Kenya

 

Kenya - the name is almost synonymous with the word "safari". Perhaps no other place on the planet conjures such a spirit of adventure and romance. For first-time visitors, the sheer diversity of things to do is dazzling. Wildlife, of course, is top on the list. Witness throngs of wildebeest thundering across the savanna during the Great Migration in Maasai Mara, come eye-to-eye with an elephant in Amboseli, or marvel at Lake Nakuru flecked with thousands of flamingoes. In these sun-soaked lands, ancient tribes such as the Maasai, Kikuyu, and Samburu retain their traditional customs, living in relative harmony with the natural world.

Beyond the world-famous safari parks lies a trove of coastal treasures. Visitors can snorkel and dive fish-rich coral reefs, relax on pearly beaches, experience the melting pot of cultures and cuisines in Mombasa and Malindi, and explore tropical islands steeped in Swahili history.

Topographically, Kenya is stunning. Surrounded by calderas and mountain ranges, the Great Rift Valley divides the country. To the east of this sweeping valley, visitors can climb the snow-cloaked equatorial peaks of Mount Kenya and fish for trout in crystal clear streams. Hell's Gate National Park harbors obsidian caves and hisses with natural geysers and hot springs. To experience the romance of Kenya's colorful colonial history captured in the film Out of Africa, head to Nairobi. This bustling capital is the gateway to one of the world's most evocative and exciting travel destinations

Maasai Mara National Reserve

Maasai Mara is one of the world's most magnificent game reserves. Bordering Tanzania, the Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti and forms a wildlife corridor between the two countries. It's named after the statuesque, red-cloaked Maasai people who live in the park and graze their animals here as they have done for centuries. In their language, Mara means "mottled", perhaps a reference to the play of light and shadow from the acacia trees and cloud-studded skies on the vast grasslands.

The park is famous for the Great Migration when thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle travel to and from the Serengeti, from July through October. In the Mara River, throngs of hippos and crocodiles lurk. The park is also known for providing excellent predator sightings thanks to its relatively large populations of lion, cheetah, and leopard - especially in the dry months from December through February. Thanks to the parks altitude, the weather here is mild and gentle year round.

Location: Narok County

Amboseli National Reserve

Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, Amboseli National Reserve is one of Kenya's most popular tourist parks. The name "Amboseli" comes from a Maasai word meaning "salty dust", an apt description for the park's parched conditions. The reserve is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Other wildlife commonly spotted in the park includes big cats such as lion and cheetah as well as giraffe, impala, eland, waterbuck, gazelle, and more than 600 species of birds. Nature lovers can explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulfur springs, savannah, and woodlands. Look for the local Maasai people who live in the area around the park.

Location: Loitokitok District, Rift Valley

Tsavo National Park

Kenya's largest park, Tsavo, is sliced in two; Tsavo West and Tsavo East. Together these parks comprise four percent of the country's total area and encompass rivers, waterfalls, savannah, volcanic hills, a massive lava-rock plateau, and an impressive diversity of wildlife. Midway between Nairobi and Mombasa, Tsavo East is famous for photo-worthy sightings of large elephant herds rolling and bathing in red dust. The palm-fringed Galana River twists through the park providing excellent game viewing and a lush counterpoint to the arid plains. Other highlights here include the Yatta Plateau, the world's longest lava flow, Mudanda Rock, and the Lugard Falls, which spill into rapids and crocodile-filled pools.

Tsavo West is wetter and topographically more varied with some of the most beautiful scenery in the northern reaches of the park. Highlights here are Mzima Springs, a series of natural springs with large populations of hippos and crocodiles, Chaimu Crater, a great spot for spotting birds of prey, and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. Wildlife is not as easy to see in Tsavo West because of the denser vegetation, but the beautiful scenery more than compensates.

Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba National Reserves

On the banks of the palm-lined Ewaso Nyiro River, Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba Reserves lie in an arid region in the remote north of Kenya. Shaba National Reserve is one of two areas where George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the lioness, made famous in the film "Born Free". The wildlife in all three reserves depends on the waters of the river to survive, and many species are specially adapted to the parched conditions such as Grevy's zebras, Somali ostriches, and gerenuks, the long-necked antelope that stand on two rear legs to reach the fresh shoots on upper tree limbs.

A top attraction in Samburu National Reserve is the Sarara Singing Wells, local watering holes where Samburu warriors sing traditional songs while hauling water for their cattle to drink. Tourists here may also be rewarded with sightings of big cats and wild dogs.

Location: Northern Kenya

Mombasa

Kenya's second largest city and biggest port, Mombasa is a multicultural tourist magnet. British, Portuguese, Arab, Indian, and Asian immigrants add to the rich cultural mix and their influence is evident in the architecture as well as the many different types of cuisine. Mombasa is actually an island connected to its mushrooming development on the mainland by a causeway, bridges, and ferries. Coral reefs fringe the coast for 480 km providing fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities, especially at Mombasa Marine National Park and around Wasini Island. Dolphin watching and deep-sea fishing are also popular.

History buffs will enjoy exploring the 16th-century Fort Jesus and Old Town with its narrow streets, ancient Swahili dwellings, markets, and souvenir shops. The north shore of Mombasa is crammed with attractions including Mombasa Go-Kart, cinemas, sports, and a cornucopia of restaurants. This being a coastal hub, beach lovers will find some worthy strands nearby. North of the city, Nyali and Bamburi Beaches are favorites, while the white strands of Shelly, Tiwi, and Diani Beaches are popular spots south of Mombasa.

Location: Southeast coast

 

Climb Mount Kenya

At 4,986m (16,358ft) above sea level, this extinct volcano is the second-highest mountain in Africa. The Mountain Club of Kenya runs mountain huts and publishes guides for climbers. Even if you don't climb to the upper slopes, it is worth spending time on the forested lower slopes below the ice-capped peak, where interesting wildlife abounds.

Climb Mount Longonot

This distinctive volcano, which last erupted in the 1860s, rises dramatically above the Rift Valley floor, and its slopes can be ascended in around 90 minutes. Allow another hour for the descent, and 3-4 hours if you want to walk around the rim of the perfect volcanic crater.

Day trip to Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park, only 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, is Kenya's oldest national park. Today, it still looks much as it did in the early photographs – wild, undulating pasture – and supports most of East Africa’s best known wildlife, including lion, rhino, giraffe, buffalo and zebra (but not elephant).

Experience the magic of the Masai Mara

Kenya's most popular game park is named after the Maasai tribe, who migrated south from the Nile Valley in the 17th century. A northern extension to Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, it is one of the best places in Africa for seeing lion, cheetah and leopard, but is most famous for the annual wildebeest migration and dramatic crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River.

Explore Kenya’s coral coast

Visitors can choose between scuba-diving, snorkelling, sailing, water-skiing, swimming or surfing along Kenya's coral coast. The most popular resorts near Mombasa include Bamburi, Kikambala, Kilifi, Malindi, Nyali and the 10km- (6-mile) long, dazzlingly white Diani Beach. Another good base for watersports is the Rift Valley lake of Naivasha, about 1.5 hours drive from Nairobi.

Explore Lamu Town

Set on a picturesque offshore island close to the Somali border, Lamu is a charming old Swahili city and UNESCO World Heritage Site with many historic mosques and fine old Arab houses replete with impressive carved wooden doors. Highlights of the town include the Lamu Museum, the Swahili House Museum and the Fortress.

Go twitching in Kakamega Forest

The only rainforest in Kenya, this lovely spot near the Ugandan border is arguably the prime birdwatching site in the country, thanks to the presence of several dozen forest species found nowhere else in the country. For non-birders, the shady forest paths and plentiful monkeys still offer lots of charm.

Go wild at Lake Nakuru National Park

Boasting a dramatic setting in the Rift Valley, this park is dominated by a lake whose edges are frequently home to hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos. It is also one of Kenya's best rhino sanctuaries, supporting high concentrations of both black and white rhino, and you may spot a leopard in the giant yellowwood acacia trees.

Help save the elephants at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

Watch baby elephants play at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, an important sanctuary where orphaned elephants are hand-reared before being released back into the wild. Bordering Nairobi National Park, the sanctuary is also home to several orphaned rhinos, and is an important player in the fight against poaching.

Jump aboard a dhow

Spend an evening afloat on a romantic dhow (traditional Arab sailing boat), feasting on delicious seafood and watching the moon rise over Mombasa's old harbour. Lunchtime or dinner cruises are available on these beautiful floating restaurants, and some even have space for dancing on the deck.

Marvel at Mombasa

Enjoy this coastal city's Swahili flavour in the Old Town, with its narrow, crowded streets; watch the sailing dhows in the Old Harbour and catch the sound and light show at Fort Jesus, which was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and is now a museum.

Pay a visit to Laikipia Plateau

Discover a recent conservation success where former farmland has been opened up as game sanctuaries and stocked with big game including the Big Five: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard. The old farmsteads here have been converted into delightful, luxurious accommodations. This vast wilderness area remains largely underexplored by tourists.

Quaff high tea at Elsamere

Situated on the shores of Lake Naivasha, the former home of Joy Adamson (of Born Free fame) is now a museum and conservation research centre. Set in grounds teeming with birds – and home to a group of handsome colobus monkeys – Elsamere also serves excellent high tea.

Shop until you drop in Mombasa

Biashara Street is a great place to buy traditional kikoy and khanga clothing. Makupa Market, off Mwembe Tayari, is the main city market. Serious souvenir shoppers should also head for the Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Village, where disabled men and women produce high-quality leatherwork, jewellery and other crafts.

Stay a night at Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

Situated a short distance from the main highway between Nairobi and Mombasa, this small private sanctuary bordering the vast Tsavo National Park doubles as a luxury hotel and well-positioned hide, overlooking a salt lick and a waterhole that frequently attracts aggregations of a hundred or more elephants.

Step into the land of giants at Amboseli National Park

The 392sq km (151sq mile) Amboseli National Park lies at the base of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. Wildlife includes lion, cheetah, wildebeest, hippo and gazelle, but the park is most famous for the large herds of elephant attracted by the perennial swamps. Bird-watching is popular, and visitors can learn about the local Maasai people through homestead visits.

Take the road less travelled to Lake Turkana

In the barren northern reaches of Kenya, Lake Turkana is a strange and beautiful oasis, known to locals as the Jade Sea due to its size and striking colour. The lake provides great fishing, while its islands have healthy crocodile and hippo populations. The semi-nomadic Turkana tribe are just as interesting as the lake itself.

Take to the skies in a hot air balloon

Float over great herds of game in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Hour-long excursions set off at dawn and end with champagne breakfasts. Almost all the lodges in the reserve offer this experience, which gives ballooners the chance to see the wildebeest migration from the air between July and September.

Tour Nairobi's museums

Browse the ethnographic and archaeological exhibits of the National Museum, which lies within walking distance of the city centre. And then head out to the suburban Karen Blixen Museum, which occupies the farmhouse made famous by the nominal author's book, Out of Africa. The Nairobi Railway Museum also covers an important chapter of the city’s history.

Kenya’s weather in general

Kenya lies on the equator and has a pleasant tropical climate, but there are large regional climatic variations influenced by several factors, including altitude. Temperatures drop by about 6°C for every 1000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1000ft). Kenya’s daytime temperatures average between 20°C/68°F and 28°C/82°F, but it is warmer on the coast. The coast is hot and humid all year round, but the heat is pleasant and tempered by the monsoon winds. Kenya is too close to the equator to experience a real winter and summer. There is, however, both a dry and Wet season.
 
Dry season - June to October

June, July, August, September & October - These are the coldest months. Temperatures vary significantly per region and with their difference in altitude. Daytime temperatures are usually around 23°C/73°F at higher altitudes, like the Masai Mara, and 28°C/82°F at lower altitudes, like the coastal areas. During the Dry season the sky is clear and days are sunny. Early morning temperatures at higher altitude are typically 10°C/50°F. It is advised to pack warm clothing as morning game drives in open vehicles will be cold. There is very little rain in most of the country so these are the least humid months, making this the best time to stay at one of Kenya's beautiful beaches.
 
Wet season - November to May

During the Wet season daytime temperatures are between 24°C/75°F and 27°C/81°F at higher altitudes. At lower altitudes daytime temperatures are more consistent and hover at 30°C/86°F. Mornings stay pretty cool at higher altitude and it is advised to pack warm clothes for early morning game drives in open vehicles. From December to April the humidity is intense in Tsavo and coastal areas.

November & December - ‘Short rains’ - A period of unpredictable, short rains between November and December lasts about a month. The rain is sometimes heavy, but mostly falls in the late afternoon or evening and will seldom have a real negative impact on your safari.

January & Februay - During these months a dry spell in the rainy season occurs and it rains less. How long the spell lasts and when it takes place, exactly, is unpredictable.

March, April & May - ‘Long rains’ - These months get the most rain and it can downpour on a daily basis, although seldom the whole day. It’s very cloudy especially in the highlands, including Aberdare NP and the Laikipia Plateau parks. Humidity is higher and will be particularly noticeable in the coastal regions.