One of the best places to go on safari in the world, Kenya is renowned for its rich wildlife and innumerable nature reserves. While most people come to see the Big 5, pearly white beaches and historic Swahili settlements line its stunning coast.
Located in East Africa alongside the Indian Ocean, it has long been one of the most popular countries to visit on the continent. Incredibly diverse, its national parks encompass everything from mountains and deserts to wetlands, plains, and lakes. They host an abundance of wildlife with the Maasai Mara and its wildebeest migration being the most famous of the lot.
The wildlife safaris have been the top tourist attractions in Kenya for decades. Other things to do include trekking Mount Kenya, ballooning over the Masai Mara and snorkeling in Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast. This makes for a nice change after days spent looking for elephants, giraffes and lions.
17. Lake Naivasha
A lovely day trip destination or a quiet weekend away, Lake Naivasha lies only two hours’ drive from Nairobi. Although often overlooked in favor of the nearby Lake Nakuru and its famous flamingos, it too is known for its bountiful birdlife and beautiful scenery.
Part of the Great Rift Valley, the shallow freshwater lake’s name actually means ‘rough water’ in the Maasai language. Other than a sizeable population of hippos, it is home to around 400 bird species. These include not just egrets and African fish eagles but cormorants, pelicans, and kingfishers too. Big buffaloes and towering giraffes can also be spotted along its shores.
To see as many animals and birds as possible, lots of people take scenic boat trips out on the lake. You can also stay overnight at the comfy lodges that look out over its sparkling surface.
16. Karen Blixen Museum
Lying on the southwestern outskirts of the capital, not far from Nairobi National Park, is the brilliant Karen Blixen Museum. Her former home provides an interesting look at the life of the Out of Africa author in Kenya.
From 1917 to 1931, the renowned Danish writer lived in a bungalow-style farmhouse at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Her famous memoir recounts what living on the coffee plantation was like. It also explores Kenya’s rich culture and colonial rule in British East Africa.
Now a historic house museum, its rooms are full of period pieces and original artifacts owned by the author. Surrounded by lush, green grounds, it makes for a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the centre of Nairobi.
15. Tsavo East National Park
One of Kenya’s oldest and largest national parks, Tsavo East is situated in the southeast, on the way to the coast from Nairobi. A great choice if you’re wondering where to go on safari, it boasts loads of awesome wildlife.
Once the hunting grounds of the Waliangulu and Kamba tribes, its sprawling savanna and semi-arid grasslands have been protected since 1948. As well as the Big 5, you can also spy huge hippopotami and camouflaged crocodiles alongside the Galana River. Overhead, crowned cranes and sacred ibis flap about beneath the park’s bright blue skies.
Constantly in contact with other guides, your driver will somehow get you up close to every animal imaginable. Thanks to them, we saw a family of elephants enjoying a red dust bath right beside the jeep. Although often seen throughout the park, this scene was still one of our favorite memories from our time in Kenya.
14. Tsavo West National Park
Much more mountainous and swampy than its nearby namesake, Tsavo West lies just across a river and the A109 from the neighboring national park. Due to its more varied scenery and specially protected rhino sanctuary, it is slightly more popular to visit.
Also named after the Tsavo River, its rugged reaches are dotted by dramatic black lava flows and volcanic cones. Some exciting rock climbing can also be had up its craggy cliff faces. Here too, you’ll find the marvelous Mzima Springs where you can see hippos, crocs, and turtles.
This time, the highlight of our safari was seeing an incredibly rare eastern black rhinoceros. It stopped in the middle of the road before staring at us for what seemed like an eternity before slowly plodding back into the bush.
13. Fort Jesus, Mombasa
The coastal city’s main tourist attraction, the formidable Fort Jesus watches over the Old Port from Mombasa island. A fascinating place, it has some seriously impressive architecture and an extensive collection of artifacts for visitors to enjoy.
Built between 1593 and 1596, the crumbling old fort marks the first time a European power exerted its influence over trade in the Indian Ocean. An outstanding example of Portuguese Renaissance architecture, it is roughly square in shape with four bulwarks at its corners. Local Swahili people are thought however to have provided most of the labour, materials, and expert masonry techniques.
While we enjoyed seeing the fort and learning about its past, we preferred getting lost in the Old Town outside. Full of life, its traditional Swahili buildings house little local restaurants and souvenir shops selling masks, textiles, and jewellery.
12. Aberdare National Park
Unlike most of the country’s parks, Aberdare is more known for its scenic hikes and waterfalls than its abundant wildlife. Certain to delight nature lovers, it is nestled amongst the Central Highlands on the way from Nairobi to Nakuru.
Established back in 1950, it protects part of the Aberdare Mountains that range from 2,000 to 4,000 metres in height. Covering its vast valleys and the lower slopes of its prominent peaks are rivers, forests, and even some waterfalls. A large population of eastern black rhinos and elephants also live amongst these diverse landscapes.
Some of the best hikes are to Mount Satima’s summit or along the challenging yet rewarding Elephant Hills trail. Not to be missed are the stunning Chania and Karuru falls, both of which make for some epic photos and viewing hidden away amidst the verdant forest.
11. Diani Beach
If after all the safaris and sightseeing you just want to relax and unwind, then the idyllic Diani Beach is definitely the place to go. Set just south of Mombasa, all its wide, white sands are a treat to lounge on lazily. Here you can also enjoy a wealth of fun watersports.
Stretching around seventeen kilometers in length, the relaxing resort area lies alongside the twinkling Indian Ocean. Dotted up and down the palm tree-fringed beach are countless luxury hotels and resorts. Many offer all-inclusive packages and can arrange safari trips for guests.
Besides being one of the best beaches we’ve been to (it really does look breathtaking), there are loads of things to do to try. Kite surfing and jet skiing are both super fun while scuba diving and snorkeling highlight its rich marine life. You can also take sightseeing cruises along the coast or quad-biking trips around the nearby villages.
10. Hell’s Gate National Park
For those after an active holiday, Hell’s Gate National Park is a good bet thanks to its excellent hiking, biking, and rock climbing. Its relatively close proximity to Nairobi and cheaper entrance fees also mean that plenty of people head here.
Lying just to the south of Lake Navaisha, it is named after a narrow gap in the park’s colossal cliffs. Asides from the slender gorge’s ruddy red rocks, there are also a couple of long-extinct volcanoes to explore. Some of the most arresting formations to photo are those created long ago by cooling molten lava.
As very few predators reside within this part of the Great Rift Valley, many visitors hike or bike about the park. While visiting its hot springs and Maasai Cultural Centre, keep an eye out for the local wildlife. Other than African buffaloes and elands, you can sometimes see hyenas, baboons, and ostriches amidst the undergrowth.
9. Nairobi National Park
The only nature reserve of its kind in the world, Nairobi National Park literally lies right on the doorstep of the country’s capital. Seeing its skyline as you look at lions, elephants, and giraffes is a surreal feeling that needs to be experienced.
Set aside in the forties to protect the region’s dwindling wildlife, it mainly consists of endless open grass plains. Here and there though, you’ll find pockets of forests along rivers and small rocky gorges scattered about. Living in the park are everything from gazelles and cheetahs to crocodiles, jackals, and common eland.
While we did do several safaris in Kenya, we are still happy we went here. Its diverse wildlife and delightfully different views made the visit quite special. After all, there aren’t many cities in the world where wildebeest and zebra migrations take place almost right through it.
8. Lamu Island
One of the best places in East Africa to experience traditional Swahili culture is the lovely little Lamu Island. Located along Kenya’s northeastern coastline, it is a very relaxing spot that feels like you’ve traveled back in time.
Part of the attractive archipelago of the same name, Lamu is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the nation. Founded in the twelfth century, the labyrinthe-like streets of its Old Town are lined by charming coral stone buildings and quiet inner courtyards.
More peaceful and better preserved than Zanzibar’s Stone Town, it is known for its intricately carved wooden doors and cute donkeys. After seeing its museum and fort, you can relax on its white sandy beaches or explore some other nearby villages. Many people also take tranquil dhow boat trips about the archipelago.
7. Mount Kenya
The second-highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya towers 5,199 meters above the plains, valleys, and forests below. Now protected as a national park, it generally takes four or five arduous days to reach its soaring summit. Climbing the summit is probably one of the most difficult and rewarding things to do in Kenya.
Formed around three million years ago, the enormous, extinct stratovolcano is actually where the country’s name came from. One of its main symbols and sights, its slopes are very heavily eroded while ice caps coat its upper reaches.
The mighty mount has three separate peaks for avid adventurers to summit with Batian being the loftiest of the lot. Although Nelion is the toughest of the three, Lenana’s unpredictableness can pose a problem. After braving the steep climb and challenging weather conditions though, spectacular views greet you at the top.
Another popular place to head if you’re after some sun, sea, and sand is Malindi. Located along the Indian Ocean, it has lots of fantastic beaches, hotels, and nature parks for you to stop by.
Long a hub for Italian tourists, its string of pearly white beaches is actually where Vasca da Gama landed in 1498. Still standing in the same spot overlooking the ocean is the coral pillar he erected all those years ago. For more historic sites, you can explore the Gede Ruins which protect the crumbling remains of a twelfth-century Swahili town.
Most holidaymakers however come to Malindi for its beaches. Bordered by twinkling turquoise waters, their sweeping white sands make for quite the sight. The ocean does sometimes turn a murky brown color though around the mouth of the Sabaki River.
5. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
If you’re after an unforgettable (and adorable!) animal encounter, then you just have to visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. At their sanctuary on the outskirts of Nairobi, you can watch baby elephants feed, play, and frolic about together.
Since being founded back in 1977, it has rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of orphaned and injured elephants. At their center, young ones are first hand-reared until the age of two or three by their keepers. Later on, they are sent to Tsavo East before eventually being released back into the wild.
Each day, a certain number of guests can visit the orphanage and see the elephants. As you can imagine, watching them play football and roll around in the mud is pretty much the cutest thing ever.
4. Lake Nakuru
One of the most iconic sights in all of Africa is the vast flock of bright pink flamingos that live in Lake Nakuru. Instantly recognizable, they make for some fabulous photos with white rhinos and Rothschild’s giraffes also regularly spied nearby.
Stretching almost endlessly away into the distance, its reflective waters lie within the Great Rift Valley. Now a national park, it protects over 450 bird species alongside a handful of lions, cheetahs and leopards. At times, more than a million of the fantastic flamingos flock here due to its abundant algae.
While the rhinos and flamingos are the main attraction, there is plenty more to see along its scenic lakeshore. Zebra and waterbucks often water here while sizable pythons slowly slither their way about its dense woodlands.
3. Amboseli National Park
Thanks to its huge herds of elephants and ample wildlife, Amboseli National Park is routinely ranked among the best places to go on safari. Lying almost on the border with neighboring Tanzania, its savannas, woods, and wetlands really are a treat to explore.
Meaning ‘salty, dusty place’ in the Maa language, its unique habitats have been recognized as a nature park since 1908. While some parts are incredibly arid, the areas around its swamps almost create an oasis. Here life flourishes, with 1,600 free-ranging elephants reckoned to live in Amboseli at the last count.
Besides trying to spot the Big 5, you can learn all about local Maasai culture at the traditional Muteleu village nearby. On top of this, the silhouette of Mount Kilimanjaro blotting out the sky on the horizon only adds to the park’s already considerable appeal.
2. Samburu National Reserve
Even more wild and remote is the incredible Samburu National Reserve to the north of Mount Kenya. Due to the long distances from Nai, it sees much fewer visitors than other parks. This and its staggeringly diverse landscapes mean large numbers of lots of animals live here.
Located almost slap bang in the center of the country, it is mostly dry and dusty though rivers and forests can be found here and there. It is this wide variety of vegetation and the winding Ewaso Ngi’ro River that attract all the animals.
Asides from your standard lions, cheetahs, and leopards, the park is particularly known for its dry-country fauna. These include the East African oryx as well as generuk, Grevy’s zebras, and reticulated giraffes. While it takes some getting to, Samburu is well worth it for the different animals and scenery you see.
1. Masai Mara
Renowned around the world, the Masai Mara is one of Kenya’s, and the continent’s, most famous safari destinations. The highlight of our time in East Africa, it boasts exceptional populations of lions and leopards, cheetahs, and elephants, alongside countless others.
Named in honor of the Maasai, its open grasslands and seasonal riverlets merge with the Serengeti to the south. Each year, the park’s plains host the Great Migration; an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon like no other. This is when millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles migrate en masse as predators try to pick them off.
Seeing them all seemingly move as one is an unbelievable experience that will certainly leave you feeling small. Outside of this tumultuous time, visitors can still easily see all of the Big 5 roaming about the park. Crocs and hippos can also be spotted along the Mara and Talek rivers as long-crested eagles and African pygmy falcons swoop about overhead.