Few lands evoke intense feelings of wanderlust more than Kenya. Travellers' imaginations are filled with dreams of snowcapped mountains rising over grassy plains dotted with wild animals. And while Kenya easily makes such dreams a reality, there is so much more to be found and experienced in Kenya - even beyond the ubiquitous safaris. Here's a rundown of the top ten travel experiences you can have on a visit to East Africa's wonderland.
1) Witness the Great Migration
One of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet, the Great Migration takes place between July and October. Every year, hundreds of thousands of zebra and wildebeest make their way to the grasslands of the Masai Mara, joined by herds of elephant, giraffe, and the inevitable chain of predators - lion, cheetah, hyena and leopards - trailing in their wake. Crossing the Mara river is one of major challenges for the migrating herds – if not drowning, the jaws of vicious crocodiles await some of them.
Witness this incredible event with an experienced safari guide, who can show you all the best vantage points for those picture-perfect shots.
2) Climb Mount Kenya
Just some 90 miles outside the capital city of Nairobi, lies Africa's second highest peak - Mount Kenya. Despite its equatorial location, Mount Kenya's peaks offer numerous glaciers, stunning valleys and some of the best scenic views on the continent. While there are walking and hiking trails at the lower elevations, trips to the summit require climbing equipment and a trekking guide is strongly recommended. Regardless of how high you go, Mount Kenya is an excellent destination for its varied bio-zones and knockout scenery.
3) Lake Turkana
Though off the beaten path, the “Jade Sea of Northern Kenya” is a unique sight to behold. Nestled deep in the Great Rift Valley, the 250-kilometre-long waterbody is the world's largest permanent desert lake, the largest alkaline lake, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site too. On its eastern shore lies Sibiloi National Park, while the lake itself is home to Nile Crocodiles. Despite its beautiful vistas, Lake Turkana still goes unnoticed by most travellers – might as well enjoy the early bird benefits, then?
4) Lake Nakuru
Flamingoes – millions of them – give it the name “Pink Lake”. However, it also attracts other species and wildlife, including the increasingly rare white and black rhinos. A popular stop on the Kenyan Safari circuits, the ornithology paradise is protected by the Lake Nakuru National Park. Baboon Cliff is well-known as the best vantage point for keeping an eye on the lake’s spectacular views; but, a local guide is sure to know more about the viewpoints.
5) Go on a Safari
No trip to Kenya would be complete without going on safari. As a country blessed with abundant wildlife and stunningly beautiful national parks, there are many areas to choose from. The most popular being, the incomparable Masai Mara and the Tsavo East National Park. The Big 5 (elephants, cheetah, lions, leopards and buffalo) is on everyone’s watchlist, while giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, crocodile and hundreds of bird species, are relatively easier to track down. Add to that the postcard-worthy scenes of the African savannah and you would have a hard time not planning a safari tour immediately!
Nairobi National Park offers the unique opportunity to experience the wilderness experience, without venturing too far from the city. Located just 4 miles from the city centre, it is the oldest national park in Kenya and has a healthy population of all the must-see game; a great option for those who want a taste of Kenya's legendary wildlife with limited time to spare.
6) Take in the Savannah on a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Get a different perspective on the African Savannah from up top, gliding away in a hot air balloon. Start early in the morning to catch the first rays of the sun bathing the wild country below in a golden glow. The animals could be seen venturing out to the waterholes to kick-off a new day in the wild kingdom. This thrilling activity is an absolute must for those willing to splurge on what will likely become one of the greatest experiences of their lives.
7) Spend Some Time with the Locals
Kenya isn't just about wildlife and nature - though it has that in abundance. It is also home to some of the most interesting cultures in East Africa. A cultural tour will allow you the chance to learn about and interact with the legendary Maasai, whose traditional ways still fascinate travellers from around the globe. With Maasai village visits, craft demonstrations, and survival skill displays, it's worth taking the time out to know more about this ancient culture that somehow still manages to retain their traditional way of life, despite the encroachment of the modern world.
8) Sneak a View of Africa's Most Iconic Mountain
Though Mt. Kilimanjaro technically lies across the border in Tanzania, a trip to Amboseli National Park in Southern Kenya offers views with the mountain in the backdrop. From its snow-capped slopes to the herds of elephant wading through the grasslands that surround it, these postcard-worthy scenes should rank high on any traveller's must-see list.
9) Explore Mombasa - Kenya's Second City
A colourful city located on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Mombasa is the ideal change in scenery for your African holiday. Boasting a historic past, you can explore the maze of alleyways in the city’s old Arab town and lose yourself shopping in one of the authentic bazaars. The trading history of East Africa's past is on display in this gritty but authentic coastal outpost.
10) Swim, Dive or Relax on Lamu Island
With so much attention given to Kenya's wildlife and natural wonders, at times people forget the idyllic beaches to be found along its shoreline. Perhaps the best places to enjoy the Kenyan sun and sand are Lamu Island and Diani Beach. You can simply laze on world-class beaches, dive or snorkel over pristine reefs, or better yet, take a ride in a traditional dhow - a wind-powered boat that has been in use for centuries and still features heavily in Swahili culture.
Image details and license: https://flic.kr/p/crT1iw (Anita Ritenour, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/91kwUr (Thom Chandler, CC BY-SA 2.0)