Lions and leopards are just part of the landscape in Kenya, East Africa’s favourite safari destination. More than 40 national parks and nature reserves are scattered between Lake Victoria and the India Ocean, covering every imaginable landscape and featuring just about every animal in Africa: from aardvarks to zebras.
As you might expect, wildlife safaris are the lifeblood of Kenyan tourism, and the infrastructure for travellers is impressive. Jeeps, buses and light aircraft fan out daily across the country to safari lodges and tented camps, some simple and rustic, others lavish and opulent. Refreshingly, you can enjoy close encounters with nature even on a budget, with walking safaris run by tribal guides and economic tented camps that scrimp on creature comforts, but not on creatures.
Most people start the journey in Nairobi, but few linger when there are more attractive cities strung out along the sun-kissed Kenyan coast and dotted around the Great Rift Valley. Whether you pick the interior or the coast, with its beach resorts and Islamic ruins, you can be sure to find a national park or reserve close at hand – Nairobi even has a national park within the city limits, with zebras and giraffes just a stone’s throw from the suburbs.
Kenya is also a great place for cultural encounters, with more than 40 different tribal groups, each following its own unique way of life. The semi-nomadic Maasai, with their rainbow-coloured, bead-covered adornments, are perhaps the most obvious group, but visiting any tribal village is a fascinating experience.
On appearances, Kenya would seem like the perfect holiday destination, but tourism has had its ups and downs in recent years, with political upheaval during elections and a string of high-profile militant attacks in Nairobi and along the coast.
These set-backs have made a noticeable dent in Kenya’s tourist industry, yet travellers still flock to the teeming plains of the Maasai Mara and trek the slopes of Mount Kenya, and the biggest decision for most is not whether to go to Kenya, but instead, which wild animal to search for first.