Exploring KenyaOur Travel Guide
Kenya is a magical country. Most only think of safari when Kenya is mentioned, but it is so much more. Kenya is one of the top destinations in Africa and is home to many wonderful things like the Great Migration, Lions, Leopards, Elephants, world-class beaches and an interesting and fascinating culture. Kenya is filled with diverse landscapes, an incredible coast line and plains filled with iconic animals. The people are warm, friendly and inviting and the infrastructure is good. It is easy to see why it is one of the best places to go on your African safari.
There are a wide range of prices that will allow most people to travel to Kenya and have an incredible time. As Brian Jackman, a British journalist and author put it, “Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths? Could it be because Africa is the place of all our beginnings, the cradle of mankind, where our species first stood upright on the savannahs of long ago?”
We certainly agree with Mr. Jackman but we will try. So let’s head to Kenya and explore.
Kenya at a Glance
Currency: The currency of Kenyan Shilling. One rand equals 100 cents.
Visa: To travel to Kenya, you require a valid visa. Visa for tourism is valid for 90 days. We DO NOT recommend at this time the East African Visa.
Language: The official languages of Kenya are English and Swahili. English is the language of business, higher education and government. There are also other tribal languages spoken throughout the country.
Top Experiences in Kenya
First and foremost, if you are traveling to Kenya and want to experience a safari then head to the Maasai Mara. The Maasai Mara is located in southwest Kenya and borders the Serengeti in Tanzania. There are a large number of lions, cheetah, rhino, elephant, buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and many other animals in their natural habitat. They are free to roam the vast plains that stretch for miles. Also, if you are there at the right time (basically July through September) you could even see a crossing at the Mara river – part of the Great Migration.
There are many accommodations in and around the Mara. We go back as often as possible and always stay at Fisi Camp. The people and food are outstanding and they have in our opinion the best Maasai guides in Africa. But if you want luxury down to basic there are those too.
Some of the other incredible things you can do while on your safari is take some time out and visit a Maasai village. Hot air balloon for an unique perspective and a birds eye view of the animals. Take a bush walk. A tip though is if you are going to have a guide take you on safari, pay a little extra so they can go off road. You will see many more animals and have incredible experiences.
Amboseli National Park
Another great safari destination is Amboseli National Park. We have all seen the photographs of the giraffe or elephant in front of Mount Kilimanjaro. They were all taken at Amboseli. Amboseli is famous for its large herds of elephants as well as the other Big 5 in Africa. Probably the view of Mount Kilimanjaro is the most famous aspect of the park though. Amboseli in the south boarders the Tanzania and is a great safari destination on its own. We recommend that you combine Amboseli with the Maasai Mara for a truly unique experience.
Other Safari Locations in Kenya
Tsalvo – Actually two national parks; Tsalvo east and Tsalvo west. Famous for the man-eating lions and featured in the film with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer, The Ghost and the Darkness.
Nairobi – Yes, Nairobi. On the outskirts of the city, there is Nairobi National Park. It is strange to see elephant and lion with the city scape in the background, but you can here.
Lake Nakuru – Lies in the rift valley and because of it’s algae has thousands of flamingos line its shores.
Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and it’s largest city at almost 5 million people. It definitely is worth a couple of days to explore the city on your trip and not just pass through it to somewhere else, AND you can even take a safari at the Nairobi National Park. Though a relatively small park, it has a lot of wildlife including lion, leopard, African buffalo, black rhinoceros, giraffe, hippopotamus, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, plains zebra, cheetah, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, common eland, impala, hartebeest, waterbuck, common warthog, olive baboon, black-backed jackal, common ostrich, and Nile crocodile. To be honest, we did not go to this National Park, though we drove along side it. With the pollution from the city of Nairobi, it was in some ways sad to think of the animals having to put up with it.
What we did enjoy was heading out to Karen and seeing the Karen Blixen House from the movie Out of Africa. Some of the coffee plantation equipment is still there and the house and grounds are beautiful. We then had a spectacular lunch at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden restaurant. Kati recommends the prawns. There was even a local artist showing and we bought a piece of artwork there. It was a wonderful afternoon.
Nairobi offers many mid to upscale accommodations that are wonderful. We really enjoyed our two days in Nairobi.
The little island of Lamu just off the coast near Mombasa might be small but it absolutely oozes old-world charm. Lamu Old Town is about 7000 years old and is one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in Kenya and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Taking a stroll through the town and doing a little sightseeing is a must and it’s like taking a step back through time with its labyrinth street, narrow alleyways, hidden courtyards, and rooftop patios. Walking through the town, you’ll notice the island’s history through its architecture. Designs and styles feature an eclectic mix of the Arab world, the European, and Indian with all topped with discernible Swahili motifs.
The island was an important trading hub for those going along the coast of Africa out towards India and Asia and because the streets and the city were designed before the invention of cars, the streets are too narrow for vehicles. Getting around by car is impossible so donkeys are the transportation option of choice around here. More than 6,000 donkeys live on the island and they’re used for transporting everything from goods to people. Donkeys are so revered on the island that every year a donkey race down to the town’s beach is held every year and the largest non-profit on the island is a donkey sanctuary. The sanctuary also happens to own one of two cars on the island, which is an ambulance specifically for donkeys.
If donkeys don’t do it for you. Fort Lamu is another interesting stop on the island, or you can simply bask on the island’s white sand beach and enjoy an Arabic coffee. If you plan on visiting, be aware that most of the island is Muslim, and more conservative attire is followed.
The Kenyan coast is home to some of Africa’s best beaches. Azure waters and white sand are found throughout the coast and one of the best places in the country to explore the coast is none other than Malindi. Located just north of Mombasa, Malindi is both a historic coastal town and a modern resort spot. Beachside hotels and tourist hubs sit next to old historic buildings and landmarks due in part to the town’s rich maritime trading history. Because of this, the area has become a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.
Travelers from Europe and all around Africa hit up Malindi’s beaches to lounge on the soft white sand and dive off the coral reefs. If you’re traveling on a budget, there’s no better way to spend a day than hanging out on the beach. Nearby Watamu Marine National Park is also a great opportunity to learn about coastal wildlife and or dive into the waters and check out all the fish and aquatic lifeforms living in the coral reefs off the Kenyan coast. If you’re not in the mood for the beach check out the town of Malindi and soak up some local history. The town dates back to the 12th century and is full of Swahili history and cultural landmarks such as the 14th century Jami Mosque or the Saint Francis Xavier Church, one of the oldest churches in Africa. The nearby promontory has the Vasco de Gama cross which is one of the oldest standing monuments in Africa.
Our Final Word
We love Kenya, and it has some of the best safari locations in the world. How can you go wrong with The Great Migration, and the iconic safari animals that you will see and experience. The culture is magnificent so make sure you spend some time with the Maasai in their village. They are warm and inviting people. But there is more to Kenya than just safari. There are world-class beaches and the capital is filled with wonderful places to stay and eat. Explore those as well. It is hard to overstate how wonderful Kenya is and it is one location that we will return again and again.
Head to Kenya and explore!
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