Things to Do in Kenya
Located just south of the city, Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s first game reserve and the only protected area in the world that sits so close to a nation’s capital. Visitors to the vast wildlife park are likely to spot black rhinos, lions, giraffe, and zebra, as well as some 400 bird species.
During the last years of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a massive fort to protect the port of Mombasa. Designed by Giovanni Battista Cairati, Fort Jesus is one of the best preserved examples of Portuguese military architecture from the era, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today, Mombasa’s most visited attraction houses the Fort Jesus Museum. The collection includes archaeological finds not only from Fort Jesus, but from nearby sites as well. Highlights include a collection of ceramics from the Kenyan coast and what’s left of the San Antonio de Tanna, a Portuguese gunner that sank not far from the fort in the late seventeenth century.
Though forming one contiguous stretch of land, Tsavo is split into two entities either side of the main Nairobi-Mombasa road. Tsavo East National Park is the larger of the two, and is famed for its huge numbers of elephants that gather at the Galana River and wander across the plains. You may also spot lions, leopards, rhinos and buffaloes to complete the “Big Five” of game-spotting, and the park is a haven for a huge range of bird species.
Tsavo West extends southwards to the Tanzanian border, and includes the beautiful Mzima Springs. Here you can watch hippos, Nile crocodiles and fish swim by in a submerged viewing tank. There are also great opportunities for rock climbing, hiking and cave exploration.
Made up of the lake itself and the rocky caves and bushy grassland that surrounds it, Lake Nakuru National Park especially draws visitors looking to see pink flamingos, as there may be as many as 2 million lesser and great flamingos seen around the edges of the lake at a given time. The birds are drawn here by their favorite food, cyanophyta spirulina plantensis, a typeof blue-green algae that fills the lake.
In addition to the flamingos, more than 400 different bird species have been spotted in the park, which is on a migration route for many European birds. This is one national park where you definitely want a bird-watchers' guide in hand to identify all the feathered creatures and ensure the species you need for your life list are expected to be in residence when you visit. The park is also home to many water-loving animals such as hippos and waterbucks, and among other mammals found in the park, visitors who get lucky will also be able to spot lions, leopards, giraffes, hyenas, buffalo, baboons, monkeys and gazelles. In addition, once simply a bird sanctuary, the Lake Nakuru National Park has since become a national rhino sanctuary and is the best place in Kenya to see protected black and white rhinos.
Home to a towering crew of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre supports conservation work and educational programs across Kenya. Here, visitors can feed giraffes from a treetop platform, walk a nature trail to the Gogo River, and learn about wildlife conservation at the on-site nature center.
With its exhilarating slides, games, rides, and pools, Wild Waters blends the thrill of an amusement park with the refreshing cool of a water park, making it an ideal place to beat the scorching Kenyan sun. Plus, a food court, bar, and coffee shop ensure you stay hydrated.
A pioneering facility for the protection and rehabilitation of black rhinos and African elephants, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust saves injured and orphaned animals from the wild and rehabilitates them for a return to their natural habitats. This nonprofit park was founded in 1977 and operates within Nairobi National Park.
Known for its rich wildlife, Lake Naivasha is a nature lover’s paradise not far from the Kenyan capital. Situated at around 6,181 feet (1,884 meters) high in the Rift Valley ridge, the lake is home to hippos, exotic birds, and wetland flora, while its fresh water draws all manner of grazers, including zebras, giraffes, and buffalo.
The Rift Valley provides some of Kenya’s most dramatic scenery, with sheer cliffs, algae-rich lakes and desert expanses dotted here and there with fertile farming land. Apart from famous flamingo hotspot Lake Nakuru National Park, there are a number of nature reserves, including Hell’s Gate National Park. The natural hot geysers and steam vents here are a reminder of the geothermal activity which carved out the valley. Not only does this park have some of the most amazing landscape in the Rift Valley, you can (unlike most nature reserves) tour it without a guide.
Nearby Lake Naivasha has two impressive wildlife sanctuaries, one in a scenic volcanic crater lake setting. And as an alternative to Nakuru, consider Lake Bogoria, which also attracts thousands of flamingos.
Bomas of Kenya is a cultural center situated around 10 kilometers from Nairobi city, right near the main entrance to Nairobi National Park. Through art, crafts, music, dance, and architecture, it serves to preserve Kenyan culture, with artists performing traditional dances and songs from the country's major ethnic groups.
The center features replicas of traditional villages, which were built according to the same principles and techniques used by local tribes. The site is also home to one of the largest auditoriums in Africa, seating 3500 people. It is here that you can watch a selection of more than 30 traditional dances from the different ethnic groups in Kenya, including impressive performances from the Samburu and Masai warriors. Visitors can also sample a range of traditional African foods at the on site Utamaduni restaurant.
Bomas of Kenya is best enjoyed as part of a Nairobi sightseeing day tour. These take in the best attractions of the city and its surrounds, including the famous Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, the Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum.
More Things to Do in Kenya
The inspiration for animators of Disney’sThe Lion King, Hell’s Gate National Park covers roughly 26 square miles (68.25 square kilometers). Named for a gap in the red-tinged cliffs carved by the flowing waters of a prehistoric lake, it’s the only park in East Africa in which you can get out of your safari vehicle and hike freely.
The Danish author ofOut of Africa lived in a coffee plantation farmhouse at the edge of Kenya’s beautiful Ngong Hills, where a small museum now celebrates her life and work. Since much of the original furniture has been preserved, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a colonial-era home and an interesting stop even if you haven’t read Blixen’s books.
Aberdare National Park is in a cloud forest in some of the higher areas of Kenya's central highlands marked by deep ravines and forested mountain slopes. Because of its altitude -- mostly above 10,000 feet -- it's often shrouded in mist.
Animals often observed in the park include the black rhino, leopard, baboon, black and white colobus monkey and Sykes' monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis). Rarer are lions and the bongo, an elusive forest antelope that lives in the bamboo forest. Animals like the eland (a type of antelope) and serval cat (a solitary, nocturnal feline) can be found higher up in the moorlands.
Birders will note that there are more than 250 species of birds in the park, including the Jackson's Francolin (Pternistis jacksoni), sparrowhawk, goshawk, eagle, sunbird and plover.
The volcanic peak which gave Kenya its name is second only to Kilimanjaro among Africa’s highest points. Not surprisingly it is predominantly hiking and climbing which draw people to the Mt. Kenya National Park, with routes to match all abilities from keen first-timer to seasoned professional. Point Lenana is the most accessible of the mountain’s three peaks, but should only be attempted with guides.
From below, Mt. Kenya is a stirring sight with its jagged outline sprinkled with snow and criss-crossed by glaciers. And this – remember – is just south of the Equator. The mountain’s steep slopes ensure dramatic changes in landscape within a small geographical area, rising from grass plains to alpine heights. The National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also an important source of Kenya’s water, with rivers and other waterways attracting myriad bird species.
Once a colonial beef ranch, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is now a leading wildlife sanctuary. Backdropped by Mount Kenya’s snowy peaks, the 90,000-acre (36,422-hectare) savanna preserve is home to several safari must-sees, including East Africa’s largest black rhino population and the last northern white rhinos in the world.
With a massive permanent collection that combines history, culture, and artwork, the Nairobi National Museum is a must for travelers interested in Kenya’s rich heritage. Artifacts are displayed across two floors, and a nature trail winds through the surrounding grounds, a botanical garden, and collections of outdoor sculptures.
One of the world’s most fearsome predators is on display at Mamba Village Centre, East Africa’s largest crocodile farm. A typical day at Mombasa's Mamba Village begins with an informational video introducing the crocodile, its lifecycle and the important ecological role it plays. Visitors to the farm can observe crocodiles ranging from hatchlings to behemoth adults, including the supposedly 100-year-old Big Daddy.
The highlight of the day occurs in the afternoon at feeding time, when the giant reptiles duke it out for fresh meat. The village also offers horse and camel rides, botanical gardens and a restaurant serving up grilled crocodile among other game meats.
Kibera, the largest slum both in Nairobi and Africa, is home to more than a million residents packed into an area less than a square mile (2.6 square kilometers). While life here isn’t easy—it’s one of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods and the lack of running water and electricity are constant problems—the slum has its own buzzing industries, which include rows of tilted shacks selling produce, charcoal, homemade breads, secondhand clothes, and shoes.
The Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) is a 28-story building located in the central business district of Nairobi. At 105 meters tall, the KICC is the third tallest building in Kenya and is used for national and international conferences and exhibitions, along with a variety of other meetings and events.
This terracotta, cylindrical tower reflects traditional African architecture, as does the use of cuboids inside many of the main rooms and halls inside. The KICC features a revolving restaurant with panoramic views of the city, and a number of different conference and meeting rooms. The main auditorium has a capacity of almost 800 people across tiered seating, including three balconies.
Famed for being where George and Joy Adamson released the lioness, Elsa, back into the wild (as immortalized in the book and film, Born Free), the Meru National Park is becoming increasingly popular on Kenyan safari itineraries.
Situated to the east of Meru, around 350 kilometers from Nairobi, this sprawling game park features rich jungle, gushing rivers, verdant swamps, and a huge range of wild animals. African elephants, zebras, lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalo, rhinos, and hippopotamus are just some of the many animals that call the park home and, if lucky enough, visitors will spot all or some of them on a morning or evening game drive here.
In a remote area to the south of the park, on the north bank of the Ura River, lies Elsa the lioness’ grave. Part of Joy Adamson’s ashes were also said to be scattered at her grave site.
Far more than just a home to archives and public records, the National Archives in Nairobi also exhibit everything from traditional art to stamps, weapons, and photography. Visitors can explore the small on-site museum, spend a quiet hour paging through a newspaper, or check out the archives’ collection of rare books from across Africa.
Kazuri beads factory is a fair trade success story in Nairobi that dates back to 1975, when it was founded. Kazuri was the brainchild of Lady Susan Wood, who was born to English parents in Africa. She began with two local women who made ceramic beads by hand – the word “kazuri” means “small and beautiful” in Swahili – and soon realized she could expand and help many more unemployed women.
Today, Kazuri employs more than 300 women, makes over five million beads a year, and exports beads to 20 different countries. The women have also begun to make other pottery goods with the same colorful designs.
On Aug. 7, 1998, at the corner of Moi Avenue and Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi, what was then the United States Embassy was blown up in a terrorist attack, causing 218 deaths and thousands of injuries. The August 7th Memorial Park opened on the same date in 2001 as a tribute to the victims of the blast, and also to serve to educate people about the futility of violence.
The Memorial Park comprises a tranquil landscaped garden, a wall commemorating the names of those who died, and a sculpture made from the debris of the blast. The park also features a Conference Center and a Visitors Center with a Memorial Museum displaying various images and exhibits, plus a documentary about the events surrounding the tragedy.
The fast-paced streets of Nairobi buzz with an energy unique to the capital. But this constant bustle can be exhausting. Green grassy fields and scenic city views at Uhuru Gardens Memorial Park provide a welcome respite from the chaos and offer visitors a place to slow down. Weekdays are mostly quiet in this hillside park, and weekends bring local families out to picnic in the sun. The president uses Uhuru’s sloping hillside as stadium seating for his political speeches, so be sure to check whether rallies are scheduled before venturing to the park.
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- Things to do in Mombasa
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- Things to do in Tsavo National Park East
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