Why Kenya Deserves a Slot in your Bucket List
Kenya, to most people, is 'the wildlife safari country', and many may think they know why: After all this is where African safaris began. Further, Kenya is host to some of the biggest wildlife parks in the world!
While history and abundant wildlife may help explain Kenya's fame as an African safari hotspot, there is much more to the Kenya safari story! Beautiful landscapes, a moderate climate and pristine white-sand beaches set beside blue, ever-warm ocean waters also add to the allure. There are classic urban and rustic hotels of all shades too; good travel connections and friendly, not to forget, welcoming people.
A passing look at each of these factors may help answer the ‘Why Kenya?’ question better:
Kenya's Landscapes and their Treasures
Kenya's landscapes vary widely in nature and size. Their diversity gives the visitor the feeling of being in a different geographical zone after just traversing short distances. The landscapes include lush, arid, and semi-arid savannah vegetation, tropical and equatorial forests and at least half a dozen large lakes.
The Great Rift Valley
There is the Great Rift Valley, the mountainous highlands and the northern drylands. These are complemented by pristine coastal forests and beaches lapped by warm ocean waters with abundant marine life.
The Great Rift Valley that originates in the Middle East cuts through the country along its length, from North to South. It leaves in its wake not only enchanting ridges and valleys but also seven large scenic lakes teeming with millions of birds and thousands of large mammals. The latter include the legendary 'Big Five' of lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant.
Thanks to the savanna grasslands and forests in the Valley, visitors can view its wild inhabitants with much ease. The beautiful, salty and freshwater lakes that dot the Valley’s floor are home to rich wildlife that includes mammals and birds. The lakes make up some of Kenya’s most popular tourist hotspots.
Despite its moderate size measuring 580,000 kilometres square, Kenya is a birder's paradise. Its list of counted species numbered 1,134 as of March 2020.
Above the Valley is a lush green plateau that rises into a hilly region that hosts the mountain the country is named after. The tart high-quality teas and coffees that make Kenya a famous soft beverage source-market are grown here. Behind the hilly plateau are mist-shrouded forested ranges. The alpine grasslands and moorlands finally become rocky, snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya which stands just short of 5000 meters above sea level.
The plateau and lowlands west of the Valley have a pleasant climate for crop and animal farming. It is the most significant portion of Kenya's food basket.
The Rift Valley and the Central Highlands are well-known agricultural zones and are home to the horticulture farmlands that make Kenya the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world.
Below Mount Kenya on the North lies the Laikipia Plateau. Laikipia offers a unique set-up for wildlife conservation and eco-tourism. It is the birthplace of organized non-governmental wildlife and environment conservation in Kenya. Private wildlife conservancies and sanctuaries found here mainly serve tourists who come seeking privacy and luxury in the wild. There are community wildlife conservancies too that extend to the northern parts of the country. Pastoral communities have used these to turn their arid lands into viable wildlife sanctuaries and eco-tourism hotspots. Their model has since been replicated in the coastal and southern parts of the country resulting in a national tally of over one hundred community conservancies.
The Northern Deserts
The North is a jumble of arid and semi-arid scrubland, rugged hills and spectacular valleys. The parched often-rocky lands host many scenic physical features and rare wildlife species. The dry North holds some of Kenya's most beautiful landscapes.
Among these is Lake Turkana, also known as the Jade Sea for its green-bluish waters. It is the largest desert lake in the world. Anthropologists have discovered many pre-historic fossils around the Lake and have since labelled its general location as 'the cradle of humankind'.
Colourful and elegant cattle, goat and camel-rearing pastoralists inhabit the region. There is lots of wildlife too, some only found in this part of the world.
However, it is not all dry and dusty in the North. There are islands of greenery. The thick Ngare Ndare and Marsabit forests are two examples. Marsabit National Park, which is one of Kenya's most iconic wildlife parks, is located here. The remote Samburu Reserve, touted as Kenya’s ‘undiscovered wildlife safari gem', is also located here.
The western region hosts Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater Lake in the world as well as Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city. The Lake spreads over the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The region is home to some of Kenya's most vibrant cultures. Its tourist attractions include three wildlife parks and Kakamega Forest, the only remaining equatorial forest in East Africa.
The western tourist circuit ends at the border with Uganda where another large mountain range, Mount Elgon juts out of the ground without much warning. It is Africa’s, fourth-highest mountain and comes loaded with more wildlife and stunning physical features.
Kenya's coastline is nearly 600 kilometres long. Powdery white as well as golden and silver sand beaches dot the coastline. From Diani on the southern tip to Lamu on the northern end, Kenya boasts many splendid beaches. Their natural beauty and other attractions offer unforgettable beach safari experiences. Some often feature in popular ‘Best in the World Beaches' lists. Water sports such as water skiing, snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, and game fishing feature in most of the resorts.
Tourist hotels and beach cottages that befitting of all travel budgets dot the habited sections of the coastline. Lamu and Mombasa represent the old urban Kenya. Lamu Town is estimated to be about 600 years old and is Kenya's oldest, continually inhabited urban area. Mombasa too is an old settlement founded around 900 A.D. The architecture and cultures in the two towns betray evidence of Kenya's past linkages with the outside world. Links to the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, China and Europe are evident all over. The laid-back and hospitable Swahili culture complements their attraction to holidaymakers.
People and Cultures of Kenya
Kenya is a melting pot of African cultures sauced with others from around the world. There are forty-four official ethnic cultures and even more dialects in Kenya. Displays of the cultures through art and craft, language, dress, song and dance provide an exciting social dimension to every safari.
Among the most popular of the cultures is that of the Maasai Tribe. They are cattle herders famous for their bravery. Many of them still live by their old customs, which tourists love to explore by visiting their villages. Their outdoor way of life enables them to live in harmony with nature. Their habitats of Masaai Mara, Amboseli ecosystems in Southern Kenya, and Laikipia and Samburu in the North hold many of Kenya's best wildlife reserves.
Kenya's national language is Kiswahili, which together with English makes the country's pair of official languages. Most Kenyans speak both languages and at least one other, a mother tongue.
The first Swahili words you are likely to hear and learn on landing in Kenya are 'Jambo?'/ 'Habari?' (Hello/how is it?) ; 'Hakuna Matata '(No problem'/’Eazy’!’); 'Asante Sana' (Thank you very much) and 'Kwaheri' (Good-bye/See you). Kiswahili has African Bantu roots peppered with Arabic and other languages including English, Portuguese and Hindi.
Climate and Weather in Kenya
Kenya's climate is, for the most part, sunny, all year round. High altitude mutes the tropical sun to yield pleasant mild weather in most places. The average daily temperatures range between 15°C and 28°C (59°F and 92°F ) in the cold and hot seasons, respectively.
Night temperatures rarely fall below 10 °C except in a few highland areas during the cold season between June and August. January and February are the hottest months. Average temperatures rise to a maximum of 28°C (84°F) in the central highlands and 30°C in the western regions. The coastal belt rises to 33°C (91ºF). The sparsely populated Northern areas are hotter with average temperatures reaching 38ºC (104ºF) in the year's hottest weeks.
The high-altitude zones host most of the famous wildlife parks. Peak temperatures rarely rise above 28ºc (82ºF)in these areas. Therefore, wildlife viewing is, for the most part, done in moderate sunny weather. There are many tourist attractions in the hot North too but these are less popular due to their remote locations. Still, their splendour and stunning scenery quickly melt away the effects of the distance and the heat.
Daytime weather along the coast is typically hot and humid but the evenings are pleasant thanks to the breeze that blows in from the sea.
Weather changes follow the rains. The long rainy season lasts between April and June. October to December is the short rainy season. January through March is dry in most regions. All seasons are good for safari, but the dry ones allow wildlife viewing better, by most accounts.
The northern region is hot and dusty for most of the year. Its redemption is its beautiful landscapes that capture your attention easily and leave you feeling lost in wonderland.
Hotels in Kenya
Kenya's hotel industry is well-established and vibrant. Several global hospitality brands have branches here. They complement several thousand indigenous hotels and restaurants. Many of these offer excellent services. Indeed, rave reviews and awards to Kenyan hospitality brands by top travel experts are quite common.
All but a few game parks have lodges or accommodations. Rustic lodges and tented camps of the ordinary or luxurious kind provide a marked change from the urban hotels located in the cities. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) runs self-catering lodges and tented camps in many wildlife parks too.
There are options for every traveller category. Good quality hotels for the budget traveller dot all urban centres. You choose among many neat hotels or beaten roadside inns, or you could camp in one of the tens of camping facilities dotted all over the country.
Transport and Communication
Moving around Kenya is easy and affordable too! Travel around the country is mainly by road and air as well as iconic rail safari.
You get to travel luxury and spartan as well as everything in between. Because of the relatively good transport network, distances do not matter much.
You could choose to visit more than 40 formal wildlife parks or tens of private and community conservancies on a wildlife safari.
There are good and affordable mobile phone and internet networks in nearly all regions. High-quality services cover most parts of the country, even some remote parks.
Urban Life in Kenya
Nairobi is Kenya's capital city. The city sits on the country's southerly part at an elevation of 1,795 meters (5,889 ft/ meters) above sea level.
Nairobi in the Maasai language means 'place of cool waters. The city lives up to its name thanks to its pleasant moderate climate. It is a modern bustling city - one of the better-known in Africa. It is also one of the four major office sites of the United Nations Organization: The United Nations Environment Programme and UN-Habitat head offices are located here. Besides, the city hosts the African head offices of several international corporations.
Nairobi prides itself on being the only city in the world with a natural wildlife park. The Nairobi National Park is located seven kilometres from the City Centre. For this, Nairobi calls itself 'the safari capital of the world'.
There are many other tourist attractions to enjoy in the city. Elegant hotels and restaurants, as well as good health and social services, are available too. However, like every growing City, Nairobi faces many challenges. For instance, traffic jams are frequent and severe. There are ongoing infrastructure projects that the Kenya government is implementing to make life better for the city's residents and visitors alike.
Each of the other four large towns has its distinct character and brand. Mombasa is a famous holiday resort and seaport. Kisumu, a Lake-side Port, is a growing business and tourist city. Nakuru is a tourist town and home to the famous Lake Nakuru National Park. Eldoret is the home of Kenya's champion runners!
Setbacks and Recovery
Kenya indeed has what it takes to be a major tourist hotspot. And yes it is! However, it has not been all rosy with the Kenya tourism industry over the years: Competition from other African countries has grown a lot over the last two decades. Also, cyclical financial crises in Kenya's source markets have seen reduced visitor numbers for several years. Worse, security concerns over terrorist incidents and threats nearly crippled the industry a few years ago.
However, the recovery following sustained measures by the government and tourist stakeholders is going well. Indeed the World Travel Awards voted Kenya as the top safari destination in the world for 2019.
Which Kenya Safari?
No doubt, Kenya has a full plate of tourist attractions. There are rolling savannah bushes and grasslands roamed by large herds of wildlife and mountain forests with birdlife and shy reticent carnivores. There are lakes, teeming with millions of birds and aquatic life. High moors and a snow-peaked mountain, not to mention beautiful, soft, snow-white and golden sand beaches tucked along coastal groves and forests that hold back clear blue ocean waters.
There are stony, parched yet stunning northern deserts. The lowlands on the western side are rich river and lake basins that are home to vibrant peoples and cultures
These enticing physical features exist in harmonious order. Add to that, vibrant cultures and friendly people are found all over the country.
The result is a rare, utterly stunning air, water, earth, things and people experience!
Yet this diversity poses a severe choice problem for any traveller. 'What am I better off seeing? 'Where do I start?' are questions any new or experienced traveller would have to grapple with in choosing a Kenya safari. Choosing your safari after you know your options will help you get the best out of your Kenya trip. Our job is to help you understand Kenya safari choices before you set off on your holiday.
We shall share with you all that we know about Kenya safaris, and that is a lot! Keep in touch with us. Come back often!