Nowhere captures the spirit of Africa quite like Kenya, where dazzling beaches, rich cultural experiences and some of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries offer a uniquely diverse escape. From the country’s exhilarating capital, Nairobi, travellers can set out on an epic safari adventure in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, roamed by Maasai warriors and Africa’s Big Five: elephant, black rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo. Kenya’s dry season (July to October) sees the Great Migration, when over one million animals thunder across the plains, while October to January is the time to explore the world’s second-largest great barrier reef, and the enticing waters of the Indian Ocean.
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, offers visitors a warm and exciting welcome, with lively neighbourhoods, fantastic nightlife and some breathtaking wildlife experiences on its doorstep. The luxury Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection in Westlands is one of the best places to stay, perfectly located for shopping, dining and exploring the only national park in the world that borders a city: Nairobi National Park. Animal lovers should also schedule a visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre, and The Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s Giraffe Centre; both lie within easy reach of the Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Hurlingham hotel.
A long stretch of dazzling-white sand sloping gently into the Indian Ocean, twenty miles south of Mombasa, Diani would be a strong contender in any ‘Africa’s Best Beach’ competition. If you’re wondering where to go for watersports, Diani is perfect for windsurfing, kitesurfing and paddle-boarding. Snorkellers and divers can swim with myriad tropical fish on the offshore coral reefs, or take a traditional dhow sailing boat to the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve to seek out turtles, dolphins and rays. Nearby, Shimba Hills National Reserve protects one of the largest coastal forests in East Africa, home to a large number of elephants, Kenya’s only herd of Sable antelopes, and the spectacular Sheldrick Falls.
The spectacular Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya is known for its fantastic game viewing, and is one of the best places to visit for an authentic cultural experience with the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe. An excellent place for spotting rare species, including the reticulated giraffe, the gerenuk (a long-necked antelope), Somali ostrich, beisa oryx and Grevy’s zebra, Samburu also delivers great sightings of African wild dogs and leopards. Arranging a visit to a school, dance ceremony or manyatta (traditional fenced settlement) offers the chance to gain a deeper understanding of Samburu history, beliefs and customs, while helping to support local communities.
Meaning ‘medicine’ or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili, a Dawa sundowner cocktail after a day in the bush or on the beach is just what the doctor ordered. Made with vodka, lime, sugar and honey, legend has it this potent brew was invented at Nairobi restaurant, Carnivore. As well as being great places to eat, Tamarind Dhow's traditional Arabian sailing boats are perfect for drinking a Dawa as the sun sets over Mombasa, Kenya’s second city.
The cornmeal staple ugali is a Kenyan classic, and a regular accompaniment to meat or vegetable curries, soups and stews. Other traditional dishes include githeri, a popular, one-pot bean and vegetable or meat dish, originally eaten by the Kikuyu tribe of Central Kenya; and makai paka, corn cobs cooked in coconut curry. Try mandazi, too: plump, doughnut-like triangles, coated in sugar and infused with coconut milk and cardamom – they make a great accompaniment to a cup of coffee.
Kenyan cuisine reflects the influence of Indian traders and labourers who came to East Africa in the late nineteenth century to build the Kenya-Uganda railway. Traditional-with-a-twist Indian dishes to try include biryanis and chapatis, and while Kenya produces excellent coffee, be sure to also sample the milky, spiced masala chai tea that is a local favourite. Try a cup before your flight at The Marketplace at the Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport.
Whether you’re in the city, the bush, or at the beach, Kenya has no end of unmissable fun things to do. Looking for adventure? UNESCO World Heritage site Mount Kenya is the country’s highest peak at 5199 metres, and its slopes are a playground for hikers and climbers, while the country’s Tana, Athi and Mathioya rivers are ripe for white water rafting. Looking for an unforgettable animal encounter? Tracking wild rhino in the Sera Wildlife Conservancy is one of the best things to do in Kenya’s north. This community conservancy was Africa’s first black rhino breeding sanctuary, and walking through the Samburu bush on foot to find these incredible, endangered giants is a uniquely humbling experience.
Giants of the aquatic kind can be spotted in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Watamu National Marine Park and Reserve, home to Kenya’s ‘Marine Big Five’: whale shark, humpback whale, dolphin, billfish and turtle. And for those who have been inspired by Africa’s stories in books or on the big screen, a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum to see the farm made famous in the Danish author’s novel, Out Of Africa, is one of the most interesting things to do around Nairobi.
A 4X4 game drive in southern Kenya’s world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve is on every traveller’s wish list, but there are many alternative things to do in this magical, wildlife-rich region, including cycling and horse-riding safaris, visits to traditional Maasai villages, and hot-air-balloon rides over the plains. Exploring inside the National Reserve isn’t permitted on foot, but walking with experienced Maasai guides is one of the many unique things to do in the Mara’s bordering private conservancies. Visit the Mara Triangle, run by the non-profit Mara Conservancy, to support Maasai community and conservation projects.
Nairobi is a perfect base for exploring Kenya’s wildlife reserves and coastal resorts. The capital is home to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, while a network of Safarilink flights connect Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to destinations including Maasai Mara, Mombasa, Amboseli, Lamu, Diani Beach and Samburu, plus Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania.
Published: July 26, 2022