Climate and clothing

People during a lunch break on their way to Lake Turkana
People during a lunch break on their way to Lake Turkana in northern Kenya

Although Kenya lies on the equator, its range of altitudes results in temperate conditions in the highlands above 1,500m, with temperatures which become limiting to cultivation at about 2750m. Average temperatures may be roughly calculated by taking a sea-level mean of 260 C and deducting 1.7 degree for each 300m of altitude. However, for most of the country, the rainfall is more critical than temperature and only 15% of the area of Kenya receives a reliable rainfall adequate for cultivation (750mm in four years of five).

At the coast and in the west of the country around Lake Victoria as well as in the highlands rainfall is greatest but the extensive plains below 1,200m are arid or semi arid. In the region of Lake Victoria and in the highlands west of the Rift Valley, rain falls in one long rainy season whereas east of the Rift Valley there are two distinct seasons: the long rains (March-May) and the short rains (September-October). As a general rule, the time after the long rains (June and July) are the cooler months, whereas the time between the short rains and the long rains (November to March) is the hottest time of the year in kenya.

Watch out for the rainy seasons!

Most parts of Kenya experiences two rain seasons: March to May’s “long rains” and October to December’s “short rains”. The months of June to August are mainly cool and dry over most parts of the country except for some parts in the western region that report some rains. Hot and dry conditions are observed over the entire country in January and February. In recent years, the delay in rains has become a norm.

Recent years – probably due to global climate changes, some fluctuations in the usual weather patterns have been observed in Kenya as well as many other parts of the world so the above mentioned seasons should. Obviously during the rainy seasons a waterproof jacket can become handy but of course you can also buy an umbrella in most towns. Probably needless to say, if you want to hike up the slopes of Mount Kenya, you will need some warm clothes to bring along though this can also be bought in Kenya – either in Nairobi where you will find huge modern shopping malls or in Nanyuki, where used mountaineering equipment such as boots, sleeping bags and clothing) can be bought.

Daytime in Kenya is most often hot and the equatorial sun is very strong so a hat, sunglasses and some skin protection should definitely be part of your luggage. Both in Nairobi (1700 m above sea level) and other parts of the country, the nights and mornings can be surprisingly cool. For instance in Masai Mara (1500m above sea level), the nights can become surprisingly cold and you will come to realize, that with such extreme daily variations in temperature, it takes quite some stamina for the wildlife to survive. So when being on safari you will definately need a sweater and/or a light jacket for the morning game drives.

Rainy season in Lake Nakuru National Park
During the rainy season some roads become flooded and impassable. Here a road in Lake Nakuru National Park on a rainy day

Coastal climate

Watamu beach in Kenya
People relaxing on the beach in Watamu

The climate at the coast is hot and humid, so here you will find light, airy clothing most comfortable. Bathing “au naturel” is not allowed in Kenya and when going for lunch at the beach hotels, female tourists often use a Kanga – a strongly colored cotton cloth you can buy on the beach to wrap around the waist as they are also worn by the local women.

The Indian Ocean tradewinds always blows a cooling breeze making the temperature just perfect on the kenyan beaches but if you move just 100m inland the hot and humid air will easily make you sweat. Even at night during the time from November to March the temperature can lie around 25-300 C. During the months of June, July and August it is perfect temperature in the daytime with about 25-290 C and it can even become a bit chilly at night if you’re in the vicinity of the Ocean as the wind is always strong.

Dress code

The majority of restaurants and nightclubs in Kenya will accept a relaxed dress code, but in fine restaurants you will be expected to dress to the occasion (no shorts or swimsuits). Like most citizens of the world, Kenyans like to dress smart and in every market you will find many stalls selling fashionable second-hand clothes for very little money. Maybe in order to put a bit of distance to simple rural living, many men tend to dress a bit formal in kenya.

Since many Kenyans take great pride in their personal appearance, they might frown when they see a shabby looking tourist coming from a safari with dirty clothes but luckily having someone to laundry your clothes in kenya doesn’t cost a fortune. In most national parks, there are no tarmac roads and driving on the dirt roads can be a bit dusty. Light colored khaki garments would probably be a good choice for this kind of activity but on most hotels and lodges you will find day to day laundry services.

Two men meeting in Butere
Two men meeting in the street of Butere in western kenya