Kenya is, undoubtedly, one of the most breathtaking destinations on Earth. There is simply no shortage of things to do and see in this picturesque country – from waterfalls to the lovely sunsets in Kenyan parks; from the beautiful lakes to the mountains; the beaches; the Great Rift Valley; springs etc. just to name a few.
In fact, Kenya is one of the world’s premier tourist destinations, renowned for its classic savannah safaris: a country of classic contrasts and dramatic extremes; open plains and forests; alpine snows and deserts; coral reefs and fresh water lakes; and the colorful tribal cultures and the metropolis of Nairobi.
Below, we take a look at 6 of the top rated tourist attractions in Kenya as follows:
1. Tsavo National Park
Tsavo, Kenya’s largest park is divided into two: Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Together, these two comprise about 4% of the country’s total land mass and encompass volcanic hills, savannah, waterfalls, rivers, an impressive diversity of wildlife, and a massive lava-rock plateau.
Midway between Nairobi (Kenya’s capital) and the coastal city of Mombasa, Tsavo East is acclaimed for its photo-worthy sightings of elephant herds bathing and rolling in red dust. In addition, the palm-fringed River Galana meanders through the park providing a lush counterpoint to the arid plains as well as excellent game. Other highlights here include the Mudanda Rock, Lugard Falls, which spill into crocodile-filled pools and rapids, and the Yatta Plateau (the world’s longest lava flow).
2. Maasai Mara Game Reserve
The Maasai Mara is, arguably, one of the world’s most spectacular game reserves. Bordering Tanzania, it is the northern extension of the Serengeti Game Reserve and forms a wildlife corridor between the two East African countries. It derives its name from the red-cloaked, statuesque Maasai people who have lived in the park and grazed their animals there for centuries.
In their native language, Mara denotes “mottled”- a probable reference to the play of shadow and light from the cloud-studded skies and acacia trees on the expansive grasslands.
The Mara is renowned for the Great Migration, where thousands of Thompson’s gazelle, zebra, and wildebeest travel to and from the Mara, from June through October. In the Mara River, throngs of crocodile and hippos abound. The park is also provides excellent predator sightings owing to its relatively large populations of leopard, cheetah, and lion- especially in the dry months of December through to February. Thanks to its altitude, the weather in the Mara is gentle and mild all year round.
3. Lake Nakuru National Park
Located in central Kenya, Lake Nakuru National Park is prominent for its numerous flocks of flamingoes. The birds throng on Lake Nakuru- one of the soda lakes in the Rift Valley and which comprises about a third of the park’s area. Established in 1961, Lake Nakuru National Park is home to over 450 species of birds in addition to a rich diversity of other wildlife. Pythons, waterbucks, warthogs, leopards, lions, and white rhinos are just some of the animals that tourists to the park may encounter, with landscapes ranging from woodland and rocky cliffs to sweeping grasslands bordering the lake.
The park is also active in the protection of the largest euphorbia candelabrum forest on the African continent. These branching, tall succulents are native to the region and provide a riveting textural element to the prevalent arid landscapes.
Located northeast of Mombasa, the small island of Lamu oozes old charm. In fact, Lamu Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited settlement, dating back to the 12th century. Strolling the narrow, labyrinth-like streets, tourists will be fascinated to see the island’s rich merchant history reflected in its buildings.
Architectural features from India, Europe, and the Arab world are evident, but with discernible Swahili technique- coral stone buildings, intricately carved wooden doors, verandas, hidden courtyards, and rooftop patios are common features and visiting here is essentially stepping back in time. There are few if any motorized vehicles, dhows plow the harbor, and donkeys still rule the labyrinthine streets as they have done for hundreds of years.
Majority of the population in Lamu is Muslim, with both women and men dressing in traditional attire. Some of the top attractions on the island include the Donkey Sanctuary, Lamu Fort, and Lamu Museum, with displays on the region’s nautical history and Swahili culture.
Situated north of Mombasa city on the Kenyan coast, Malindi is a popular beach resort, especially with European visitors. Thanks in part to its rich trading past, it too is a melting pot of cuisines and cultures and also displays a split personality.
Part modern tourist hub and part historic old town, Malindi is where tourists come to dive the coral reefs of the Watamu and Malindi Marine National Parks; enjoy the sun on the white sandy beaches of Watamu beach; and soak up Swahili history in the historic town that traces its routes back to the 12th century.
Here, tourists can visit the Church of St. Francis Xavier (one of the oldest churches in East Africa), two pillar tombs from the 14th century, the Jami mosque, and the Malindi museum which has displays on the legendary Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, and also doubles up as an information center.
Other popular attractions include the Falconry of Kenya- a rehabilitation center that caters to injured and sick birds- as well as the Marafa Depression (also variously referred to as Nyari or Hell’s Kitchen)- a set of sandstone gorges that have been sculpted by the rain and wind.
6. Mount Kenya National Park
East of the Great Rift Valley, in the Central Highlands, lies Mount Kenya National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses the nation’s namesake highest peak at 5,199 M and provides the quite rare sight of equatorial snow.
Formed through a series of volcanic eruptions, Mt. Kenya actually consists of 3 glacier-cloaked peaks- Batian (highest), Nelion (toughest climb), and Lenana (lowest peak).
The scenery varies from mineral springs, lakes, and glaciers to dense pockets of bamboo and alpine forests. The diversity of the fauna and flora provides rewarding opportunities for safari enthusiasts and among the wildlife that visitors may spot include hyenas, leopards, tree hyraxes, elephants, buffaloes, and black and white colobus monkeys.
Lastly, nestled in the foothills is the world-famous Mt. Kenya Safari Club- a luxury retreat that offers among others tennis, golf, and trout fishing.