Many anthropologists believe our ancestors emerged from the Great Rift Valley, and this cradle of humanity continuously tops travelers’ bucket lists. Welcome to enchanting Kenya, where the spirit of Africa comes alive and adventure is complemented by once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Kenya’s remarkable wildlife is undoubtedly its crown jewel. The country is the world’s leading safari destination, with 40 national parks and wildlife reserves offering a wealth of protected areas where lucky nature lovers can witness the big five (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffalo), along with hundreds of other species that roam freely among the nation’s dramatic landscapes.
But Kenya offers much more than just breathtaking megafauna. English and Swahili are the official languages, but more than 60 others are spoken, reflecting a diverse population that includes most major ethnoracial groups found on the continent. Its major cities are vibrant urban centers that mix modernity and tradition, both African and European, with bustling local markets and five-star luxury hotels. On the 882 miles of coastline bordering the Indian Ocean, white sand beaches are fringed by swaying palm trees, and marine reserves abound with another big five: whales, seals, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles.
Can’t Miss Destinations
The Maasai Mara
This iconic game reserve offers an unforgettable safari experience into the heart of Africa. The raw and beautiful landscape is a photographer’s dream, a mosaic of acacia trees and rolling hills where blood-red sunsets sink below the savannahs. Each year millions of wildebeest, antelope, zebra and other creatures plunge across the Mara River, attempting to evade lions and other predators as they cross crocodile-infested waters. It’s one of the world’s quintessential wildlife experiences and also offers an opportunity for cultural interactions with the proud Maasai. With their dramatic red robes and long, elegant spears, this semi-nomadic and pastoral people are perhaps the most famous tribe in Africa.
Kenya’s capital is a kaleidoscope of attractions. An incredibly diverse city, Nairobi is home to people from all over the world, as well as activities including modern malls, traditional markets, and hiking trails, climbing and golf courses. The National Museum of Kenya offers a glimpse into the country’s history. At the Nairobi National Park, visitors can enjoy a safari and spot local wildlife. For a more cultural experience, visit the house of beloved “Out of Africa” author Karen Blixen, now a museum surrounded by beautiful gardens. For a unique experience head to the elegant Giraffe Manor, where some of the hotel’s long-necked residents may join you for breakfast.
Lying just off Kenya’s far north coast is a string of five islands known collectively as the Lamu Archipelago. With archaeological and historical interest and great natural beauty, these islands are perfect for a tranquil beach holiday. On Lamu Island, the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site presenting a fusion of African, Arabic, Indian and Persian architectural styles organized around narrow winding streets. Snorkel or dive, swim with dolphins, or cruise on a traditional dhow in the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
For an unforgettable experience, rise well before dawn and climb aboard a hot air balloon. Lift gently into the air as the sun rises over the savannah, where wildlife are beginning to stir, or ascend gracefully from the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the continent’s tallest mountain. Afterward, enjoy an elegant champagne breakfast celebrating your flight.
Swahili for “roast meat,” nyama choma (usually goat or beef) will appear at most festive celebrations, often accompanied by slabs of ugali. Made from cornmeal, this polenta-like staple is a starchy favorite. Kenya has a large Indian population, and rich coconut curries (wa kupaka), often made with chicken or shrimp, are also popular.
With white sand beaches and palm trees, you might think you’re on the coast. Instead, you’re relaxing on Takawiri, one of Africa’s most unspoiled islands. Takawiri is located in Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile and also the second-largest freshwater lake in the world.
While the entire country is awash in lovely handmade souvenirs, don’t come home without crafts made by the Maasai tribe. Travelers love colorful Kazuri beads made into neckpieces, bracelets and earrings. Other favorites include wire baskets and traditional blankets woven from soft cotton or wool.