The top 8 places to visit in Kenya
Kenya offers much more than luxurious safaris, it is a surprising country with a diverse range of attractions. Beyond the popular wildlife experiences, Kenya boasts a stunning coastline with beautiful beaches and idyllic islands adorned with coral reefs. While Kenya may not be the easiest destination for independent travel, we prefer to immerse ourselves in the local cultures and communities along the way, an experience quite distinct from the organized packages offered by travel agencies. It's important to note that traveling in Africa can be more challenging and expensive compared to Asia, encompassing transportation, infrastructure, and traveler services.
The coastal city of Mombasa adds a tropical flair to this powerful nation in Black Africa. Kenya presents landscapes that include solitary acacia trees dotting the savannah, snow-capped mountains along the Equator, vast deserts, palm groves that stretch to the Indian Ocean, breathtaking views of the Great Rift Valley, and lush, vibrant jungles. The Kenyan coast offers numerous other destinations for a few days of relaxation. North of Mombasa, there are several towns with pristine beaches and charming accommodations, such as Nyali Beach or Shanzu. Heading south from Mombasa, in addition to the aforementioned Diani Beach, there are intriguing alternatives like Tiwi Beach, another lesser-known coastal gem, or the sandy areas in the Shelly region.
To assist you in organizing your trip, we have compiled a list of must-see places in Kenya. This country captivates visitors with its incredible national parks, offering some of the best safari experiences in Africa, its fascinating ethnic groups, and its heavenly beaches caressed by the waters of the Indian Ocean.
The optimal time to visit Kenya is from July to October, during the Great Migration when thousands of animals cross the perilous Mara River. Another favorable period is from January to March, the dry season, when animal sightings are abundant.
1. Lake Nakuru: Located 150 kilometers from Nairobi, is considered one of Kenya's and Africa's premier bird-watching destinations. This alkaline lake rests in the southern part of the Great Rift Valley at an altitude of 1,754 meters. Its pink shores are a spectacle, teeming with thousands of flamingos feeding on the algae. Moreover, Lake Nakuru is renowned for its high chances of spotting both white and black rhinos, with the latter being endangered. As you journey from Lake Naivasha to Nakuru, keep a keen eye out for various bird species and mammals like hippos, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, gazelles, zebras, and baboons.
2. Aberdare National Park: As you make your way towards Mount Kenya, we recommend dedicating a day to exploring Aberdare National Park, situated in the highlands of Kenya, within a mountain range that reaches almost 4,000 meters in height. The park's verdant valleys and hills are adorned with forests and tea plantations, and it is home to iconic forest lodges such as The Ark and The Treetops. These accommodations offer views of waterholes, where you can observe herds of elephants and buffalos gathering. Aberdare National Park is also known for its breathtaking waterfalls, including Gura Falls, standing at 300 meters in height, Keruru Kahuru Falls at 270 meters, Thomson Falls, and Chania Falls located in the park's center.
3. Maasai Villages and Culture: For those with a deep appreciation for anthropology and cultural diversity, immersing oneself in the world of the Maasai people is truly inspiring. Many villages of this community can be visited in the vicinity of Masai Mara National Park, although it's important to note that these villages are often geared towards tourism and may lack some authenticity compared to more remote locations.
Many tourists find joy in visiting a village as part of an organized activity within their package tour. They are greeted with a traditional welcome dance and are permitted to take photographs in exchange for a small entrance fee, usually around 10 euros. While these activities contribute to the development and prosperity of the villages, some visitors may find the experience somewhat diluted.
4. Nairobi: While not acclaimed as the most aesthetically pleasing city nor known for its extensive range of tourist attractions, Nairobi presents an opportunity to explore and visit some notable points of interest, particularly if you land at the city's international airport. Among the recommended places to visit in this bustling city are the National Museum, the Maasai Market, and the Karen Blixen Museum, dedicated to the Danish writer who penned the famous book "Out of Africa," which later inspired the acclaimed movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.
5. Lake Naivasha in Kenya: To the northwest of Nairobi, within the Great Rift Valley, lie several lakes worth exploring, with Naivasha and Nakuru being the standout options Sitting at the highest point of the valley, at an altitude of 1,884 meters, Lake Naivasha is an ideal destination for a boat safari. Here, you can observe hippos up close and encounter various bird species, including pelicans and fish eagles.
One unique feature of Lake Naivasha is Crescent Island, located in the middle of the lake. This wildlife paradise allows you to walk among giraffes, zebras, and other harmless mammals, free from the fear of encountering large predators. To reach Lake Naivasha, you can book a day tour from Nairobi or opt for a more comprehensive 6-day safari that includes visits to Masai Mara and Amboseli National Parks, two other must-see destinations in Kenya.
6. Mombasa: Mombasa, the second-largest port in East Africa, offers a refreshing change of pace when arriving from the country's capital. It exudes a tropical soul that creates a friendlier and more inviting atmosphere than other regions, serving as the gateway to the picturesque beach paradise that stretches along the entire coastline. While it may not boast grandeur, immersing oneself in the vibrant energy of this important city in the region is worthwhile. Exploring its spice market, fish market, Fort Jesus, or visiting the Bohra Mosque are captivating stops in the itinerary through its historic district.
Mombasa is a fusion of Arab, European, Chinese, and Indian influences, evident in its diverse architecture, including mosques, temples, and colonial houses. To gain a deeper understanding of its history and uncover its hidden gems, we recommend embarking on a guided tour of Mombasa's old town.
7. Diani Beach(A Beach Paradise) :One of the most delightful surprises during a first trip to Kenya is the stunning beaches that line the coast. Beyond the safaris, these beaches offer an irresistible allure, with the majority meeting postcard-worthy criteria—palm trees leaning over fine white sand and a turquoise sea. Booking a tour of Diani Beach allows for additional experiences such as sailing on the Congo River and exploring the enchanting Kaya Kinondo forest.
Don't miss out on the seafood barbecues prepared by the beach boys. They serve freshly caught fish or grilled lobster over charcoal, accompanied by rice, salad, and tropical fruit for dessert. This impromptu meal creates enriching experiences through cultural exchanges. In the early morning, the beach boys go fishing and later offer their catch to potential customers along the beaches. As the hours pass towards noon, prices gradually decrease, as bargaining is the essential form of transaction.
8. Watamu and Malindi to the North: When traveling north along the coast towards Ethiopia, it's worth mentioning Watamu, a beloved coastal destination for many foreigners, boasting significant urban and tourist development. Located close to Watamu is Malindi, home to a large Italian community and abundant resorts, shopping centers, marinas, and all the features of a popular vacation spot. If you're staying in Mombasa or Watamu, you can also book an organized excursion to the coastal town of Malindi. For convenient transportation between these coastal destinations or for traveling to any tourist spot, you can arrange private transfers in Watamu, including the option of hiring a car with a driver.
The old town, constructed using coral stone and mangrove wood, stands as one of the oldest and most well-preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. No matter where you are in Kenya, you can easily venture to national parks or reserves for a brief safari, making it seamless to combine the coastal experience with wildlife encounters.
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