Kenya is a country in East Africa which is bordered to the North by Ethiopia and South Sudan, to the east by Somalia and Indian Ocean, Tanzania to the South, in the West by Lake Victoria and Uganda. It is divided horizontally into almost two equal halves by the equator. Its size is 582,646 sq km. The ecosystem of Kenya includes savannah plains, forested mountains, semi deserts and deserts, fresh and salty lakes, valleys, beaches with palms and coral reefs. There are two distinct rainy seasons, long rains in March, April, May and the short rains which occur in November to December.
After attaining its independence from British colonial rule in 1963, Kenya exists as a democratic republic where the President is both head of state and head of government. In terms of politics, Kenya is a multiparty state. Economically in East Africa, it is a powerhouse and more dynamic with Nairobi as a regional commercial hub.
Kenya is one of the most diverse countries within Africa both culturally and linguistically. It boasts of over 40 ethnic groups all who speak different languages. The three major categories of these groupings are Bantus, Nilotes and Cushites. It is also home to various people of foreign descent for instance Indians. Swahili is the national language while English serves as the official language.
In terms of wildlife conservation and sanctuaries, Kenya has many national parks, national reserves, marine national parks, marine reserves and nature reserves. It also has numerous private animal conservancies.
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya. The name is a phrase from the Masai tribe who used to call the area Enkare Nairobi which means cool water. Nairobi was established in 1899 by the colonial authorities as a depot for the Uganda Railway. On Kenya attaining its independence in 1963, Nairobi became its capital city.
Nairobi is a key business hub hosting many local and international companies including organizations like United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Kenya serves as a regional hub when it comes to air transport and its largest airport ( Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) is located in Nairobi. It has a good road network and a modern railway line that connects it to the coastal city of Mombasa.
The bustling city of Nairobi is a melting pot for diverse culture, ultra modern city life and urban slums. It used to be referred to as the green city in the sun and currently as a city that never sleeps, due to its numerous entertainment sports and partying habits.
Nairobi city has many attractions. Its rich history is captured in Museums. One such museum is the Karen Blixen museum. It also boasts as the only city in the world which has a national game park within its borders, the Nairobi National Game Park. It has many other attractions which include world class restaurants for fine dining. The transport sector also fascinates with its matatu culture etc. Most safaris also start in Nairobi.
GEOGRAPHICAL TOURISM REGIONS IN KENYA
Regions in Kenya can be classified geographically as the Rift Valley , Central highland, Northern, West, coast and Southeast.
Wildlife parks and reserves locations map
Kenya’s Rift Valley is part of an intra- continental ridge that runs through from North to South and part of the Gregory rift. It stretches 6000KM from Jordan through Kenya to Mozambique. The width varies from about 100 km to its narrowest width which is about 45 km. The depth of the rift valley floor also varies, the lowest area is near Lake Turkana.
The rift valley region is generally hot and semi arid. It has several fresh and saline lakes. The fresh water lakes are Lake Baringo and Lake Naivasha. The saline lakes are Lake Turkana, Lake Logipi, Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Magadi. The Lakes in Kenya’s rift valley are fed by a series of rivers and springs but they have no visible outlets. They drain through underground seepage and evaporate due to the hot sun.
Wildlife Sanctuaries found in Rift valley are:
Siliboi National Park where early hominid remains are found and a habitat for crocodiles. It is located on the shores of Lake Turkana.
Hells gate National Park which has gorges, cliffs, variety of wildlife and ideal for nature walk among wildlife.
The fresh water lakes are home to a variety of wildlife with Lake Naivasha attracting a variety of birds and animals as does Lake Baringo. Three of the saline lakes are interlinked underground and are known as Kenya Lake System. They are Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria and Lake Elementaita. The lake system was designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2011.
Other important geographical features include extinct volcanoes of Mt Longonot and Mt Suswa.
The Great Rift Valley region in Kenya is divided politically into 13 counties namely; Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Trans-nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Laikipia, Nakuru, Kajiado, Kericho and Bomet.
CENTRAL HIGHLAND OF KENYA
The central highland is a region with diverse landscapes which is made up of lush jungles, rolling hills and imposing mountains. It is the most densely populated region in Kenya and forms the eastern wall of rift valley. Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu are found within the area. It is in this region that Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain stands majestically . The climate is generally cool and the central highland of Kenya has two rainy seasons, long rains in the month of March, April, May and short rains in the Month of October to November. December to March is the sunniest.
Wildlife sanctuaries in the Central highlands of Kenya are:
Mount Kenya National Park which is an area of 2121 sq. km and a designated world heritage site by UNESCO. This is also the park that hosts Mt Kenya. Mount Kenya national park has high altitude adapted game and unique vegetation. On clear days, the permanent snow fields can be seen in its twin glacial peaks which reach 5,199 meters. Wildlife found in the park include white colobus monkey, blue monkey, giant forest hogs, sunis, duikers, Hartlaub’s turacos etc. Above 3340 meters is open moorland where rock hyrax, raptors and the scarlet- tufted malachite sunbird are found.
Aberdare National Park is another wildlife sanctuary found in the central highland region. Its size is 765 sq. km and borders the rift Valley on the eastern side. It is made up of Montane forest, moorland and has lush vegetation. There are more than 200 birdlife species and plenty of big game which includes buffalos, elephants, bongos, lions, black rhinos etc. It is ideal for hiking when accompanied by armed rangers.
NOTHERN PART OF KENYA
This area is semi desert and the habitat is made up of dry grasslands, open acacia woodland, rugged ranges and thorny bushes. Northern part of Kenya receives little rain averaging 350 mm per year. The hot, sun baked landscape extends north to Ethiopia and east to Somali.
The region has several wildlife sanctuaries. Samburu National Reserve (162 sq km), Shaba National Reserve (239 sq km) and Buffalo Springs National Reserve (131) sq km) all alongside Ewaso Ngiro river. Wildlife are attracted to the river particularly in the dry season. There are mammals which are endemic to this region and are referred to as Samburu special or Samburu Big five. They are the gerenuk, grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich and Reticulated giraffe. Other animals found here include lesser kudu, elephants, gazelles, lions, cheetahs ,leopards and over 350 bird species. Meru National park borders the Tana River and its size is 870 sq. km. The park is well watered with streams from Nyambene hills and Mt Kenya. It is home to many mammals and they include elephants, plain zebras, Grant gazelles, leopards, hippos among many others. Kora National park is closer to Meru National park and they share the same characteristics. Marsabit National reserve is another less visited wildlife sanctuary in the area. Its size is 1554 sq. km and has many mammals and over 300 bird species that are found in this area.
WEST REGION OF KENYA
This region is highly diverse and the habitat includes semi-arid to the North, grasslands, cool highlands, rain forests and a big lake (Lake Victoria). It is populated by several tribes who include the Kalenjine, Luhya, Luos, Kisii Masai, ogiek and Kuria. Some of the economic activities in the region are mixed farming and fishing. The area has two distinct rainfall patterns which are long rains in the month of March, April, May and short rains in the months of November and December.
The region also boasts of some of the best wildlife sanctuaries and the most visited game reserves in the country. Masai Mara National reserve is located in the region and it is a premier park in Africa. Masai Mara National Reserve covers an area of about 1510 sq. kilometers. Three rivers run through the reserve namely Mara river, Sand river and Talek river. Masai Mara National Reserve combined with another area called the Mara triangle and several Masai Conservancies, including Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Mara North, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, Naibosho and Kimintet form the Greater Mara ecosystem.
Masai Mara is made of open savannah grassland dotted with acacia trees. The rains are biannual, with two rainy seasons. Long rains which last approximately six to eight weeks in April and May and the ‘short rains’ in November and December which last approximately four weeks. Nowhere in Africa is wildlife more abundant like in the Masai Mara National Reserve. It is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in their natural environment. There are over 95 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles and more than 400 bird species recorded on the reserve. The reserve is famous for the annual wildebeest migration that occurs annually where more than two million animals arrive in Masai Mara from Serengeti in July and go back in October. All members of the big five are found in the reserve.
Kakamega forest National Reserve is another attraction in the region. The forest fondly referred to as a bird watchers paradise was once a big forest stretching all the way to central Africa. It is a mid altitude tropical rainforest. The relationship to West Africa is unique and the forest contains many species found nowhere in Kenya. The terrain comprises steep sided river valleys and gentle sloping and rising landscape. Wildlife include Black-and-white Colobus, Red-tailed Monkey and a small number of de brazza Monkeys. Several West African forest mammals live here due to its relation to Zaire basin. They include potto, giant otter shrew and Lord Derby’s Anomalure. You will find the rare gold Cobra and other West African snake and about 28 other snake species live here. About 350 butterfly species occur in this forest including one endemic, Mitisella Kakamega.
Mount Elgon National Park is 169 sq. km and located on the Kenya Uganda border. It has a cave that elephants enter to lick mineral salts and a trail through forests and moorlands.
Saiwa swamp National park is an area with forests and exotic vegetation. It has a large variety of bird life and is also the habitat of semi- aquatic sitatunga antelope which is rare and endangered, and de Brazza’s monkey.
Lake Victoria in Kisumu is the world second largest fresh water lake after Lake superior in North America. It hosts a variety of aquatic animals and many species of birdlife only found in the region. Ndere National park is on lake Victoria and is a haven of birds. It is an island with scenic views with the lake shore close to Ndere supporting a variety of wildlife including, monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, several fish species, snakes, baboons, impalas, hippos, the rare sitatunga antelopes, water bucks, zebras and warthogs. Over 100 bird species can be seen. Rusinga Island also found on lake Victoria is a nice place to just relax. It offers a tranquil environment on the lakes edge and a nice beach to unwind and recreate.
COAST REGION OF KENYA
The Kenya coast line is 490 km long and meets Somali to the North and Tanzania to the South. Major towns on the Kenya coast include Mombasa, Kilifi, Watamu, Ukunda and Lamu. Mombasa town on the Kenyan coast is the second largest city in Kenya and hosts the main port serving the country. In terms of climate, the coast region has higher rainfall and temperature throughout the year.
The Kenya coast shoreline is gifted with world class sublime white sandy beaches and colorful coral. Cool breeze from the ocean flows to provide a perfect relief to the heat and the humidity. Some areas of the shores and coastal waters are protected as marine national parks and reserves. They include:
Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park in Kwale is referred to as home of Dolphins and has endemic marine species and sanctuary of breeding migratory birds.
Kiunga Marine National Reserve in Lamu is composed of 50 calcareous offshore islands and coral reefs in the Lamu Archipelago. The area is ideal for wind surfing, diving and snorkeling, water skiing and sunbathing. There are also sea species in the coral reefs which include sea turtles and dugong.
Watamu Marine National Park which is a haven of Green turtles, unique coral gardens and the Gede Ruins. It also has diverse birdlife, fish and dugongs.
Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve is ideal for wind surfing, water skiing, snorkeling and diving. The park and reserve are also home to a variety of marine species and migratory birds.
Malindi Marine National Park and Reserve is a beautiful place for windsurfing and gate away. There are also colorful coral reefs, lagoons, turtles, mangroves, marine mammals and various species of birds.
Inland there is the Shimba hills National Reserve with a size of 300 sq km South west of Mombasa and is home to sable and Roan antelopes. It also has birds not found anywhere in Kenya like the Fischer’s turaco.
Arabuko Sokoke Nature Reserve is located 110km North of Mombasa. Many rare birds and the yellow- rumped elephant shrew live in its dense forests.
Arawale National Reserve is a conservation area managed by Garissa County, with the help of Kenya Wildlife service. It is a sanctuary for the critically endangered hirola population found only in north eastern Kenya and south west Somalia.
SOUTHEAST REGION OF KENYA
The region is located east of the rift highlands and is made up of plateau gentle sloping towards the coastal plains. It is a region of scattered hills and elevated formations. The Southeast region is semi arid and day time temperature in the areas is hot at around 28°C/82°F, while at night it is warm at around 15°C/59°F. The Southeast region of Kenya has two distinct rainy seasons namely long rains in April to May and short rains in November to December. Some of the key towns in the region include Machakos, Sultan Hamud, Mtito Andei and Voi.
The Southeast Kenya region has three superb national parks. The locations of these parks are studded with the iconic baobab trees and open acacia land.
Amboseli National Park has a size of 390 sq. km and is one of Kenya’s most visited parks. The park has abundant wildlife with over 80 mammal species and over 400 bird species. Big tusked Elephants roam the area in huge groups and it is one of the best places to view elephants up close.
Tsavo West National Park is 7065 sq. km and is a rugged and beautiful wilderness habitat. It offers magnificent game viewing and has diverse animals, birds and plant species. Tsavo West National Park is sometimes referred to as (the land of the man eaters). This is because of lions that killed several workers constructing the railway line that was passing through Tsavo during the time of British rule in the late 19th century. A movie called the Ghost and the darkness has been shot regarding the events.
Tsavo East National Park is named after Tsavo river which flows through the park. It has a size of 13474 sq km and it is one of the largest game parks in Kenya. Tsavo East National Park has vast herds of dust red elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, lesser Kudu, gerenuk and the prolific bird life features 500 recorded species.
Kenya has a lot to offer and should visit the country to learn more.