The Safari Card, used today to gain access to most of the National Parks and Reserves in Kenya, is supposed to be an improvement from its problematic predecessor, the SmartCard.

The main idea back then (it still is) was to improve efficiency in the collection of park entry fees because cash money had a way of spectacularly disappearing once it left the park visitor’s hands. The card came in to reduce these disappearing acts.

The by-product of this was the concept of a Point of Issue, where you are issued with a Safari Card and the Point of Sale, where you load your money and then purchase the entry ticket. This is now popularly known as POIPOS.

Not all parks are using this system but those that do do not accept cash at all. Currently these are the parks implementing the new Safari Card with their POIPOS locations for your payment convenience:

  1. Aberdare National Park (POIPOS: Park Headquarters Mweiga, near Nyeri).
  2. Amboseli National Park (POIPOS: Meshanani, Namanga Gate).
  3. Lake Nakuru National Park (POIPOS: Main Gate).
  4. Malindi Marine National Park (POIPOS: Headquarters).
  5. Mombasa Marine National Park (POIPOS: Park Headquarters, next to the Coast Provincial Headquarters offices).
  6. Nairobi National Park (POIPOS: Main Gate).
  7. Tsavo East National Park (POIPOS: Main Gate at Voi).
  8. Tsavo West National Park (POIPOS: Mtito Andei Gate).

The Safari Card can be issued as a personalised or temporary card. The personalised version is for those who want to enjoy the convenience of owning a card permanently.

Temporary cards, on the other hand, are suitable for one-off park visitors. The visitor has to visit the respective park headquarter offices on the day they plan to visit to pick their card and top up for the visit. The temporary card has to be surrendered at the gate when exiting the park.

The 2 cards above can be issued as any of 8 types that exist but we have listed 7 here because one is issued only to KWS staff and therefore not relevant to the visitor:

  1. Tour Operator Card: is a personalised Safari Card issued to Tour Operator companies who have applied, and have been certified by KWS.
  2. Citizen Card: is issued to East African citizens of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya and can be personalised or temporary. To qualify for this card visitors need to show proof of citizenship such as a National Identity card or valid Passport on each visit. A driving license does not qualify as evidence of citizenship. Children from the age of 3 to 17 years accompanying such visitors are served using the adult cards.
  3. Resident Card: is issued to validly identified East African residents. This card can be personalised or temporary. When it is personalised, it is valid for the residency period permitted by the Immigration department of Kenya and is renewable.
  4. Non Resident Card: is a temporal card issued to self driven non residents at the POIPOS. A non resident visitor whose park visit is planned by a Tour operator or is accompanied by a citizen or resident card can load their park entry fee on the tour company’s, citizen or resident cards.
    Note:  Any citizen or resident visiting the park without valid identification documents will be served as a Non Resident.
  5. Annual Personal Card: is a Safari Card issued to citizens and residents, who prefer paying their park entry fees once for a whole year (12 months). The Annual card fees enables the cardholder to visit any KWS managed Park throughout the year. These personalised cards are available for both adults and children and are limited to paying for park entry only for self and a vehicle of less than six seats. If additional services are required, the cardholder will have to top up the appropriate fee value.
  6. Annual Vehicle Card: is a personalised Safari Card issued to vehicles stationed within the park such as the vehicles belonging to hotels and lodges situated inside a Park. The annual fee varies depending on the vehicle seating capacity. This Safari Card is park specific.
  7. Concession Card: is a temporary Safari Card issued to organised groups of people/schools. Such visitors must obtain a letter from an officer in the Parks and Reserves office at KWS headquarters two weeks in advance. This card is also park-specific.

Once you sort out what Safari Card is most suitable for your trip, you can go ahead and access the park from any gate available (the Point of Access, AKA POA). Never lose sight of the receipts you were given at the POIPOS – you will need them! Remember the money you load onto the card is not refundable, so load just the amount you need.

One other thing –  even though each day you pay for entitles you to 24 hours in the park, you forfeit this privilege if for some reason you exit before the 24 hours are over. On the other hand if you exceed your stay by even a second, you will be charged an overstay of 24 hours. Did we also mention that most KWS parks allow visitation up to 6 PM in the evening?

So unless you have booked yourself into one of the park lodges or the KWS bandas for the night, you actually never even get to enjoy your 24 hours even if you wanted to! Strange but its the reality on the ground.

Oh by the way non-residents have to pay in US dollars. But we bet you already knew that. What you may not be aware of is that all vehicle fees are payable in Kenya shillings regardless of nationality.

We know this is mind-boggling but here is the good thing – If you are part of a package tour, then you do not have to worry about all these details since your tour company will suffer these headaches on your behalf. It is the intrepid solo ranger travelling off the beaten path who will need to master all the above!

How has your experience using the Safari Card been?