Kenya is the cradle of the safari, as well as of mankind. Straddling the Equator on Africa’s eastern coast, it offers coral reefs, snow-capped mountains, rolling savannas, inland lakes and arid plains that stretch far into the horizon. This is a magical safari destination.
The Masai Mara is probably the most famous wildlife reserve on the planet. This is mostly open grassland and lots of acacia trees and it is a northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The annual migration of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle from the Serengeti plains in the south to the Loita plains in the northeast occurs between July and October. This involves more than one million wildebeest, half a million Thomson’s gazelles and a quarter of a million zebras. Tens of thousands of topis and elands also come along. The whole procession is followed by lions and hyenas, hungry for a meal.
Hippopotami and Nile crocodiles swim in the Mara and Tarek rivers. There are leopards, cheetahs, impalas and antelopes along the plains. Nearly 500 species of birds fly above the plains, including eagles, vultures, marabou storks, hornbills and lilac crested rollers (Kenya’s national bird), whilst ostriches stride firmly on the ground.
Lake Nakuru is in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a part of the East African Rift System that runs along most of the continent’s eastern side. Sheer cliffs along the Rift Valley rise to more than 1,000 metres. Lakes in the rift system are shallow, slightly alkaline, fresh water known as “soda lakes”. Vast populations of pink flamingos are attracted by algae in the lake. Watch the flamingos performing a dance on the shoreline during your safari. The area also abounds with other bird life such as African fish eagles, goliath herons and pied kingfishers, as well as pelicans, cormorants and black terns.
There is no shortage of large mammals, such as warthogs and baboons. Black and white rhino wander about too. But if you would like to see the great kudu, famous for its spiral horns, as well as leopards and klipspringers, move northwards towards Lake Bogoria. Further north, Lake Baringo supports huge numbers of hippo, crocodile and more than 1,200 bird species. Kenya safari holidays in this region are a birdwatcher’s dream.
Ride a glass-bottomed boat to see the coral reefs that extend for miles off Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. You can watch young coral growing in the Watamu National Park. Tidal currents break away branches of the young coral and dispatch out to sea to the main reefs. Try scuba diving in underwater coves together with reef fish and turtles, whilst giant groupers snooze away lazily on the sea floor. Watch out for whale sharks, manta rays and barracuda as they guard the reefs. Take a trip in a traditional dhow to Wasini Island for lunch.
For those who prefer their Kenya safari holidays on foot, try trekking in the Kenya Mountains. You can see elephants, buffalo, leopards, rhinos and giant forest hogs around Mount Kenya, Africa’s highest peak, which sits on top of the Equator. Mount Elgon is further north, close to the border with Uganda. Explore caves with ancient paintings, but take care not to spend the night in caves that elephants have adopted as their very own sleeping quarters. The Western Highlands at the northern end of the Rift Valley have some of the most awesome and least known views and swarm with bird life. See the mountain buzzards, African crowned eagles and masses of montane bird life in the spectacular Cherangani Hills.
The wildlife you will see on your safari holiday in Kenya will be an unforgettable experience. Whether you trek up the mountains, swim in the ocean, or drive along the endless plains, Kenya’s wildlife never ceases to amaze.
Susan Sharp writes regularly on Kenya safari holidays for a range of travel websites and blogs. She specialises in arranging safaris for ornithologists.