Perhaps the most diverse wildlife on the African continent can be found migrating through the endless, unfenced conservation areas of Kenya. Famed for the annual great migration of wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle and zebra, Kenya offers more than 15 000 square kilometres of spectacular game viewing.
It’s not just the migration of animals that brings visitors back every year. Kenya offers the breathtaking beauty of mountains and deserts, beaches and untouched coral reefs.
Location: East Africa, one of 53 countries on the African continent, straddling the Equator. Borders Ethiopia and Sudan to the north, Uganda to the west, Tanzania to the south and Somalia and the Indian Ocea to the east.
Size: 586,000km², of which about 10,700km² comprise the lakes of Victoria and Turkana. It compares in size to France or Texas. The tropical coastline stretches for about 480km.
Climate: Tropical to alpine – averages dry temperatures; two rainy seasons
Time: GMT +3
Electricity: 220 volts
International telephone code: +254
Currency: Kenya Shilling
Population: 30.7 million
Economy: Major earners: tea, coffee, horticulture, agriculture, tourism
Main Towns: Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru
Language: English (official), Kiswahili (national), multiple ethnic languages
Religion: Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and traditional beliefs
Flag: Red, black and green, shield and crossed spears
Kenya’s most popular areas:
The sprawling cosmopolitan city of Nairobi combines the first-world glamour of reflecting-glass skyscraper buildings with the abject third-world poverty. It originated in 1899 from a handful of shacks that marked the end of the railhead during the building of the Uganda railway. Subsequently it was given township status in the 1900 and city status in 1950. The area known by the Maasai as enkare nyrobi, a reference to the cool waters where they came to water their livestock. The name became corrupted to Nairobi, and as the city grew – and with it an increase in crime – it’s become referred to wryly as ‘Nai-robberi’.
South and Eastern Kenya
The south and eastern part of Kenya encompasses the largest part of the country where wildlife is protected. It includes two of Kenya’s oldest and most famous national parks – Amboseli which lies in the lee of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, with its sugarloaf doem rising high above the savanna plains, and Tsavo, dry thornbush country for the most part, intersperesed with giant baobabs, In Tsavo the Athi and Tsavo rivers join to form the Galana which then becomes the Sabaki River, reaching the Indian Ocean to the north of Malindi. These two parks dominate the southern safari circuit from Nairobi and are also popular for coastal safari excursions, Amboseli and Tsavo West being the prime gameviewing areas. This region was a favourite hunting patch for he likes of Ernest Hemingway and elephants are still synonymous with Tsavo. On the surrounding Maasai ranches some of the Maasai are becoming involved in ecootourism ventures. These projects are helping to maintain vital wildlife migration corridors and the intergrity of the greater Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems as well as broadening the choice of game-viewing options and activities. Other highlights within the region are Lake Magadi and the Nguruman escarpment at the southern extreme of Kenya’s Rift Valley, the Chyulu and Taita Hills which border Tsavo West National Park and the Tana River which runs through Garissa and Garsen to branch into a huge delta as it enters the sea south of Lamu.
The rugged, snow capped peaks of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain (5,199m) and the Aberdares range (4,000m), are the dominant lanscape features of this fertile, highly populated region. It stretches northeast of Nairobi to Meru, as far as Isiolo and Maralal, includs the entire massif of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, and west across the Laikipia Plateau to Nyahururu and Lake Baringo. Containing a microcosm of the country’s scenic diversity, landscapes range from semi arid savanna to the Laikipia PLteau and Meru National Park, to the fertile foothills around the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, with a tapestry of wheat farms around Nanyuki and Timau and small-scale farming by the Kikuyu and Meru tribes around the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, and the magnificent forests, moorland and sub-alphine flora in the Aberdares and Mount Kenya national parks. The most fertile land originally belonged to the Kikuyu tribe, and was parcelled out to ‘white settlers’ during the colonial era – the areabecame know as the ‘White highlands’ – who pioneered cash crops liek coffee and pineapples as well as mainstream wheat and livestock farming, and more recently horticulture, which are still mainstays of the agricultural economy today. It was small wonder that this area was the seat of discontent amoung the Kikuyu people and the stronghold of the Mau Mau rebellion which subsequently brought about the end of the colony and independence in 1963. The main highlights if the region are the superb scenery and wildlife – greater Laikipia being second only to the Masai Mara for game viewing – the tree hotels in the Aberdares and Meru and the community lodges of the Laikipiak Maasai and Samburu on the northern fringes of the Laikipiak Plateau. In addition, there’s a surprising choice of activities in the region, with plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track – by foot, bicycle, horse, camel or helicopter, depending on the size of your pocket.
The Rift Valley
The Rift Valley bisects Kenya from north to south, giving rise to spectacular scenery with dramatic escarpments and an intriguing necklace of freshwater lakes of Naivasha, Baringo and Kamnarok, the soda lakes of Elmentaita, Nakuru and Bogoria and their environs. The other lakes in the Rift Valley system are Turkana in the north and Magadi in the southeastern Kenya.
The appeal of western Kenya lies in its varied landscapes and rich tribal cultures. Its main draw is the Masai Mara, a wildlife Mecca mingled with colourful, traditional Maasai pastoralists. It encapsulates the epitome of how you imagine Africa’s wildlife to be: large herds of roaming bleached plains, with rolling hills, endless vistas and dramatic skies. Apart from the Masai Mara, the remainder of western Kenya is little visited by tourists, but it’s an ideal area for touring and hiking, often well off the beaten track. Highlights of the region include the Masai Mara National Reserve, the islands of Lake Victoria, Kakamega Forest, Mount Elgon, Saiwa Swamp and Ruma national parks, the Elgeyo escarpment and the Cherangani Hills.
Northern Kenya covers a third of the country, for the most part arid rangelands sparsely inhabited by nomadic pastoralists – Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Boran, Rendille and Gabbra. Remote and inaccessible, interspersed with isolated, forested mountain ranges and bisected by the northern Rift Valley lake of Turkana, the region boasts two World Heritage sites at Sibiloi and Central Islandnational parks and a biosphere reserve at Mount Kulal near Loyangalani. It’s also central to the discoveries of early man at Koobi Fora.
Kenya has an idyllic coastline, a magnet for all who visitthe country with its 480km of tropical beaches – white sands fringed with palm trees, with aquamarine turquoise waters sheltered by coral reefs close to shore, or golden sands flanked by sand dunes. Temperatures average 28°C, tempered by the monsoon winds – the southeast monsoon, the Kaskazi, blows from April to October, while the northeast monsoon, the Kazi blows from November to March – and there’s a daily average of eight hoursof sunshine. Apart from the obvious attraction of the beaches, the coast is steeped in history. Fron the 9th century onwards, Indian and Arab traders mingled with the indigenous inhabitants to create a Swahili culture which still thrives today, and the remains of early Swahili settlements may be found along the entire coastline, the most significant being the 15th century Gedi ruins south of Malindi, while Lamu town has been designated a World Heritage Site due to its significance as a Swahili centre. During the 15th century, the Portuguese stamped their mark on the coast, fighting with the Omani Arabs, their main legacy being Fort Jesus in Mombasa’s Old Town. The coast remained an entity in itself with little connection to the interior apart from the Arab caravans which trekked inland for ivory and slaves. At the turn of the 19th century, the British established a foothold and declared the coast, which at the time was in the hands of the Omani Arabs, a British Protectorate. Subsequently, Mombasa became pivotal in the development of Kenya as a British colony, being the starting poing for the building of the Uganda railway. Today it still plays a vital role as the hub commodity transportation inland and is a strategic port on the East African coastline. The coast also boasts unique and diverse habitats, both in maritime and terrestrial national parks and reserves. Highlights of the coast include Mombasa Old Town and Lamu, the Gedi ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest REserve, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and the Shimba Hills National Park and the underwater treasures of the marine national parks and reserves.