Kenya is the ultimate safari destination, hosting a variety of wild and untamed landscapes that range from the open savannah of the Masai Mara to the glistening, snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya.
National parks and reserves cover one-tenth of Kenya's surface area, spanning desert, grassland, mountain forest and acacia-studded plains. The country’s finest reserves – Amboseli, Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo – abound with wildlife, including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, hippos and crocodiles. Then there’s the birdlife – more than 1,000 bird species have been recorded here, ranging from colourful parrots to the world largest bird, the flightless ostrich.
Kenya's human population is equally fascinating: around 40 different ethnic groups live in the country, including the Kikuyu of the central highlands, the Luo of the Lake Victoria Basin, and the iconic Maasai, who lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle of cattle-herding along the southern border.
The country’s ethnic variety is most striking in the north, where the Maasai-affiliated Samburu people live alongside the Turkana, Borena and El-Molo groups. Yet as a counterpoint to all this traditional variety, the city of Nairobi stands as the archetypal modern African capital – a cosmopolitan buffet of contemporary influences bustling with all manner of commercial activity.
By contrast to the wildlife-rich interior, the main attraction of Kenya's long and balmy Indian Ocean coastline is its magnificent beaches – long palm-lined arcs of white sand that still retain a relatively untrammelled character, certainly by comparison to their counterparts in Southeast Asia or Caribbean. Offshore, a succession of pristine coral reefs reliably treat snorkelers and scuba divers to swirling schools of multicoloured reef fish, and frequent encounters with submarine giants such as turtles, dolphins, rays and sharks.
Steeped in maritime trade history, the key ports of the Swahili Coast – Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu – were founded in Mediaeval times and today support a unique blend of Arabic, African and Asian culture and architecture. Even today, romantic dhows (sailing boats) built to a design unchanged in centuries still ply these waters, while magnificent ruins such as Gedi and Manda provide a glimpse of what the Swahili Coast looked like in its Mediaeval pomp.