With about half the country on either side of the equator, Kenya’s climate isn’t a straightforward split of dry and wet seasons. In fact, its dry season has a short wet season, and its wet season is interrupted by a dry one – clear as mud, right?
What this means practically is there’s not exactly a single best time to visit Kenya. There is somewhere ideal to visit at any time of year, but for the Great Migration, bird migration or quality diving, you’ll need to pick specific months.
For climbers, the dry season is prime time for safety and visibility. Temperatures are generally consistent across Kenya, with the coast hotter – but humidity can vary. It can get cold in the mountains, and Kenya’s highest peak, Mt Kenya, is always covered in snow.
This East African nation counts more than 42 Indigenous communities in its population of nearly 54 million people, and many festivals and events explore this diversity – from the Lamu Cultural Festival celebrating the archipelago’s Swahili heritage and the exuberant Mombasa Carnival to the diverse gathering that is the Lake Turkana Festival.
July to October and January to February are the best times to see the Great Migration
If the wildebeest migration is on your must-see list, head to the Masai Mara from July onward to observe one of nature’s greatest sights – thousands of wildebeest, zebras and giraffes making the move across the Serengeti.
These high-season months are an enjoyable time to visit any of Kenya’s parks because the grass is thin, there’s little rainfall and sightings are easier as animals congregate around waterholes; they’re also climber-friendly because of good visibility and lack of rain. July is also a good time to spot huge flocks of pink flamingos at Lake Nakuru.
Much like July, August is one of the best all-around months to visit Kenya, but it’s a busy time. The Great Migration is well and truly underway, and wildebeest are filling the plains of the Masai Mara. If you’re not in the Mara, August is an excellent time to visit other national parks and conservancies around Kenya.
You can also visit Nairobi without the humid stickiness that makes urban exploring harder work. The capital’s food scene is popping, and Nairobi Restaurant Week is a chance to get your fill. For a hyper-local experience in Samburu County in northern Kenya, the one-day Maralal Camel Derby is a colorful display of camels, costumes and culture.
September offers the best of July and August in terms of weather and wildlife but with slightly fewer crowds, especially in the latter part of the month. You can still catch the migration as hot, dry weather sets in, and there’s almost no chance of rain. It’s also when the East African Community Arts Festival JAMAFEST takes place. It’s every two years and rotates between East African nations.
Nairobi hosts the Tusker Safari Sevens in October, an annual Rugby Sevens tournament open to international teams, creating a buzz in the city. October 20 is Mashujaa Day, also known as Heroes Day, honoring those involved in Kenya’s independence movement. It’s a public holiday, and Nairobi and coastal areas are buzzing as Kenyans head to the beaches and parks.
Hot and dry, the high season beckons as the new year begins. January is a popular and busy time for everything: safari, hiking, city exploring, diving, snorkeling and beach stays. Dry season is particularly good (and safe) for climbing Mt Kenya and other peaks and for hiking in places such as Hell’s Gate National Park.
You can usually benefit from low season prices at Masai Mara because the big migration is over, and migratory birds fly into the Mara instead. Celebrate the dawn of a new year on a Mombasa beach; the city hosts major celebrations.
February sees both the high and dry seasons in Kenya. The lack of rain makes it a popular choice for safari, with minimal muddy terrain and plenty of wildlife to see. It’s also a top time for climbing and hiking, although as it’s peak season, crowds and prices can both increase.
November, December and March are the best times for lush landscapes and underwater adventures
November is a fun month for festival lovers, with both Mombasa Carnival and Lamu Cultural Festival celebrating the rich heritage of Kenya’s ethnic groups and communities.
Floats, music and dance epitomize Mombasa’s street party while on the archipelago of Lamu off the northern coast, Lamu Cultural Festival includes traditional dancing called ngoma and centuries-old skills such as dhow (sailboat) building, donkey racing, fish-trap making and dhow regattas.
For Kenya’s South Asian population, Diwali/New Year celebrations take place (sometimes in October), so the temples are buzzing, decorations are up and there’s an above-average production of Indian mithai (sweets). Weather is mixed with sun and rain, but November remains a good bet for safari.
If you like your landscapes lush and abundant, December in Kenya is magical. The rains tend to stop around the middle of the month, and Kenya’s parks take on a gorgeous green hue ahead of the upcoming second “high season” of January and February. Water visibility is optimal during the shoulder season too, so this is a great time for divers and snorkelers.
December 12 marks Jamhuri Day. Jamhuri means republic in Swahili, and this day is when Kenya marks its 1963 independence from Britain and its constitution as a republic a year later, with cultural events, dances and music.
The two-day Rusinga Cultural Festival on Lake Victoria celebrates the threatened culture of the Abasuba people, while the Beneath the Baobabs Festival in Kilifi is one of the country’s best music festivals, with East African and international performers, giant art and cool costumes.
It’s getting hotter and more humid as the rainy season beckons, but March remains a particularly enjoyable time to be in Kenya. Prices can be in the traveler’s favor, and often the rains arrive later in the month, so you should be fine in the earlier half.
Diving and snorkeling are rewarding in March, with clear water and good visibility, and beach parties are especially welcome on these balmy evenings as the hot, dry season begins to give way to the rains. Muslim Kenyans observe the holy month of Ramadan, while for walkers, climbers and outdoors types, the Mount Kenya Festival is a celebration of the country’s highest peak.
April to June is the best time for smaller crowds and lower prices
The “long rains” hit in April and May, and sometimes in March too. While the rainy season can be off-putting for some travelers, this time of year can be incredibly rewarding, and the Mara remains accessible in March. Crowds thin out, and you can enjoy the quietness and solitude of nature.
Some safari lodges and camps close during this time because constant rain can hamper visibility in some parks, and the humidity can be uncomfortable. It’s still a great time to be by the coast, but heavy rains can reduce visibility for divers and snorkelers.
But don’t dismiss May for safari or wildlife viewings! Yes, the grasses are longer, and sightings are trickier, but the light and colors can be extraordinary for photography. Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya is a good choice as wildlife gathers on the riverbanks of the Ewaso Ngiro River.
June is a wonderful time to experience Kenya’s highlands, and with low humidity, walking and climbing become a little easier. This shoulder-season month is a lovely time for wildlife viewing, especially in northern Kenya after the long rains, and it’s also the start of the migration. The coast is mostly dry, and prices are a little lower before the high season kicks off in July.
Parades, singing and dancing take place on Madaraka Day on June 1 – the anniversary of Kenya’s move to self rule. The visually spectacular Lake Turkana Festival in the Rift Valley brings together different ethnic groups in the region, to both celebrate their diverse cultures and promote peace.
If you’re into off-road racing or want to watch, the Rhino Charge, a 4×4 race that raises funds to conserve mountain ecosystems, is quite a spectacle.