Mount Kenya and Aberdares

Aberdares national park range Aberdares mountain range | Credit: 50 Treasures of Kenya

Very different in character to the rest of the country, the lushly vegetated and densely populated central highlands that stretch northward from Nairobi are capped by the hemisphere-straddling Mount Kenya and its permanent equatorial glaciers. Rising to 5,199m, Mount Kenya is the second-tallest in Africa, topped only by Kilimanjaro, and it is linked to the more westerly 3,999m Aberdare Range by an elevated grassy saddle.

Oddly, these two massifs represent extremes of geological antiquity. Where the contorted folds of the Aberdares rank among the most ancient in East Africa, dating to before the Age of Dinosaurs, Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano that erupted into existence several million years after our earliest bipedal ancestors first strode across the Rift Valley floor.

giant forest hog and piglet Giant forest hog can weight between 100 and 275 kgs

Mount Kenya and the Aberdares are both protected within a national park. They also share many ecological affinities, and collectively support most of the country’s surviving Afro-montane forest and Afro-alpine moorland, the latter an otherworldly landscape of open moorland studded with bizarre giant forms of heather, lobelia and groundsel. The two mountains host an outstandingly varied fauna, including all the Big Five alongside more localised forest specialists such as Sykes monkey, black‑and‑white colobus, Harvey’s red duiker, mountain antelope and giant forest hog.

Highlights

Mount Kenya The impressive and majestic Mount Kenya | Credit: Magical Kenya

Though not as popular as Kilimanjaro, the multi-day hike to Point Lenana - at 4,985m, the highest point on Mount Kenya accessible without specialist climbing equipment - leads through a similar spectrum of attitudinally-determined Afromontane vegetation zones. And while it may appeal less to peak-baggers, Mount Kenya has the advantages of being less crowded, less expensive, and less likely to be treated as a single-minded exercise in summiting.

The highest two points on Mount Kenya at 5,199m and 5,188m respectively, Batian and Nelion Peaks are highly alluring to experienced climbers with specialist equipment.

Rhino_Aberdare national park_kenya Rhino the the Aberdare National Park

Aberdare National Park is best known as the site of the tree hotels Treetops and The Ark, stilted timber monoliths which double as overnight hides overlooking forest-fringed water holes that attract a steady stream of wildlife, including elephant and black rhino. Historic Treetops gained overnight fame in 1952 when it hosted the young Princess Elizabeth on the very night that her father King George VI died, and she became the uncrowned Queen of the United Kingdom.

Sykes monkey_aberdares Sykes’s monkey

Conceptually similar to the tree hotels of the Aberdares, Serena Mountain Lodge, the only hotel set in Mount Kenya’s forest zone, provides an excellent introduction to highland fauna. It overlooks a waterhole that occasionally attracts all the Big Five, as well as forest specialists such as giant forest hog, bushpig, Sykes monkey, black-and-white colobus monkeys, silvery-cheeked hornbill and Hartlaub’s turaco.

Game drives in Aberdare National Park follow little-used network of rough 4x4-only roads from the forest zone into an Afro-montane moorland punctuate with lovely waterfalls. Wildlife includes black rhino, elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog and various monkeys. The Aberdares is one of the few places in Africa where melanistic (all black) leopards are regular. The forests support one of only two remaining wild populations of the mountain bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci - a beautifully marked and Critically Endangered large forest antelope that is now effectively endemic to Kenya having become extinct elsewhere in its range.

Lion in Laikipia Plateau Lion in the Laikipia Plateau | Credit: Larangai House

Kenya’s highest town, Nyahururu is perched at 2,360m on the edge of the Laikipia Plateau alongside the attractive Thomson’s Falls, which plummet 75m over a volcanic ledge into a forested gorge inhabited by black‑and‑white colobus monkeys and a varied selection of birds.

Zebra_Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy A variety of zebra can be found in the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

The private Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is a wildlife orphanage that operates several important conservation projects, none more so than rehabilitation of a herd of captive-born mountain bongos for release into the forests of Mount Kenya, where it was last seen in the wild in 1994.

Founded in 1970 as a breeding centre for rhinos, Solio Game Ranch is a private conservancy situated on the grassy highland saddle that links Mount Kenya to the Aberdares. Starting with a combined introduced population of 39, it now hosts at least 50 black and 85 white rhino. In addition, more than 100 individuals born at Solio have been translocated to other locations in Kenya.

Practical advice

  • All the sites listed above can be reached in up to four hours from Nairobi along a good surfaced roads through Thika. Regular domestic charter flights connect Nairobi and the Masai Mara to Nanyuki Airport, from where it is a short drive to most sites of interest in the vicinity of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.

  • Hikes on Mount Kenya are best arranged with specialist operators who know the mountain well and employs experienced guides and porters. The shortest option for a a round hike is three days, but it is advisable to spend at least three nights on the mountain before ascending Lenana to minimise the effects of altitude.

  • Any of the region’s three tree hotels - Treetops, The Ark or Serena Mountain Lodge - makes for a great overnight stop on road safaris between the Masai Mara or Rift Valley and Laikipia, Samburu-Buffalo Springs, Shaba or Meru.

  • In addition to these upmarket lodges, medium-large highland towns such as Nyeri, Nanyuki, Nyahururu, Meru and Embu all have a few adequate restaurants and hotels. They also offer the opportunity to draw money or do some last-minute grocery shopping before heading out on safari.


You might also like

Luxury safari holiday in Kenya

Rekero Mara Camp Those with a taste for bush luxury can choose between a large selection of exclusive tented camps set community or private concessions bordering the Masai Mara and Amboseli or on the Laikipia Plateau. Typically these lodges combine classic ‘Out of Africa’-style accommodation with top-notch food, imported wines, well-trained staff and a range of expertly guided activities including game drives, bush walks and possibly night drives or horseback safaris. The coast…

An active holiday in Kenya

Horseback riding in Kenya | Credit: Mario Moreno for Elewana Collection The two most popular activities in Kenya are safaris and beach holidays. Since the former generally involves long hours being driven through the bush in search of animals, and the latter is all about chilling out and doing as little as possible, neither is inherently well suited to active travellers. That said, except during the long rains, Kenya’s climate makes it ideal for outdoor activities, and there are…

Adventure holidays in Kenya

Take an overlanding trip for an adventurous holiday | Credit: My Overlanding Adventure Kenya offers many options to adventurous travellers. For budget-conscious travellers, exploring the country on public transport can be an adventure in itself. Rift Valley lakes such as Naivasha and Baringo offers plenty of opportunities for visiting wildlife-rich areas on foot or by boat, as do Kakamega and Saiwa Swamp National Park in the far west, and parts of the coast. For a more curated budget…


Popular Kenya Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

 | Migration Safari in Kenya and Tanzania

Migration Safari in Kenya and Tanzania

See the beauty of nature's greatest wildlife spectacle on one of the grandest stages of them all...

 | Africa’s biggest elephant and the endangered Hunter’s hartebeest (EA 7 days)

Africa's biggest elephant and the endangered Hunter's hartebeest

Search for the almost extinct hirola antelope in Tsavo East, find Africa's largest elephants and visit Chyulu Hills to see Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak...

Enjoying a sundowner whilst watching the wildebeest migration.  | HerdTracker Masai Mara wildebeest migration safari

HerdTracker Masai Mara wildebeest migration safari

Witness the wildebeest migration in Kenya's iconic Masai Mara National Reserve with HerdTracker...

Lion cubs | Kenya’s top 3 southern attractions (EA 9 days)

Kenya’s top 3 southern attractions

Amboseli, Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara are southern Kenya's superstars, the best places for your safari...

Elephant Herd | Best of Africa Safari (EA 16 days)

Best of Africa safari

Experience the best of Africa, from the Okavango Delta – one of Africa's Seven Natural Wonders – to the endangered mountain gorillas and East Africa's Great Migration...

 | 10-day wilderness safari in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe

10-day wilderness safari in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Experience the best of the migration and wildlife in Kenya, then travel to Zambia to witness Victoria Falls, ending your adventure at Hwange National Park....

Giraffes | Samburu’s Special Five, rhino and bongo (EA 8 days)

Samburu's Special Five, rhino and bongo

Even if you've seen the Big Five and the Great Migration, you'll appreciate the different beauty of animals like reticulated giraffe, Grevy's zebra, gerenuk and bongo...

 | Masai Mara safari adventure

Masai Mara safari adventure

Explore the jewel in Kenya's crown; the wildlife-rich Masai Mara National Reserve...

 | Kenya family safari - Bush and Beach Itinerary

Kenya family safari - Bush and Beach Itinerary

It's easy to see why so many visitors flock to Kenya from around the world to experience a truly unique African adventure in one of the world’s most pristine safari destinations....

The Uganda Hills | The complete East Africa experience (EA 13 days)

The complete East Africa experience

Enjoy East Africa's most celebrated highlights, from a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, to sailing above the Serengeti in a hot-air balloon and meeting mountain gorillas...