Immerse yourself in Kenya with these seven authentic experiences

It’s well known for safari and beaches, but there’s much more to this magical country than meets the eye; find the real deal with these unexpected treasures.

Thursday 03 November 2022 11:07 GMT
A world of Kenyan culture, heritage and culinary excellence awaits visitors prepared to venture beyond the safaris
A world of Kenyan culture, heritage and culinary excellence awaits visitors prepared to venture beyond the safaris (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Think of Kenya, and you might picture stunning safaris across the epic sweeping plains of the Masai Mara, or beautiful beaches dusted with sugar-white sands. But this vast, eastern African country is far more diverse: it’s home to myriad landscapes which offer a range of authentic experiences for everyone from the solo traveller to families and digital nomads. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime, all-encompassing trip, this is the destination to visit.

Beyond the bush

Kenya abounds with fascinating, ancient cultural sites, several of them UNESCO-listed. Gaze in awe at the rock paintings on the walls of the Mwanga Caves on Mfangano Island on shimmering Lake Victoria. Created by hunter-gatherers between 1,000 and 4,000 years ago, these still-vibrant, abstract-patterned daubings include circles and spirals. Within the forest of Gedi, upcoast from Mombasa, you’ll find archaeological ruins to rival anything encountered by Lara Croft: stone ‘pillar tombs’, a palace, a mosque and several houses dating from as far back as the 11th century, when Gedi was an important trading centre. And don’t miss Lamu Old Town, the oldest and best -preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, built with coral stone and mangrove timber; notable architectural details include elaborately carved wooden doors.

Find your tribe

While the Massai warriors have become a familiar sight, there are in fact more than 40 other tribes that call Kenya home (Getty Images)

Many will be familiar with the Maasai, whose tall and statuesque warriors dress distinctively in shades of red. But Kenya is home to over 40 other tribes, members of which you may well encounter on your trip. Together they form the country’s rich culture, each with their own customs and dialects. The biggest tribe is the Kikuyu, who live in Central Kenya and farm crops including coffee and maize, followed by the Luhya people in the West, who still practice bullfighting. Similarly to the Maasai, the Samburu and Turkana tribes are nomadic herdsmen and warriors, while the Kisii, based around the Rift Valley, are known for their carving and basketry. The Swahili people live around the coastal region, and were formerly maritime traders and fishermen.

Water babies

With over 300 miles of coastline, travellers can enjoy Kenya’s crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches all year round. But you don’t have to just fly and flop - if you fancy doing more than just relaxing, there are plenty of watersports and activities you can enjoy, both on the coast and inland. Snorkelling, SUP and kayaking are popular, but you can also swim with dolphins around Wasini Island, ride foaming rapids in Sagana, take a cruise around Lake Victoria, or go diving in one of Kenya’s many marine parks, such as Watamu.

Landscape mode

There are landscapes to suit all travellers, including the luxuriant jungle of Meru National Park (Magical Kenya)

Kenya is home to a surprisingly wide range of landscapes, from dusty red savannahs to towering mountains and lush forests. Explore the plains, hills and mountains of the Laikipia Plateau to the north, which stretches from the foothills of the country’s tallest peak, Mount Kenya, to the shores of Lake Baringo. Or visit the awe-inspiring Menengai Crater - the largest intact volcanic crater in the world - which squats within the Great Rift Valley. Meru National Park features luxuriant jungle, coursing rivers and khaki grasslands across its wilderness, while Karura Forest, located within the capital Nairobi, intersperses thickets of trees and verdant foliage with tumbling waterfalls and abundant birdlife.

Adventure game

It’s easy to stay active in Kenya, with a wide range of adventures on offer for travellers of every age and ability. Budding mountaineers will want to conquer Mount Kenya, Kenya’s second highest, which reaches an elevation of 12,549ft / 3,825m. Its three tallest peaks are Batian, Nelion and Point Lenana, all of which provide jaw-dropping scenery from the top. Push yourself even more to the limit with rock climbing in Hells Gate, whose sheer cliff-faces present the ultimate challenge. Hikers can choose from a range of trails, from gentle to ambitious; summit the inactive volcano of Mount Longonot, meander along the undulating Ngong Hills or take in the scenery within the Nairobi Arboretum. You can also go kitesurfing off one of the many beaches, do a quad bike safari in the northern Lewa conservancy, or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, undertake the Safaricom Marathon, which traverses 13km of unfenced wild territory in Lewa.

Eat your heart out

For many travellers, food is one of the highlights of visiting somewhere new, and Kenya’s cuisine is just as diverse as its scenery. There is no single dish which represents the country, but many ingredients feature regularly, including maize, millet and other cereals, regularly eaten with meat such as goat, and vegetables. You’ll definitely come across ugali - a dense porridge made from maize meal or flour - sukuma wiki (cooked collard greens) and githeri, a mix of maize and beans. There is a substantial Indian influence here too, so you’ll often find chapatis, samosas, and biryani on dining tables and in restaurants.

If access to excellent food is a deal breaker, you’re in luck. Kenyan cuisine is as diverse and interesting as its landscapes (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Future Proof

A modern, innovative country, Kenya is aiming to be at the forefront of sustainability and eco-responsibility. It is already home to Emboo, the first carbon negative safari camp in the Maasai Mara, and recently developed a seven-pillar wildlife strategy to involve communities in the protection of nature and ongoing tourism development. It is already a pioneer in conservation, supporting sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres. Kenya is also the regional ICT hub (information, communication and technology) for East Africa, meaning it has excellent connectivity, making it perfect for digital nomads who want to work while abroad.

Click here to experience these staggering landscapes for yourself, and for inspiration on other unmissable Kenyan experiences

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