A trip to Kenya is synonymous with safari, and rightly so. Kenya’s national parks are teeming with wildlife, the most famous being the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, famous for the Big Five – lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant and buffalo – and the Nilotic Maasai tribe and their traditional red shuka distinct (loose clothing). But Kenya has much more to offer than safaris.

The country has forested mountains just waiting to be crowned and sprawling towns with restaurants, nightclubs and shops. Relax on pristine beaches, snorkel in uncrowded spots in the Indian Ocean or go on a thrilling off-road adventure.

Whatever type of trip you are looking for, you can find it in Kenya. Here are the best places to add to your travel itinerary.

Eat through Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, which has a number of trendy markets and restaurants © Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock

Nairobi

A city at the center of everything, Kenya’s capital is a great stopover if you want to go on safari, to the beach or anything in between. Unpack and spend a few days working your way through Nairobi’s array of bars and restaurants, with buzzing new venues such as Cultiva, where the chef’s South American roots are distinct in every farmhouse dish at the Table, or Unseen Nairobi, an independent art house cinema and rooftop bar where independent films serve as the perfect accompaniment to signature sandwiches. With art galleries, outdoor cinemas showing African films, boutiques, comedy shows and museums, Nairobi offers it all.

Even in the capital, you can get close to wildlife. Your options range from orphaned baby elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, feeding Rothschild giraffes at the Giraffe Center or spotting four of the Big Five (excluding elephants) at Nairobi National Park against a backdrop of billboards, traffic and Skyscraper.


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turkana

Remote, inhospitable and historically drought-stricken, Turkana looks like a vast empty area on the map of Kenya, but it’s a big draw for adventurers who love a challenge. Although the area has an airport, the thrill is in the driving, which requires a reliable 4×4 to maneuver over steep roads – or lack thereof.

For the heat and aridity of the region, the jade-blue Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world, seems out of place. Visit Eliye Springs with its sandy beaches and towering green palm trees and you’ll think you’re on Diani Beach on the Kenyan coast. Charter a speedboat to Central Island where a short hike leads to a volcanic crater lake. Don’t forget your bathing suit, but watch out for the Nile crocodiles, which camouflage themselves so well on the shore that you might mistake them for rocks.

The fast-developing city of Lodwar has a vibrant nightlife, as well as its own replica of Brazil’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue. For a real glimpse into the past, drive 129 km (80 miles) west to the site with the replica of the fossil archaeological remains of Turkana Boy, which has earned this area the name “Cradle of Humankind”, a title apparently claimed across Africa.

Time your visit with the annual Lake Turkana Cultural Festival in June for a better look at northern tribes such as the Borana, Rendille, Turkana and Samburu. Drive further east from Lake Turkana and you’ll come to the Chalbi Desert, which has salt pans that extend to the Ethiopian border. You can sandboard the dunes and meet the villagers of North Horr for a taste of their culture.

Cheetah interacts with a safari vehicle in Maasai Mara, Kenya
Take a safari through the Maasai Mara in Kenya to encounter the Big Five and other wildlife © Pedro Helder Pinheiro / Shutterstock

Maasai Mara

One of Africa’s must-see safari destinations, Maasai Mara is located in the southwestern region of Kenya and spans 1510 km2 (583 sq mi) in the Serengeti of Tanzania. Spot all the Big Five and other wildlife, plus over 450 species of birds. Encounter wildlife from a safari vehicle, hot air balloon with a champagne breakfast, on horseback or on a guided walking safari. The best time to visit is in October, when millions of wildebeest migrate through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in search of verdant pastures and to give birth, an action-packed scene that often involves them being stalked by crocodiles and big cats.

You can also visit Maasai villages for a first-hand look at the way of life of this famous tribe, from the women who build houses covered in cow dung to their reliance on cattle for their livelihood.

Kisumu

Kisumu is the gateway to western Kenya and is idyllic for its proximity to one of Africa’s Great Lakes, Lake Victoria. Coming from Nairobi is a 45-minute flight or at least a six-hour drive, and a passenger train service launched in December 2021.

Boat rides and bird watching are the name of the game here. Head to The Pearl or Dunga Hill Camp to try the local style tilapia, fried or covered in a thick and delicious base of fried tomatoes and onions, served with a local staple, ugali (similar to thick porridge) and without cutlery. The sunsets over the water in Kisumu are worth seeing, but you can also dance until morning to popular ohangla music at various locations around town, stroll through the Impala Shrine, or explore caves and caves. rock formations outside the city such as Kit-Mikayi and the lesser known caves of Abindu.

Descend to the lake’s most popular islands: Mbita, Rusinga or Takawiri where the beaches are powdery white and the sunsets are a storybook. Stay up late to witness the “ghost towns” formed by hundreds of lanterns hoisted on wooden canoes by fishermen leaving to work at night.

The sand of Shela Beach in Lamu, Kenya
Enjoy a slower pace on the sands of Kenya’s Lamu Island © AlexanderXXI / Getty Images

Lamu Island

If you’re looking for a laid-back destination with gorgeous beaches in Kenya, the Lamu Archipelago is for you. The pace of life slows down and the days fade into darkness. If you’re a history buff, head to Lamu Town, which dates back centuries. As the oldest Swahili settlement along the East African coastline, everything from architecture to food is told. The streets are so narrow that they are inaccessible by car because during the planning of the city, the inhabitants could not even understand what is called cars. Donkeys or walking used to be the mode of transport, but in recent years motorcycle taxis, called boda boda, have changed the vibe of the city as they race down the halls blasting Justin Bieber’s latest song.

Board a speedboat and explore other places in the archipelago, such as Kiwayu Island. Located in the Kiunga National Marine Reserve, it is ideal for diving or sport fishing. In the village of Shela, holiday homes with infinity pools overlooking the sea are the norm. The annual Lamu Yoga festival in October attracts students from all over the world.

An evening sunset cruise aboard a traditional Mozambican-style dhow (wooden boat) is a must. Bring a Bluetooth speaker and your favorite playlist. The island is full of good restaurants, such as the Peponi Hotel, the Kijani, the Diamond Beach Village (don’t miss the full moon parties!) or the Floating Bar.

Modest clothing is expected, covering the shoulders and chest, and although the locals may be too polite to confront you, Lamu is a predominantly Muslim town.

Amboseli National Park

With miles of dusty semi-arid grasslands dotted with acacia trees and green marshes fed by underground water sources, Amboseli National Park is home to large herds of elephants that wallow in the shallows, bathe in the dust or get so close to your vehicle that you can see their eyelashes.

Africa’s tallest mountain may be in Tanzania, but the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro undoubtedly come from Kenya. On a clear day, you can see its snow-capped peak soar into the sky, an incredible shot for photographers. Come evening, relax with an aperitif and take in the view, which gets even better as the sun rises from a hot air balloon.

Wildlife use the nearby Kimana Sanctuary as a corridor to move from the park to the Chyulu and Tsavo hills, and by visiting you are supporting community-based conservation, the first in Kenya, which was established in 1996. They also run a biennial fun Maasai Olympics in which young men compete in club and spear throwing, high jump and sprint races in an effort to champion the shift to hunting conservation within this community where killing of lions was once a rite of passage for men.

Matthews Range

Getting to the expansive Matthews Range in Samburu is no small feat. Hikers can choose from a variety of scenic routes, each as serene as the next, but for the best experience choose a trail that leads through a canopy of trees with emerald undergrowth so thick you’ll need with a machete to clear the way, emerging at a cold, icy rock pool on the Ngeng River. A strong rope is tied to a tree, and if you can brave the freezing water, dare Tarzan to enter.

The highest peak of these mountains rises to 2688 m (8819 feet) and temperatures drop to 10 ºC (50 ºF). You can camp or stay at lodges like Kitich Camp, where they can pair you with a Samburu guide who will not only help you navigate the area, but also point out wildlife by their tracks and sounds. As you descend from the summit, try to spot Hartlaub’s turaco, a bird that might as well be Kenya’s mascot as it has the same colors as the flag, and De Brazza’s monkey, a master of camouflage.

Three camels walking on Diani Beach, Kenya
Watamu is on the northern coast of Kenya and offers a number of water activities and parties © Dan Baciu / Getty Images

watamu

Watamu is an ideal hub for exploring the north coast, and the culture has such a distinct Italian influence that several locals speak the language. Many restaurants offer pasta, pizza and ice cream on the menu, and even some road signs are in Italian.

Scuba dive or snorkel in the marine parks, join Saturday night parties at Papa Remo Beach Restaurant, visit the impressive canyons of Marafa Hell’s Kitchen (but not in the middle of the day because you might pass out from the heat! ), sign up for sunset booze cruises on Mida Creek, go kite surfing at Che Shale or, in October, watch humpback whales weighing up to 30 tons launch into the air before falling back into the ocean. sea ​​a few meters from your boat.