Choose from the call of the wild or the call of the luxury beach-side hotel. Kenya is a bit of a dream holiday destination. As well as being one of the world’s top safari destinations, it’s blessed with a stunning stretch of coastline, dotted with gorgeous beaches and paradise islands.
It’s the perfect place for those who love the great outdoors, and the Central Highlands and Rift Valley areas, with Mt Kenya at their heart, combining dreamy landscapes and fabulous walking trails. Packages aren’t always cheap, but there aren’t too many places in the world where you can spot one of the ‘Big Five’ one day, and kick back on the beach with a cocktail on the next.
Getting there, getting around Kenya
There are regular direct flights from the UK to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as well as Mombasa, the major coastal resort. If you haven’t had your hotel transfer arranged already, then at both of these airports you’ll find lots of taxis as well as a good public bus service.
If you’re feeling adventurous and looking for an authentic Kenyan experience, then a good way to get about is by matatus, a local minibus. Tickets are incredibly cheap, but you’ll probably find that there are about 30 people in a vehicle built for about half that number of passengers. Generally though, if you’ve booked your safari or whole package in the UK, you can arrange for transfers between destinations as hiring your own car in Kenya can be pretty risky.
Beaches in Kenya
When it comes to beaches in Kenya, Mombasa, the country’s second largest city, will always be your first port of call. From there, you can either head north or south along the coast in search of your favourite idyllic beach spot. To the north, you’ll find lots of big hotels with luxury accommodation, excellent facilities and fine wining and dining. Shanzu and Kenyatti are among the best, which are more developed with all the facilities you’d expect of a modern resort. There are great watersports and you can try your hand at windsurfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Even further north are the islands of the Lamu Archipelago, where you’ll find no cars and some truly wonderful beaches.
To the south of the city, swathes of coastline which were once fairly inaccessible are now also open to mass tourism. Again you’ll find a wide range of resorts offering excellent facilities, but also lots of much less developed hideaways, which are great if you’re on a budget. Explore coastal caves or try a bit of deep-sea fishing.
Sightseeing in Kenya
The capital, Nairobi, certainly isn’t dull and there are vibrant markets and some interesting sights. Along River Road, you’ll find lots of colourful stalls where you can buy lots of weird and wonderful gifts. The National Museum is well worth a visit to find out more about the country’s history. In Mombasa, the Old Town is home to some interesting Islamic artefacts.
However, when it comes to sightseeing in Kenya, the wildlife is the most popular attraction. The Masai Mara National Reserve is home to wildebeest, lions, elephants, buffaloes, zebras and hippos and if you time your trip right, you can witness the great annual migration through the park, when millions of animals could cross your path. One of the most incredible ways to see the animals is from the comfort of a hot-air balloon. Soaring over the vast plains at sunrise is a magical experience.
Family attractions in Kenya
Obviously, the wildlife will keep any family entertained and your kids are unlikely to ever forget their first elephant sighting. In fact, if they’re fans of the BBC series, Elephant Diaries, then a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, near Nairobi Park, is a must. They can watch the nursery elephants come in for their daily mud-bath between 11am and midday every day.
At the beach resorts, many hotels have kids clubs, which will keep your children entertained for at least couple of mornings a week. And older kids will love the range of watersports on offer at most of the top-end hotels.
Day trips in Kenya
Head to the highlands and the Rift Valley if you really want to get away from it all. The Cheragnai Hills are popular with hikers and the numerous stunning lakes in the area will provide endless superb photo opportunities. Around lakes such as Elementeita and Nakuru, you’ll also find lots of amazing birdlife.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, trek your way up to the summit of Mt Kenya, at 15,000ft, the country’s highest peak. The views will be worth the reward.
Eating out in Kenya
Kenya is a meat eater’s paradise, especially in Nairobi. So, expect plenty of beef, chicken, lamb, goat – even buffalo – on the menu. One dish to try is the Nyama Choma, barbecued goat meat, which is a delicious, spicy, national delicacy. Another delicacy is Mishikaki, spicy pieces of lamb or beef on a skewer. Further along the coast, seafood – fresh sea fish, shrimps, prawns and lobster – is more popular.
If you’re in Mombasa, try the Tamarind. This is a lovely restaurant, overlooking the Indian Ocean, where the fresh seafood is superb. Key dishes include the Lobster Swahili, Chilli Crab and Prawns Piri Piri. The restaurant even has its own Tamarind Dhow. So, you can enjoy a meal as you cruise along the water.
Kenya is also renowned for its delicious fresh fruit – including guavas, mangos, papayas and bananas. And, don’t leave without trying the local brew, Tusker Beer. There is also a traditional beer, Uki, made with honey. Or, if you fancy something a bit more stronger, try Kenya Cane, a potent liquor made with sugar cane.
Nightlife in Kenya
If you’re looking to let your hair down, you’ll find plenty of entertainment in the beach resorts on the coast. Mombasa is the liveliest. Most hotels have a bar, and the larger ones also have regular live music nights and dancing.
If you’re on safari, it’s a different story. You won’t want to be nursing a hangover, if you’re getting up at the crack of dawn. So, evenings tend to be more low-key with a sundowner or two, at sunset, followed by an early night.
Shopping in Kenya
The best bargains are to be had at the markets that you’ll find in every town. You can buy so many great things here such as Kikoi, the traditional Kenyan cloth, in a myriad of different colours, fantastic pieces of hand crafted jewellery, bags stained with natural dyes, wood carvings, spices, woven baskets. Kenya is also famous for its soapstone, which is made into everything from soap dishes to chess boards.
The main markets to look out for in Nairobi include the Masai market, the Covered City Market, The Village Market and the Kariokor Market. If you prefer fixed prices, head to the African Heritage, Libra House, Mombasa Road. The best places to find a bargain in Mombasa are the markets and bazaars in the Old Town. Amongst everything else, you will find the best selection of khanga and kikoy here (Kenyan style tassled sarongs).