20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Kenya
The Masai are the highlight of any traveler's stay in Kenya's highlands, and their rich cultural traditions are displayed throughout the country's highlights. But Kenya also has an adventurous side, offering you everything from hiking through the spectacular Mt. Kenya National Park, to sunning on its idyllic beaches, to hiking along the Rift Valley's stunning waterfalls.
Kenya also has well-preserved colonial-era buildings and a wealth of rich cultural attractions that are worth seeing on their own merits.
Prepare for your trip to Kenya with our comprehensive list of top attractions in Kenya.
Mount Kenya is the highest peak in the equatorial region of East Africa. It was believed to be the source of the Pangani River, until researchers in the 1920s discovered that its waters were coming from its western slopes, not from the mountain itself. Huge animals such as lions, elephants, and wild cats live in the mountaintop national park, home to the world's highest recorded alpine flowers, also found in Tibet. The park is a buffer between the ongoing armed conflict in neighboring Somalia and has been used as a base for British troops participating in that country's ongoing war, providing much-needed rest and relief for its own exhausted population. Visitors should be warned that little infrastructure exists, so camping equipment and supplies should be brought. A more luxurious option is staying at the luxury Treetops Hotel.
Situated in a beautiful landscape just northwest of Nairobi, Lake Naivasha stretches across both Kenyan and Tanzanian territory. Water buffalo are ubiquitous in the region, and the water is easily accessible. Although you can rent a boat or motorboat to explore the lake, many visitors prefer to come by car as the road from Nairobi is good and Lake Naivasha has beautiful scenery. Tanzania and Kenya both take control of the lake through their boundary line; as such there is no joint visitor's center and activities are organised separately in each country.
Mombasa was founded in 1591 and has a relatively easy-going air. A bustling port on the Indian Ocean, the city is surrounded by a coastline fringed with shimmering beaches and serene sandy inlets. Its hot and humid climate contrasts sharply with the lush rainforests of the nearby mainland. Though primarily an economic hub, a lively nightlife exists for travelers and expatriates with a thirst for jazz, blues and African music. The International Harbor, close to the Kwani's harbor, is the most pleasant, with long sandy beaches and a good selection of hotels. Though Mombasa is a town for all seasons, the traveler with a taste for beaches and shopping will be drawn to the area around Mandu. This destination is rich in history. The coast is home to the largest collection of intact Swahili and Arab-style fortifications, ransacked fortresses built on rocky outcroppings, and ancient ruins left over from the colonial days. With some of the best shopping in the city, Mombasa also has been attracting scores of tourists with the addition of new upscale hotels in recent years. Mombasa has an airport with regular flights to Nairobi and Cairo.
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is one of East Africa's most important reserves. Lying in the foothills of the Great Rift Valley, it was founded in 1917 as a game reserve. The eastern part of the park, along the Kikuyu escarpment, is home to the Elgon Mountains National Park and the Rusinga Island Marine Reserve. One of the highlights of a visit to the park is a visit to the home of some of the area's famous large cats, the Cheetah House, a sort of mini-pristine national park. However, the main attraction is the "Tree of Life" which is a short distance from the main entrance to the park. The long, white-sand beaches along the eastern side of the park are only accessible by boat. The national park offers a variety of campsites and lodges, as well as some basic self-catering cottages.
The Masai Mara is a savannah that stretches for miles in the Rift Valley. The Savannah grasslands are an incredible wildlife habitat where gazelle, wildebeest, and zebra herds roam freely. From October to April, large herds of antelope cross the Mara river on their annual migration to the Serengeti plain in Tanzania, although a relatively smaller herd makes its home here year round. It is important to note that the Masai Mara game reserve is not the Serengeti plain and it is therefore necessary to acquire a permit to visit. The different seasons bring different wildlife to the area and there is no guarantee that you will get to see the wild animals in the Mara in their prime. Masai Mara is also one of the places where the once-in-a-lifetime sighting of an elephant- or lion-shaped baby animal is not unheard of.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli is known for its unspoiled natural beauty, including wildlife including elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras and wildebeest. In fact, it is said that wildebeests once outnumbered humans on the plains of Amboseli. Visitors are encouraged to join an up-close safari in an open-top Land Rover to explore the park. They can experience the wildlife at close range on foot and watch a herd of the curious, majestic, black-maned male elephants from a safe distance, as they occasionally approach the vehicle, stare at the passengers, and make loud grunts. Other highlights include the scenery, which consists of grassy plains, banana plantations, and vast open areas where herds of antelopes, zebras and giraffes graze.
Nakuru lake is set in an elevated volcanic crater surrounded by mountains rising to 2,300 meters above sea level. The lake is remarkably deep for its size and its undisturbed waters provide excellent conditions for a large number of birds including tawny and greater flamingos, eagles, and a wide variety of waterfowl. The largest lake in East Africa, Nakuru is surrounded by lush forests of mimosa, eucalyptus, and avocado. In addition to several small fishing villages and temples of Wamunambu, Nakuru also has a busy and interesting nightlife. It's a center for domestic and international visitors and is the third largest urban area in Kenya, with an estimated population of 200,000.
Kisumu is Kenya's main regional capital, and is located in western Kenya. As Kenya's main agricultural export center, Kisumu serves as a processing center for the region's corn and bean exports, and Kisumu is a major trading center and transport hub. The main source of transportation in and out of Kisumu is by road, rail, and water, with Kisumu's airport being the main hub for West Kenya's aviation traffic. Some of the city's oldest buildings are the Church of St. Mary the Virgin and the Ruvu Ruins, both are considered a minor tourist attraction, as is the Mbagathi Hot Spring. The best known spot in Kisumu, however, is the Maasai Village, located along the coast. In Kisumu's markets and within some of the city's best hotels, one can experience typical Kenyan hospitality, as well as taste the Kenyan cuisine, rich in spices and vegetables. Kisumu is also the center of Kenya's highest-profile ethnic groups, which include the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and the Maasai.
Lamu is a predominantly Muslim, 1,520-square-kilometer island off the Kenyan coast in the Indian Ocean, a wonderful place for a visit with its white beaches, coral reefs, and historic fort. Unspoiled beaches and inlets, villages, mosques, and traditional wooden houses are among the island's special features. The heart of Lamu is its port, where everything from jewelry to spices is brought ashore. Here, tradesmen sell delicious spices, soft drinks, local crafts, jewelry, and other items to visitors and their families. Lamu was once an important pirate base, and in fact one of the most violent pirate strongholds in the world, which may account for its unspoiled quality. A visit to Lamu will include getting off the ferry, which leaves from Manda Island, and possibly the town of Komba. Lamu is accessible by small plane, where you can spend several days enjoying the island's spectacular natural beauty and local culture.
Aberdare National Park
Nestled in the hills above Moshi on the steep southern slopes of the Aberdare massif, the small town of Moshi has a mix of Swahili and Indian influences and offers some of the most outstanding and varied landscapes anywhere in Africa. Cliffs tower in many directions, rising sharply out of the cool waters of the Indian Ocean and overlooking rolling plains that are covered in exotic forests and sprawling meadows. Inland, the peaks of the Aberdare range run in a straight line from south to north and form one of the largest continuous peaks in Africa. Many of these peaks are more than 4,000 meters high, and the area offers some of the most spectacular vistas in the world. The Aberdare Mountains National Park forms the largest protected area in Kenya and provides a backdrop of imposing mountains that attract the attention of both wildlife and hiking enthusiasts. Over 3,000 species of plants and 140 species of birds have been recorded in the park, which is the highest point in East Africa and provides great views over Moshi and Lake Victoria.
Nanyuki is a town in Kenya near Mount Kenya, one of the tallest mountains on the continent. Although it's one of the largest towns in the area, Nanyuki is relatively remote, so visitors rarely stop in town, making the surrounding area a much more pleasant place to visit. Day trips from Nanyuki can be made by car to the amazing hot springs town of Kichwege, or to the villages of Mbatiani and Lugunda, which are the jumping-off point for visits to Ngorongoro Crater. The less visited Kalama Valley is also worth exploring by car, while the Masai Mara National Reserve is a major attraction and possible base for visits to some of Kenya's best reserves and game reserves. Roads around Nanyuki are not maintained so check the weather forecast and allow plenty of time for bad weather to avoid a short visit. In Nanyuki there is an airport which services the town, and a bit of onward travel can be made to Gisagara or Lake Nakuru, a favorite tourist spot.
Great Rift Valley
A popular itinerary from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru is to travel along the former Nairobi-Mombasa Railway, constructed in 1914 by the British in the British colony of East Africa. The world's largest railway, it linked Nairobi and Mombasa, but has fallen into disrepair over the years. What's left of the railway are the railway tracks themselves, which carry some locals from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru, a distance of some two hundred kilometers. Although the best parts of the trip are between Lake Naivasha and the legendary tufa rock of Hotwata, the most interesting stretches take place along the shore of the Great Rift Valley, near the town of Nanyuki, a center for the pastoralist Masai people.
Samburu National Reserve
Covering more than 4,000 square miles of the Mau Escarpment that forms the central rift valley of Kenya, Samburu is famous for its landscape. Cutting across the Nuer Mountains to the east and Lake Naivasha to the west, the reserve is home to the Samburu tribe who occupy the region as a grazing area for their cattle. Samburu National Reserve is also known for its rich wildlife and is home to the world's largest herd of elephants, several hundred lions, buffalo, and over 200 species of birds, making it an excellent place to see wildlife in Kenya. As a grassland reserve, visitors can observe a number of different plants and animals. There are several walking trails throughout the reserve, including a five-hour trek to the prominent geological formation of Ol Kinyong Rock. Also at the visitor center is an interesting display of local culture. Samburu also has an airport with scheduled flights from Nairobi and there are regular ferries to Mombasa from the nearest town.
Nairobi's Safari Parks
Safari parks are large open areas set up with animal enclosures. Often the animals can be seen in the midst of their natural habitat, for example in the Serengeti in Tanzania, or a nature reserve in South Africa. In Nairobi the parks are the National Museum of Kenya and the Nairobi National Park. They allow visitors the chance to get close to the animals and enjoy the stunning natural scenery. Most of the time at a safari park you can see animals such as giraffes, elephants, rhinos, ostriches, zebra, monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, hippos, lions, cheetahs and leopards.
Meru National Park
Meru National Park covers more than 23,000 hectares, at an altitude of over 2,000 meters. Visitors can walk through the park or stay in a camp set up for tourists. There are six routes from which to visit, each takes a few hours. The most popular routes are the Nyeri to Kilolo, Lake Kwania, and Twema trails, and the Lengai to Matengo, Nyang'oma and Geita trails. The park is rich in wildlife and is often home to mountain and plains elephants, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, sable antelope, and various antelopes. Commonly spotted are the warthog, the red-tailed bushbabies, the mouse-deer, and the giant mongoose. Meru National Park is home to 26 mammal species. In some places you can see the largest mammals in Africa, such as the blue wildebeest, zebras, and topi.
Situated in the middle of the arid, vast wilderness of the northwestern Rift Valley in eastern Africa, Lake Turkana is the largest salt water lake in the world. Rich in minerals, particularly in iron, the lake covers an area of over 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 square miles), the world's largest inland sea, is used by several nomadic groups, who graze their cattle there year-round, and by three Kenyan villages. The lake has been studied for centuries for its biological diversity, particularly with regard to migratory birds. These include endangered species, such as the Levant's unique birds of the genus Centris. Over 200 species have been recorded in the lake. But today, conservationists are concerned that Lake Turkana's abundant migratory bird population, both resident and migratory, may be threatened by the depletion of its water due to the constant mining of the lake for salt, especially during the dry season. The salt is exported and has been used to preserve grains, including maize, and to clean rice.
Tsavo East National Park
The Tsavo East National Park is the second largest in the African country. Covering an area of around 4,200 square kilometers, it lies in the eastern highlands of Kenya between the city of Nairobi and Lake Naivasha. The park was established in 1894 to protect its wild population of elephants and other animals, but today it's also famous for its natural beauty and an assortment of bird and plant species. One of the largest and oldest parks in Africa, Tsavo East is an important habitat for a large number of flora and fauna. In the valleys, among acacia trees and other plant species, visitors will find at least four different types of tropical trees and shrubs including agapanthus and the extremely endangered Thantrissi bamboo. Further north, the vegetation varies according to elevation and altitude. Wildlife is abundant, with over 300 species of mammals, over 2,000 species of birds and 40 species of reptiles and amphibians. The Tsavo East National Park is accessible from Nairobi by public bus, but a number of safari vehicles, especially those heading from Nairobi to Tsavo West National Park, offer 4X4 transportation.
Nyeri, a sleepy, unassuming town in the highlands, has lots of charm, despite being a base for safaris and nature reserves. Founded in 1914 as a railway and station stop, Nyeri is also the western terminus of the Masai's endless migration to work and sell their wares in the tourist-populated towns of Arusha and Mombasa. Two- and three-star hotels and modest B&Bs dot the town's colonial area, making it a good base for exploring nearby tea plantations and wildlife-watching areas. What to do in Nyeri include hiking, jeep tours to nearby destinations like the Ngorongoro Crater, bird-watching, and visiting the Nairobi Safari Park. The nearby tea plantations offer visitors the chance to learn how the locals go about tea growing. If you are looking for the region's closest beaches, head to Mnarani Beach, with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, or Luambe Beach, both within easy walking distance of Nyeri.
Kakamega Forest Reserve
Located in the Western Province of Kenya, Kakamega Forest Reserve is a popular destination for mountain bikers and adventure-lovers. Home to the largest waterfalls in the region, the pretty village of Sigirik has an attractive colonial church. The forest reserve contains nearly 250 km of trails in total, with 4,000 species of flora and 2,000 species of fauna. The forest is also known as one of the finest breeding grounds for some rare African birds. If you're looking for hiking options, the most popular ones include a hike through the Tanzanian section, where there are also large herds of zebra and waterbucks. A number of scenic tours of the Kenyan Highlands also make Kakamega a popular stop.
Hell's Gate National Park
Hell's Gate National Park lies on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. The great circle of Lake Turkana cuts across the park. The lake itself is the longest alkaline-chlorine lake in the world, as well as being Africa's largest. It's full of blue-green water and can be up to 20 km wide, depending on water levels. To visit the park, one of the world's oldest, travelers can take a 4WD safari through the scorching desert of the park, with the turquoise-blue waters of the lake as a backdrop. The park has more than 100 mammal species, including the rare black-and-white colobus monkey, black-faced gazelle, and the perennial elephant. Hiking in the park is also an experience, with wide expanses of savannah and a string of great viewpoints.