10 days Kenya itinerary: the very best of a trip to wild and gay Kenya

Sun, sea and safari in magical Kenya may not be your first idea when planning the gaycation of a lifetime, but this African nation is a clear winner for queer travellers keen on escaping their comfort zone. After landing on urban treasures in Nairobi, take a Jeep ride across the savannah in the company of Kenya’s unrivalled wildlife, from predatory big cats to stampeding wildebeests and every bushbaby in between. From there, go coastal in the nation’s underrated beach towns and outlying islands for a taste of Swahili culture amidst ancient UNESCO-listed settlements. Join us on our ultimate 10-day Kenya itinerary today.

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Photo: Breston Kenya

LGBT situation in Kenya

First to reckon yourself with is the illegality of homosexuality in Kenya. Same-sex marriage is banned under the Kenyan Penal Code (a remnant from British colonial rule!), as is sodomy and any sexual acts between men, punishable by 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment though rarely prosecuted. As homosexuality is not recognised, so too are the rights of LGBT citizens, with little to no protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT Kenya is very much still a work in progress, and, sadly, negative attitudes towards homosexuals (or even suspected ones) remain widespread, meaning that local gays in Kenya are likely to stay in the closet for fear of persecution and harassment.

With the heavy stuff out of the way, there is a flicker of hope in the nation thanks to the 2015 ruling that finally granted NGO status to the National Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, something previously blocked multiple times. Seen as the first step towards legalisation and changing attitudes, the coalition has given LGBT citizens a voice for the first time. The main opposition to change in Kenya is religion, with churches and mosques loudly preaching anti-gay sentiment and campaigning against gay rights in Kenya. Despite this, a number of high profile figures are fighting back against this ideology, including successful author, Binyavanga Wainaina, who came out in 2014 and paved the way for many others like him.

As a visitor to Kenya it’s unlikely you’ll experience any trouble unless your public behaviour is deemed inappropriate – whatever your orientation. Your sexual preferences remain your private business but it pays to be discreet when travelling while gay! Though you’ll need to inform staff of sleeping arrangements upon booking at hotels and camps, the attitudes of those in hospitality tends towards tacit acceptance. While there is an underground scene in gay Nairobi to tap into, do not engage in public displays of affection and keep your wits about you when interacting with locals in person or online, as some con artists could attempt to blackmail you with the threat of exposure.

Nairobi | Photo: Levi Rotich

Photo: Kureng Dapel

Travel Tips

A trip to the doctor before travelling to Kenya is a must to make sure you are appropriately vaccinated and prepared. Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B, Polio and Tetanus vaccinations are strongly advised, with considerations for Rabies and Meningitis jabs also. In keeping with Kenyan immigration rules, people coming from (or transiting from) a high risk country will require a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, something you’ll also need if you intend on travelling onward to Uganda, Rwanda or Tanzania. Another risk to discuss with your doctor is that of malaria, a risk largely dependent on the region and type of trip you’ll be taking. Even if you don’t require malarial medication, it’s good practice to avoid being bitten by mosquitos, by wearing long sleeves, light colours and dousing yourself in a 50% DEET mosquito repellent at dawn and dusk.

In a remarkably progressive move, plastic bags were banned in Kenya back in 2017 and, as such, travellers face fines if found trying to bring plastic bags into the country. Rid yourself on all your plastic bags before travelling, even those from duty-free, double-checking both your checked and carry-on luggage before landing.

Though tap water in both Nairobi and Mombasa is deemed drinkable, it’s advisable to stick to bottled water throughout Kenya, especially outside of those cities, to avoid getting ill from foreign bacteria. When eating outside of your lodge or hotel you should also be cautious, particularly for meat dishes, as food hygiene and cooking practices may be different from what your belly is used to. Avoid food that looks unclean or not fresh, stay wary of washed foods such as salad and try not to munch on the ice in your drink!

Photo: Sutirta Budiman

Best time to visit Kenya

Attention to timing when planning your itinerary for Kenya is particularly important if you’re coming for safari. It’s the dry seasons, from January to March and also from July to October, when the Great Migration begins its takeover of the Mara plains when big game and herds of wildebeest move en masse in search of water. Dry season is an incredibly popular time for Kenya safari tours but outside of this time, the winter sun between January and March lures many to the coast for crystal clear diving opportunities, while June is an affordable alternative for safari after the rains when baby animals are finding their feet.

Amboseli | Photo: Neil and Zulma Scott

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The concrete jungle awaits us in the shape of cosmopolitan Nairobi, a city where the chaotic traffic is offset by vibrant culture and the best nightlife scene in all of East Africa

1. Nairobi (2 days)

Upon landing in Kenya, it’s the concrete jungle that awaits us in the shape of cosmopolitan Nairobi, a city where the chaotic traffic and lack of urban design is offset by vibrant culture and the best nightlife scene in all of East Africa. With Nairobi National Park just 30 minutes down the road, Nairobi is a great place to add some texture to wildlife-centric vacations, despite crime rates deterring some first-timers. Instead of being put off, stay in the outskirts of Nairobi to find a quieter version of the city in suburbs such as Karen and Langa’ta which lie in proximity to many top attractions, such as the Karen Blixen Museum, Giraffe Centre and the Elephant Orphanage.

While we wouldn’t recommend trying to drive in Nairobi, one easy way to get around is to use Uber, buying a local SIM card at the airport on arrival. With a local driver leading the way, many of the best things to do in Nairobi become way more accessible, including trips to fantastic restaurants, international cafés and Maasai markets within the centre. For cultural history, try the National Museum and the open-air museum, Bomas of Kenya, a site celebrating multiple ethnic groups inside a recreated traditional village. Once tiring of the city, consider camping in Nairobi National Park or the geothermally active Hell’s Gate National Park, a site with no predators but a range of famous walking and bicycle safaris, as well as seriously good rock climbing.

Nairobi | Photo: Jamiesx Co

Photo: Rodgers Otieno

2. The Masai Mara (3 days)

The vast stretches of the Masai Mara National Reserve are deserving of at least three days of exploration, being home to Africa’s most famous and abundant grass plains. These dusty plains come flecked with acacia trees and coloured by massive herds of migratory zebras and wildebeest which storm across the Masa River between July and September each year. Having to be seen to be believed, there’s a reason the Masai Mara is one of the top places to visit in Kenya, also primed for ‘Big Five’ safaris and hot-air balloon rides over the region, ending in champagne breakfasts back down in the bush.

Around 230 kilometres from Nairobi, it will take a whole day to get to the Masai Mara by car, with public transport only getting you as far as Narok, a town still 150 kilometres from the reserve. For the simplest journey, book early morning transport through your lodge in Nairobi or Narok, reaching the reserve in time for the evening game drive. Besides splashing out on the best luxury safari Kenya has to offer, take some time to learn of the history of the land and its ancient nomadic tribes with a visit to a local Maasai village, where you can play pool and hang out with locals. With time on your hands, add a horse-riding safari to the itinerary, followed by a visit to Sekenani township for an authentic meal and more local interactions.

The Masai Mara | Photo: Leonard Von Bibra

3. Diani Beach (2 days)

Getting to Kenya’s stunning white-sand coast means heading back to Nairobi and, from there, taking a short domestic flight to Mombasa. From Mombasa, hop on the Likoni Ferry for free to arrive at Diani Beach in just five minutes. (To avoid the crowds at port, consider booking a private transfer from Mombasa Airport to your hotel in Diani). Something completely different from our time on the plains, Diani is a paradise Kenya beach town, back by forest and edged by 17 kilometres of flawless beachfront. Honeymooners, adventurers and backpackers come here to make the most of diverse water sports, such as kitesurfing, scuba diving and snorkelling, or simply to stretch out in a hammock beach-side. Hiking in the forest with local guides is also a spiritual adventure to remember, followed by either a trip to the monkey sanctuary or an exploration of Diani’s best cultural attractions. Of these, don’t miss Fort Jesus, a UNESCO Heritage Site build back in 1593 by early Portuguese and Spanish colonialists, as well as the oldest mosque in East Africa, Kongo Mosque, built by Arab traders in the 14th century.

On your second day in Diani, consider taking a dhow boat trip out to surrounding islands, soaking up some island perspectives. While there are a number of tours on offer, try one that combines a historical walk around Wasini Island and the hard-hitting Shimoni Slave Caves, followed by snorkelling with turtles and dolphins in Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park.

Diani Beach | Photo: Herbert Aust

Mombasa | Photo: Harshil Gudka

4. Lamu Island (2 days)

Our final few days in Kenya takes us to the 14th-century Swahili settlement of Lamu Island, a natural paradise with authentic culture and architecture set among the labyrinthine streets of Lamu Town. Easily reachable on a 40-minute flight from Mombasa, Lamu Island is a northern delight set on its old school ways. Donkeys and carts replace cars as the main form of transport in UNESCO-listed Lamu Town, allowing for laid-back (though ever-so-bumpy) tours of the beachfront, ancient fort and town centre. As well as beautiful beaches, the island is known for its ornately carved doorways in Omani and Swahili styles, alongside thatched huts, stand-out mosques and various ruins on squares lined with bustling markets. Be awoken bright and early by the nearest mosques’ call to prayer, taking in the morning hubbub over an Arabic coffee. After a morning pulled by donkey around the town’s winding alleys, settle on the southern Shela Village for hippie vibes among yoga studios and fusion restaurants.

5. Last day in Kenya - Giraffe Manor, Nairobi 

Whatever you didn’t get around to the first time around, our last day in Kenya allows us one more chance as we return to the capital before heading homebound. Make it a special night’s sleep with a booking at the world-famous Giraffe Manor, that, although pricey, features grazing Rothschild giraffes on its 140-acre indigenous forest grounds, easily viewed from your bedroom window. If your funds are stretched at this point, however, the Giraffe Centre next door allows for more budget-friendly interactions with Nairobi’s endangered wildlife. Cheaper still is the experience with baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a special treat for just a $7USD entry fee.

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi | Photo: Jason Zhao

More time to spend in Kenya?

If you’re lucky enough to have more time in Kenya but want more than a beach escape, consider trekking the nation’s highest mountains – including Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro – or delving deeper into the world of wildlife-watching at any of its national parks. Among our favourite parks in Kenya; the Samburu National Reserve is a prime place for watching zebras, giraffes and lions along the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro River, while Watamu Marine National Park combines both birds and dugongs near the 12th century Gede Ruins. The nation’s best lakes may also lure you to their banks, with fantastic boat safaris on the Great Rift Valley’s Lake Naivasha or cultural tours of the traditional villages surrounding Lake Turkana and its mighty Teleki volcano.

Lastly, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is worthy of a mention as the old site of one of Kenya’s largest cattle ranches. Now a privately-owned wildlife reserve across 365 square kilometres, Ol Pejeta is a popular day stop for Big Five sightings, with the largest black rhino population in East Africa and profits going towards various local community projects.

Photo: David Clode

Photo: Alexander Wendt

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Consider trekking the nation’s highest mountains – including Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro – or delving deeper into the world of wildlife-watching at any of its national parks

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Amboseli National Park | Photo: Sergey Pesterev

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