Kenya is perhaps most famously known as a safari destination. I’ve watched too many National Geographic with David Attenborough narrating the tales of the Great Migration through the Masai Mara. The images of the massive herds moving through the plains are etched in my mind.
That being said, Kenya offers so much more than safaris. The country has a diverse range of tourism offerings – stunning landscapes, culture, heritage, city life and adventure activities.
1. City life in Nairobi
Nairobi can be intimidating – it’s a bustling, chaotic city that never sleeps. I loved the energy of the people, pumping bars and clubs to the budding foodie scene. Traffic is a mess – boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), and matatus (mini-bus taxis) and congestion abound, however Uber works surprisingly well.
Visit Nairobi National Park, the roving Masaai market and take in the view from the top of Kenya International Conference centre. I loved the food scene in Nairobi – from epic Indian street food to Nyama Choma (the Kenyan version of shisa nyama) to delicious Dawa cocktails – foodies are in for a treat! Visit Brew Bistro Lounge for Nairobi’s first craft beer, epic views of the city and gastro-pub style food.
2. Go back in time in Lamu
Lamu was the highlight of my Kenyan travels. When you arrive in Lamu it feels like you’ve entered a time warp. It’s like time has stood still here. Lamu was founded in the 14th century, and has been called the oldest living town in East Africa. The entire town is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is fairly well preserved. As thhe streets are too narrow, there are no cars on the island. Donkeys (and boats) are the main mode of transport. I loved exploring the maze of narrow alleyways, past traditional Swahili houses and mosques build of stone coral. Besides the rich Swahili culture to be experienced the islands offer stunning beaches and ocean activities.
3. Mombasa and the South Coast
Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, has a distinctively different feel from Nairobi and the inland towns, with strong Arabic, Indian and European influences due to it’s position on the trade routes. It’s a cultural melting pot and though run down, has an exotic charm that is best experienced. Don’t miss Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593. Though it’s a World Heritage Site, its poorly marked so I’d recommend taking an accredited local guide. Wander through the Old Town to experience traditional Swahilo coastal architecture, with its ornately carved doors and window frames and impresive balconies.
From Mombasa, explore the beach resorts in the south. For more info see my post on my beach holiday in Diani Beach on Kenyan South Coast.
4. White Water Rafting the Tana River
I wouldn’t automatically think of Kenya as an adventure destination, but a white water rafting trip on the Tana River with Savage Wilderness – the largest adventure tourism company in Kenya – changed my mind. The folks at Savage Wilderness have been doing this for over 20 years, so you’re in safe hands. I’ve been white-water rafting at least 5 times before – in the Zambezi at Victoria Falls, the Ganges at Rishikesh, the Orange River in Namibia and various other spots in SA. Rafting the Tana River, with its grade 3 – 5 rapids seasons, has been my most adrenalin-pumping experience yet!
5. Cultural Experiences
With over 40 ethnic groups, and large populations of Europeans, Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, Kenya is one of the most culturally diverse African countries. In the arid north the nomadic and pastoral tribes – the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana people still retain their traditional way of life wearing traditional dress and elaborate jewelry of beads and metalwork. I still haven’t figured out my take on cultural tourism in Kenya – the nomadic Samburu village we visited seemed ‘fairly’ authentic but at the same time was a bit too touristy for me. Check out this little video of me shopping from a stall at a local airstrip in Samburuland. The Samburu vendor was the sweetest!
7. Mt Kilimanjaro from Amboseli
Technically Mt Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, but you can view from Kenya too. Ambolseli National Park is one of Kenya’s lesser known parks but provides a safari with the most iconic view of Africa’s highest peak.
Planning your Kenyan holiday
Kenya isn’t as difficult for independent travellers as other African countries. Safaris can be expensive, however if you go to less touristy places like Lamu, Kenya can offer good value for money. Flights from Johannesburg are fairly reasonable and Kenya Airways and Jambojet have a good flight network within the country.
From luxury resorts, colonial lodges to self-catering apartment rentals and backpackers, there’s a variety of accommodation options for the independent traveller in Kenya. Check out the wide range of holiday accommodation options available on Afristay.
Have you travelled to Kenya before? Tell me your top Kenya travel tips in the comments below!