With over fifty-eight national parks and reserves, Kenya’s natural riches are legendary. They include the flat savannas of the world-famous Masai Mara, huge Amboseli where large herds of elephants are framed against the outline of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, Samburu with its gerenuk and other unique species, and the flamingo-rich lakes at Nakuru and Naivasha.
Kenya’s dominant geological feature is the Great Rift Valley that bisects the country, starting in Syria and continuing through to Mozambique. The Rift Valley is renowned for its large herds of plains game and predators, and forms the perfect backdrop for wildlife viewing. Its alkaline soda lakes attract vast flocks of salmon-pink flamingos as well as over four hundred other species of water and land birds. Rhino viewing is particularly good at Lake Nakuru.
The year-round game viewing in the open grasslands of the Masai Mara is some of Africa’s finest. One of the best reserves for seeing the big-five, the large prides of lion found here will ensure that game viewing is a thrilling experience. You are likely to see the pride working together as a team, as they stalk and catch their prey. It is also one of the best wildlife reserves in the world for spotting the endangered cheetah and the elusive leopard.
The annual migration of over two million wildebeest from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania to the Masai Mara takes place between July and October. While timings vary depending on the rains, the wildebeest and zebra usually move north in July, braving the rivers and crocodiles that separate them from the sweet fresh grasses of the Mara, and then make the same hazardous journey back south to the Serengeti in October. The superb game viewing in the Mara is enriched by the culture of the Maasai people, semi-nomadic pastoralists by tradition, who wear striking red blankets as cloaks called shukas.
If its elephant you want to see, head for Amboseli on the southern border with Tanzania, as this park offers the highest concentration of herds in East Africa. The huge Tsavo East and West national parks near the coast are some of the most accessible in Kenya, yet relatively undeveloped.
More remote and rugged, the sparsely populated wildernesses of Samburu-Buffalo Springs and Shaba are among Kenya’s lesser-visited wildlife gems. Extending northwards from Mount Kenya, the conditions in the country’s central reserves are hotter and more arid than in the highlands. Made famous by the Adamson’s, who raised Elsa the lioness here, these national reserves are located within the tribal lands of the colourful and semi-nomadic Samburu people, who are close relatives of the Maasai. These game reserves are home to a variety of wildlife found only north of the equator, including the strange gerenuk, which stands upright on its spindly hind legs to graze from trees, the larger Grevy’s zebra, the Reticulated giraffe, the Beisa oryx and the Somali ostrich. Large herds of elephant and buffalo are found beside the Ewaso Ng’iro River and you may see lion and cheetah, as well as antelope and over 350 different bird species.
To the northwest of Mount Kenya, the Laikipia Plateau offers one of Kenya’s most exclusive wilderness experiences. Here a handful of upmarket, owner-run lodges are set within vast sweeping landscapes, dotted with thorny acacia, candelabra trees and huge rock outcrops. Private and community reserves have combined to form the second largest conservancy in Kenya and while game viewing can be good (you may see elephant, lion, leopard and wild dog as well as many of the herbivores that are dry-climate specialists), this is the place to come for old style Kenyan hospitality and an exciting mix of activities. Camel trekking, horse riding, hiking, river swimming, picnics and sundowners fill your days, as well as genuinely authentic cultural visits to a local Samburu village. Nearby Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a private reserve that has taken a lead on community based tourism and conservation. It is an important sanctuary for the critically endangered black rhino.
For twitchers, the Kakamega Rainforest and Lake Baringo offer some of the best birding in the world. Game viewing can also be enjoyed in the cooler central highlands that surround Mount Kenya, from a treetop lodge in the Aberdare Mountains to a simple cabin on the mountain slopes, where Prince William proposed to Kate.
The capital city of Nairobi boasts the Karen Blixen Museum, the Giraffe Centre and a national park that is home to the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
The early morning starts on safari can be demanding, so many visitors choose to complete their trip with time relaxing on one of Kenya’s spectacular Indian Ocean beaches, sheltered by offshore coral reefs. About 20 miles south of Mombasa, resorts such as Diani, Tiwi and Galu boast glorious palm-fringed white sandy beaches and many marine activities, including boat excursions, snorkelling, diving, windsurfing, paddle boarding and game fishing. Short safari trips can be arranged from here to Taita Hills, Tsavo East and Shimba Hills.
For some of East Africa’s most spectacular snorkelling and diving, head to the Watamu Marine National Reserve, about 60 miles north of Mombasa. Easily reached by a short flight from Nairobi to nearby Malindi, Watamu was voted one of the world’s top ten beaches by the Sunday Times. A string of excellent beach hotels and resorts overlook the 5-mile long beach and the large coral gardens that protect it. Marine life is prolific with over 500 species of fish, including Manta ray, Whale shark and Barracuda. A turtle programme has helped to protect the three species of turtle that nest here.