Kenya, a tale of two cities
Kenya is an all encompassing country, a place unlike any other and one that is as dynamic and diverse as anywhere else on Earth. The home of African safaris, there is however an awful lot more to this fascinating nation. From the great Masai Mara to the beautiful coast, low plains to the central Highlands, the scar-like Great Rift Valley and arid deserts to thick equatorial rainforests, Kenya is nothing if not eclectic.
As well as an incredible natural variety Kenya also boasts some of the most rapidly evolving and exciting metropolitan centres in Eastern Africa. Of particular interest, amongst the eight or so communities with populations above 100,000 people, are the capital of Nairobi and the coastal port town of Mombasa.
Nairobi is by far Kenya’s most populous which in the 110 years since its inception has risen from an unremarkable rural village to a true metropolis. Certainly no longer a mere frontier town, Nairobi is expanding and evolving everyday and with a population of over 3 million is one of Africa’s largest cities. Despite its speedy growth Nairobi has managed to retain much of its history which is cherished and displayed in the numerous museums in the area, as well as the fantastic home of author Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa and whose former residence is now a popular tourist attraction. Elevated almost 2000 metres above sea level the city actually enjoys a much more moderate climate and during the winter months of June and July nights can often be quite chilly; it is during this period that the city also experiences its highest rainfall. Thanks to its elevated position, on a clear day visitors can hope to see the two of Africa’s great peaks within the same panorama, Mt Kenya to the north of the city is Kenya’s highest mountain, and to the south east, the colossal Mt Kilimanjaro, the known as the roof of Africa. With numerous parks and gardens, bustling markets and the nearby Nairobi National Park, this place has an awful lot to offer an inquisitive visitor.
On the east coast of Kenya lies the busy port city of Mombasa. As well as its interests at sea, the city, which is actually an island connected to the mainland by two bridges, has a thriving international airport which receives thousands of travellers a day. Despite its commercial development Mombasa is still full of history, particularly the old town region which is characterised by winding streets and Arabic architecture; a testament to the city’s multicultural heritage having through the years attracted many skilled craftsmen and migrants from Iran, the Middle East, Somalia and the India Sub-continent. As coastal community Mombasa’s geography is relatively flat but just beyond the city the region does boast some of the most pristine beaches in East Africa. The climate is generally warmer than that in Nairobi but cooling breezes blowing in off the Indian Ocean can make the heat much more bearable, the area receives most of its rainfall a little earlier than Nairobi in April and May, leaving the rest of the year largely dry and with temperatures rarely falling below about 27°C.
Some of Kenya’s most beautiful, but perhaps less well known attractions, are its incredible great lakes. Dotted across the variable landscape these natural phenomenon are oases of biodiversity and offer some of the most breathtaking views in all of Kenya the perfect accompaniment to any Kenya Safari. With locals and tour operators beginning to realise the draw of these wondrous sites, numerous lodges, camps and hideaways have been sympathetically established on the banks of these great bodies of water, providing tourists with a unique opportunity to embrace the glory of these natural wonders.
One of Kenya’s most memorable sights are the huge flocks of flamingo which collect around Lake Nakuru in central Kenya’sRift Valley. Drawn by the natural algae which fringes the lake, the flamingos flock to the area to feed in huge numbers, into the thousands and tens of thousands. The sky becomes awash with the most spectacular flittering shades of pink. Away fro mthe skies though, Nakuru also functions as a major national park, providing a home for extremely endangered species of black and white rhino as well as waterbuck, buffalo, zebra and Rothschild Giraffe. Nakuru also presents one of the best opportunities in Africa of spotting a leopard in the wild. The surrounding landscape is aplenty with waterfalls, riverine scrubland, forests and sheer cliffs, promising exceptional views from every angle.
At the gateway to the Great Northern Wilderness lies Lake Bogoria which like Nakuru is home to thousands of migratory flamingo. The lake is volcanically active meaning that around the circumference spectacular geysers shoot up out of the waters, huge steam vents and bubbling geothermal pools. The numbers of flamingos also attract natural predators, fish eagles, but other species can also be observed including gazelle, zebra baboons as well as Greater Kudu.
Also part of the Great Rift Valley, lying west of the nation’s capital, Nairobi, Lake Naivasha covers an area of 192km². This comes as a surprise really, considering that in the 20th century the area had completely dried up and had been developed into estates; great rains flooded the area and re-established the lake. Over 400 species of birdlife have been recorded in the area as well as a resident herd of hippo. Parallel to the Lake is the Hell’s Gate National Park, named so for its two ominously looking red cliffs which frame an active geothermic pool and steam vents, giving the area an unearthly resemblance.
Having been aforementioned in one of my posts, how could I ignore the spectacular, world wonder, Lake Victoria, the beating heart at Africa’s core? Twice the size of Wales and bordering Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, the area is abundant with wildlife waters as well as local tribes of fisherman such as the formidable Luo, drawn to the fresh waters alive with fish species. The lake is fringed by a number of long established fishing villages and communities such as Kisumu, an enchanting town which boasts welcoming people and fascinating colonial architecture.
Although I’ve touched upon Kenya’s fantastic eastern shoreline in previous posts I thought I would dedicate this article specifically to the beautiful stretches of coral, pristine beaches and swaying palms which collar the coast. A Kenya safari and beach break offers the perfect combination, a balance between exhilarating bush adventure and peaceful seaside relaxation.
Starting geographically to the north the Tana River Delta represents a truly unique location, not overcrowded with tourists and offering spectacular views and secluded beach retreats. The rugged inland wilderness meets the powerful confluence of the Tana River and the Indian Ocean offering a stunning landscape, swathed in bush and scrub land, a perfect habitat for animal and birdlife. A greatway to experience the region is by canoe, silently gliding up the delta floating past hippos and crocodiles and eventually out towards the excellent swimming waters of the beautiful Indian Ocean. The area is best accessed by road and is a three hour drive from Malinidi although there is a domestic airstrip capable of operating domestic, chartered flights.
Malindi and Watamu are two relatively small communities but which occupy envious locations on the Kenyan coast, making them an increasingly popular tourist destination. Malindi still retains a small town feel despite having several established, internationally renowned resorts, guesthouses and lodges. The nearby Marine National Park is an ideal day excursion for snorkelling enthusiasts and further to the north the Marafa Depression, popularly known as Hell’s Kitchen, consists of stunning sandstone gorges and sheer gullies. The dense jungles of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve provide another feather in this area’s already well plumaged hat; the forest is the perfect habitat for an array of wildlife including herds of African elephant. Also worthy of your time is the ghost town of Gedi, a deserted Swahili trading post which is now completely uninhabited. The crumbling walls and silent winding streets offer an eerie but unique glimpse into Kenya’s long history.
North of the Kenyan coastline’s most famous resort, Mombasa, the beaches are quieter but just as beautiful, with white sandy beaches and azure waters. The area is dissected by the wide Kilifi Creek which is a popular stop off point for the international yachting circuit. For a more vibrant beach experience explore the areas of yali, Vipingo, Kikambala and Shanzu but to enjoy a more secluded retreat head to the relatively private stretches at Mtwapa and Takaungu. The region is also famous for its world class diving opportunities with long coral wall running just off the coast and playing host to a myriad of underwater life.
South of Mombasa (which will be highlighted in a special article coming soon)the pretty beach of Diani boasts some of the best accommodation on Kenya’s coast. Other more exclusive regions include Tiwi beach, which is an ideal hideaway for vacationers looking for a more low-key break.
In coming posts I will also be looking at the major metropolitan centre of Mombasa as well as the popular Lamu Island, located just off the Kenyan coast.
One of the main reasons people come on an African safari, let alone a safari in Kenya, is to see the unrivalled majesty of the Great Migration often referred to as the greatest show on earth.
Despite the fact that this gripping animalistic drama represents the biggest annual exodus of large mammals anywhere in the world, actually seeing the migration can be quite a task. Unlike common perceptions of the event, these animals, amassing over 2 million in number, are always on the move and therefore hard to track. Like anything in nature there is an entirely unpredictable element to this epic journey and although the broad movement from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the Masai Mara here in Kenya is a general rule, it is only very general.
Made up not only of wildebeest but also large numbers of zebra, gazelle and eland (a type of entelope), marvel in sheer astonishment as the primordial beat of nature’s drum drives these animals forth, a round trip of over 1,800 miles, the equivalent of driving from London, England to Athens in Greece. On the way they will have to face marauding packs of lions and other predatory mammals, stampedes and treacherous river crossings with crocodiles lying wait to snap at their heels.
The migration is entirely dependent upon the cycle of rains that transform the Serengeti from a relatively dry and barren plain in the summer months to a lush, green landscape in winter. Again very generally speaking the movement across the border takes place around August as the millions of animals come in search for food and water in the evergreen Masai Mara. For around three months the animals that have survived this treacherous leg will feed and replenish their energy until around mid-November, the Serengeti having been reinvigorated by the summer rains, they charge back south to breed in the spring and so the cycle begins again.
It is of course worth thinking about when you want to book your own safari in accordance with this consensual trend, depending upon late or early rains the start and finish of the event could change significantly which is why it is always advisable to use an experience operator or tour company who can offer the best and most comprehensive service.
One of the best ways to experience the migration is by mobile safari. I will be discussing the different types of safari available in Kenya in my next post, but for now let me explain that what the mobile safari is all about. A more fluid and portable version of a safari, the mobile safari is based up, as you might guess, easily movable camps which are relocated for your arrival as you journey across the plains. Although more basic than a permanent structure you can still be sure of avery comfortable and authentic experience. Mobile safaris are perfectly adapted to work against the spontaneity of the Great Migration. Within hours you can be off and moving, following sightings of the herds and establishing a perfectly located base camp from which to pursue the spectacle.
I know it hasn’t been too long since my last post but I think that it is such a proud day for Kenya that I had to sit down at my computer and tell the world.
You’ve probably already heard that Prince William has announced his engagement to Kate Middleton, but what you might not know is that he chose to do it right here in Kenya!
Prince William and Kate Middleton have been in a relationship reportedly since as early as 2001. Despite a break apart in 2007 the couple have been practically inseparable and the official announcement that came from Clarence house yesterday was of little surprise. It was during a 10-day trip to the Lewa Wildlife conservation that the Prince asked for Middleton’s hand in marriage and so I though this would be a fantastic opportunity to explain to you why Lewa is such a perfect holiday destination for safaris, honeymoons and family holidays alike.
Located north east of the country’s capital, Nairobi, Lewa is a vast 65,000 acre wildlife conservation area in the Laikipia region of Kenya. Standing in the shadow of the spectacular Mount Kenya and a stones throw from the wilderness of the Northern Frontier District. Kenya’s most successful wildlife conservation area, its message is simple, catalyst for conservation. The park is a haven for animals and birdlife, boasting 10 percent of Africa’s endangered Black Rhino population and home to the largest numbers of Grevy’s zebra in the world.
For accommodation the Lewa Safari Camp is excellent, retaining the authentic ruggedness that makes an African safari so exciting, yet without ignoring all of the comforts of modern life. The 12 en-suite ‘tents’ enjoy traditionally thatched roves, private verandas and full en-suite bathrooms. The rooms are arranged around a central dining and lounge area where you can guarantee there will be a roaring fire and an even warmer reception.
During your stay you can enjoy 4×4 game drives and be educated in everything Kenya by the expert guides, for a more leisurely experience you could try a bush walk and for private dining there is nothing more romantic than breakfast in the bush or a candle lit evening meal with nothing but the panorama of the savannah to distract you from each other.
Lewa has its own airstrip so scenic flights by light aircraft can be easily arranged from Nairobi International airport.
It is easy to see therefore why Prince William chose Kenya and the pioneering Lewa Game Conservancy as the perfect place to propose to his fiancé. Lewa is romantic, spectacular, intimate and welcoming, a place to live long in the memory and somewhere that the future King of England will always hold dear in his heart as where he found his Queen.
Categories: SafarisTop Atrractions in Kenya
Posted November 15, 2010 By Benjamin Funmiwengo and has 1 comment.Kenya has such a rich cultural heritage and breathtaking natural geography that it is hard to limit my top attractions to a few select examples, but in this, my first follow up post, I have tried to do just that. I hope that the features I have highlighted here will give you some idea of the beauty and variety on offer in Kenya.
Nairobi- The multicultural hub of the Kenyan economy, the city offers a real education in cultural disparity, from areas of affluence where citizens live in ‘western-style’ luxury, a short a few blocks away unskilled workers labour everyday for less than $1. With an elevation above sea-level of 1795m, the city, the largest in Eastern Africa, enjoys a reasonably moderate climate. Although the area can boast trendy bars, restaurants and hotels it is often more rewarding for tourists to explore some of the more interesting reaches of the city, River Road for example, is a melting pot of cultures and people, where people from all walks of life mingle with travellers from across the globe. Particularly worth while sights are the Karen Blixen Museum, Blixen the renowned Danish author whose most famous work, Out of Africa, recorded the trials and tribulations of her life in Kenya during the early twentieth century; also of note are the Giraffe sanctuary, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Nairobi National Park
Lake Victoria- Not only is Lake Vicotria the largest lake in Africa and the second largest fresh water lake in the world, it is also the source of the vast Nile River which outflows through Egypt over 4,100 miles away. Twice the size of Wales the Lake is a must see for tourists and also offers the opportunity to see local fishermen plying their trade in search of the gargantuan Nile Perch or colourful Chichlids, an species endemic to the Lake.
The Masai Mara Reserve- The Masai Mara has to be the most famous game reserve in Africa and perhaps the world. Part of the Serengeti ecosystem the wide open plains support a vast array of animals including birdlife and large mammals. The park actually provides game-spotters with the opportunity to see all of the Big Five, Lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Rhinos and Leopards, in one place. The big cats and specifically the lions can often be found in large prides throughout the area and the likelihood of actually witnessing a chase is often very good. The Black Rhinos, one of the most critically endangered species in the World are however rarely seen, so consider yourself extraordinarily lucky if you manage to spot one of these beasts.
Mombasa Beaches- Just to exemplify the diverse nature of the Kenyan landscape I wanted to include the Mombasa beaches as a reminder that Kenya is not a land locked country, but in fact has some of the best beaches in Africa. Mombasa is Kenya’s largest coastal metropolis, but has a much more relaxed atmosphere than most of the other East African cities. A real multicultural centre in Mombasa you can find Swahilis, Omanis, Indians, Chinese, British and Africans all over the continent. Popular resorts include Malindi, Watamu and Diani. The coral reefs off the coast of Malindi are a particularly popular attraction. Lamu Island, one of the oldest surviving Swahili settlements in East Africa, is an enchanting and otherworldly place where cars are not used so donkey is still the main means of transport.
A safari is a magical experience that most people will not be so lucky to experience. But for those of you who do manage to escape on the trip of a lifetime, whether it be for your honeymoon, a milestone birthday, a celebration or even just a well deserved family holiday, you want to ensure it is perfect. The most important decision you will make is the destination of your Safari. With so many countries catering for Safari packages, even places now not in Africa, you are spoilt for choice. South Africa is one of the better known destinations but other countries such as Uganda, Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia offer great safari tours. But none of them offer the unique experience you can get when going on safari in Kenya.
Why do I say Kenya is the best? Well I have to admit I am a little biased having been a park ranger in the Kenyan Safari wilderness for over 20 years, but I have visited many other places and whilst some offer aspects better than Kenya, none of them offer the complete package you get here.
Firstly as a pure safari destination it is second to none, and the extensive range of parks means it has something for everyone. Kenya caters for exclusive holidays with its vast array of luxury safari lodges but it also has excellent tours and accommodation for people travelling on a budget. There is also a multitude of ways to see the sights on offer, and one of the most popular is a hot air balloon ride. Whilst this is something available all over the world, consider that the point of a hot air balloon ride is really about the views, and I can assure you there is no more beautiful open scenery than in Great Plains of Kenya.
How well you manage to experience and integrate with local culture is often the turning factor between a good holiday and a great holiday, and in Kenya the people are not only warm and friendly but are as diverse and different to the English way of life than you would have thought possible. Whether you experience the famous Maasai tribes, or opt for a more modern Kenyan tradition experience by mixing with the Swahili people, you are sure to learn more than you will expect. Kenyans are very proud people and take pride in maintaining their way of life which means you do not see a show as with some other cultures. But they will also go out of their way to help you understand their views and culture and let you experience a little yourself on your holiday.
What really sets Kenya apart from its African rivals though is that not only does it offer world class safaris but the beaches rival those of the most luxurious destinations in the world. This is possible through the stretch of Indian Ocean coastline around Mombassa, Malindi and Lamu. When you consider that a honeymoon often has to incorporate a two centre package to add a beach element to the holiday which can really boost the cost, Kenya allows you to simply transfer from your Safari camp to the coast and you need not get on more flights until you head home.
Just in case you need any more reasons to pick Kenya for your safari holiday consider that it is a holiday destination equipped for you whatever stage of your life you are at. From catering to couples on honeymoon in luxury, to backpackers who are on a budget but want a life changing experience, to family holidays that will offer something for every member of the family.