Most visitors to Kenya will require a visa, obtainable from the Kenyan High Commission closest to you. These can be obtained on line, by personal application from the High Commission, or at your port of arrival in Kenya. Personally, we live some 40 miles from London, so usually apply in person, travelling to London on the train and then spending some time in our capital city once we have conducted our business at the High Commission.
If applying in person, you will need to drop your application and documents at the High Commission, and then return the following working day to collect them once the visa issuing process has been completed. Full up-to-date requirements in relation to applying for visas, along with the application forms, can be found on the Kenyan High Comission website http://kenyahighcom.org.uk/visas-2/ or the relevant website in your country of residence.
The experience of applying in person is an interesting one. On arrival at the High Commission it is usual to find the office to be quite crowded with a mix of Kenyans applying for various documents from their government, and British citizens applying for visas. It is clear that Kenyans and their government officials enjoy the same relationship and frustrations as we do with our government officials, with the bureacracy seeming to make a relatively simple process an ordeal!
However, my own experience has always been a pleasant one – perhaps the official behind the glass sees the presence of a mzungu (literally Swahili for “white person”) as a pleasant relief from the queue of Kenyans frustrated with their government’s processes. On arrival at the counter I greet the offical in Swahili, “Jambo, habari gani?” (hello, how are you), which always results in a smile (something you will rarely get from a British official in similar circumstances). The rest of the formailities, are quick and efficient – you part with the requisite fee and receive both a receipt for the money and a raffle ticket. The latter is the receipt for your passport and its counterpart is affixed to your application. When you collect your duly processed passport the raffle ticket helps them to quickly and efficently find your passport and return it to you.
I know that some Kenyans reading this might find it difficult to recognise my description of their government officials as friendly and efficient, but this is my experience of them on every occasion I have gone through this process (and indeed when passing through Kenyan border controls at Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). They have even, on returning my passport to me, wished me a pleasant trip to Kenya.
Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the world, Kenya unfortunately suffers with the risk of a number of tropical diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria, as well as more “international” ills such as Hepatitus. As a result it is a requirement for most foreign visitors to ensure that they are innoculated against these ailments, or in the case of maleria, take a prescribed course of tablets to prevent falling victim. The last thing you would wish to do is fall victim to one of these ailments which could not only ruin your adventure, but also impact on your health afterwards.
Full details of the current recommended innoculations/medications can be found on your government’s website. As an example, here is a link to the advice on the United Kingdom government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kenya/health
For most people a trip to Kenya will be the “holiday of a lifetime” and will be the one and only time you will visit the country, as our first trip was supposed to be! You will want to capture your memories in the form of photographs, and the opportunity in Kenya for truly memorable photographs is a given.
There are few rules to remember, but to ensure that you don’t inadvertantly fall foul of local laws, generally photographing Government buildings of any kind; airports; the military and the police; is prohibited. You might also find that some shopping centres in Nairobi are also reluctant to allow you to take photographs, and it is inadviseable to take photographs of the security arrangements now prevalant at hotels in Nairobi. Sadly, Kenya has been victim of terrorism in recent years and with this comes suspicion if you are taking photographs in certain areas or of certain installations. If you are asked or told not to take photographs, apologise politely and move on.
If you want to photograph people, as with anywhere else in the world it is only polite to ask for the person’s permission. Generally, most will agree to a polite request, but be prepared that some will request or demand payment. Whether or not you wish to make payment is of course your choice, but please remember that most of the people who you might wish to photograph will not earn a great deal of money and your small financial contribution could be important to them.
Generally, once you are on safari, in the National Parks and Reserves, there are no restrictions. Subjects for your camera’s lens will be abundant and varied, although some will be elusive and most will move quite swiftly if spooked by anything.
It is not necessary to have professional or semi-professional camera gear to obtain reasonable images of your once in a lifetime safari in Kenya. Indeed, many people venture out with no more than the camera on their mobile phone! My wife uses a digital bridge camera and obtains some very good images, sometime better than I manage!
My “weapon” of choice for wildlife photography is my 500mm lens. With this I am able to capture some fantastic shots of wildlife, without infringing upon their “circle of fear”. The circle of fear is the distance at which an animal will take fright and run away. In most circumstances while on safari this will mostly apply to the prey animals, i.e. the animals that predators such as Lions or Leopards prey upon. Many of the species you will encounter on safari have become habituated to the presence of safari vehicles in their territory and, for the most part, will ignore your presence provided you follow some common-sense practices such as keeping noise to a minimum and remain inside your vehicle.
Conduct on a Game Drive
Your driver/guide is your local expert. He will know the area and its wildlife; he will know the best spots to go to in order to see specific types of animal; and he will have an understanding of what you want as a photographer. If you are extremely fortunate, as I have been, you might even find that your driver/guide is a photographer himself and once he has got into position for you to obtain your photographs, will pick up his own camera and get his shots!
It is important to follow your guide’s advice – if he advises you to sit down, it usually means he is about to move the vehicle in order to obtain a better view, or you are off to another location where he has heard there is soemthing worth seeing. Your driver/guide’s primary concern though, will be your safety. He will not knowingly put you into a position of danger – follow his advice and you will have a safe and successful safari with, hopefully, some fantastic memories.
Wild animals are totally unpredictable. With experience and observation of certain species over time, you might become atuned to their behaviour and learn to spot the tell-tale signs that predict what they mkight be about to do. However, most of the time, things will happen very quickly and you will need to be prerpared to react to the changing behaviour of your subject. If you want to learn about the behaviour of the animals you are likely to encounter, prior to your safari, then I would recommend that you try and get hold of a copy of The Safari Companion – A Guide to Watching African Mammels by Richard D. Estes and is published by Chelsea Green Publishing Company – ISBN 1-890132-44-6. I have had my copy since our first safari in 2008 and have found it an invaluable resource. (I have no connection with either the author or publishers of this book. I am purely a very satisfied owner and reader of this volume).
Prey animals realise that these “canned creatures”, i.e. human beings in a vehicle are not out to eat them; and the carnivores realise that without a large tin-opener you are not on their menu for lunch. This means that your driver is often able to get you quite close to the wildlife and obtain for you the views that you desire. While it might be tempting when animals come within touching distance, please do NOT try to stroke or pet them. At best you will spook them, spoiling the experience for you and everone else in your vehicle; at worst it could result in injury to you or your safari companions. I know you might think that this piece of advice is unnecessary, but unbelieveable as it may seem, I have seen tourists trying to stroke or pet wild animals while on safari!
Finally, while we are talking about conduct on your game drives. Please, please do NOT leave litter – take it back to your camp or game lodge with you and dispose of it responsibly. Sadly there are people who thoughtlessly, think nothing of discarding their empty food wrapper or drinks can or bottle, carelessly. Not only does it create litter which is totally alien to these unspoilt natural environments that you are privileged to be experiencing; but it also presents a danger to the wildlife. An inquisitive animal that chances upon your litter could very well end up with an injury, or more seriously suffer a slow and agonising death, all through a moments thoughtlessness.
Leave no sign that you have been other than your footprints (or tyre tracks).