Seasonal Planning for Kenya Travel
Kenya sits right on the equator, with roughly half of the country on either side of the line. That means there aren't four seasons here defined by temperature changes, as you might be used to back home, but instead wet and dry seasons.
Kenya experiences two dry seasons and two wet seasons. Or, perhaps more accurately, the dry season is punctuated with a mini wet season, and the wet season is punctuated with a mini dry season. Got it!? Complicating things further, proximity to the enormous Lake Victoria (in the west, on the border with Uganda and Tanzania) increases the chance of rain at any time of year. The popular Maasai Mara National Park is influenced by Lake Victoria's weather patterns.
The temperatures in Kenya are fairly consistent year-round and across the country. Most of the time and in most popular destinations, you can expect temperatures to be between about 70 and 88° F (22-31° C). However, elevations do inevitably affect temperatures and humidity levels. For example, Mt. Kenya—the highest mountain in Kenya, and the second-highest in Africa, at 17,057 feet (5,199 m.)—is always capped in snow. Also, coastal areas are generally hotter than the central plateaus.
Many travelers come to Kenya to go on safari, or to climb Mt. Kenya. Both are best done in the dry months. But, these are also Kenya's peak times for tourism, so prices are at their highest. If you wish to reduce costs and are mainly coming for a safari, traveling to Kenya outside of this peak season may be preferable for you. You may have to compromise slightly on the weather and wildlife viewing, but you will enjoy better-value lodging and activities. If you're coming to climb Mt. Kenya, however, you'll need to factor in safety considerations, so coming in the off-season will probably not be feasible.
|Season||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to visit|
|Wet||Fewer tourists, cheaper prices, lush landscape||High humidity, some places closed, some parks inaccessible||Bird watching, seeing baby animals||Maasai Mara and coast (in the short wet season)|
|Dry||Prime wildlife viewing, dry weather||Crowds and higher prices||Climbing Mt. Kenya, beach time, wildlife-watching||Wildlife reserves, Mt. Kenya, coast|
Rainy Seasons (November/December and March to May)
Kenya experiences a short wet burst in November and December, but the main wet season comes from March to May. While the shorter rains in November and December can still be a nice time to visit, travel to Kenya is best avoided during the longer wet season from March to May. The rains at that time can be relentless, obscuring visibility, making trails in the national parks difficult to navigate, and just making it uncomfortable to move about. Humidity is also very high. In addition, many safari camps close up shop at this time of year.
The short rainy period in November and December, however, is preferable because the rains are less intense. This is a good time to see birds, including fabulous flamingos and migratory species. The landscape gets an injection of green and baby animals are born. November is also a good time to hit the coastal beaches as a respite from the heat. Plus, this is Kenya's low season, so accommodation and tour prices are generally lower, but you can still see and experience a lot (although some safari camps close).
Travelers who want to witness the Great Migration (read more details below) can come at its tail end in November, when animals who have survived the movement from Tanzania fill the Maasai Mara.
Wet Season Events in Kenya
East Africa Arts Festival, Nairobi. If you're passing through the capital in March, check out this three-day annual arts festival held at the Kenya National Museum. A combination of traditional and contemporary art is on display.
Mombasa Carnival, November. This multi-cultural street party held in Kenya's second city reflects the Persian, Chinese, Arabian, Portuguese, Indian, and European influence on the local culture.
Jamhuri Day, December 12th. This Kenyan national holiday celebrates independence from Britain, and means 'independence' in Swahili. Expect fireworks displays and performances in the larger towns.
Dry Seasons (January/February and June to October)
A major reason to come to Kenya at this time is to witness the Great Migration. Starting in the Serengeti in Tanzania (south of Kenya), millions of wildebeest and zebra move north to the Maasai Mara, on Kenya's southwestern border. The first major hurdle the animals encounter is the crocodile-infested Mara River (August). Those who survive the crossing fill the Maasai Mara between September and November. Of course, where there are wildebeest and zebras, there are also predators like big cats! These are prime safari months.
However, the Great Migration is not the only time of year when you can enjoy going on safari. Other, drier times of year (late January and early February), as well as earlier in the main dry season (June and July) are also comfortable times to visit, with good wildlife-sighting opportunities. The dry season, in general, is preferable to go on safari because grasses and vegetation are more sparse, meaning the visibility of animals is better. Plus, the paucity of water causes animals to gather around existing water holes, meaning you can see a lot of wildlife in a smaller area, and won't need to drive around so much in search of animals.
Another major reason why travelers come to Kenya is to climb Mt. Kenya. This is also best and most safely done in the dry season. January, February, and July through September are the best times for climbing, as visibility is good and days are sunny. Expect cold temperatures at higher altitudes, whatever the weather at sea level.
January and February are also a good time to visit the beaches along the Indian Ocean, as sea temperatures are very warm at this time of year, and the water is clear.
Dry Season Events in Kenya
The Great Migration. The biggest natural event in Kenya's calendar shouldn't be missed for keen wildlife watchers. It starts in August, and the effects can be seen for a few months afterward, especially in the Maasai Mara.
Maralal International Camel Derby, August. For something a bit different, head to this northern Kenyan town to watch camel races.
Kenya Music Festival, Nairobi, August. This music festival started in the early 20th century and showcases Kenyan, African, and international music.