Things to see and do
Climb Mount Kenya
At 4,986m (16,358ft) above sea level, this extinct volcano is the second-highest mountain in Africa. The Mountain Club of Kenya runs mountain huts and publishes guides for climbers. Even if you don’t climb to the upper slopes, it is worth spending time on the forested lower slopes below the ice-capped peak, where interesting wildlife abounds.
Climb Mount Longonot
This distinctive volcano, which last erupted in the 1860s, rises dramatically above the Rift Valley floor, and its slopes can be ascended in around 90 minutes. Allow another hour for the descent, and 3-4 hours if you want to walk around the rim of the perfect volcanic crater.
Day trip to Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park, only 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, is Kenya’s oldest national park. Today, it still looks much as it did in the early photographs – wild, undulating pasture – and supports most of East Africa’s best known wildlife, including lion, rhino, giraffe, buffalo and zebra (but not elephant).
Experience the magic of the Masai Mara
Kenya’s most popular game park is named after the Maasai tribe, who migrated south from the Nile Valley in the 17th century. A northern extension to Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, it is one of the best places in Africa for seeing lion, cheetah and leopard, but is most famous for the annual wildebeest migration and dramatic crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River.
Explore Kenya’s coral coast
Visitors can choose between scuba-diving, snorkelling, sailing, water-skiing, swimming or surfing along Kenya’s coral coast. The most popular resorts near Mombasa include Bamburi, Kikambala, Kilifi, Malindi, Nyali and the 10km- (6-mile) long, dazzlingly white Diani Beach. Another good base for watersports is the Rift Valley lake of Naivasha, about 1.5 hours drive from Nairobi.
Explore Lamu Town
Set on a picturesque offshore island close to the Somali border, Lamu is a charming old Swahili city and UNESCO World Heritage Site with many historic mosques and fine old Arab houses replete with impressive carved wooden doors. Highlights of the town include the Lamu Museum, the Swahili House Museum and the Fortress.
Go twitching in Kakamega Forest
The only rainforest in Kenya, this lovely spot near the Ugandan border is arguably the prime birdwatching site in the country, thanks to the presence of several dozen forest species found nowhere else in the country. For non-birders, the shady forest paths and plentiful monkeys still offer lots of charm.
Go wild at Lake Nakuru National Park
Boasting a dramatic setting in the Rift Valley, this park is dominated by a lake whose edges are frequently home to hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos. It is also one of Kenya’s best rhino sanctuaries, supporting high concentrations of both black and white rhino, and you may spot a leopard in the giant yellowwood acacia trees.
Help save the elephants at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Watch baby elephants play at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, an important sanctuary where orphaned elephants are hand-reared before being released back into the wild. Bordering Nairobi National Park, the sanctuary is also home to several orphaned rhinos, and is an important player in the fight against poaching.
Jump aboard a dhow
Spend an evening afloat on a romantic dhow (traditional Arab sailing boat), feasting on delicious seafood and watching the moon rise over Mombasa’s old harbour. Lunchtime or dinner cruises are available on these beautiful floating restaurants, and some even have space for dancing on the deck.
Marvel at Mombasa
Enjoy this coastal city’s Swahili flavour in the Old Town, with its narrow, crowded streets; watch the sailing dhows in the Old Harbour and catch the sound and light show at Fort Jesus, which was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and is now a museum.
Pay a visit to Laikipia Plateau
Discover a recent conservation success where former farmland has been opened up as game sanctuaries and stocked with big game including the Big Five: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard. The old farmsteads here have been converted into delightful, luxurious accommodations. This vast wilderness area remains largely underexplored by tourists.
Quaff high tea at Elsamere
Situated on the shores of Lake Naivasha, the former home of Joy Adamson (of Born Free fame) is now a museum and conservation research centre. Set in grounds teeming with birds – and home to a group of handsome colobus monkeys – Elsamere also serves excellent high tea.
Shop until you drop in Mombasa
Biashara Street is a great place to buy traditional kikoy and khanga clothing. Makupa Market, off Mwembe Tayari, is the main city market. Serious souvenir shoppers should also head for the Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Village, where disabled men and women produce high-quality leatherwork, jewellery and other crafts.
Stay a night at Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated a short distance from the main highway between Nairobi and Mombasa, this small private sanctuary bordering the vast Tsavo National Park doubles as a luxury hotel and well-positioned hide, overlooking a salt lick and a waterhole that frequently attracts aggregations of a hundred or more elephants.
Step into the land of giants at Amboseli National Park
The 392sq km (151sq mile) Amboseli National Park lies at the base of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. Wildlife includes lion, cheetah, wildebeest, hippo and gazelle, but the park is most famous for the large herds of elephant attracted by the perennial swamps. Bird-watching is popular, and visitors can learn about the local Maasai people through homestead visits.
Take the road less travelled to Lake Turkana
In the barren northern reaches of Kenya, Lake Turkana is a strange and beautiful oasis, known to locals as the Jade Sea due to its size and striking colour. The lake provides great fishing, while its islands have healthy crocodile and hippo populations. The semi-nomadic Turkana tribe are just as interesting as the lake itself.
Take to the skies in a hot air balloon
Float over great herds of game in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Hour-long excursions set off at dawn and end with champagne breakfasts. Almost all the lodges in the reserve offer this experience, which gives ballooners the chance to see the wildebeest migration from the air between July and September.
Tour Nairobi’s museums
Browse the ethnographic and archaeological exhibits of the National Museum, which lies within walking distance of the city centre. And then head out to the suburban Karen Blixen Museum, which occupies the farmhouse made famous by the nominal author’s book, Out of Africa. The Nairobi Railway Museum also covers an important chapter of the city’s history.