From snow-capped Mount Kenya
, through the Rift Valley
, arid northern plains on to the pristine white sandy beaches lapped by the azure Indian Ocean
, Kenya will delight and surprise you. The word Safari originated here and is the Swahili word for Journey, explore the vast Amboseli National Park
at the foot of the Majestic Mount Kilimajar
or the open grasslands of the Masai Mara
with the densest populations of game in Africa. The Rift Valley known as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ dotted with lakes including Lake Naivasha
, home huge flocks or ‘flamboyance’ of pink flamingos. At the end of your ‘journey’ spend a few nights in a Kenyan Beach Resort, or head to one of the Indian Ocean Islands for total relaxation.
Unlock the wonders of the animal kingdom with a trip to Amboseli. The region’s parks are famed for its signature attraction which is the sight of hundreds of big-tusked elephants parading against the backdrop of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. The park is a heaven for wildlife lovers as you are also bound to spot wildebeest, zebras, lions, hyenas and more than 370 bird species. The park is also home to hippos, which are often spotted in many of the large emerald green swamps which are formed by the seeping waters from Kilimanjaro.
You will adore going on safaris here, but be sure to venture out into the reserve at different times of the day and night to see a whole new animal kingdom come to life.
For a unique view of the reserve, which is located in Loitoktok District, Rift Valley Province of Kenya, you can even book a hot air balloon ride.
You will be in awe as you explore the park, which is 39,206 hectares, and gives visitors an opportunity to meet the Maasai people.
When it comes to weather, the climatic pendulum can swing from drought to flood.
Amboseli caters for traveler with a wide range of budgets. If you want to splash some cash, then you can spoil yourself and stay inside a luxury lodge that boast stunning views of the reserve as well as a swimming pool and a spa to unwind in. But, those that have limited funds, can still experience the joys of being so close to wild animals at a public campsite inside the park. Amboseli National Park is.
Central Highlands: The Central Highlands form one of the most evocative sections of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. It is here that Africa’s second-highest mountain, Mount Kenya, rises majestically towards the sky, piercing the clouds. Climbing it is one of the great rites of passage of African travel. But those that are less adventurous can still enjoy the scenery by walking lower down and in the Aberdare range. Treks here are not only easier but still dramatic, and with better chances of seeing wildlife.
In its shadow lie two of Kenya’s most intriguing national parks including rhino and lion-rich Meru National Park, and Aberdare National Park, which is home to some of the oldest mountains on the continent. It is less well known than Mount Kenya, but also home to leopards, buffalos, some six thousand elephants and a few small herds of critically endangered bongo antelope. As well as excellent game-viewing, there is so much to keep visitors occupied.
There is never dull moment here as the range of scenery is spectacular thanks to the vibrant jungle, windswept moors and dense conifer plantations - all with a mountain backdrop.
Most roads are in good shape – which makes travel easy. People everywhere are friendly and quick to strike up a conversation, while the towns are bustling and the markets are busy. The Central Highlands are also the green-girt, red-dirt spiritual heartland of Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu. As soon as you visit this wonderful place, you too will realize why this is the land the Mau Mau fought for, and the colonists coveted.
Mombasa: Mombasa is a city of contrasasts. While it’s a bustling and chaotic city, the atmosphere, even in the commercial centre of what is one of Africa’s busiest ports, is relaxed and congenial. If you arrive in Mombasa by plane or train in the morning, there will still be ample time to head straight out to the beautiful beaches. The nearest is Nyali Beach on the north coast mainland. But if you have time to spend a day or two in Mombasa itself, then check out the museum-monument Fort Jesus, in Mombasa’s Old Town. Here you will also find the atmospheric hive of narrow lanes, mosques and carved Swahili doorways. In the modern town centre, you will spot the tusk arch that features on so many of its postcards. Further afield, the Baobab forest and Mbaraki Pillar, a seventeenth-century pillar tomb, are worth a visit.
When it comes to locals, Mombasa is also even more diverse than Nairobi. The Asian and Arab influence shows itself with fifty mosques and dozens Hindu and Sikh temples. However, most people still speak Swahili as a first language, but you’ll see women wearing head-to-foot buibuis or brilliant kanga outfits, and men decked out in kanzu gowns and hip-slung kikoi wraps.
Nairobi: This vibrant city oozes cosmopolitan charms, a rich cultural life, fabulous places to eat and an exciting nightlife. If you're just passing through, be sure to visit the intriguing National Museum, which houses some of Kenya’s most unusual and interesting artifacts and artworks.
If you are an animal lover then be sure to pop into the famous elephant orphanage - The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - which has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and reintegrating orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo.
The main allure of this city is the plains and woodland of Nairobi National Park, which is teeming with more than eighty species of large mammals. It also boasts the greatest density of megafauna of any city park in the world. As you enjoy a safari here, you will be amazed to see that such wildlife can exist within earshot of Nairobi’s downtown traffic.
The park is a good place to spend time during a flight layover, or before an afternoon or evening flight, as you have a high chance of seeing certain species, especially black rhino, which might well elude you in the bigger Kenyan parks.
When it comes to partying in Nairobi, most clubs are open nightly and often on weekend afternoons – and in some cases never close at all.
It isn’t difficult to find accommodation in Nairobi, but it can be very expensive. The Central Business District is useful for accessing shops and some offices on foot, while if you base yourself further afield, you’re likely to need transport or have to rely on the nearest mall. Bear in mind, too, that air conditioing is not considered essential in Nairobi’s climate and you’ll only find it at top-end addresses.
The city also has no shortage of eating places. Most restaurants concentrate on offering a range of Asian and European cuisines, as well as spectacular quantities of meat.
Nairobi is the best place in East Africa to buy handicrafts, as it boasts the widest, if not the cheapest, selection. The city also has some lavish produce markets, while the upper part of Moi Avenue is Nairobi’s busiest ordinary shopping street, with some colonnaded shop-fronts still remaining.
Laikipia & North: Seasoned travelers will adore exploring Laikipia and The North which offer some of the best wildlife watching anywhere in Kenya. However, holiday makers seeking luxury and an abundance of modern shops should look elsewhere. This is because on the face of it, the region is not an obvious choice and the few roads that cross it are mostly poor and sometimes impassable in rain. However, it is Kenya’s most encouraging conservation success stories - making Laikipia one of the country’s best regions to see wildlife. There are no national parks or reserves here – as all the conservation initiatives are undertaken privately or in the voluntary sector. However, community land is managed in ways that respect traditional lifestyles while producing revenues from tourism.
The market town of Nanyuki is the main supply hub for Laikipia’s remote residents, and offers everything from grocery shops, fuel, pharmacies and a few restaurants.
The North of Kenya is cinder-dry for ten months of the year. However, the old Northern Frontier District remains one of the most exciting and adventurous parts of Africa which is still tramped by various nomadic herders. Unfortunately, it also has a dangerous reputation – making it too risky to visit. By contrast, the vast territories to the north and west of Mount Kenya, including Lake Turkana and the beautiful Laikipia region, are safe and adventurous areas to visit.
Lamu / Kiwayu: If it is relaxation you after then head to Lamu island which lulls visitors into its slow, soothing rhythm and lazy atmosphere. You can spend hours on a veranda just watching life go by.
Lamu town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the last viable remnants of the Swahili civilization that was the dominant cultural force along the coast until the arrival of the British. If you take to the streets, you will see a labyrinth of donkey-wide alleyways filled with children playing, cats casually ruling the rooftops as well as the blue smoke from meat grilling over open fires.
The crime rate is low, and its streets are safe to wander at all hours.
If you want to spend all your time on the beach, staying in Shela is the obvious solution, which boasts one hostel where you can also camp. The region is known for its herds of cattle, coconut palms, mango and citrus trees. The two villages you can explore here are Matondoni, on the north shore of the island, by the creek, and Kipungani, on the western side.
Nearby, you will find Kiwayu which is famous for its dazzling white sandbar which is stippled with rocks that are home to huge oysters. Kiwayu has a population of just a few hundred people and is part of the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. This narrow ridge of sandy beach boasts trees surrounded by reefs.
The main reason to come here is for the three-day dhow trip to explore the coral reefs off the eastern side of the island, which is rated as some of the best along the Kenyan coast. You will be amazed as you spot dolphins, whale sharks and sea turtles.
The village on the western side of the island, where the dhows drop anchor, is very small, but it does have a general store with a few basics.
If you want to spend a day fishing on the reef, then you are bound to catch anything from yellowfin tuna to black marlin, sailfish, dorado, and barracuda.
Rift Valley Lakes: For spectacular scenery of lakes and the savanna, there is nowhere quite like Kenya’s Rift Valley. This monumental valley is teeming with game and Maasai herders - with all the stunning panoramas you could wish for.
Once you can peel your eyes away from the beauty that surrounds you, be sure to snap photos of this bearthtakingly beautiful region.
Parts of the Rift Valley are covered in many exceptional lakes with highlights including the scenic freshwater Lake Naivasha, which is slightly forbidding – but hugely picturesque, with its purple mountain backdrop and floating islands of papyrus and water hyacinth.
Be sure to also explore the dramatic red cliffs of Hell’s Gate which is one of the few remaining places in Kenya where you can walk among herds of plains game without having to go a long way off the beaten track. Buffalo, zebra, eland, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle and baboons are all usually seen here.
If you have time to spare, be sure to visit other popular lakes including the shallow Lake Elmenteita, and Lake Nakuru National Park with its lovely tree-lined shore and almost guaranteed rhino sightings.
Heading into the northern Rift Valley, you can also enjoy the bright, harsh beauty of freshwater Lake Baringo and saline Lake Bogoria – which is currently the most likely place in Kenya to see flamingos in their thousands. This northern region also includes the spectacular Kerio Valley, which deserves a special recommendation as an unusual route north if you’re heading for the west side of Lake Turkana.
The Rift Valley has lots of charms and history lovers will adore exploring its several interesting prehistoric sites.
Samburu / Shaba / Meru: For unbridled beauty and stunning wildlife travel to Samburu for an experience like no other. Its National Reserve is the most popular park in northern Kenya. The dominate feature is the Ewaso Ngiro River, which slices through this otherwise bone-dry country and acts as a magnet for thirsty animals. You are bound to spot a large numbers of elephants, Grevy's zebras, giraffes and lions gathering along the riverbanks.
The nearby Shaba, is physically beautiful with its great rocky hills, natural springs and doum palms. It really is a sight to behold although it is less visited, due to the fact that it has fewer wildlife. However, if you do decide to pay a visit then you'll almost have it to yourself.
Meru is the largest municipality in the Central Highlands and is famous for its production of miraa, which is a mild, leafy stimulant and is more widely known outside of Kenya as khat. It is mostly an agricultural and business centre and takes prides in having one of the largest open air market - Gakoromone - in the Comesa region. It is worth a visit if you want to travel off the beaten path and happy to forgo luxury accommodation and modern facilities.
Tsavo: You have probably heard of Tsavo as being the home of Kenya’s largest national park. Tsavo East National Park has an undeniable wild charm and is a terrific wildlife-watching destination. Be sure to venture close to the river that flows through the middle of the park and see the permanent greenery of the river, endless grasses and thorn trees. Spotting wildlife is easy thanks to the thinly spread foliage. You will have a good chance of seeing red elephants, leopards, lions and cheetahs as well as 500 bird species.
Despite the size of the park, the area where you are most likely to spot any wildlife activity is actually quite compact. So it is no surprise that the northern section of the park is often closed and can only be visited with advance permission due to the threat of banditry and ongoing campaigns against poachers.
Be sure to head to Southern Kenya which is known as a great wildlife-watching destination. Here you'll find a triumvirate of epic Kenyan parks – Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East – that are home to the big five animals and so much more. Be in awe as you see big cats roam in relative abundance and large-tusked elephants pass by close enough to touch. It's all set against the backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. The region is also the scene for many exciting initiatives that combine conservation with community engagement, and many of these ensure that the chances to get to know the Maasai – the soulful human inhabitants of this land – on equal terms are higher here than perhaps anywhere else in Kenya.
If you have time, it is worth exploring Kenya’s southeastern corner, which is set back from the coast and includes less well-known community-run wildlife sanctuaries.
Masai Mara National Park: For breathtaking vistas, abundant wildlife, and endless plains, there is nowhere better than The Masai Mara National Park.
Safaris at this reserve offer an excellent year-round concentration of the 'Big 5' game beasts.
It is also home to the two million animals that make up the Great Migration. Here you can see one of nature's biggest wildlife spectacles - the wildebeest migration – and watch in awe as the animals cross the Mara River for the Masai Mara from July to October. The park also attracts over 450 bird species. Picture yourself exploring the park and spotting colourful and unique birds flying over your head.
Going on a safari is not the only way to explore this park. Infact, you can charter a hot air balloon safari, to get a unique perspective of this magnificent land. You can push the boat out a bit more, and enjoy this with an indulgent champagne breakfast celebration afterwards.
In addition to the abundant wildlife in the reserve, no Masai Mara safari would be complete without a cultural experience with the Maasai people. Infact, the reserve was named for the Maasai people who inhabit the area, and for the Mara River, which flows through this great reserve. Here you can see Maasai herdsmen graze their cattle side by side with predators and prey. It is a sight to behold.
This reserve also shares a border with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. It is essentially a continuation of this park, forming the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, which holds one of the highest lion densities in world.
When it comes to accommodation, there is something to suit most wallets from basic camps to luxurious lodges with restaurants, bars, a spa and wi-fi.