Places to visit in Kenya

Kenya map & itineraries


Make the most of your time

Many of the most popular places to visit in Kenya hug the Tanzanian border: the Masai Mara, the Great Migration, Tsavo and several popular beach resorts. This leaves vast expanses of unexplored wilderness to the north for the more adventurous or second-time visitor to discover. The dramatic scenery of the Rift Valley along with Mount Kenya still attract plenty of visitors, but there’s a good chance people will be outnumbered by animals in Laikipia, Samburu and the Aberdares.
However, while Kenya may seem small compared to African giants such as Tanzania and South Africa, don’t underestimate the distance you have to cover. A local flight or two is often still necessary to avoid shuddering along Kenya roads for an entire day; Nairobi and Mombasa airports offer regular connections to the coast and reserves.
The Great Rift Valley Tsavo Amboseli National Park Aberdare National Park Lake Nakuru Masai Mara Mombasa Laikipia Mount Kenya Coast & islands Samburu Hell’s Gate National Park

Aberdare National Park

Soaring up to 4,000m, the ancient Aberdare Range is strangely unknown. Its forested slopes harbour ravines and dramatic waterfalls a fantastic variety of wildlife – including monkeys, elusive golden cats and over 250 species of birds – while the moorlands are a high-altitude wonderland of hardy Afro-Alpine vegetation. The altitude provides respite from the heat – and the bugs.

Amboseli National Park

Amboseli is the setting of Kenya’s classic postcard scene: the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro looming over huge herds of elephants striding across the plains below. You’ll find the big five here, along with hippopotamus and birdlife in the soggy swamplands, fed by the mountain’s meltwater. Walking safaris and nighttime game drives are permitted in the conservancies bordering the park.

Coast & islands

Kenya’s coastline can rival that of any tropical island – from the luxurious resorts to secluded keys, sprinkled in the warm Indian Ocean. Diani’s 10km of white sands are a classic, palm-fringed retreat – check out the reefs and the colobus monkeys. Lamu offers archaeological sites as well as beaches, and Malindi – the Italian favourite – has a cluster of affordable hotels, restaurants and bars.

The Great Rift Valley

The 9,600km-long Rift Valley has shattered Africa, leaving behind a trail of lakes, islands and lush oases. Eight lakes sprang up in Kenya; Naivasha has over 400 species of birds, flitting about amongst the hippos, Elementaita is a deep blue soda lake, attracting white pelicans, and Baringo has a floating restaurant. Geological activity continues in the Rift, with hot springs and steam vents bubbling from the deep.

Hell’s Gate National Park

A narrow gap in the dramatic cliffs of the Rift Valley gave this park its sinister name – but it could well have been influenced by the geothermal activity beneath the ground. Hot springs, geysers, extinct volcanoes and volcanic plugs create a surreal landscape. Birds of prey – including the rare lammergeyer – can be found here, and a Maasai Cultural Centre reveals the life of the surrounding communities.

Laikipia

Kenya may be one of Africa’s top tourist destinations – but the centre and north remain delightfully untouched. Laikipia is a patchwork of communal conservancies, where local communities manage the land. As well as protecting wildlife – notably 100 black rhino plus rare wild dogs – the lodges all employ and train local people, and feed are reinvested back into communities and conservation.

Lake Nakuru

One of the Rift Valley’s eight lakes, Nakuru entices a huge variety of wildlife to its shimmering waters, including numerous predators, giraffe and buffalo and both black and white rhino. But it’s the birdlife that provided Nakuru’s most fantastic scenes; the lake periodically turns a soft pink as some two million flamingos descend onto its algae-rich waters, just one of the 450 species of bird found here.

Masai Mara

This national reserve is synonymous with both wildlife and the Maasai tribes. A stage for the Great Migration, the Mara sees some two million wildebeest and zebras spilling into it from Jun-Oct – if they survive the precarious Mara River crossing. The surrounding Maasai conservancies give the chance to spend time with this fascinating people, with bushwalks, village visits and warrior training lessons!

Mombasa

Mombasa’s history is as colourful and complex as its vibrant markets. This island city dates back almost 1,000 years, with 16th century forts, Swahili architecture and Islamic mosques. But above all, Mombasa is a gateway to Kenya’s coast – including its own Nyali Beach and Mombasa Marine National Park. Glass-bottom boat tours, diving with whale sharks, snorkelling and fishing are all within easy reach.

Mount Kenya

Africa’s second highest mountain soars to 5,199m, capped with glaciers. You’ll find few visitors in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, despite the gorgeous flora and wildlife – a beautiful contrast to Kilimanjaro’s barren yet busy slopes. Surrounding villages offer an insight into life in the shadow of the mountain. The nearby Mau-Mau Cave – a national monument – sheltered the Freedom Fighters in the 1950s.

Samburu

Far from the big name attractions of the south, Samburu receives few visitors; it feels like a true African wilderness. The Ewaso Ng’iro River nourishes Samburu’s scruffy vegetation and abundant wildlife – Elsa the Lioness was raised here, the famous star of Born Free. Lion, cheetah and leopard roam the park, best seen during sunrise or sunset game drives.

Tsavo

Tsavo East and West form Kenya’s most expansive protected area, sheltering around a third of the country’s elephants. Tsavo West is the best bet for wildlife – lured here by the springs, rivers and rapids as well as swamplands and lakes. Look out for hippos and crocs, as well as buffalo, black rhino, lion and leopard. The jagged lava landscapes of the Chyulu Hills create a surreal backdrop.

Kenya itineraries


Culture & wildlife safari (14 days):

Nairobi ► Masai Mara ► Rift Valley ► Lake Nakuru ► Aberdares ► Samburu

Safari & beach vacation (10 days):

Nairobi ► Amboseli ► Tsavo ► Diani Beach (5 days) ► Mombasa

Migration and Maasai (8 days):

Nairobi ► Amboseli ► Masai Mara (4 days) ► Nairobi

Travel times in Kenya


The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Kenya.
  • Nairobi – Masai Mara: 45 mins by plane
  • Nairobi – Masai Mara: 6 hours by road
  • Nairobi – Amboseli: 1 hour by plane
  • Nairobi – Amboseli: 4 hours by road
  • Mombasa – Nyali Beach: 40 minutes
  • Mombasa – Tsavo East: 3 hours by road
  • Mombasa – Malindi: 90 mins by road
  • Nairobi – Samburu: 1 hour by plane
  • Nairobi – Samburu: 5 hours by road
  • Nairobi – Mount Kenya: 2 hours by road
  • Nairobi – Lake Victoria: 6 hours by road
  • Masai Mara – Lake Victoria: 4 hours by road
  • Nairobi – Mombasa:15 hours by train (overnight)
Photo credits: [Top box - Tsavo: John Hickey-fry] [The Great Rift Valley: John Hickey-Fry] [Tsavo: Mauro Eugenio Atzei] [Aberdare NP: Nick] [Lake Nakuru: Xiaojun Deng] [Masai Mara: Xiaojun Deng] [Mombasa: schmilblick] [Laikipia: flowcomm] [Mount Kenya: Franco Pecchio] [Coast & islands: Joao Maximo] [Samburu: JULIAN MASON] [Hell's Gate NP: Nao lizuka]
Written by Vicki Brown
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