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Your Guide to Kenya: Beaches, Cities and Wildlife

by Travelbag on 03 July 2019, 11:07AM

Elephant in Kenya

From the mountains to the coast, Kenya is a country of contrasts. As the home of the safari, Kenya’s game parks are legendary. But you’ll also find golf courses, scuba diving sites, big-game fishing and beautiful beaches. Plus, as Miles Kingdom explains, you can even fit in a city break.

The good news is, you can see Kenya’s highlights very comfortably in the space of a two-week holiday. Even if you’re just planning a short break, you can combine a couple of days on the coast with some world-class wildlife viewing on a multi-centre holiday. Alternatively, you could book a tour of Kenya to discover even more of this incredible country. Not sure where to start? Find out how you should spend your time with our handy guide to Kenya.

 

Go on safari in the Masai Mara

Most Kenya tours start from Mombasa, and include a few days in the Masai Mara. This vast area is a must-see. Stretching all the way to the Tanzanian border, the Mara’s mix of habitats – from open plains and woodlands, to dense acacia forest – affords some of the best game viewing in Africa. All of the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant – are present, as well as the Mara’s infamous cheetahs. But the jewel in its crown is the Great Migration.

Every year, usually starting around late July, over a million wildebeest, 300,000 gazelle and 200,000 zebra begin their journey northwards, away from their breeding grounds in the Serengeti and towards the green pastures of the Masai Mara. That would be a spectacle in itself, but getting to the fertile plains involves crossing the wide and fast-flowing Mara River – never easy at the best of times, and much harder when scores of lion and crocodile have come to enjoy an easy feeding opportunity. Seeing the vast numbers crossing – sometimes unsuccessfully – is unforgettable.

There are various holiday packages and tours available that allow you to witness the Great Migration in the Masai Mara, but timings are never guaranteed. It can be in full flow any time between July and September. Keep track of the trends with your local travel expert and book accordingly to see one of the greatest shows on earth.

But animals are only a part of the story here. The Masai people, known for their prowess with lions and their herds of cattle, have truly embraced tourism. Don’t be surprised to see traditionally dressed tribesman working in a game reserve or a hotel. It gives you a great opportunity to engage with the community in a way that doesn’t seem forced or manufactured.

Wildebeest Migration

Discover wildlife off the beaten track

The Masai Mara is undoubtedly incredible but, wherever you view game in Kenya, it will be a rewarding experience. There’s an extraordinary variety here but, if you’re set on seeing a certain species, it pays to do a little research. Birdwatchers, for example, will favour the lakes, especially those around the central Rift Valley. Nakuru, in particular, is home to over a million pink flamingos, not to mention around 450 other species. Look out for birds of prey such as eagles, owls, kestrels and falcons. Or, for beautiful plumage, kingfishers, sunbirds or lilac breasted rollers.

Naivasha is another strong draw, as much for its hippos as its birds. Colobus monkeys – easily recongnised by their striking black and white fur – can be found in the forest along its shores. And Turkana to the north, sharing a border with Ethiopia, has the largest population of crocodiles in Africa – more than 20,000 at the last count. This long and narrow body of water also borders the Sibiloi National Park, which plays host to lions, cheetah and hyena, along with more gentle creatures like kudu and zebra.

As well as researching the wildlife, it’s a good idea to think about your Kenya holiday as a whole before you book a safari. If you’re considering a safari-and-beach combination, for example, consider going to Tsavo instead of the Masai Mara. This national park is closest to the coast, and is also the largest in Kenya, with sightings of the Big Five practically guaranteed.

Flamingos in Kenya

Make time for Nairobi

Touring the parks is best undertaken on a tailor-made itinerary, most of which will start with a flight to Nairobi. Security worries may put some people off staying in the capital, but exercising common sense and taking the usual precautions will ward off trouble, just as it would anywhere else. Stay in the city for a day and a night if you can and sample a bit of urban African life. It can be an exhilarating introduction to an extraordinary continent – and where else can you see wild game with the city in the background?

More adventures beckon to the north of Nairobi, where the Samburu Reserve is famous not only for its wildlife, but also for its royal connection. It was at the Treetops Lodge where the young Princess Elizabeth learned she was to be crowned Queen. This is just one example of Britain’s shared history with this African nation, and a stay here is a popular upgrade on any holiday to Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya

Hit the beach

The atmosphere is different on the coast, but the vibe still friendly. Kenya’s equatorial position means beach temperatures average a balmy 28 degrees all year round – never too cold, rarely too hot. Golfers can enjoy a round in Diani and Malindi, both of which have 18-hole courses open to non-members. Mombasa is also worth a day trip, and proves to be a popular excursion from the beach hotels. A lively port city with an Arab-Swahili heritage, Mombasa’s origins are in the 14th century and successive waves of settlers have all left their mark. It’s hard to miss the Tusks – built as a gateway to the city to celebrate the Queen’s visit in 1952 – but make sure you also head up to the monumental Fort Jesus. This 16th-century addition was built by the Portuguese, who were wary of attacks from Arab corsairs.

Long walks on the beach are a sure-fire way to meet locals. Kenyans love sun and sand as much as anyone and, on Sundays especially, families head down to the beach. At other times you’ll find it busy with craft stalls and there are always local children wanting to practice their English.

Kenya's Diani Beach

As tribes like the Masai and Samburu prove, after more than 50 years of safari holidays, Kenya’s priorities have not changed. It’s still a country of proud tradition, wild game and hospitality. Watching the burning sunset is one of the most rewarding parts of any African holiday – and you can rest assured it will be shining again tomorrow.

 

Find more travel inspiration in our latest edition of Escape magazine.

Or, take a look at our holidays to Kenya and start planning your African adventure.


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