By AB Gondwe
Indeed a magical land with an incredible diversity of cultures, wildlife, natural scenery, leisure activities, history and heritage…that is Kenya.
Located on the equator, just below the Horn of Africa within the Great Rift Valley, between the African Great Lakes and the tropical coast of the Indian Ocean, Kenya is the undisputed power house of East Africa. It is also a stunning, much-favoured tourist destination for people from all over the world, with spellbinding wildlife and natural scenery.
And on that score, few other countries, if any, can offer more than Kenya.
For tourists the country offers incredible diversity, excellent tourist infrastructure, and good international connectivity. Once you have landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the capital, or at any of the other major airports, you can travel in any direction, and within a single day’s reach, view an abundance of wildlife, climb some of Africa’s highest and most beautiful mountains, enjoy the pulsating nightlife of a sophisticated metropolis, wander through tropical forests, laze on palm-fringed beaches, cross deserts, listen to the chatter of birds and monkeys in a rainforest, or visit the spice and craft markets of ancient Mombasa with its strong Arab cultural influence.
In Kenya and its immediate neighbours, East and West meets indigenous Africa, resulting in its rich cultural variety and one of the most widely spoken languages of the world, Swahili, today spoken by tens of millions of Africans. Swahili also gave the English language the word ‘safari’, synonymous with Kenya.
A Kenyan safari
For most foreigners the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Kenya, is a true African safari and the country’s great outdoors with its wildlife, immortalised in books such as Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa. The legacies and presence of both writers are still much in evidence here and have also been made into blockbuster Hollywood movies over the years.
Just as in Hemingway’s and Blixen’s days, the abundance and diversity of wildlife, continues to be a hallmark of Kenya, arguably the safari capital of the world. With 23 national parks, 16 national reserves and 6 marine parks and reserves, visitors are absolutely spoiled for choice.
Topping the list of wildlife experiences is the annual great wildebeest migration, when thousands upon thousands of wildebeest accompanied by zebra, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, eland and impala, head north through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and into Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, before turning south again. On the Kenyan side, this is best viewed in the months from mid-August to early-November. For more information and a live map of the animal movement, visit www.expertafrica.com. This astonishing spectacle is best viewed from above in a hot-air balloon ride.
To get really up close and intimate with Africa’s wildlife and fantastic bush scenery, a privately-escorted safari on foot is probably just the thing. Expert trackers and guides will take you into the heart of the wilderness, educating you about its dynamics, while you become super aware of every sight and sound, the fresh smell of the earth, and the presence of the world’s great animal heritage.
Another excellent way of experiencing a Kenyan safari is on camel or horseback, both offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences, also with expert guides accompanying you. Equally unique and memorable is a safari in an East African dhow, an ancient type of one- or two-masted Arab sailing vessel. From its deck you can explore the Kenyan coastline and the islands of the Lamu Archipelago of Kenya. On Lamu Island you can visit Old Town, one of the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. All of these islands have small fishing villages, deserted beaches, abundant marine and bird life, ancient ruins, markets and are steeped in history.
To get really close to the astonishing marine life in these warm Indian Ocean waters, you could try a diving or snorkelling safari by dhow to Wasini Island within the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Reserve. And a short boat trip from Watamu will also take you into the mangroves and estuaries of Mida Creek, home to a fantastic range of bird life. Helicopter safari charters are also available in most parts of the county. Wildlife ranges from the Big Five to the Little Five and everything in between.
Those with an interest in Snakes should definitely visit BioKen Snake Farm in Watamu and go on a unique Kenyan Snake Safari. Among the many snakes you will encounter are the Big Five African snakes: the python, cobra, puff adder, boomslang (tree snake) and mamba. Bird watching is great all year round in Kenya, with 10 per cent migrant and 90 per cent indigenous birds making up the mix. The rarest indigenous birds, and endangered species, are best viewed in one of the many forests or in the highland grasslands.
There are many safari tour operators in Kenya offering a wide variety of safari packages and itineraries, while accommodation ranges from luxurious lodges, to traditional housing, cheaper budget accommodation, B&Bs, backpackers lodges and tented safari camps.
Many other activities
Kenya has also become a premier destination for diving enthusiasts with many operators offering excellent packages to discover the great underwater wilderness of the Indian Ocean. Underwater visibility in the warm turquoise waters protected by many reefs is generally very good all-year round, and there is an absolute myriad of sea life to be discovered.
Equally popular along the Kenyan coast is kitesurfing, one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Conditions created by the trade winds vary from those for beginners to experts at locations like Nyali Beach north of Mombasa and Che-Shale near Malindi. Apart from kitesurfing visitors can try their hand at windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, skim and boogie boarding.
Of course Kenya is also renowned for its big game fishing opportunities, another action activity highlighted by the author Hemingway. Many highly-skilled local operators are available on the north coast and at Malindi, while Hemingway’s Hotel in Watamu is a fishing resort with an excellent international reputation.
For adrenalin addicts one of Kenya’s best adventure safaris is a rafting expedition along the Ewaso N’giro and Tana rivers. These rafting trips last anywhere between three and eight days, with all equipment provided along with expert guides and crew. As you bound along rushing waters and rapids, look out for crocodiles and hippos, as well as plenty of game along the banks.
Golfing enthusiasts will also find many world-class golf courses in Kenya, while climbing, trekking and hiking excursions can be enjoyed with expert guides on Mount Kenya, Africa’s second tallest mountain.
Social, cultural and heritage
Kenyans love to think of themselves as jolly, fun-loving people, and attesting to this are the many festivals staged throughout the year in different towns and cities. These include the Maralal Camel Derby, Lamu Cultural Festival, the Lewa Marathon, the Rhino Charge and the Lake Turkana Festival.
On the cultural front, Kenya is unique, being home to 42 different indigenous tribal cultures, while there are also European, Arab, Asian, Indian and other communities spread across the country. Experiences include a stay in a traditional local village, one of the best ways to be introduced to local culture and lifestyle, as well as the surrounding natural scenery and wildlife. Kenya’s conservancy model of conservation and wildlife protection areas was created to foster co-existence between wildlife and livestock of communities living near tourism attractions.
As if all of the above is not enough, Kenya is also the proud home to 6 unique world heritage sites identified by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). These have been clustered in different UNESCO categories, reflecting their cultural, historical, natural and archaeological value. The 6 heritage sites include Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to the designs of Giovanni Battista Cairati to protect the port of Mombasa, Kenya’s Lake Systems, Lake Turkana National Parks, Mount Kenya National Park and Mijikenda Kaya Forests.
The country’s vast wealth of history and heritage in all its varieties is just waiting to be discovered. This ranges from the Arab sultanates along the coast, to the colonial eras of the Portuguese and English rulers, to the great African human migrations and the indigenous footprints of the origin of humankind.
Into the cities…
After being revitalised and energised by an extravagant cocktail of wildlife safaris, diving, boat cruises, visits to markets and islands, sporting activities and so much more, you may feel the need to explore Kenya’s pulsating cities. These range from modern Nairobi with its skyscrapers, nightclubs, restaurants, shopping malls, museums, world-class hotels and even wildlife looking in from the outer edges, to the ancient Arab and Portuguese settlements along the coast centred around the bustling port city of Mombasa, and the resort playground of Malindi on the central coast.
In these cosmopolitan cities you can experience the superb cuisine offerings from the many different cultures that make up Kenya; learn about the country’s history and culture in the many museums; enjoy excellent shopping; brows around in the many interesting markets; go on guided tours of the cities; play tennis or golf; take in the architecture ranging from ancient Arab influences, to the colonial era and the modern skylines that have arisen since; join friends over drinks in many lively bars and bistros; or go dancing till you drop in the many popular nightclubs. It’s all there…in magical Kenya.
Languages – Swahili & English (official); many other indigenous languages.
Capital – Nairobi.
Regions / Provinces – Kenya’s 8 former provinces were replaced by a system of 47 counties in 2013. However, the former provinces are still distinguishable as Central Kenya, Coastal Kenya, East Kenya, Nairobi, Northeast Kenya, Nyanza, Rift Valley and West Kenya.
Climate -. Kenya’s climate varies by location, from mostly cool every day, to always warm/hot, while the climate along the coast is tropical. Daytime temperatures average between 20°C/68°F and 28°C/82°F, but warmer on the coast which is hot and humid all year round, but the heat is tempered by the monsoon winds. Because of proximity to the equator, there is no real difference between winter and summer.
Time Zone – UTC + 3.
Currency – Kenyan shilling.
Airlines Flying to Kenya – Kenyan Airways; Meridiana; Jet Airways; Rwanda Air; Etihad Airways; Air Mauritius; Quantas; Oman Airways; Vietnam Airlines; Emirates; Qatar Airways; China Southern; KLM; Turkish Airlines; South African Airways; American Airlines; Swiss Air; Royal Air Maroc; Delta; United; Saudia; Lufthansa; Ethiopian Airlines; and Egypt Air.
Airports – Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi; Kisumu International Airport; Eldoret International Airport; Moi International Airport; Wilson Airport, Nairobi; with local airfields at all major towns.
Entry Requirements – All visitors require a valid passport, but some countries are visa exempted. A passport valid for 6 months with at least 2 blank pages. Yellow fever vaccination. No entry currency restrictions, but exit restriction of 100,000 Kenyan shillings.
Kenya Tourism Federation – Tel: +254 (0)20 6004 767, +254 (0)20 8001000, +254 (0)722 745 645, +254 (0)738 617 499 or +254 (0)20 2679838; Website: http://www.ktf.co.ke.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers & Caterers – Tel: +254 (0)775 448306 or (0)789 201197; Email: email@example.com.