Known for its excellent safari opportunities, Kenya stretches far beyond lands patrolled by great predators. Choose from its scores of national parks, learn the traditional ways of life from its people and take time to relax on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
  • Kenya,
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  • Kenya
    © Nudda Chollamark / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Kenya

A walk on the wild side

You'll know it for its wildlife, from the flamingo-filled lakes of the Rift Valley to the wide open plains of the Tsavo region. The Masai Mara Reserve, synonymous with western Kenya, is one of the country's best-known spots for its spectacular migration of animals from the Serengeti in Tanzania, crossing the River Mara on the way. Expect a real-life Noah's Arc of lions, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas and, if you're very lucky, one or two leopards hidden in the branches of the surrounding trees.

Passion for conservation

Its incredible wildlife and safari opportunities are largely down to the country's determined focus on innovative conservation projects. Since the 70s and 80s very nearly saw the eradication of Kenya's rhino and elephant population, many of its parks now combine tourism with conservation and development with the aim of creating a sustainable habitat for future generations of visitors, as well as the wildlife and local communities.

Capital fever

Kenya's capital since 1905, Nairobi literally has its head in the clouds. At a cool 1660m, the city's altitude means comfortable temperatures all year round - perfect for exploring its large parks and gardens, Parliament buildings, mosques and old colonial institutions, some of which are beautifully preserved. Though many treat it as a departure point for the country's national parks, take the time to sample the city's great flavours, meet its fantastic people and poke your head into the open doorways of various shops.

To the coast

Mombasa is Kenya's largest seaside town. Add to that its status as the biggest port on Africa's east coast and you begin to get an idea of what this city is all about. Its old town is situated on a large coral island and still wears the vestiges of Portuguese and Omani occupation. Between old, white houses with superbly sculpted doors run winding roads, gently leading you up towards Fort Jesus, whilst the beaches to both the north and south offer a fantastic access point to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Traditional communities

You'll come for the sweeping landscapes and the show-stopping wildlife, but if you venture into the heart of some of Kenya's oldest communities, it's here that you'll make the memories of a lifetime. It's difficult not to be part of the problem here, as these age-old tribes of nomads and farmers battle against a steadily encroaching modernity with their traditional ways of life. But in understanding more about the Masai and the Samburu, the Kikuya and the Turkana, you'll find that you can make their task of preservation a little easier.

Kenya: the key figures

Surface area : 224080.0 km2

Population : 39002772 inhabitants

  • Affordable rates make Kenya acessible to many.
  • The possibility to combine a safari and beach holiday.
  • Mythical reserves, world-class wildlife and snow-capped mountains.
  • Excellent hotel infrastructure
  • Tourists come in large numbers, particularly in the summer.
  • It's advisable to travel in groups to visit certain areas, for safety reasons.
  • The hotels and lodges found in the reserves can be expensive.
  • Mass tourism jeopardises the identity of certain ethnic groups.

Kenya: what to visit?

Kenya: what to buy?

The Kenyans produce a wide variety of artisanal objects. Spindly sculptures (makondes), precious wood (more or less) and soapstone ornaments stand next to Masai crafts (necklaces, calabashes, shields and spears), Arabic crafts, precious stones and African cotton fabrics in the stalls.

The best place in Nairobi to shop is the City Market. In Mombasa you can visit the Akamba handicraft village - one of the biggest artisanal villages in Africa (4,000 people, in the west of Mombasa) - where essentially wooden objects are produced to be sold throughout the country. There is no haggling here; the prices are reasonable and it is an interesting place for sightseeing.

Kenya: what to eat?

Having been subject to several different cultural influences - Arabic, Portuguese, English, Asian and Indian - Kenyan cuisine is probably one of the richest and most varied in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Meats, seafood, spicy cuisine, Chinese specialties, Indian chutneys, traditional French cuisine... tourists will definitely find what they are looking for in the countless restaurants in Nairobi and Mombasa.

On a typical Kenyan table, you'll find that meat is almost always the main event. Lamb, beef, chicken and even goat go towards making tasty stews, soups and samosas, whilst potatoes, spinach and beans and bananas make up the various accompaniments. Be sure to try one of the nation's favourites, nyama choma - barbequed chunks of meat which can range from staples such as beef and chicken to exotic choices like camel, crocodile and ostrich.

Kenya: what are the cultural particularities?

Home to people from all across the African continent, Kenya is an especially diverse nation when it comes to traditions. Until Kenya's colonisation, its tribes lived peacefully side by side, each with their own set of customs - many of which are still practiced today.

The Masaļ, for example, were one of the most prosperous and respected tribes in the Horn of Africa. Although they have now virtually become a tourist attraction around the reserves, they still deserve the highest respect. The best way to show this to them is by seeking their permission before taking snapshots, and don't forget to smile.

Much of the coastal population is Muslim and visitors are advised to bring appropriate swimwear and not to bathe naked. In the towns themselves, women are advised to cover arms and shoulders with a shawl.

It's useful to know that in Nairobi, smokers are not particularly welcome. Avoid stubbing your butts out on the pavement or risk the displeasure of certain locals!

Kenya: travel tips

As one of Africa's safari centres, it's needless to say that there are numerous tour-operators offering visits to Kenya and that the competition is tough. Pay close attention to the quality of the services, the safety of transport, whether it be a jeep, a train or a plane and the recommendations of others before choosing a tour operator who really knows the destination.

Trips to the reserves by road are generally done in mini buses or on 4x4s. If you decide to rent a car, it is recommended that you travel short stretches at a time since the roads aren't always in the best condition. In town, you can either opt to travel by taxi or by rather more crowded 'matau' - mini buses which serve as public transport.

If you are going to Kenya to see the animals, avoid the rainy season and the period around it. Opt instead for the dry season, when animals gather on the banks of watering holes and can be viewed more easily. We recommend taking along a guide on your discovery of the parks and reserves, especially Masaļ Mara. Even if it sometimes allowed, try to avoid going off-roading as much as possible, so as not to disturb the vegetation.

The different parks can only be visited with a permit, the price of which goes towards improving the conditions of infrastructure and providing visitors with the experience they are expecting. Prices vary from year to year and from park to park so check with your tour operator before leaving.

If you have the possibility of going to the north-west of the country towards Eldoret, try visiting the small village of Iten on the high plateaus. Here, an exceptional panorama of the Rift Valley awaits you.

Kenya: Latest hotel reviews
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