Country Information | Kenya. Places of Interest

Kenyatta International Convention Centre NairobiKenyatta International Convention Centre Nairobi

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, was established at the turn of the century by the Europeans as a stores depot during the building of the East African railway. Without plan or design, it established itself as the capital of the British protectorate, and today has a population of around one million comprising of a mixture of African, Asian and European. While the predominant tribe is the Kikuyu, the city does not have one single dominating ethnic group. Its accidental choice as capital, virtually located on the meeting of territories of three important tribes, has been diplomatically fortunate for the economic growth of the country.

Places of Interest:

Masai Mara Game Reserve

Masai Mara is the Kenyan portion of the great Serengeti Plains, which means that it is quite simply one of the most astounding game parks in the world. Wildlife of all sorts is abundant here, but the particular attraction of the Serengeti has always been the migration of its enormous herds of wildebeest (1.3 million) and Zebra (400,000). In search of water, the herds move north from the Serengeti in Tanzania in May or June, arriving in Masai Mara around mid-July. The return to the South usually begins in the middle of October. Accompanying the herds, of course, are their natural predators, so that the migration also brings to Masai Mara large prides of Lion.

While the migration period is undoubtedly the best time to visit Masai Mara, the reserve easily outpaces almost any other park even when the wildebeest are in the South. Many different species of Antelope, Elephant, Leopard, Cheetah, Rhino, Giraffe, Buffalo--virtually all of Africa's big game animals in fact--can be found in abundance in Masai Mara.

Amboseli National Park

The most distinguishing feature of Amboseli is its dramatic setting. Mt. Kilamanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, rises a majestic 19,340 feet (5,895 meters) just across the Tanzanian border, in full view of the park. Most of the game can be found clinging to the swamps and grasslands in the center of the park, an oasis for Buffalo, Lions, Cheetah, and over 420 species of birds. Amboseli is also one of the best parks in Kenya to see Elephant, which travel in large herds near Ekongo Narok Swamp.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru is a shallow, alkaline lake, just the sort of place that flamingoes go crazy for. Estimates of the flamingo population of Lake Nakaru vary by the millions--what is certain is that any visitor to Lake Nakuru is likely to encounter flocks large enough to induce absolute awe. Over four hundred species of birds have been sighted at the park, but it also serves as a sanctuary for the endangered Black Rhino as well as being home to various other large game species, including Leopard.

Mount Kenya National Park

Africa's second highest mountain is one of the continent's most popular destinations for mountaineers and trekkers. Its two highest peaks, Batian (5,199 m.) and Nelion (5,188 m.), require considerable technical climbing skills. However, the third highest peak, Point Lenana (4,985 m.), can be reached by hikers who are in reasonably good condition. The climb can be made in three days, the descent in one or two, and the views from the top are as spectacular as you would expect. The most scenic trek, the Chogoria route, takes 5 - 7 days.

While such accessibility presents rare opportunities, it has also resulted in a good deal of misjudgment by casual visitors. The most common error is overly rapid ascent, which can cause headaches, nausea, and even death. Improper preparation for bad weather conditions is another common problem. The best times to make the ascent are from January to March, and September to October, when the weather tends to be warmer and dryer.

Lake Turkana

Surrounded by an arid, extraterrestrial landscape that is often devoid of life, the long body of Lake Turkana droops down from the Ethiopian border, extending nearly 200 miles from north to south and 30 miles at its widest point. It is Africa's fourth largest lake, fondly called the Jade Sea because of its breathtaking color.

Turkana is home to a burgeoning population of Crocodiles, who are unmolested by poachers because the lake's waters are heavily alkaline: a trait that makes their skin worthless. Consequently, some of them grow to monstrous sizes, and swimming in the lake is risky. Fishing, however, is of course safe and very good here. The world's largest fresh water fish, the Nile perch, lives in the lake, and it can get up to 400 pounds (181.4 kilograms).

There are two national parks in the Lake Turkana region, both of them islands. Three volcanic cones are a major attraction of Central Island, which could just as easily be called Crocodile Island: it has the largest crocodile breeding ground in the world. South Island, the other park, is also volcanic and full of the giant reptiles. One of the most thrilling ways to see the crocs is by night; when a flashlight is shined over the water, their retinas reflect a deep, luminous red over great distances.

Malindi-Watamu Marine Reserve

Malindi - Watamu, located on the central coast, is one of Kenya's best marine parks. The town of Malindi, in fact, is home to the International Bill Fishing Competition, which takes place every January. The reserve itself begins 100 feet offshore and extends three miles out to sea, its main attraction being its spectacular reef, which starts about a kilometer offshore. A particularly charming way to dive Kenya is from the deck of a dhow, which can be chartered in the ports.

Lamu

There is only one automobile on the island-city of Lamu, and it belongs to the District Commissioner. The next fastest available vehicle here is donkey-drawn cart is testimony to Lamu's biggest charm---its timelessness. The island has changed little over the centuries. Like Zanzibar, it was once a muslim stronghold, and Islam is still widely practiced on the island. Through its mysterious and narrow streets walk white and black-robed men and women. Though there are plenty of mosques to see, only a few will allow visitors.

The resilient beaches of Lamu are some of the best in Kenya, with the finest being at Shela. Off-shore scuba diving can also arranged, and for those interested in taking a dhow voyage, Lamu is an ideal place to charter a boat. It is virtually impossible to look out to sea without seeing one of the elegant and fluttery boats passing by.

More than two dozen national parks fall within Kenya's borders, making it the most popular safari destination in all of Africa. The Director of National Parks and Wildlife, the famed paleontologist Dr. Richard Leaky, has done much to insure that the parks are kept pristine and the poachers are kept out. Consequently, though Kenya's parks are the continent's most visited, they are also among the richest in natural beauty and wildlife.

Geography & Climate

Kenya is still the primary

focus of all adventure travel in Africa. It is one of the finest--and undoubtedly the most famous--safari destination in the world. Safari, however, is by no means the only reason to visit Kenya, for the attractions of its rich culture and diverse environments are considerable.

Kenya is situated right along the equator, on the eastern coast of the African continent. Its coastal region is on the southeast, and to the east lies Somalia. Ethiopia is to the north, then Sudan to the northwest, and Uganda directly to the west. The southwestern border of the country is marked by Lake Victoria, and southward lies Tanzania. Kenya's geography is marvelously varied. While much of northeastern Kenya is a flat, bush-covered plain, the remainder of the country encompasses pristine beaches, scenic highlands and lake regions, the Great Rift Valley, and the magnificent Mount Kenya.

Although Kenya's varied environments experience a wide variety of climate conditions, the temperature remains comfortably warm year-round. Much of Kenya experiences heavy rainfall from March through May and, to a lesser extent, from October through December. The best time for most outdoor acitivities (including safari and mountain climbing) is during the dry season (June-September).

History & People

Kenya has known the presence of humankind since the very earliest development of our species. Moreover, the region has long been a migratory path, passed through by wave upon wave of peoples from all over Africa and, later, from the Middle East as well. By the 10th century or so, the region had developed its own lingua franca, Swahili, which is a Bantu language heavily overlaid with Arabic. Among other familiar words, safari is Swahili, meaning simply travel.

With the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th century, the East African coastal region was for a time dominated by the Europeans. However, in 1729 the Portuguese were expelled, to be replaced by two Arab dynasties. Arab rule lasted until the end of the 18th century, when Kenya passed into the British sphere of influence. The country became independent in 1963. Although it has experienced its share of internal and external strife, Kenya has in recent years been moving toward a more stable, multi-party political system.

Kenya's population is overwhelmingly (97%) comprised of people of African descent, though that group is composed of over 70 different tribal groups. Among the most significant are the Kikuyu, Kamba, Gusii, Luhya, and Luo. Kenya's primary languages are English and Swahili, though regional tribal languages abound. The majority of the population is African, with people of Asian and European descent making up the rest. This population is divided into three linguistic groups, Bantu, Cushitic and Nilotic, from which the diverse tribes of Kenya have developed.

KIKUYU

The largest group in the country (approximately 2 million) and the most successful at adapting culturally. They migrated to the fertile central highlands between the 16 th and 17 th centuries and developed as livestock and cereal farmers.

SAMBURU

The Samburu are pastoralists, who live to the south and east of Lake Turkana. The social structure is essentially a gerontocracy - rule by elders - assuring the elders first choice among the young unmarried women. Men are usually about 30 by the time they marry, but the women marry at about 17 years of age.

MASAI

Probably the most famous of all the Kenyan groups and related to the Samburu tribe. They are pastoralists, noted for drinking cattle blood mixed with milk, a mainstay of their diet. Their love of cattle is legendary and based on religious beliefs. They are a proud people, given to superior airs. Tall and slender, they carry themselves elegantly, dressed in brilliant red cloth with both men and women adorned with beadwork and metal jewellery.

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