The Great Migration in the Masai Mara is a highlight of a Kenyan safari
Often regarded to be the ultimate safari destination, Kenya undoubtedly incorporates some of the continent’s most rewarding and exciting national parks and wildlife reserves.
Best known is the incomparable Masai Mara, whose undulating green grasslands support staggering concentrations of lion, cheetah, spotted hyena and other predators. Over August to October, the Mara also hosts the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle, when hundreds of thousands of manically baa-ing dust-kicking wildebeest stream across the Mara River from neighbouring Tanzania.
Elephant in Amboseli National Park
No less iconic is Amboseli, where some of the continent’s most impressive and well-habituated elephant herds can be seen crossing the dusty plains below snow-capped Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain.
The country is bisected by a dramatic stretch of the Rift Valley floor which is studded with gem-like lakes. There is Lake Nakuru, shores grazed by prehistoric-looking rhinos; Lake Bogoria, its shallows tinged pink by more than a million or more flamingos; and lovely Lake Naivasha, fringed by reedbeds that are alive with birds and hippos.
Chameleon in Mount Meru National Park
Arguably the most unique of the Kenya reserves are those lying north of the equator. Here, the likes of Laikipia, Samburu-Buffalo Springs and Meru support a range of dry-country specialists - the lovely Reticulated giraffe, the outsized Grevy’s zebra, the freaky gerenuk, and many dozens of colourful birds - at the southern limit of their restricted range.
There’s no better index of Kenya’s biodiversity, perhaps, than its national bird checklist of more than 1,000 species - placing it third in Africa, a figure made all the more remarkable when you realise that it doesn’t make the continent’s top 20 countries in terms of surface area.
A Turkana woman | Credit: Rita Willaert
Kenya is undoubtedly one of Africa’s finest Big Five destinations. But it has a great deal more to offer than just safaris. Culturally, it is a fascinating mass of contradictions. One of Africa’s most developed countries, it has an unusually high level of education, a substantial middle class, world-class tourist facilities, and a growing industrial belt sprawling out from its bustling capital. Yet away from the cities, on dusty plains populated by pastoralists such as the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana, it ranks among the most visibly traditional of African nations.
Diani beach is one of Kenya’s most popular stretches of coast | Credit: www.dianibeach.com
Then there is the sultry Indian Ocean coastline, which comprises more than 500 km of idyllic beach frontage set to a backdrop of mysterious mediaeval ruins, dense tropical jungles, and traditional Swahili port towns. Offshore are coral reefs whose kaleidoscopic swirl of fish is as delightful to snorkelers and divers as the country’s more familiar terrestrial wildlife.
Mount Kenya | Credit: Rishil Blog
Elsewhere, Kenya’s geographic diversity embraces the vast inland sea of Lake Victoria, the intimate palm-lined shores of the Galana River, the dense tropical rainforest of Kakamega, the parched badlands that surround Turkana (the world’s largest desert lake), rolling Afro-alpine meadows below snow-capped Mount Kenya, and the tortured volcanic plugs of Hell’s Gate and of course, the hypnotic tracts of acacia-studded African savanna protected within the legendary game reserves.