Enjoy close encounters with a variety of wildlife in breath-taking landscapes, luxurious and unusual camps and lodges and the fascinating culture of Kenyan tribes.
The birth of Nairobi as a city is the result of the railway construction by the British. Halfway on the route from the coast to Lake Victoria, the railway engineers found a swampy place, named by the Masai as ‘Enkare Neerobi’- place of cool waters.
The Chief Engineer of the Railways decided that this was a suitable place to build railway repair yards and workshops. Soon a tent city of traders, adventurers and settlers grew.
With the completion of the railway, the headquarters of the colonial administration was moved from Mombasa to the cooler, small settlement of Nairobi. Now, as the capital of the British Protectorate, the future of the city on the swamp was assured.
The Lamu Archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya, to which it belongs. Lamu is the perfect place for a beach safari with a difference, a truly unique destination. The island is a place of great natural beauty, with long deserted beaches framed by rolling sand dunes and the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean. A popular Kenyan holiday & honeymoon destination. Lamu is a place like no other, a peaceful tropical island where life is lived at it’s own relaxed rhythm, but a place whose history is as mysterious and fascinating as the winding streets of it’s medieval stone town. Lamu Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the perfect example of a tropical archipelago.
Amboseli National Park, at the foot of Africa’s highest mountain Kilimanjaro, lies some 240 km’s south-east of Nairobi. The snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro rising above a saucer of clouds dominates every aspect of Amboseli and forms a backdrop to an impressive display of wildlife with its population of lion, elephant, leopard, cheetah, buffalo and other savannah game.
Samburu National Reserve is one of the lesser known national parks, but is nevertheless teeming with life. Situated alongside Ewaso Nyiro River, there is plenty to attract wildlife from the surrounding savannah plains. The reserve is rich in wildlife with an abundance of rare northern specialist species such as the Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and the Beisa oryx. Large predators such as the lion, leopard, and cheetah are an important attraction (Kamunyak the miracle lioness that adopted the baby oryx is a resident in the reserve).
Small in size but rich in biodiversity, Lake Nakuru was gazetted as a national park in 1968. It is best known for its thousands, sometimes millions of flamingos nesting along the shores. The surface of the shallow lake is often hardly recognizable due to the continually shifting mass of pink. The best vantage point is from Baboon Cliff. Also of interest is an area of 188 km around the lake fenced off as a sanctuary to protect Rothschild giraffes, black rhinos, and white rhinos.
From the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rock that is the Mzima Springs to the Shetani lava flows, Tsavo West is a beautiful, rugged wilderness. The savannah ecosystem comprises of open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges including the Poacher’s Lookout where visitors can see the teeming herds in the plains below. Tsavo West offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world and attractions include elephant, rhino, Hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, Buffalos, diverse plant and bird species including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.
“Theatre of the Wild”. The sight of dust-red elephant wallowing, rolling and spraying each other with the midnight blue waters of palm-shaded Galana River is one of the most evocative images in Africa. This, along with the 300 kilomtere long Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, make for an adventure unlike any other in the Tsavo East. The park forms the largest protected area in Kenya and is home to most of the larger mammals, vast herds of dust –red elephant, Rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, lesser Kudu, gerenuk and the prolific bird life features 500 recorded species.
The Maasai Mara is arguably Kenya’s most popular game reserve. The film “Out of Africa” was made to a great extent in this sanctuary. There is a profusion of all types of wildlife including the big five. A spectacle worth seeing is the annual migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras, and the gazelles from the Serengeti plains across the Tanzania border and the Mara river to reach Maasai Mara grazing fields from late June. The game reserve abounds with birdlife since close to about four hundred and fifty-two odd species have been recorded.
“Majestic Peaks, Moorlands and Intriguing Falls”. Picturesque, steep forested ravines and open moorland characterise the Aberdare National Park. The park provides a habitat for elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos, warthogs and bushbucks among others. Rare sightings include those of the Giant Forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat and the blue duiker. Visitors can indulge in picnics, trout fishing in the rivers and camping in the moorlands. Bird viewing is rewarding, with over 250 species of birds in the park, including the Jackson’s Francolin, Sparrow hawks, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds and plovers.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 364sq km wildlife conservancy situated between the foothills of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares and its game-to-area ratio tops the Kenyan park and reserve league. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya has over 10000 large mammals and it is the only park where the big 5 and chimpanzees can be seen. It is also where the fastest growing population of rhino in Africa can be found. There are southern white rhino, about 80 endangered black rhino and in a special sanctuary there are two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino. Safari by vehicle is not the only option at Ol Pejeta. Safari game walks, horse rides and even camel rides are available, as are safari night drives.
“Come touch the sky”. Climbing to 5,199 meters, Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa. The scenery surrounding this designated World Heritage Site is breath-taking. It is pristine wilderness with lakes, tarns, glaciers, dense forest, mineral springs and a selection of rare and endangered species of animals, high altitude adapted plains game and unique montane and alpine vegetation. Visitors can enjoy mountain climbing, camping and caving with the mountain’s rugged glacier-clad peaks providing the perfect backdrop.
Well known as excellent traders, Muslims came to East Africa (from the 8th century on wards) for what they knew best – commerce. They sailed with their dhows from the Arabian Peninsula to settle on the coast, on the virgin soil of what is now known as Kenya. They eventually intermarried with the Africans, resulting in relatively affluent and Islamic – influenced towns, which acted as entry points for the crossing Indian Ocean trade. Even today, Kenya’s richest history can be felt in the coastal towns.
The Portuguese decided that they would back expeditions to this part of Africa, in the hope that they would break the Ottoman Turks’ grip on trade with the Far East. The rule of the Portuguese was combination of economic exploitation and drives to convert the local population to Catholicism. Nevertheless, by the 1720’s their bitter hand was no longer felt and their rule came to an end.
With the whole of Africa being combed by the European explorers, Kenya wasn’t going to escape the fate of its neighbours. There was internal strife, and the British were able to negotiate a treaty with their former warrior enemies, the Masai, and construct the Mombasa to Uganda railway through the heart of the Masai grazing lands.
On the 12th December 1963, Kenya finally became an independent state, free from British hands, and chose Jomo Kenyatta as the first elected President.
Kenya has a melting pot of different nationalities, tribes and ethnic groups, making it tolerant, accepting and colourful country. It currently has a population of 38 million people (based on 2009 Census count), which include over 40 tribal groups.
The main tribal groups are the Bantu, Cushites and Nilotes and the main ethnic composition of the tribes of Kenya is formed from these groups. Each group has its own language and some 45 languages (not dialects) are spoken in Kenya. Most Kenyans speak three languages: their tribal language, also called their mother tongue, Kiswahili (national language) and English (official language).
The Bantu-group include the Kikuyu, Meru, Gusii, Embu, Akamba, Luhya (or Luyia) and Mijikenda.
The Nilote group include the Maasai, Luo, Turkana, Teso, Samburu and Kalenjin people
The Cushite group include the Borana, Somali, Orma and Rendile
As Kenya has a large Asian population, descendants of workers who arrived to build the railway from Mombasa to Kampala, various Indian languages are still spoken. Nevertheless, they are not considered official languages as they are only spoken within the Indian community.
Sheng is the language of Kenyan youth and is a mix of Swahili and English – be sure that you and many Kenyan elders, will be unlikely to understand it.
Kenya straddles the equator on the eastern coast of Africa; covering an area of about 586,600km sq. of which 10,700km sq. consists of water bodies. It lies on the Equator and is bisected lengthwise by the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south.
Kenya shares borders with five other nations. It is bordered by Somalia and Ethiopia to the north the Indian Ocean to the east, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. It has a 550km long coastline.
Kenya is home to Mount Kenya (5,199) the second largest peak in the African continent, and it is traversed by a number of rivers, notably Tana and Athi rivers, and the Galana River and the notorious Mara River, which run through the Maasai Mara Reserve.
Kenya also houses some incredible lakes such as the wild Lake Turkana (home of the cradle of humankind), Lake Turkana (home of more than 1 million flamingoes) and the Lake Baringo/Naivasha (home to the notorious “happy valley set”) to mention only a few.
The country is mostly known for its flat, vast and wild savannah country, but its terrain ranges wildly from deserts in the north, to bush land in the South, coastal areas in the east, and the fertile lands west, while central Kenya houses luscious highlands.
Kenya’s natural vegetation is equally diverse.
Afro – alpine moorland
Afro-alpine moorland occurs above c. 3,000 m, on Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, the Cherangani and the Aberdares Mountains. Highland grassland occurs above c.2, 400 m on either side of the central Rift Valley. Highland moist forests are found between c.1, 500 m and 3,000m in areas that receive rainfall of more than 1,200 mm per year.
Relicts of Guineo-Congolian rain forest that once extended across equatorial Africa occur in western Kenya, in and around Kakamega Forest. Typical tree species include Celtis, Aningeria, croton, Fagara and Manikara. The North and South Nandi Forests are transitional between the Guinea-Congolian and Montane forest types.
Coastal evergreen bushland also occurs, in a mosaic with cultivated land. Coastal palmstands, often in tall grassland, are a rare vegetation type covering less than 3.1% of the land area. Thorn bushland and woodland are the most extensive vegetation types in Kenya, running from Amboseli in the south through the Tsavo parks to north-east and north-west Kenya. Characteristic tree species are Acacia, Commiphora ssp., while grasses include species of Hyparrhenia, Digitaria and Themeda.
Papyrus swamps, consisting largely of stands of cyperus papyrus, are found patchily around the shores of Lake Victoria, mainly along river inflows.
On sandy shorelines are often beds of sea grass (some twelve species are recorded), beyond the littoral zone or in deeper channels within it. Coral reefs and islands make up some 59,000 ha, or 0.1% of the land area. Human-modified habitats, created at the expense of the natural vegetation, occur throughout the country but especially in the highlands. These include cultivated land under a wide variety of crops, plantations of exotic trees, secondary thicket and scrub, eroded and de-vegetated woodland and bush land, and overgrazed pastureland.
The variations in altitude and terrain in Kenya create sharp contrasts in climate. The coast (Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu) is hot and often humid.
Mornings and evening in the central highlands (around Mount Kenya) can be cool, verging on cold, during Kenya’s winter (July – August), while in the north and northeast (close to the Sudanese border) the days are dry and very hot.
As it is on the equator, day and night are almost equal in Kenya the whole year around; sunrise is 6 – 6.30 a.m. and sun downs 6.30 – 7 pm. Even though the climate is beginning during the day, it is wise to use a pullover in the evenings since temperatures drop considerably at night.
Over most of the country there are two major rainy seasons. The short rains normally occur from late October to November and the long rains from the late March to early June. July and August are the coolest months; November to February are the hottest.
Considering the mix of people, histories and ethnic groups, it is no wonder that there is a great variety of religion in Kenya. As a result there is a very open and non biased society, which is rare in today’s intolerant world.
The British brought with them the monotheistic religion, which they imposed onto the Kenyan peoples, sending increased numbers of missionaries. Today Christianity is the main religion in Kenya and is very much present in the everyday life of Kenyans. A large percentage of them are Catholic, but other Christian creeds (Anglican, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelical and so on) are also prominent. A number of Christian sects are deeply rooted in Kenya – it is not an uncommon sight to see groups of newborn Christian rapt in singing on Sundays either on the streets or in public parks.
The Arab influence is mostly felt on the coastline, where mosques can be seen almost on every corner and most women wear veils, but in a more relaxed manner than in any strictly Islamic country. Islam was brought by Arab traders, and firmly established, thanks to the strong influence of the sultanate of Oman and Zanzibar. The Sunni branch of Islam is the predominant one in Kenya.
The Indians brought to Kenya by the British to construct the Mombasa – Uganda railroad have become a prominent community in the country. Together with their traditions they have also brought their own millenary cults. There are a number of beautiful traditional Hindu temples in the main urban area of the country.
Started as a spin – off of Hinduism, Sikhism celebrated the 300th anniversary of its creation in 1999. Together with the Hindus, a number of Sikhs came to Kenya at the turn of the century to help construct the railroad. There are fewer Sikhs than Hindus, but their economic importance is considerable.
Judaism is not very prominent in Kenya, but there are a few synagogues in Nairobi, the Israeli embassy deals with religious holidays and festivities.