Kenya travel guide - Great Migration, wildlife safari, bird watching and beaches

January 18, 2016

Poised on the Equator, vibrant, diverse and unforgettable, Kenya is a microcosm of modern-day Africa. Kenya and wildlife go hand-in-hand and the prosperity of the country is inextricably linked to her superior wildlife viewing destinations. To safeguard this precious resource, over 8% of the country has been set aside for conservation and there are more than 30 national parks and reserves to be explored. Kenya is also blessed with an exceptionally beautiful landscape, and a long tropical coastline bristling with marine life. The Great Rift Valley, featuring dramatic escarpments and valleys dotted with beautiful lakes forms a wonderful natural mosaic against the backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kenya, Africa’s fifth tallest mountain.

Capital
international entry point and bustling hub of Kenya

Although there are a few very remote parks and reserves in far-northern Kenya, the majority of the most popular ones are situated within a roughly circular area just south of central Kenya, and can be reached by road from Nairobi in around 5 to 6 hours.

Nairobi – largest Kenyan city and financial hub

Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi has a lot to offer tourists, starting with the Nairobi National Park, a great place to see a wide diversity of animals against the backdrop of the city skyscrapers.

Most visitors to Kenya will fly into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi so this bustling city is the logical place to start your exploration of this fascinating country. Nairobi is the largest Kenyan city and the financial and commercial heart of the country. Many visitors simply pass through the city en-route to the parks or beaches and this is a great pity as Nairobi has a lot to offer tourists.

Starting with the Nairobi National Park, a great place to see a wide diversity of animals against the backdrop of the city skyscrapers which is just 10min from the centre of town. It is also a great option for business visitors who do not have time to travel further afield to see the wildlife.

Visit orphaned baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust or hand-feed giraffe at the Giraffe Centre. Kenyans are excellent crafters, and no visit to Nairobi would be complete without buying some souvenirs – find them at the Maasai Market, Kazuri Beads, the Banana Box Company or Kitengela Hot Glass.

Southern Kenya
wildebeest migration, big cats and elephant

Southern and south-eastern Kenya, along the country’s border with Tanzania, is where three of Kenya’s most popular wildlife reserves can be found. These parks all have well-developed infrastructure and many excellent camps and lodges to choose from, in all price categories.

Maasai Mara National Reserve – home of the Great Migration

Great Migration, Wildebeest on Mara River, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
The annual Great Migration takes place where the millions of grazers that have travelled over 1000 km across the Serengeti reach the banks of the Mara River.

The Maasai Mara is by far the most popular Reserve in Kenya. It is famous for large numbers of big cats (lion, leopard, and cheetah) and is also where the most dramatic part of the annual Great Migration takes place. This is where the millions of grazers that have travelled over 1000 km across the Serengeti reach the banks of the Mara River. On the Kenyan side they are assured of fresh pasture, but to get at it they need to make a perilous river crossing.

Although the 'Mara is especially spectacular during the Migration, wildlife viewing is astonishing here all year round due to the high density of wildlife. The reserve is also the setting for some extremely luxurious camps where you can enjoy a genuine under-canvas safari without giving up any of life’s little luxuries. The 'Mara is surrounded by several private conservancies that offer very personalized and exclusive safari experiences including guided walks and night drives which are not allowed in the reserve.

Amboseli National Park – the best place to see elephant in Kenya

Elephants on wetlands, Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Amboseli National Park is home to four of the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, and elephant) but the elephant are the major draw-card.

Anyone who loves elephants should not miss a visit to Amboseli National Park, situated on the foothills of Africa's tallest mountain. This generally arid reserve is home to four of the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, and elephant) but the elephant are the major draw-card. The melting snow caps of Mount Kilimanjaro, just across the border in Tanzania, feed several swampy areas that are an absolute magnet for hundreds of elephants as well as large numbers of hippo – watch them compete for wallowing space as large herds of grazers patiently wait their turn to drink.

Tsavo East and West National Parks – pure wild Africa

Impalas, Tsavo National Park, Kenya
Tsavo East and West National Parks together form one of the largest national parks in Africa where very large numbers of animals are spread over such a vast area that it is a little more challenging to find them.

Tsavo East and West National Parks together form one of the largest national parks in Africa. Although there are very large numbers of animals here, they are spread over such a vast area that it is a little more challenging to find them, which makes it so rewarding. Here you can see the "pink" elephants of Tsavo – covered head to tail in red sand – and the mane-less Tsavo Lions which have been known to have a fondness for human meat. The rest of the Big Five are also in residence including black rhino in the Ngulia sanctuary. The swamps and wetlands, especially Mzima Springs are teeming with birdlife, hippos and crocodiles.

Southwestern Kenya
home of the Rift Valley lakes

The stunning Rift Valley makes up the western part of the circle and is where you will find Kenya’s most spectacular lakes - Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. Together these lakes provide essential breeding grounds to hundreds of bird species, both endemic and migratory, as well as a home for plenty of other wildlife.

Lake Nakuru – see wildlife and millions of flamingo

Rothschild Giraffe, Lake Nakuru, Kenya
Lake Nakuru provides a beautiful setting to break your journey between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara, and the chance to see some endangered animals such as rhino and Rothschild giraffe.

Lake Nakuru once attracted millions of flamingo each year, but sadly, changing water conditions have seen most of the birds move on to other lakes in recent years. You will still some flamingos and a wonderful assortment of pelicans, storks, herons and cormorants, as well as the African fish eagle. The lodges dotted around the perimeter of the lake provide a beautiful setting to break your journey between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara, and the chance to see some endangered animals such as rhino and Rothschild giraffe. You may even spot a leopard reclining in one of the lakeside trees.

Lake Naivasha – the birdwatching paradise

Pelicans, Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Lake Naivasha is also a favourite with bird watchers and offers the chance to visit volcanic Hells’ Gate National Park where you can enjoy some thrilling hiking and rock climbing.

Lake Naivasha is also a favourite with bird watchers and in addition offers the chance to visit volcanic Hells’ Gate National Park where you can enjoy some thrilling hiking and rock climbing and visit the geothermal station. There are plenty of boating activities on the lake and a visit to Crescent Island is a great way to get close to several animal species on foot and see hundreds of nesting fish eagles and many other water birds.

Lake Baringo – visit authentic lakeside villages of Njemps tribe

Lake Baringo is situated north of Lake Bogoria and is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a couple of days getting back to nature. A motor boat trip will get you up close to hippos and crocodiles in the shallows and hundreds of species of birds. Fishing is excellent here and you can also visit some very authentic lakeside villages belonging to the Njemps tribe.

Lake Bogoria – hot springs, sulphuric pools and shooting geysers

Flamingos, Lake Baringo, Kenya
Lake Bogoria is famous for its' hot-water geysers and for the many flamingo that come there to feed on a special type of algae that they love.

Lake Bogoria is famous for its’ hot-water geysers and for the many flamingo that come there to feed on a special type of algae that they love. Besides flamingo there are many raptors and large numbers of other water birds. Spend some time admiring the other-worldly landscape of bubbling sulphuric pools and shooting geysers, then visit Lake Bogoria Spa resort where you can swim in the naturally heated pool which is reputed to have therapeutic benefits.

Central Kenya
trekking, hiking and wildlife conservancies

The foothills of Mount Kenya, Africa's second tallest mountain, are home to a handful of wonderful national parks and concessions where you can go hiking and trekking in the pure mountain air or enjoy seeing conservation in action at Ol Pejeta or Lewa private conservancies.

Mount Kenya National Park – trekking the highest mountain of Africa

Buffalo, Mount Kenya National Park, Kenya
Many come here to acclimatize themselves to the altitude before tackling an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro and along the way you can enjoy superb scenery and a wide variety of wildlife.

Mount Kenya attracts serious hikers and trekkers from all over the world; many come here to acclimatize themselves to the altitude before tackling an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. There are several trekking routes and you do not have to be a technical climber to get right up near the roof of Africa. Along the way you can enjoy superb scenery and a wide variety of wildlife.

Aberdare National Park – best place for hiking in Kenya

Aberdare is perfect for an active safari and you can hike through some very rugged and beautiful scenery including gorges, rainforest, startling waterfalls and even alpine heath at the higher altitudes. There are two lodges overlooking flood-lit waterholes and salt-licks that attract many animals and you can even request a wake-up call in the event of a really exciting nocturnal visitor.

Lewa and Ol Pejeta Conservancies – see conservation in action

Black Rhino, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya
You can have the rare privilege of seeing these majestic creatures, black rhino, here in their natural environment in Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Lewa Conservancy.

Lewa and Ol Pejeta are both non-profit private sanctuaries where all the income is ploughed back into conservation. Lewa was established to protect Kenya’s dwindling numbers of black rhino from extinction, and you can have the rare privilege of seeing these majestic creatures here in their natural environment. In addition, all of the Big Five can be spotted and there are also critically endangered wild dog in this conservancy. Ol Pejeta Conservancy also offers superior game viewing and many activities that you cannot experience in one of the national parks, such as walking safaris and night drives.

Northern Kenya
untouched wild parks for Big Five and endangered animals

Kenya’s northern parks are all part of the Samburu Ecosystem, a largely-untouched area which is seldom visited; as such they are the perfect destination for intrepid adventurers who want to leave the crowds behind them. In addition to the Big Five, look out for Kenya's "Special Five" or "Northern Five" in these parks – the reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, Besia oryx and the Somali ostrich. There are also hundreds of recorded bird species up north, making the area perfect for bird watchers.

Samburu National Reserve – the best northern reserve for elephant

Grevy Zebra, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
Grevy Zebra is one of the highlights of Samburu National Reserve along with a wide variety of other wildlife including many big cats - Tanzanian cheetah, Masai lion and leopard.

Samburu National Reserve is the best northern reserve for elephant-watching, is located on the Ewaso Ng'iro River and is famous for its large population of elephants, but there is also a wide variety of other wildlife including many big cats – this is ideal cheetah territory - to be seen here, and you will never have to jostle for position at a good sighting. Choose a lodge overlooking the river for great sightings from your deck.

Shaba National Reserve – uncrowded place for true nature lovers

Shaba National Reserve is even more deserted and is ideal for true nature lovers who just want to experience Africa the way it was decades ago. This is essentially an arid park but there is a good selection of animals to be seen, attracted by the 17 natural springs which are the lifeblood of the reserve.

Buffalo Springs National Reserve – good place for leopard sightings

Leopard, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya
Buffalo Springs National Reserve has good numbers of wildlife; large herds of elephant can often be seen crossing the shallow river between the parks and good leopard sightings are common here.

Buffalo Springs National Reserve occupies the opposite bank of the Ewaso Ng'iro River and shares the beautiful scenery of Samburu and the good numbers of wildlife; large herds of elephant can often be seen crossing the shallow river between the parks and good leopard sightings are common here.

Meru National Park

Meru National Park is similarly deserted. Although there are large numbers of game to spot, they are quite shy and you should not expect to tick off many species in a single game drive; rather spend a few leisurely days here to fully appreciate rich diversity of this park.

East Coast Kenya
beautiful beaches and marine national parks

Don't leave Kenya without visiting the lovely long stretch of coastline that is home to many beautiful white-sand beaches lapped by the warm and enticing waters of the tropical Indian Ocean. Below the surface of the water there are beautiful coral reefs just teeming with marine creatures which you can discover on a scuba, snorkelling or glass-bottomed boat excursion in one of the marine national parks like Kisite, Watamu or Malindi. On the shore you can enjoy a huge selection of water sports. Try your hand at kite surfing, kayaking, deep-sea fishing and sailing or just relax under a palm tree and do nothing at all. The ancient coastal town of Mombasa is quite fascinating too, and certainly warrants a day-trip.

Diani Beach, Mombassa, Kenya
Kenya is home to many beautiful white-sand beaches lapped by the warm and enticing waters of the tropical Indian Ocean with beautiful coral reefs just teeming with marine creatures.

Your Kenya safari tour – choose an ideal itinerary

Kenya has it all for tourists. To really appreciate the various eco-systems and the variations in landscape we would encourage you to visit more than one area. Do consider spending a day or two exploring Nairobi before you set off to enjoy the wildlife. Choose your itinerary according to your personal interests – here is a quick re-cap of the most popular parks and what they offer: legendary Maasai Mara for sheer game numbers; Amboseli for the elephants; the Rift Valley Lakes for birding; Mount Kenya for hiking, and the wild and wonderful Northern circuit for pure African wilderness. Finally, after an exciting and adventurous safari, wind down with a relaxing few days on one of Kenya's beautiful beach resorts.

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