From the glaciers on Mount Kenya to the bleached sands of the eastern Coast, lapped by the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, to the primitive aridity of Turkana and tropical savannah of the Mara, Kenya has one of the most varied ranges of habitat in the world and offers a wonderful variety of landscape with a rich culture and wildlife. In a single trip to Kenya you can experience tropical forests, beautiful beaches, deserts, and climb mountains.
Kenya is Africa’s most popular safari destination. With up to 10 national parks abounding with wildlife and plenty of bird and plant species, scenic highlands where hikers and mountain-climbers bask in dramatic views, centuries-old buildings and white sand beaches along the southern coast, a leg in Kenya is a must on your East Africa trip.
Kenya’s top attractions are its wilderness areas, cities, highlands, beaches, forest and deserts. There are about 10 national parks, a number of private protection areas, and large tracts of rangeland. You can opt for a safari in the wild, water sport at beaches and resorts, attend events and festivals, immerse yourself in ancient and urban subcultures, or go mountain climbing. The Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard, and elephant) can be found in most parks. For bird lovers, there are over 1000 species to whet your appetite.
The cities are cosmopolitan. Nairobi, the capital, is Kenya’s biggest and most modern, followed by Mombasa at the coast, Nakuru in the interior, and Kisumu at the shores of Lake Victoria. Typically, Kenya’s cities have rich urban cultures; the nightlife is fun, the presence of multiple nationalities ensures diversities, and the sights are great for photographs.
Straddled along the equator, Kenya’s climate is mainly tropical in the central and southern region, semi-arid or desert-like in the north, and temperate in the highlands of the Great River Valley. The day temperature averages between 20°C and 28°C, but it is warmer at the coast which is hot and humid all year.
Mount Kenya is the country’s highest point at 5,200 metres. Lake Victoria’s shores in the west are shared with Uganda and Tanzania. The Great Rift Valley, the greenest and best drained stretch of land, is the most populous and home to the biggest populations of wildlife.
Over 40 ethnic groupings co-exist within Kenya’s borders (covering a total of 224,961 square miles — twice the size of Nevada). They fall into three broad-categories; the Bantu-speaking groups make up roughly 65% of the population, the Nilo-Saharan groups make up about 32%, while 3% consist of the Afro-Asian groups.
Native cultures have been diluted by outside influences in most parts of the country. Swahili is the language of the market while English is the language of government. Both are the official national languages. In the more arid regions of the hard-to-access north, dominated by nomadic pastoral groups, traditional ways of life are largely intact.
Maize (corn) is the staple food of most Kenyans. It is ground into flour and prepared as porridge for breakfast, or ugali (maize/corn bread) for meals, normally served with beef or bean stew and vegetables. All kinds of continental and international cuisine can be found in Kenya’s cities and tourist towns.
Most people dress in the western-style in urban areas, however, dominant ethnic groups like the Kikuyu and Luo have adopted western culture more readily than others. Mainly the nomadic groups of the north, and in the southernly Mara region, retain their distinctive styles of dress and lifestyle.
Like in most African countries, oral culture predates literature, however, Kenya’s literary culture is among the busiest in Africa, after Nigeria and South Africa. Ngugi Wa Thiongo is Kenya’s best known author, though the country’s literary flag is currently carried by contemporary writers like Binyavanga Wainana and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.
Kenya is well known for its woodcarvings and colourful dress. Traditional jewellery, clothes, blankets, sandals, masks, headdress, sculpture and woodcarvings, paintings, and other forms of visual arts can be found in craft markets in every major city and tourist towns.
The music is a mix of international music and local sounds. Hiphop, europop, funk, rock, and reggae are popular in upscale spots, while sounds like Taraab, Benga, Genge, and other variants of modernised folk sounds are widely popular. Radios and hangouts play a medley of local and international sounds, but music from Tanzania, Uganda, and DR Congo is also popularly played.