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Kenya travel guide

Kenya is more than safari – when you’ve seen the ‘big five’, go trekking with tribesmen, hike mountain peaks and scuba dive reefs in the Indian Ocean

Think safari, think Kenya. Nestled on the coast of East Africa, Kenya is where Roosevelt, Hemingway and Churchill put romance into hunting, and started off the safari industry.

These days Kenyan safaris are all photographic, but the excitement remains. The greatest density of game is in the Masai Mara, the northern part of Tanzania's Serengeti. This is packed with wildlife during the annual wildebeest migration, but is busy with game and predators year round: sighting come thick and fast.

There are a number of parks in the east. Framed by Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is a small park with too many elephant. You'll get good sightings, but there's no longer enough meltwater coming from Kili's shrinking ice-cap to support the park's game. The situation is better in the wide expanses of Tsavo, where animals roam freely and and there aren't too many other vehicles. Shimba Hills National Park is a little gem within easy reach of Kenya's southern beach resorts, best known for its roan antelope but with cute little bushbabies who cluster round the lodge at night.

Head north and Nakuru is a small park around a beautiful, flamingo-filled lake: its size makes it easy to find the park rhino, but after a bit of birding it's best to move on. Aberdares is a fantastic park on the foothills of Mount Kenya, with forested slopes that get plenty of rain, but this does mean that game is harder to find. Carry on to Samburu, a beautiful - if arid - park, where you can easily find wildlife if you know where it drinks.

Raise your budget and you can also consider private reserves, often run in conjunction with local tribes, Hot spots include the Laikipia Plateau to the north and the Chyulu Hills west of Tsavo.

Leaving the cool highlands of Kenya's central plateau and heading east you drop down to Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. The city of Mombasa has a fantastic island setting and an impressive Portuguese fort, but it's not especially geared up for travellers. Most accommodation is across the causeway north of town, in a string of resorts that line the beach.

The coast road continues up to the charming little village of Watamu and then the slightly seedy Malindi. The road continues (but traffic, including matatus, generally does not) up to the island of Lamu, a welcoming little Islamic enclave generally reached by air. With just four cars - but plenty of boats and donkeys - this is a good place to experience the coast's Muslim culture.

Head south from Mombasa and you have to take the Likoni ferry. The pace of life slows sharply and there are a line of beautiful beaches, often quite undeveloped, with the best known (and best) being Diani Beach.

Don't miss the richest part of a Kenyan journey: the Kenyans. There are more than 70 tribes in Kenya, many with their own distinctive costumes and customs. On private reserves these are the people who will be your guides, or they are easy to meet if you step out of your safari bubble. Head north for the Samburu and Turkana people, clustered by the edge of croc-infested Lake Turkana, while in the south the Maasai prevail, proud warriors struggling to adapt to a world where land can be - and increasingly is - privately owned.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Migrate. The annual Wildebeest migration sees huge herds of game pour into the Masai Mara - and a feeding frrenzy for the area's predators
  2. Go Up. The trek up Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest mountain, is more interesting and less crowded than Kilimanjaro. Mount Elgon, on the Ugandan border, is also a worthy climb
  3. Take a Trek. In the north of the country, head out on a camel safari, with local tribesmen as your guides. Take references: potential guides will not willingly admit they're not from the area and don't know their way around. On a budget, take a donkey instead
  4. Cross the Chalbi Desert – the ethnically fascinating badlands of Kenya – by truck to reach croc-infested Lake Turkana
  5. Call of the Minaret. Loll around the traditional Swahili streets of Lamu Island, feasting on fresh fish and swimming from deserted beaches
  6. Safari in the City. If time is limited, most of Kenya's wildlife species can be seen from a taxi in Nariobi's own small National Park. Be warned: Nairobi is one place where the most dangerous predators have two legs and are found on the city-centre streets after dark
  7. Go Dive. There are good Marine Parks at Wasini in the south and Watamu in the north, excellent for snorkelling or diving

Wanderlust tips

For safaris in Kenya, pack a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off and neutral-coloured clothes; don’t wear blue as it attracts tsetse flies. Also, be prepared to get up early – game-viewing starts at dawn.

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