Home to many of the large African mammals that are famous and beloved around the world, Kenya has become a hotspot for safari tourism. Its history is relatively young, and has undergone vast changes in the last 100 years. Its own capital city, Nairobi, only has roots that are just over a century old, making it look like an infant civilization compared to some of the ancient indigenous populations of Kenya. It is also a country with ancient history, however; Mombasa, for instance, sterns back thousands of years.
Despite major setbacks such as extensive poaching and the destruction of habitats, the Kenyan government has prioritised the protection of its native species, using measures as extreme as a shoot-to-kill policy to dissuade poachers from even trying. And these efforts have been successful so far: species of animals such as the black rhino, the Rothschilds giraffe, African elephants and lions have all started to make a comeback, though their populations are a far cry from their former glory.
Due in part to its relative stability (as compared to countries nearby), Kenya is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination amongst foreigners. With its diversity of habitats, species and cultures, Kenya is a place that can be visited time and time again without ever having the same experience twice.
01. Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara National Reserve is well known for being Kenya’s best wildlife reserve and is the main destination for wildlife-loving tourists who are on holiday in Kenya. It covers an area that is far more than just grassland; acacia forests, rugged hills and riparian areas give the reserve its name, which actually means “spotted.” Tourists will be amazed by the diverse populations of animals here – it is home to large predators and prey, as well as hundreds of species of birds of all sizes.
02. Amboseli National Park
Although it’s not a large national park, Amboseli is extremely iconic and generally packed with tourists. You have probably seen the photos with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background and a herd of elephants in the foreground – such photos have most definitely been taken at Amboseli. If you visit during the rainy season then the region won’t look so dry and dusty; then again, its name does mean ‘’Place of Dust,” so visiting in the dry season is also fitting.
03. Tsavo National Parks
Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks form a massive expanse of protected area, totaling about 20,800 square kilometers. Luckily it’s quite painless to access with a surfaced road all the way from Nairobi. You’ll most likely be visiting West Tsavo National Park, along with most of the other tourists. Although West Tsavo is the park that covers the least area of the two separately run areas, it feels anything but small. You have 1,000 kilometers of the “developed area” to drive around in, with good roads and facilities making things easy.
04. Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park is the place to go for bird lovers, with its various birds numbering in excess of 500 different species. White rhinos can also be found here, but perhaps the most stunning experience of all is seeing a huge flock of flamingos, numbering in the millions. Predictably, the park centers around a lake called Lake Nakuru, the banks of which are the best location for seeing many of the animals. This national park is small but rich in animal life.
05. Lamu Island
Lamu Island, the southernmost island of the islands that make up the Lamu Archipelago, is an isolated area that has a completely unique feel to the rest of mainland Kenya. As the main host of tourists of the archipelago, Lamu Island has a town, a beach, and a stately waterfront that grandly displays what the Swahili style of architecture looks like. Sunbathing and watersports are easily pursued here, along with taking a dhow to the other islands for more sightseeing.
Nairobi has gone through some serious changes in the past 100 years, starting as a ramshackle settlement and evolving into the modern capital city it is today. Easily East Africa’s richest and most influential city, Nairobi houses international corporations, universities, museums and 4 million people. Despite the city’s shiny exterior, many of Nairobi’s residents are living in crowded slums. Sure, Nairobi has its downfalls – but it also has plenty of tourist opportunities and provides a vibrant vacation spot and a comfortable base for safari goers and tourists.
Compared to Nairobi, Mombasa is ancient. An important port city, it has received deserving attention for hundreds of years, although today tourists seem to avoid the city itself and opt for the nearby beaches instead (see Diani Beach). With Kenya’s second highest population, Mombasa is a bustling, chaotic place that feels light years away from Nairobi in terms of culture and history. There are layers of intrigue to fascinate visitors, so don’t overlook this city.
08. Hell’s Gate National Park
Hell’s Gate is beloved not only for its fascinating rock formations, cliffs and dormant volcanoes, but also for giving guests the chance to cycle around the area with large animals roaming freely. Luckily there aren’t many meat-eating predators around, but you will feel nervous enough when you encounter a giraffe or zebra along the way. Walking is an option as well, but cycling at least gives you the impression that you could speed away from an irritated buffalo if need be.
09. Samburu National Reserve
Known for being a peaceful area with a lovely landscape, Samburu National Reserve is characterized by its shady forests and the lazy Ewaso Nyiro River that simply stops flowing most years around January. There is plenty of wildlife here, mostly of the non-migrating type, giving you the best chance to see animals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, antelope and various bird species. Pay special attention to seeing some animals that are only located in this area, such as Grevy’s zebra.
10. Diani Beach
At first glance Diani Beach resembles all beach resorts around the world: expansive white sand, swaying palm trees and hotels by the dozen. Look a little deeper, however, and you will soon find that Diani has some completely unique things to offer, making it a special place for a visit. Whether it’s the Angola colobus monkeys clambering around, the mysterious forest walks or the launching of dhows into the turquoise water, Diani Beach has a plethora of unique gems just waiting to be discovered.
11. Mount Kenya
Honored by UNESCO as both a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, Mount Kenya is Africa’s second highest mountain. Because Kilimanjaro receives the most mountaineer and hiker attention, it leaves Mount Kenya relatively remote and in some ways a more enjoyable, less crowded hike. It is the subject of veneration from local tribes; the Kikuyu and the Embu people both traditionally build all their houses with the doors facing Mount Kenya. It is recognized by its two jagged summits that are impossible to ascend except for the most experienced of climbers.
12. Kenya Villages
If you are visiting Kenya, you will almost certainly develop a fascination with the local indigenous communities at some point. Whether it’s the red-cloaked Maasai people or the mountain-facing Kikuyu, not to mention the dozens of other tribes that dot across the Kenyan landscape, there is much to learn from these people. If you have the time, be sure to visit one of their villages for a glimpse into the daily life of a Kenyan indigenous villager.