Many Africa travel enthusiasts recognize Kenya as one of the top holiday destinations in the continent. After all, it is in Kenya that the concept of an African safari was born. The country is blessed with more than 50 game parks , national reserves, and wildlife conservancies, each of which has its unique selling points.

You can therefore travel to Kenya as many times as you want, and still not be able to cover all the destinations. Which is why, if you are going for your first (or only) Kenya safari, you need to know the most popular of these destinations to make the most of your safari. If you ask any two people which the top destinations are, you are most likely to get two different lists. However, I am pretty sure they’ll feature most of the destinations below, which I consider among the best.

1. Masai Mara National Reserve
I have heard some people say that the Mara is over-hyped, at the expense of other equally deserving destinations. But the fact remains it is the best place for a wildlife safari in Kenya. What with its high concentration of wild animals all year round, coupled with its unending savannah grasslands plains that make game watching an extremely enjoyable experience?

All the big five African animals are present in the Masai Mara. In any one safari, you are guaranteed to see plenty of lions, elephants, and buffaloes. The rhinos and leopards are however harder to spot, but on a good day, you might just see both. Other animals you’ll find in the Mara include cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, plenty of antelope species, hyenas, jackals, hippos, and much much more.

What makes Masai Mara most famous however is the annual wildebeest migration that takes place between June and October. The event is considered one of the most spectacular natural spectacles of the modern world. About one million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras and other plain animals migrate in one huge mass from the Serengeti national park in Tanzania, into the Mara, then later on back to Serengeti.

2. Amboseli National Park
If the Mara is popular because of the migration, Amboseli is famous because of its large herds of elephants and its perfect setting for wildlife photography. The park is located close to Mt Kilimanjaro, which forms the ideal backdrop for taking photos of the wild animals, more-so the elephants.

Yet besides just the elephant herds, Amboseli is an equally good destination for seeing other African game animals. All the big five are resident here, though the rhino population is quite low. Like in most other parks, leopards are quite hard to spot, being mostly nocturnal animals and very elusive. There are plenty of other animals here too, making Amboseli a potential one-stop destination.

3. Mt Kenya
Being Africa’s second highest mountain, Mt Kenya is probably the country’s most important land feature. No wonder the country is named after the mountain.

The mountain stands at 5199 meters above sea level at its highest peak (Batian). You can trek all the way to Lenana Peak (at 4985m) without needing any specialized mountaineering equipment. Beyond that however, you have to be an expert mountaineer and you’ll need special equipment to make it to Nelion (5188m) and Batian (5199m).

If mountain trekking is not your thing however, you can still enjoy viewing the snow-peaked mountain from the slopes and plains around it. There a few national parks and wildlife conservancies around the park where you can enjoy great safaris and scenic views of the mountain. These include Meru National Park, Ol Pejeta conservancy, and Mt Kenya National Park.

4. The Great Rift Valley
You probably already know that the Great Rift Valley is one of the most phenomenal natural features on earth. It stretches all the way from Syria in the Middle East to Mozambique in Southern Africa. The Eastern Africa Rift is perhaps the most renowned branch of the Rift Valley, and what better place to see it than in Kenya?

The floor of the Kenyan Rift Valley is home to many beautiful and significant places, including several hot springs, prehistoric sites, lakes, and wildlife sanctuaries. The popular Masai Mara itself lies in the Rift Valley.

You can catch some stunning views of how deep the valley itself is at the Rift Valley view point just 2 hours drive from Nairobi. There’s also another, arguably more beautiful, view point at Subukia.

5. The Coastal Beaches
With a 536 km long coastline stretching from the Somalia border in the North to the Tanzania border in the South, Kenya is home to some of the finest beaches along the Eastern coast of Africa. They may not rival the Caribbean beaches or those in the Seychelles and Mauritius, but many are stunningly beautiful and idyllic enough to make for great romantic holiday destinations.

The most famous beaches are near or around Lamu and Malindi in the North Coast, and Diani in the South Coast. The ones at Wasini and Chale islands are particularly beautiful, though a bit pricier than in most of their other counterparts.

6. The Northern Kenya Game Reserves
Though I already noted that each of the over 50 parks and reserves have something great to offer, the ones in Northern Kenya take the ultimate prize in offering a unique safari experience. The most accessible of these are Samburu, Shaba, and Buffalo Springs game reserves, all located near Archers Post a few kilometres North of Isiolo.

Some of the animals found in these parks cannot be seen anywhere else in Kenya. These include the gerenuk, reticulated giraffes, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, and Beisa oryx. It is in Samburu that a most unnatural phenomenon was once recorded, when a lioness started adopting one baby oryx after another

Further northward from Samburu, lies a harsh wilderness that also makes for great adventure safaris for the bold.

7. Lake Nakuru
The Lake Nakuru national park is arguably the most famous birdwatching destination in Kenya. The lake, after which the park is named, is home to thousands of flamingoes and other water birds (among them pelicans and cormorants). The birds cover the surface of the lake, giving it a pink-carpet appearance when observed from a distance.

Apart from the water birds, there over 400 other bird species found in the lake and its surroundings. During the European winter, several migrant bird species from Europe find a home in Lake Nakuru.

Yet, there is more to Lake Nakuru national park than just the birds. The park is one of the most important sanctuaries for the endangered rhinos, with substantial numbers of both white rhinos and black rhinos. It is also considered the best place to spot leopards. Two other members of the African big cats, i.e. lions and cheetahs, are present too. The park’s dense woodlands are home to several large pythons, a number of which you may spot dangling from trees or crossing roads.

8. Kakamega Forest
A Potto in a Zoo. This is one of the apes you can see in Kakamega Forest National Park.

The Western Kenya safari circuit is one of the least known in the country, yet it offers an interesting, if different, safari experience. The crème de la crème of this circuit is the Kakamega Forest National Reserve.

The reserve is home to Kenya’s only tropical rainforest, with an incredibly rich and unrivalled ecosystem. More than 300 bird species reside in the park, as well as over 400 butterfly species, about 30 snake species, 7 primate species, and several other animals. The potto, regarded by some as the slowest mammal on earth, (yes slower than the sloth!), is one of the interesting apes you will find in this forest.

The forest is a birdwatchers paradise, a haven for butterfly lovers, and a truly unique wildlife watching destination.

9. Nairobi
If you travel to Kenya by flight, you are most likely to land in Nairobi. Many people going on a safari only spend one night in this capital city, (and only if they really have to), then quickly hop onto their safari van to Masai Mara or another safari destination. But before you dismiss the city as just a transit destination, you’ll be happy to know that in itself, it has a lot to offer for you as a traveller.

For starters, Nairobi has the reputation of being the only capital city in the world with a national park (not a zoo, mark you) in its vicinity. The Nairobi National Park is situated only seven kilometres from the city centre, but don’t be mistaken, it offers a true African wild safari experience. Four of the big five animals (i.e all except the elephant) reside here, as well as plenty of other animals. If you have a few hours to spare in Nairobi, you can enjoy an authentic Kenya safari in this park.

Other equally interesting places to visit in Nairobi include the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage, the Nairobi safari walk, the giraffe centre, the Bomas of Kenya cultural centre, Karen Blixen museum, Mamba village, and many many more. The vibrant night life in the city centre and in the suburbs is also something to die for.

10. The Tana and Athi Rivers
The Tana and Athi Rivers are both great destinations for adventure travel. They offer several nice spots for white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and bungee jumping among other adventures. Adrenaline junkies and adventure enthusiasts will find a lot to enjoy here.

The waters of the Tana for example offer a varied white water rafting experience for all levels of expertise, from class II to class V.


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