Umeamkaje? (How did you wake?) is a preface to almost any conversation in Kenya. It makes one stop and pause… how did we wake?
Was it with the harsh ring of an alarm clock so that we could board our small plane in time to make it to Meru National Park?
Was it a wide-eyed eye opener onto stunning views of Mount Kenya?
While watching a herd of giraffe grazing over the Serengeti?
In Kenya, any of these could have been our umeamkaje moment – or yours.
Nairobi is not the reason most people visit Kenya. The city’s reputation lives up to its gritty nature. But scratch beneath its layers of sweat and blood, and you will find a few unexpected surprises – such as its music scene. Yes – the Kenyan capital is one of the hubs of contemporary East African music and its many bands and bustling clubs are a testament to its musical vibe.
Nairobi’s suburbia is a national park – literally. The Nairobi National Park is just on the outskirts of the city and makes a terrific getaway from the capital’s hustle – not that the rest of Kenya lies far away.
Head two hours south, out of the urban sprawl, and into the magnificent trough of the Great Rift Valley.
The Great Rift Valley.
A 6000 kilometer continental fault traverses across continents from Jordan to Mozambique. We know it as the Rift Valley. But it is really in Kenya that its anthropological importance has been magnified as a cradle of Maasai culture and early human civilization. From Hell’s Gate, which supported some of the earliest human settlements on its shores, to beautiful lakes like Naishiva and Nakuru, this is a craggy and serendipitous landscape where vast water bodies, give way to sweeping grasslands, and sudden cliff faces. Flocks of flamingoes, herds of wildebeest, and elephants roam these grassy plains though many animals have moved higher up to avoid the burgeoning populations. While the Maasai once populated the entire Rift Valley, they were pushed deep into the south during Europe’s colonization of Kenya. Today, the most authentic Maasai communities are still in the south of the country.
Kenya’s initial draw is usually its wildlife. As you travel down the Mombasa Highway between Nairobi and Mombassa, several of the best and lesser known parks dot the countryside that lies on either side of this arterial thoroughfare.
2000 meters above sea level, the Maasai Mara is by far the best-known park in Kenya – not least because of its enormous wildebeest migration each year. Herds of these magnificent creatures cross these plains in the thousands. Well watered by ample rainfall, the animals migrate to the Maasai Mara away from the dry lands of Tanzania. No matter when you visit, the Mara is always full of abundant wildlife and one can spot many different species of wildlife in large numbers.
The Maasai Mara may be the best known, but Tsavo is the largest. So large in fact that it is split into two – Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Tsavo East is the larger of the two, and is largely bush land punctuated by a surreal landscape of Baobab trees. Tsavo’s vastness makes it ideal for those who want to wander off the beaten path. Having waged a massive war against poachers, Tsavo’s elephant numbers are back on the rise, and thanks to its relative isolation, one can also spot several rare species here such as the Kudu or Serval.
If it is elephants you seek, then Amboseli, though smaller, could be the place to go. Dominated by beautiful views of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background, this park is well frequented by visitors. Stark and uninviting in the dry season, Amboseli’s true beauty comes to the fore during the rains.
Some of Kenya’s more esoteric species like the Grevy’s zebra and the Beisa oryx are best viewed in Samburu.
In contrast, Meru is a lesser known jewel among Kenya’s national parks. The landscape alone will lull you into a sense of tranquility as streams rush through its wavy grasses and copses of Doum palms, amid riverine swamp jungle, give it an other-worldly quality. Meru’s animal sightings have increased recently and if you seek to venture off the beaten path, this could be an opportunity worth taking.
Lake Victoria and the West & The Central Highlands.
If you want to get to know Kenya intimately, without the tourists snapping at your heels, then the western part of the country is well worth the explore. Here the equatorial rainforest teems with wildlife such as Black Rhinos, giraffes, several species of birds and many animals that are completely endemic to the region. Lake Victoria and the many beautiful islands within it warrant a couple of days as does the charming tea-growing region around Kericho.
If you are enthused by history and politics, then the Central Highlands of Kenya cannot be missed. This was the main territory which saw powerful clashes between the native African tribes and the European colonizers, especially the British. This was the part of Kenya that saw the most anti-colonial resistance that ended up in the Mau Mau uprising of the Kenyans against British rule. The Central Highlands have long lonesome moors where large cats are known to roam. Some of these are melanistic species of cats such as leopards and serval. The Central Highland region is also where Mount Kenya is situated – a massive volcanic cone that gives the country its name. Spectacular scenery makes this great hiking and walking country, especially along the paths of the Aberdare range.
Mombasa and the Indian Ocean
Where Nairobi is about commerce and hustling the next buck, Mombasa has a far deeper sense of community and culture. Mombasa has a faded charm that seeps through its skin.
Mombasa has historically been a melting pot of many different ethnicities and influences. This was the central heart of Kenyan’s Swahili culture and even today, you will see its deep roots in the language, dress and culture of the people who live here. Mombasa has also embraced the Arab and South Asian influences that washed up on its shores and as a result there are several mosques, Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras and various degrees of worship make themselves felt in chaotic harmony. Mombasa was where de Gama first made his landfall in East Africa and the Portuguese never looked back from here. The Portuguese established themselves until the Omani Arabs overthrew them, who held sway until they in turn were ousted by the British.
Mombasa is also the entry point to some of Kenya’s most gorgeous beaches and for marine life enthusiasts, a lesser known fact about Kenya is the vast marine diversity that exists among its coral reefs. PADI and SSI Dive centers dot the beaches along the coast and there’s plenty to be seen even just a few feet into the surf!
So how do you choose to wake? Call us today to craft your once in a lifetime Kenyan adventure and wake up the curious and adventurous soul within you.