S used to joke that she has been employed as a part-time travel agent ever since we moved to Nairobi. Partly as a result of our many visitors and partly owing to our own curiousity and wanderlust, we have travelled all over Kenya, arguably getting to know this country better than we know our own. As we prepare to depart after two well-spent years, we offer the following recommendations in the hopes that others will come and explore this beautiful country.
Conservancies are where it’s at… Hands down, our favorite part of Kenya is the Laikipia Plateau. Located just a few hours’ drive (on good roads) north of Nairobi, Laikipia is dotted with small, private conservancies that make game viewing much more personalized and enjoyable than an outing in the country’s big game parks can ever be. We’ve gone tracking for wild dogs on foot and seen some unique nocturnal species on night drives in Laikipia. The plateau is home to the vast majority of Kenya’s rare Grevy’s zebras, most of its endangered rhinos, and hundreds of different colorful birds. Laikipia also boasts a diverse habitat: Ol Pejeta in the south has wide open plains; whereas Loisaba in the north is all dense scrub – you may see fewer animals here but they will be very different from the ones you’ll find elsewhere.
Timing is everything… If your visit coincides with the great migration, the Maasai Mara is a must – nowhere else in Kenya can one see so many animals all in one place, and the spectacle of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river is not to be missed. If you come during the other 9-10 months, check the rates well in advance – many companies divide the year into various seasons, and often coming a week later or earlier means you’ll pay a fraction of the price.
Support conservation and see more… Even when visiting the Mara, you can stay on conservancies that abut the actual reserve. In addition to the night drives and off-roading, which are not allowed inside most national parks, staying on a conservancy also means supporting the local communities that live nearby. These conservancies employ the local people, not only ensuring that some of the tourism revenue goes directly to the communities most directly affected by it, but also giving the local population an incentive to engage in wildlife conservation. If you are planning a visit to Tsavo National Park, make sure to stop in at the elephant orphanage in Nairobi first – if you sponsor an orphaned elephant, you can bottle-feed baby elephants on your visit to Tsavo.
Go camping… All-inclusive safari costs add up quickly. If you are on a budget, you can get up close and personal with Kenya’s amazing wildlife for next to nothing if you pack your camping gear. We’ve camped on the shores of Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo in the Great Rift Valley and learned a great deal about the culture and traditions of Kenya’s pastoralist groups when we spent a night under the stars at the Nanyuki River Camel Camp. Just make sure to keep an eye on your food.
See diverse habitats… If you have the time, try to visit different parts of the country. The landscapes will be different, as will the animals that inhabit them. Northern Kenya, for example, has drier, more scrub-covered lands that are home to gerenuks, reticulated giraffes, vulturine guineafowl, and kudus, which you won’t see elsewhere.
Bush to beach… From the wide seaweed-covered beaches in Watamu’s Turtle Bay to the mangrove-lined sands of the Lamu archipelago, Kenya’s coast is an idyllic place to relax after your safari. After you’ve had your share of African massage, kick back and enjoy some Swahili food, the country’s best cuisine. If you’re a single traveller, you might have to stay at a hotel, but if you’re traveling in a group, look into renting a house instead. You’ll have your own pool and cook and will pay a fraction of what a hotel or resort stay would cost.
In search of adventure… Not being the tallest peak on the continent, Mt. Kenya may lack the allure of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but as Jon Krakauer wrote, the second tallest mountains on each continent are usually much more difficult to ascend. If you want a climbing challenge, take on Batian, Mt. Kenya’s tallest peak. If you don’t want to bother with the technical gear, the trek to the top of Lenana, just a few hunded feet lower, is both beautiful and rewarding.
Do your research… There are a ton of companies that offer Kenya tours. Read up on them before you book. Our favorites for safari are Gamewatchers, Offbeat Safaris, and Cheli & Peacock. On the coast, check out Watamu Properties and Langata Link. Enjoy!