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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.