As tourism in African countries goes, Kenya has done alright for itself over the decades, of course being a well-known wildlife/safari destination, having beautiful beaches with great weather virtually all year, and even being home to fascinating people and cultures like the Maasai.
But surprising to some, Kenya is an amazingly diverse country from landscapes to cultures and climates – there is something to discover for adrenalin junkies, luxury seekers, history nerds, and everyone in between.
- Lake Turkana
In North-Western Kenya, right at the country’s borders with Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda, is Turkanaland which is home to the Turkana people, some of the oldest human fossil discovery sites and the world’s largest desert lake – it’s longer than the entire Kenyan coastline.
The lake, nicknamed the Jade Sea because of its striking color, is surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches and a few gems like Central Island, the volcanic wonderland of craters, and abundant wildlife and Sibiloi National Park on its eastern shore. Turkana is one of Kenya’s most remote corners, but recent development and investment into events like annual cultural festivals and beautiful accommodations are making it worth the journey for everyone. Daily flights are just 2 hours long from Nairobi to Lodwar, the county’s largest town which is just West of the lake, or you can self-drive.
- Arabuko Sokoke Forest
This magical reserve is the largest coastal forest in East Africa and home to several varieties of mammals, birds, and butterflies. Arabuko Sokoke is on the coast of Kenya on the Mombasa-Malindi highway. The mysterious 13th Century settlement Gede was also nestled in the forest and its remains can still be visited today.
It is an option to spend the night camping or caravaning so you can witness the sunrise over the tree canopies and have an extra early walk through the forest. Otherwise, it is open 6 am-6 pm daily and easily accessible by public and private transport from Mombasa, Kilifi, and Malindi, and even on foot from Watamu town.
- Western Kenya in general, the Lake Victoria Islands in particular
The west of Kenya deserves its flowers, already! Jaw-dropping landscapes and giant rock formations, warm and humid weather all year, and of course the large lake from where the Nile flows out – Lake Victoria (Nam Lolwe in the local language, Dholuo). 2019 saw the declaration by UNESCO of the indigenous prayer rituals at Kit Mikayi shrine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage practice to be safeguarded. The impressive ‘weeping rock’ can be visited and even scaled today by visitors and the history explained by local guides.
The lake is home to several islands across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, including the white-sand and palm tree-lined Takawiri and the black-sand Eden-like Mfangano which is also home to 2000-year old rock art, believed to be by the Batwa/Pigmy people of Central Africa. Both these islands are accessible via boat and waterbus (ferry) and have a few great accommodation options.
- Mount Kenya and its lakes
The second-highest point on the continent is, of course, a snow-capped dream for keen hikers and climbers, but there’s more to it than that. Anyone seeking less physical exertion can drive (or fly via helicopter) up to the collection of lodges, camps, and cozy log cabins – Prince William did it to propose to Kate, so that’s cute.
There are also 25 lakes (local names mostly unknown) at various points an altitudes on the mountain, some popular ones to camp out at being Lake Alice which is the largest one and in a crater at 3550m high, Lake Ellis which is a hit for trout fishing and the main stopover for hikers summiting the mountain and Lake Michaelson, the second-largest with the best views of the mountain peaks. All three and many others can be driven to (4WD encouraged!) enjoy breathtaking views, and have designated campsites to spend the night.