Tim Culley

Kenya as a safari destination is synonymous with sweeping plains and great herds and is associated mostly with being one of the two places on earth where you can witness the Great Migration. What many holidaymakers don’t know however, is that it offers so much more than big game viewing. 

A multifaceted country with a rich cultural history and heritage, Kenya’s appeal as a travel destination is multifold, and it offers a dynamic experience well worth the trip to get there. 

From the magnificent spectacle of thousands of wildebeest traversing the Masai Mara, to the energy of the capital Nairobi, and the laid-back fishing villages along its idyllic coastline, Kenya’s combination of abundant natural beauty and vibrant culture makes it a versatile destination for a variety of types of travellers – whether that’s adventure seekers on their first bush trip, veteran safari goers or honeymooners in search of iconic scenery.  

A conservation success story too, Kenya’s abundance of wildlife and remarkable scenery is as a result of sustained efforts by its innovative conservation communities who have pulled wildlife back from the brink after poaching ran rampant in the 1970s and 80s.

The best way to enjoy this layered and beautiful country is by experiencing as much of what it has to offer as possible, through a carefully planned itinerary that touches on all its diverse attributes. 

You’ll most likely land in Nairobi if you’re entering the country by air. One of Africa’s largest and most vibrant cities, and a hub of commerce and finance within the region and continent as a whole, it’s a place of great contrast. Here you’ll see the intersection of the modern and traditional worlds – where local culture is still very apparent but bears the hallmarks of 21st century life. Here it’s not uncommon to see a Masai warrior for example in traditional dress speaking on a mobile phone or riding a motorbike. This juxtaposition and the myriad places to eat, drink, and shop (its markets are one of the best places in East Africa for souvenir hunting) make it a dynamic way to kick off a Kenya visit. 

For adventure enthusiasts, venturing next from the lights of the city to the peaks of Mount Kenya will provide some welcome contrast. The second highest in Africa, this mountain offers a varied and interesting hike (thanks to changing terrain on the ascent), while the area surrounding the mountain itself has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. 

Birding enthusiasts should put a pin in the map by Meru National Park. Considered a paradise for would-be ornithologists, it’s home to a variety of rare and unusual birds. Also worth noting, this park was where Elsa, the lion of Born Free fame, made legendary by conservationist Joy Adamson lived. 

Next on your itinerary, Samburu Game Reserve. Situated in the hot and arid lowlands of northern Kenya, this remote and relatively lesser known park is virtually devoid of tourists, making it a great choice if you’re looking for a low-traffic safari experience. Home to the Samburu people, it also offers an opportunity to learn about the culture of some of the people who call Kenya home. 

The piece de resistance of the game-viewing element of your trip will follow. The Masai Mara is the quintessential safari experience – where you’ll see in technicolour the vivid sunsets, endless savannah and volume of wildlife Kenya is renowned for. From viewing the perilous river crossings by vehicle to hot-air ballooning over the plains, this is a must on your trip, and a fittingly dramatic way to finish. 

The final stop on your route should be something decidedly slower paced. The beaches of Kenya are a great way to wind down after an action-packed trip. While the common denominators are pristine beaches, warm water and spectacular coral reefs,

the coastline is dotted with various options. Lamu Archipelago, off the north coast, which consists of a number of small islands (the most popular of which is Lamu Island), is a fascinating glimpse into the colour and culture of the country, while the south coast is great for sheer relaxation (excellent for families), and Mombasa and Malindi offer great variety by way of resorts.