Even if you don’t care much for wildlife, you’ll be moved by the visual beauty of this country: imagine the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro in the early morning; the view of Maasai as you drift romantically in a hot air balloon; the colorful splash of red cloaks worn by Maasai shepherds striding down tracks that traverse through a dry-toned landscape; the waters of Lake Bogoria completely hidden behind thousands of bright pink flamingoes; or the annual migration of the “Big Five” – lions, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, and rhinos. And wherever you go, you’ll be greeted by some of the friendliest people on earth; Kenyans regularly greet “Jambo” to say “hello” and “Karibu” to welcome you to the land where civilization began.
Geographically, Kenya is located in central East Africa. The country is bordered by Tanzania in the south, Sudan and Ethiopia in the north, Uganda in the west, and Somalia and the Indian Ocean in the east. Despite being divided by the equator, Kenya enjoys a great variation of landscape and vegetation. In fact, it is the country’s natural riches that have earned it the nickname “the jewel of East Africa”. This jewel of a country features some of the finest beaches, most spectacular wildlife, and a sophisticated tourism infrastructure. The beauty of this land is seen in Kenya’s rolling acacia savannahs, vast fossil-rich plateaus, colorful coral reefs, white sandy palm-fringed coasts, lush fertile highlands coated by green coffee and tea plantations, and mystical cloud-enshrouded mountains such as Mount Kenya with its forested alpines.
Kenya is best known as a destination for safaris. Over 50 national parks and reserves are found in this country, making up 10% of the land and covering various landscapes from mountains to deserts to savannahs to forests. Every kind of African plain animal can be spotted.
Lake Nakuru National Park
In Lake Nakuru National Park, you’ll find the best rhino sanctuary in Kenya, as well as the colorful scene of thousands of pink flamingos covering the lake. In the yellowwood acacia trees lurk spotted leopards.
Masai Nara National Reserve
The Masai Nara National Reserve in the southwest is the scene of the great annual migration of some two million zebras and wildebeests from June until September. The Masai Mara is also home to the largest population of Kenyan lions. One of the best thrills you’ll get is taking a hot-air balloon over this reserve, floating over herds of animals while enjoying a champagne breakfast.
Nairobi National Park
The Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s first designated park and has a full range of animals. You can enjoy every kind of East African plain animal, except elephants, populating the park’s endless pastures. But if you really want to see elephants, don’t despair. On the edge of the park is the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, a sanctuary for orphaned and abandoned elephants who are nursed and trained before being released back into the wild. Meanwhile, the Langata Giraffe Center nearby does the same for Rothschild giraffes.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
The Shimba Hills national Reserve is located on the coast near the beach resorts. It is home to leopards, big game, and Kenya’s only residence of sable antelopes. Elephants can be spotted at the Mwalu-Ganje Elephant Sanctuary.
Aberdare National Park
Aberdare National Park is one of the great national parks in Kenya not dedicated to game viewing. Instead, it enchants visitors with its numerous waterfalls, the greatest being the Guru Falls, which drops more than 1,000 feet. The Mau Escarpment is also part of the park; this mountain range dramatically descends onto the floor of the Great Rift Valley.
The Amboseli Park is very near the Tanzanian border and claims fame for its stunning views of the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises over 19,300 feet high.
Game-viewing is even possible outside of the parks and reserves. At Laikipia Plateau, farmlands have been opened up and now serve as sanctuaries for elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos, and other game animals. The old farmsteads have been converted into charming accommodations.
There is something inexplicably charming about this extinct volcano, Mount Kenya. It rises 16,358 feet high and is the second highest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro. It is almost always covered by clouds. Several small villages surround the bulk of this mountain. Check out Nyahururu where you’ll find the Thomson’s Falls. Murangaa has a cathedral that has murals depicting the Mau Mau rebellions.
Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley sweeps through Kenya. The best place to marvel at this natural feature is between Naivasha and Nairobi where escarpment walls more than 6,500 feet high suddenly drop into a flat valley floor below that is scattered with volcanoes and soda lakes. Incredible!
Beaches and Water Sports
Numerous beaches and resort areas line Kenya’s coral coast, providing visitors with opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, swim, surf, water-ski, and sail. The coast also offers deep-sea fish; there are abundant barracuda, marlin, tuna, sailfish, swordfish, and kingfish. The most popular beach resorts in the north are Nyali, Bamburi, Kilifi, Kikambala, and Malindi. The best and most famous in the south is the stunningly white Diani Beach, which is south of Mombasa some 25 miles.
There are a number of sights and interests along beach road driving north of Mombasa, including the Bamburi Quarry Nature Trail which features a butterfly farm. The villages of Ngomongo has a cultural park that showcases the culture and lifestyle of various Kenyan tribes. The village of Mamba Crocodile has some gigantic crocodiles.
In Mombasa at the Old Harbor, take the time to enjoy a romantic moonlit sail boat ride on an Arab dhow while enjoying a seafood dinner amid.
Dinosaur and crocodile fossils have been found in Kenya dating back over 200 million years ago. Fossil evidence suggests early hominids such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus lived in the region some two million years ago.
The Cushites moved into Kenya from northern Africa around 2000 BC. By 100 AD, the coast of Kenya was visited by Arab traders. The first written records date back to around 600 AD when the same Arab traders began settling along the coast.
Europeans did not arrive until 1498 when Vasco da Gama successfully landed at Malindi after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese built forts and trading posts along the coast until the Arabs forced them out around the mid-1700s.
In the 19th century, the Americans and the British began showing more interest in Kenya. The British finally established a protectorate over Kenya in 1895. In 1952, the Mau Mau secret organization made up of mainly Kikuyu people began scheming to drive the European settlers out of the territory and gain independence. The British jailed many of the Mau Mau political leaders. It was not until 1963 that the British finally agreed to grant Kenya independence.
Since independence, Kenya has faced several problems, most notably racial tensions between the Luo ethnic group and the Kikuyus. Political and tribal strife has also plagued the country. But all in all, the country has been praised for making progress in its democratic evolution, moving from a one-party system to multiparty elections that have been judged largely free and fair by international observers.