Kenya lies astride the equator on the eastern coast of Africa. It is a medium-sized country by continental standards, covering an area of about 586,600km sq. Inland waters cover some 10,700km sq, the bulk of this in Lakes Victoria and Turkana.
The landscape of Kenya is divided into two halves. The eastern half slopes gently to the coral-backed seashore, and the western half rises abruptly through a series of hills and plateaus to the Eastern Rift Valley. West of the Rift is a westward-sloping plateau and the lowest part is covered by Lake Victoria.
The snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya (5,199m) is the country’s highest point, making it the second highest mountain in Africa.
The coastline extends some 536km from the Tanzanian border in the southeast, to the Somali border in the northeast.
The main rivers are the Athi/Galana and the Tana. The major lakes are Lake Victoria, Baringo, Turkana, Naivasha, Jipe, Magadi, Nakuru, Bogoria and Elementeita.
History and Background
Kenya is revered by anthropologists as the 'cradle of humanity'. It has the globe's most magnificent wildlife parks, unsullied beaches, thriving coral reefs, memorable mountain escarpments and ancient Swahili cities.
The Swahili word safari literally means journey. It wouldn't mean much to most people if it wasn't for this East African adventure land which is known for the annual mass migration of wildebeests in the Masai Mara!
Kenya’s history dates back six million years ago, when ‘Millenium Man’ first walked the Tugen Hills and began his long journey back to the stars. With an evolutionary record stretching back some 25 million years ago, Kenya is the motherland of mankind. It is the adopted home of over forty different ethnic migrant groups, who wandered here from Ethiopia, the Nile and the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. After that came the formation of the various language groups who developed their own religions, traditions, governments and ruling systems in which they dictated their way of life, managing to keep alive their trade and occupations.
After this period the white settlers arrived, followed by the fight for liberation, which gave birth to the Mau Mau freedom fighters and the rise of the Kenyan heroes.
In recent history Kenya gained independence in 1963 with Kenyatta becoming Kenya's first president. When Kenyatta's died in 1978, Daniel Arap Moi became President, and in the democratic multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997 he won re-election. In 2002 Moi was constitutionally barred from running and Mwai Kibaki, was elected President.
Safari Attractions in Kenya
Kenya’s total conservation area is 44,359 sq km.
The main parks are; Aberdare National Park, Amboseli National Park, Hell’s Gate National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Meru National Park, Mount Elgon National Park, Mount Kenya National Park, Nairobi National Park, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park.
One of the most popular tourist destinations is the Masai Mara, which is a designated National Reserve. Kenya has two major marine parks; Mombasa Marine National Park and Malindi/Watamu National Park.
Kenya has coastal forests containing teak, mangrove, palm, copal and sandalwood trees. Its forests contain euphorbia, baobab and acacia trees which cover the lowlands.
There are 80 major animal species ranging from the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard) to tiny antelopes such as the dik-dik, which is slightly larger than a rabbit. At least 32 endemic species are endangered.
Although the Masai Mara is not Kenya’s largest park, it is undoubtedly the best known and contains a great concentration of wildlife. It was established in 1961 and covers an area of 1,800 sq km (almost 700 sq miles). The Masai Mara adjoins the Serengeti in Tanzania, forming the northern end of the great migration ecosystem.
This is the traditional land of the Masai people - nomadic herders, who choose and lead a traditional lifestyle and are permitted to graze their cattle in this region.
The park's habitat comprises of the forests along the banks of the Mara and Talek Rivers, the acacia forests and the open savannah. These various habitats are home to a great variety of game including cheetah, leopard, lion, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest (gnu), elephant, topi, jackal, impala and gazelles. Hippopotami and crocodiles are also plentiful in these rivers including abundant bird life.
Kenya has around 1,137 species of birds. Spotting over 100 bird species in a day is not uncommon.
From June through to October you may see the annual migration - as hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra move through the area in search of fresh grass. This perilous crossing undertaken by hordes of beasts is a truly dramatic highlight to behold!
Mount Kenya is the county's highest mountain and sits astride the equator, with its icy summit reaching up to 5199m (17058 ft). The entire mountain above the 3200m (10500 ft) contour forms a national park.
The mountain consists of three principal zones;
- the rocky peak area which is an eroded volcanic plug, with its cloak of glaciers and snow fields;
- the alpine zone with its distinctive giant vegetation;
- the vast slopes, covered in mountain forest and bamboo jungle. Many rivers flow from the perpetual snow in this area, among them the mighty Tana which sources much of Kenya's electricity supply.
Most visitors to this area are content to marvel at the mountain's beauty, but some want to attempt to reach the summits - a feat requiring considerable rock-climbing skill. The mountain's lesser peaks and glaciers can all be walked by the fit and adventurous including 'Point Lenana', 4985 m (16355 ft) which can easily be reached. Wildlife within the forests below the park boundary contains elephant, buffalo, lion, several species of antelope including the rare bongo and occasionally both the leopard and serval. Much of this game can be seen from the comfort of Mountain Lodge, which lies just inside the forest on the south side of the mountain.
For decades only the intrepid could reach the shoreline of Lake Bogoria by foot - as no roads existed. Hidden behind ridge after ridge of barren stony land, scarcely anyone was aware of its existence. Although now accessible, but still infinitely remote, the lake presents an exciting contrast to the more conventional game parks to the south and east.
Lake Bogoria and the area around it form a national reserve which is primarily scenic with plenty of wildlife. Birds are plentiful and at times when the waters of Lake Nakuru are low, it is filled with hundreds of thousands of flamingo.
On the north eastern shore, the greater kudu can be found, as well as other game. Lake Bogoria has geysers and hot springs dotted all along its southern shoreline. The back drop of the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley makes it one of the most picturesque settings in the valley! The journey along the shoreline is made more exciting by the boiling geysers and steam jets. The stark evidence from the volcanic origins of the Great Rift Valley, reminiscent of pre-historic scenes, is something not to be missed!
Lake Nakuru is a shallow and alkaline lake on the bed of the Great Rift Valley. It is famed as the home of the greatest bird spectacle in the world as this lake often flocks more than a million pink flamingos - which seasonally use its waters to feed on the abundant algae which thrives in the shallow warm waters. Lake Nakuru is 156 km (100 miles) from Nairobi. Although the flamingos are the most obvious inhabitants, other inhabitants of the alkaline lake can be seen, which include Black-winged stilts and avocets.
Lake Nakuru National Park has a great deal to offer - besides its magnificent bird life, it is also a rhino sanctuary and is therefore one of the best places in the country to see both white and black rhino. The park is also host to lion, leopard, buffalo and a variety of plain and forest game, which has in turn made it a permanent and protected habitat.
The acacia savannah surrounding the lake is beautiful and provides an area which is particularly good for game viewing.
Mombasa is a coastal island, measuring just over 14 sq km - less than five square miles - with magnificent stretches of white sandy beaches and coral reefs. It is Kenya's main tourist hub and East Africa's largest port. Located in the south-eastern part of Kenya, Mombasa is one of the most significant towns as a major tourist destination and is well known for its imports and exports through its port. Its biggest market is the Makupa Market off Mwembe Tayari - a colourful place featuring a wide range of produce that is well worth a visit. Mombasa Island is a good place pick up souvenirs, especially cheap fabrics, like 'kanga' wraparounds.
"Old Town" is the part of Mombasa that is reminiscent of past days when the Arabs exerted a heavy influence on the town and its culture, and they especially influenced the architecture and the language of the island. This part of Mombasa is well known for its extravagant art designs, ancient buildings and curio shops selling antiques and popular Kenyan souvenirs. Explore Old Town by foot, as the streets are too narrow to accommodate a large number of vehicles. The town's inhabitants are mostly of Arab origin whose forefathers once roamed the same streets of the town.
The Port of Mombasa is vast in size, incorporating Port Tudor, Kilindini Harbour and Port Reitz (which used to be the old port). The Port offers many essential services such as cargo handling, berthing of ships, and other such facilities. Most of the ships seen at the port are from Kenya's neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Eastern Zaire to name a few. Navy ships, Cruise ships and the famous QE2 are frequent visitors to the port and the town.
Nairobi, as capital city, is unique as it has a wildlife park on its doorstep. So if you want to see rhino, Nairobi National Park is the place to be. It is actually possible to photograph a rhino browsing peacefully among the whistling thorn with high-rise office buildings in the background! Since some of the wildlife is migratory, when there is grazing and water outside the park, they sometimes move out into Maasai-land through the unfenced southern border. Despite this, there is a resident population and therefore a visit at any time during the year is well worth a visit. Other wildlife to be spotted are lion, leopard, buffalo including rhino - as well as a multitude of other game. Large populations of eland, wildebeest, giraffe and Thompson's gazelle dominate the plains with secretary birds and ostriches. The park is a designated Rhino Sanctuary and more than 50 rhinos have been brought here from various remote parts of the country where poaching was rampant.
Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is a cosmopolitan, interesting, lively, and pleasantly landscaped area. Its central business district is handily compact and is a great place to experience the modern urban African life. Originally this area was little more than a swampy watering hole for the Maasai tribes... Nairobi then grew with the advent of the railway and then became a substantial town by 1900. Five years later Nairobi succeeded Mombasa as the capital of the British protectorate. Today it's the largest city between Cairo and Johannesburg.
Nairobi has some very upmarket museums. It's worth visiting the National Museum - offering an introduction to Kenya and its history. The museum's cool, peaceful interiors give relief from the hot dusty streets outside. As you walk quietly around, you'll see displays of fossils, tribal artefacts, and a bird gallery with more than 900 specimens.
Warm and welcoming, Kenya is the place where the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’-‘No Problem’ embodies the national attitude; and a smile is the most valuable currency!
We have other Kenya Attractions that you might want to visit on your Kenya Safari. Please contact us for further details.