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?
What this means 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 times. 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.
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Kenya counts more than 42 tribes or 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 to the exuberant Mombasa Carnival to the diverse gathering that is the Lake Turkana Festival.
Seeing wildebeest during the Great Migration is a key reason to visit Kenya in high season © Abdelrahman M Hassanein / Getty Images
July to October and January to February is the best time to see the Great Migration
If the wildebeest migration is on your 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 from 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.
November, December and March is the best time for lush landscapes and underwater adventures
The “short rains” of November and December are a chance to experience Kenya’s safari reserves at their lushest but still accessible.
Many newborn animals make their appearances, and it’s a gorgeous time to see flamingos and migratory birds before the country’s high season in January and February when the Mara, Amboseli National Park and Lake Nakuru are particularly popular. Water visibility is optimal during the shoulder season too, so this is a great time for divers and snorkelers.
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.
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 its big migration season comes in the summer (July-August), and migratory birds are flying into the Mara instead. Bring in the new year on a Mombasa beach; the city hosts major new year celebrations.
Key events: New Year’s Day
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 it being peak season, crowds and prices can both increase especially in popular areas. The capital’s food scene is popping, and Nairobi Restaurant Week is a chance to get your fill.
Key events: Nairobi Restaurant Week
March promises good visibility for snorkeling and diving in Mombasa on Kenya’s coast © mgokalp / Getty Images
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 is rewarding in March, with clear water and good visibility, and beach parties, a year-round event, 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.
Key events: Ramadan (dates depending), Easter (dates depending), Mount Kenya Festival
The “green” season is well underway in April as the rains fall on Kenya’s plateaus. It’s wetter and lusher, but the coast around Mombasa and Malindi can feel extremely hot and muggy with lots of mosquitoes. Wildlife viewing can be more challenging because of thick vegetation and fewer animals congregating at water sources, but the landscape looks spectacular, and accommodations are cheaper.
Rain can be torrential in April and May, but it usually comes in the afternoons, so mornings are often clear. Nairobi is cooler (bring layers for the evening), so it’s a wonderful time to enjoy the capital’s cultural and food scene.
Key events: Ramadan (dates depending), Easter (dates depending)
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.
Along the coast, visibility is not at its best for diving and snorkeling, but it’s a fun time of year to make the most of deals and enjoy some of Mombasa, Malindi and Diani beaches’ top restaurants and bars if you’re after a relaxing stay.
Key events: Labor Day
Lush green landscapes are a feature of Kenya’s wet season © Carlos Amarillo / Shutterstock
As the rains move on, cooler and cloudier weather wanders in ahead of high season. 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 high season kicks off in July.
Parades, singing and dancing take place on Madraka 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.
Key events: Rhino Charge, Lewa Safari Marathon, Madaraka Day, Lake Turkana Festival, Nairobi International Jazz Festival
July marks the start of the high (and cooler) season, with near-perfect temperatures everywhere. The coast, city and parks are all at their finest, and more crowds have arrived as a result.
July is when wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions and other animals start to migrate in vast numbers from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara as the Great Migration begins, the holy grail for many travelers. July is also a good time to spot huge flocks of pink flamingos at Lake Nakuru.
Key events: start of the Great Migration
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 Mara plains. If you’re not in the Mara, August is an excellent time to visit other national parks and conservancies around Kenya.
The coast is a tempting prospect with beautiful breezes wafting in as you sip that cocktail. You can also visit Nairobi without the humid stickiness that makes urban exploring harder work. For a hyper-local experience in Samburu country in northern Kenya, the one-day Maralal Camel Derby is a colorful display of camels, costumes and culture.
Key events: Maralal Camel Derby
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 a winning experience by the coast and in the capital. Although crowds have dropped off, prices are mostly the same, but restaurants often offer good deals after peak high season. September is also when the East African Community Arts Festival JAMAFEST takes place. It’s every two years and rotates between East African nations.
Key events: JAMAFEST
Shorter grass in dry season makes it easier to spot animals © MHGALLERY / Getty Images
If you’re intent on catching the Great Migration, arrive in the first half of October to catch the straggler animals on the move. Crowds are smaller, and it’s warm and dry.
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.
Key events: Tusker Safari Sevens, Mashujaa Day, Lamu Yoga Festival
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.
Key events: Mombasa Carnival, Lamu Cultural Festival
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. 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 coast’s best music festivals, with East African and international performers, giant art and cool costumes.
Key events: Jamhuri Day, Rusinga Cultural Festival, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Beneath the Baobabs Festival
Lonely Planet contributor Helena Smith provided additional edits and fact-checking.