Kenya will always hold a special place in my heart as it was one of my first international destinations at the start of my travel career. I mean, who hasn’t heard of the famous Masai Mara, one of the most well-protected havens for lions and cheetahs? And even beyond the Masai Mara, Kenya is filled with national reserves that are home to some of the most endangered wildlife on the planet.
Yet, beyond the wildlife lies a tribal culture that traces its roots back to the cradle of human civilization itself. And if you’re looking for city life, Nairobi is one of Africa’s most up and coming, bustling cities. And my personal favorite is the beach town of Mombasa where I experienced the most azure waters in an Indian Ocean that was bath-water warm, with sands so blinding white that I imagined I saw a camel being led by a boy along the beach one hot afternoon. It turns out it really was a camel!
With so many exciting things to explore, here are a just few of my favorite sites and experiences in the beautiful country of Kenya:
Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru is home to 13 globally threatened bird species and some of the highest bird diversities in the world. One of the most popular features of this lake is the large gatherings of long-legged, long-necked flamingos. What attracts these birds to the lake is the abundance of algae. Lake Nakuru is also the most important foraging site for the flamingo and a major breeding and nesting ground for great white pelicans. Ornithologists often describe it as the greatest bird spectacle in the world!
Watch the Great Migration in Masai Mara
Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration, where over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Marai National Reserve in Kenya during July through October. The Maasai Mara reserve is relatively small, roughly the size of Rhode Island, making the concentration of wildlife one of the best. The reserve does not contain fences, allowing safaris to get as close to wildlife as safety and protection precautions allow. The migration itself crosses the Mara River in the Maasai Mara where the crocodiles represent the biggest threat. They will also be stalked, hunted, and run down by the larger carnivores and the Maasai Mara is also home to one of the largest densities of lion in the world. The principle animals involved in this migration are the wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and eland. Once on the grasslands of the Maasai Mara, the wildebeest spend several months feeding. By late October, when the first of the short rains fall on the Serengeti’s short-grass plains, the wildebeest start heading south again.
When in Nairobi, my favorite part of the city to stay in is the city centre between Tom Mboya St and River Rd, where you will find tons of hotels and guesthouses. My first stop here after settling into my hotel is the Nairobi National Park, one of Kenya’s first national parks. It’s only about 7km south of of the city center and it’s a conservation center that protects big game animals like the black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded. The park also has plenty of picnic sites, three campsites and walking trails if you wish to hike. This is also a major Rhino sanctuary for breeding and restocking other parks and has a spectacular wildebeest and zebra migration.
Nairobi is also home to the tourist village of of the Bomas of Kenya. Located in the south of the city, the village has welcomed over 10 million visitors. This is a popular place to really experience the rich diversity of Kenyan traditional music and dance from over 50 different ethnic communities. Be prepared to journey through Kenya’s past and present with live percussion, string and wind instruments, and diverse, authentic and energetic dancing.
Ngong Hills is a great place for hikers who are interested in experiencing the peaks in a ridge along the Great Rift Valley boasting scenic valley and city views. This majestic mountain range spans the western end of Nairobi and is actually quite well known in many historical works such as the movie, “Out of Africa”. The peak of the Ngong Hills lies at 2,460m.
A visit to the Maasai Market provides fascinating insight into the livelihoods of local artisans. At these open-air markets you will find paintings, drawings, clothes, East African prints, jewelry, and wood-carvings and yes be prepared to haggle. Local markets are one of my favorite stops in any city, so don’t miss this one when in Nairobi.
My favorite beach picks for Mombassa include Diani, Nyali, and Bamburi beaches that have both restaurants and hotels with easy beach access. Visit Fort Jesus nearby, constructed by the Portuguese and designed by an Italian architect, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although it is partly damaged, it was built in the shape of a man and is a fine example of 16th century Portuguese military architecture. You can enjoy the wide collection of ceramic and pottery that reflect the various cultures that traded along the coast. Old town Mombassa is interesting because this port was once ruled by the Portuguese but most of the current residents are of Asian, Arab and European origin. Thus the architectural style now reflects these different cultures. Come check out the many narrow alleys with old buildings that display ornately carved doors and balconies or stop at the many stores that sell antiques, spices, oils and if you’re hungry just sit down at one of the cute cafes and watch people go by.
What are you most excited to explore in Kenya? Share it with us in the comments below!