Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean. It encompasses Savannah, Lake lands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos.
From Nairobi, the capital, safaris visit the Maasai Mara Reserve, known for its annual wildebeest migrations, and Amboseli National Park, offering views of Tanzania’s 5,895m Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tourism in Kenya is the second-largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture.
Kenya is stunning. Surrounded by calderas and mountain ranges, the Great Rift Valley divides the country. To the east of this sweeping valley, you 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 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.
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.
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, water buck, 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.
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.
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.
Lake Nakuru National Park, in Central Kenya, is famous for its huge flocks of pink flamingos. The bird’s throng on Lake Nakuru itself, one of the Rift Valley soda lakes that comprises almost a third of the park’s area. The Park was established in 1961, and more than 450 species of birds have been recorded here, as well as a rich diversity of other wildlife. Lions, leopards, warthogs, water bucks, pythons, and white rhinos are just some of the animals you might see, and the landscapes range from sweeping grasslands bordering the lake to rocky cliffs and woodland.
Island of Lamu, northeast of Mombasa, oozes old-world charm. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamu Old Town is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited settlement with origins dating back to the 12th century. Strolling the labyrinthine streets, you can see the island’s rich trading history reflected in the buildings.
Architectural features from the Arab world, Europe, and India are evident, yet with a discernible Swahili technique. Intricately carved wooden doors, coral stone buildings, hidden courtyards, verandas, and rooftop patios are common features.
Lake Naivasha lies at the highest point of the Great Rift Valley and has been known to shrink considerably in times of extreme drought. A flourishing floriculture industry in the area is also impacting water levels and quality. One of the best ways to view the wildlife is by boat. More than 400 species of birds have been spotted here, including African fish eagles. Hippos slosh in the water, and giraffes, zebra, buffalo, and eland graze around the edges of the lake.
Nairobi is legendary for its colorful colonial history. It was once the capital of British East Africa, luring settlers who came here to stake their fortune in the coffee and tea industries. Today, you can explore the city’s famous historic sites, as well as some excellent wildlife-related attractions.
The Nairobi National Museum is a great one-stop spot to see exhibits on Kenya’s history, nature, culture, and contemporary art. green thumbs will also enjoy the botanic gardens on the grounds. Another popular tourist attraction is the Karen Blixen Museum.
Nairobi National Park. Visiting this wildlife-rich park is one of the top things to do if you’re staying in Nairobi, and it makes a rewarding day trip – especially if you can’t make it to one of the larger game reserves. All the classic safari stars here, including buffalo, leopards, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, elephants, and cheetah, and you can also see some of the planet’s most endangered species at the park’s rhino sanctuary. The Nairobi Safari Walk provides a rewarding opportunity to spot wildlife on foot, and birders will be happy to know that more than 400 species of birds also inhabit the park, including the beautiful grey crowned crane.
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 kilometers providing fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities, especially at Mombasa Marine National Park and around Wasini Island.
Malindi is a beach resort popular with European visitors. It is also a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, with a split personality. Part historic old town, part modern tourist hub, Malindi is where travelers come to sun on the white sands of Watamu Beach; dive the coral reefs of the Malindi and Watamu Marine National Parks; and soak up a dose of Swahili history in the historic town, dating from the 12th century.
Here, you can visit the Jami Mosque; two pillar tombs from the 14th century; and the Church of St. Francis Xavier, one of East Africa’s oldest churches. On the promontory, the Vasco De Gama Cross is one of the oldest standing monuments in Africa.
Mount Kenya National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the country’s namesake highest mountain at 5,199 meters and providing the rare sight of equatorial snow. Formed by a series of volcanic eruptions, Mount Kenya is actually comprised of three glacier-cloaked peaks. The highest is Batian, although Nelion, the next highest, is a tougher climb. The lowest peak, Lenana, is considered the easiest climb.
Hell’s Gate National Park is one of the few parks in Kenya that allows camping and enables you to explore on foot or bicycle. Hell’s Gate offers excellent climbing and hiking opportunities, with two extinct volcanoes; the red cliffs of Hell’s Gate Gorge; Obsidian Caves; and the pointed column of rock known as Fischer’s Tower, a former volcanic plug.
Geothermal features include hot springs and natural geysers hissing steam through vents in the earth’s crust. The Park also protects a wide variety of wildlife, including leopards; baboons; hartebeest; eland; ostriches; gazelles; and more than 100 species of birds, as well as eagle and vulture breeding grounds.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a prime place for close-up wildlife encounters. Conservation and sustainability are key at this 90,000-acre private game reserve, where you can view the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) as well as other animals such as cheetah, hyenas, zebra, and hartebeest, set against the breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kenya.
The conservancy is perhaps best known for its northern and southern white rhinos, including Baraka, a blind black rhino, who lucky visitors might have the chance to feed. You can view the wildlife on self-drive or guided tours, and entry includes a visit to the chimpanzee sanctuary.