ Tourists need unlimited supplies of water – they are used to it at home and desire copious amounts on holiday: for drinking, baths and showers, swimming pools, overflowing fountains and green manicured lawns.

But water, in developing countries, is often a precious commodity. More than 2 billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and 80 per cent of all deaths in the developing world are water related. Put a hotel near a local community and the pressure on the water supply is acute.

Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned on water equity and have published reports & articles on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles:

Useful Information

There are two dominant influences on the climate in Kenya: onshore monsoon winds, and altitude. Kenya experiences two rainy seasons – both of which are determined by the prevailing winds:

November to April: the hot northeast monsoon (kaskazi) blowing dry air in from the Persian Gulf. A session known as the ‘short rains’ occurs for a few weeks in November and December, followed roughly from December to March by a dry season of hot and dry weather.

April/May to October: the warm and moist (kusi) monsoon blowing in from the southeast. It’s the slightly cooler kusi that normally delivers the heaviest rain, a season known as the ‘long rains’, in late-April, May and early June. The relatively cool season, from late-June to October, gets much less rain.

Typical rainfall pattern mean that the rain usually falls as a torrential downpour, lasting perhaps half an hour to an hour, with the sun then coming out and drying the wet ground rapidly. Weather can be unpredictable in Kenya, scorching heat and torrential rain have lead to severe flash flooding in some parts of the country.

Variations in altitude are the major factor in temperature differences. Generally the hottest months fall between January and March; the coldest are June and July.

  • The Highlands generally have a cool, bracing climate with a mean annual maximum of 26C (790F) and a mean annual minimum of 10C (50F).
  • Nairobi, at an elevation of 1,670 meters (5,500 feet), has a mean annual temperature of 19C (67F).
  • The nation’s highest temperatures are found in the Northern Plain, where the mean maximum is 34C (93F) and temperatures often reach 43C (110F).

Kenya is located on the equator, terrain is highly diversified with climatic conditions ranging from moist to arid. More than 70% of the country, however, is arid or semi-arid. The country is commonly divided into seven geographical regions ranging from coastal, plains, highlands, valleys and basins such as Lake Victoria.

Kenya’s plant life is highly diverse, ranging from mangrove forests and coconut palms on the coast to Savannah grassland, woods and thick coniferous evergreen forests. On the northern and southern edges of the highlands, flat-topped trees are scattered through meter-high grass.

Several streams and rivers flow from the Kenyan Highlands, flowing both eastwards towards the Indian Ocean, westward to Lake Victoria (the second-largest freshwater lake in the world), and northward to Lake Rudolf. The two largest and navigational rivers in Kenya are the Tana and the Galana, which empty into the Indian Ocean.  

The most common greeting in Kenya is a handshake. However, when greeting a personal friend the handshake is more prolonged, than the one given to a casual acquaintance. When meeting someone of higher status, grasp the right wrist with the left hand while shaking hands to demonstrate respect. Note that Muslim men/women do not always shake hands with women/men.

After shaking hands it is the norm to ask questions about the health, their family, business and anything else you know about the person. Once a personal relationship has developed, you may be able to address a person by their title and first name, first name alone, or nickname. Wait for the Kenyan to determine that your friendship has reached this level of intimacy.

Women over the age of 21 are often addressed as “Mama” and men over the age of 35 are often addressed as “Mzee”. Children generally refer to adults as Aunt or Uncle, even if there is not a familial relationship. 

Kenyan food and flavors have been influenced by various visitors throughout its history. When the Portuguese arrived in 1496, they introduced foods from newly discovered Brazil. Maize, bananas, pineapple, chilies, peppers, sweet potatoes, and cassava were brought in and became local staples.

Cattle herding has a long history in Kenya. A clan from North Africa called the Hima introduced cattle herding, by the 1600s, groups like the Maasai and Turkana ate beef exclusively.

When the Europeans arrived, they brought with them white potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The British imported thousands of Indians for labor, which in turn introduced many an Indian flavors most notably curries, chapattis and chutneys which became a traditional Sunday lunch for many Kenyans.

Today, most Kenyan dishes are filling and inexpensive to make. Staple foods consist mainly of corn, maize, potatoes, and beans. Ugali (a porridge made of maize) and meat are typically eaten inland, while the coastal peoples eat a more varied diet.

The Maasai peoples are cattle herders and eat simple foods, relying on cow and goat by-products (meat and milk). The Maasai do not eat any wild game or fish, depending only on the livestock they raise for food. The Kikuyu and Gikuyu on the other hand grow corn, beans, potatoes, and greens. They mash all of these vegetables together to make irio . They roll irio into balls and dip them into meat or vegetable stews. In western Kenya, the people living near Lake Victoria commonly enjoy fish stews, vegetable dishes, and rice. 

The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English. Kenya is a multi-racial and diverse society, the majority of local people comprise of native ethnic groups. The Kenyan population is also made up of Asian, Arab, and European.

Kenya is a multilingual country. There is a total of 62 languages spoken in the country – these mainly consist of tribal African languages. The African languages come from three different language families – Bantu languages (spoken in the center and southeast), Nilotic languages (in the west), and Cushitic languages (in the northeast).

The most common greeting in Swahili is “Jambo?” – How are you? 

The vast majority of Kenyans are Christians, with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches the most established Christian denominations. Other well established African religions include the African Inland Church (AIC), Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), plus a bunch of others.

Islam is another major religion in Kenya. Followers include both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. The largest number of Muslims in Kenya are found in Mombasa and the neighboring coastal regions. Nairobi also has numerous mosques and a notable Muslim following. The few Kenyans who adhere to Hinduism and Sikhism are mostly Indians. They reside in most major towns and cities across Kenya.