Breathtaking Natural Landscapes in Kenya

The Unesco-badged coastal town of Lamu offers beauty by the beach
The Unesco-badged coastal town of Lamu offers beauty by the beach | © Godong / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Nandika Macharia

Twice the size of Nevada and sitting astride the equator, Kenya is as vast as it is picturesque. Travelling across this beautiful country offers many breathtaking landscapes – mountains, plateaus and gorges – that guarantee incredible wildlife sightings.

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The Great Rift Valley

Part of the East African Rift System, which cuts through the continent from Ethiopia to Mozambique, the Great Rift Valley divides Kenya in two. This massive natural trench is an astounding sight; bordered by steep escarpments, the valley floor is home to active shield volcanoes and a series of lakes. It exists on the divergent boundary between the Nubian and Somali tectonic plates, which – in 10m years – will split entirely and cause a new ocean basin to form.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is on the floor of the Great Rift Valley in Narok County. An expansive protected area covering 1,510sqkm (580sqmi), the reserve is named in honour of the Maasai people, who are its ancestral inhabitants. It is also home to lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephants, which make it one of the most important wildlife conservation areas on the continent. As far as the eye can see, there is a flat expanse of grassland dotted with acacia trees, thorn bushes and beaten paths. Although serene, walking is strictly prohibited; you can only traverse the Mara in the safety of a four-wheeler.

Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya reaches into the heavens, standing impossibly tall as the second-highest peak in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. Even if you don’t reach the summit, a climber of moderate fitness – with the help of an experienced guide – will be able to scale the lesser peaks such as Point Lenana (4,985m/16,355ft). From here, you’ll still be able to experience the incredible panoramic views for which this craggy mountain is known. For experienced mountain climbers, the peaks of Batian (5,199m/17,057ft) and Nelion (5,188m/17,021ft) await.

Kericho

While driving through Kericho, you’ll see vast tracts of land where the lion’s share of Kenya’s tea comes from. Here, miles and miles of undulating landscape is covered in a thick carpet of green. Kericho is ideal for tea growing thanks to its tropical climate, proximity to the equator and volcanic red soils.

The coast

Fringing the Indian Ocean, the Kenyan coast is home to some resplendent beaches. In Mombasa, the stretch between Diani Beach and Tiwi Beach is pristine: all white sands, azure waters and blue skies. The landscape here is dotted with palms, which cast a delicate shade with their fronds. Some of the most renowned luxury hotels in the world are also here. Other coastal towns, such as Malindi and Watamu, are blessed with vibrant coral reefs, and marine parks and conservation areas dot the region.

Chyulu Hills

This mountain range forms an impressive 100km (62mi) long volcanic field in eastern Kenya. Traces of solid, black lava are everywhere and the fertile volcanic ground is home to rolling hills, an abundance of trees and lush vegetation. The Chyulu Hills is also a wildlife paradise, so you are likely to spot buffalo, elephants, eland, bushbuck and a host of reptiles.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Home to thousands of flamingos, this national park has huge ecological diversity. The landscape has several habitats ranging from the lake itself to neighbouring escarpments and picture-perfect ridges. Bird watchers and hikers will find this park a fulfilling experience. Game drives are also a well-loved option in the park, with the chance to see monkeys, zebras and rhinoceroses.

Aberdare National Park

The sweeping views of the 160km (100mi) long Aberdare Range are spectacular. Peaks soar up to 3,500m (11,500ft) above sea level and valleys fall and rise; between them, you’ll find the longest waterfall in the country, Karuru Falls, at 273m (895ft). The park is full of wildlife, including elephants, buffalos, lions, elands, sykes and colobus monkeys. As you climb to higher altitudes through the bamboo belt, you are likely to spot a giant hog or, perhaps, the elusive bongo antelope or leopard.

Hell’s Gate National Park

Named after the intense geothermal activity in the area, Hell’s Gate National Park sits in Naivasha, a 90-minute drive from Nairobi. The landscape is spectacularly rugged with stark rock towers, water-gouged gorges and towering cliffs. Here you will see spewing plumes of geothermal steam. Activities in the area include a natural spa, mountain biking and rock climbing. The first geothermal power station in Africa, Olkaria, is also within the park.

Lamu

Lamu is a small coastal town in Mombasa that is both beautiful to behold and steeped in history. It is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Kenya, dating back to the 1370s. A Unesco World Heritage site, Lamu is an island where cars are not allowed. The only mode of transport through the distinctly narrow alleyways is by donkey. The landscape is all sea and mangrove and the nearby Manda Bay is a haven for snorkelling due to its rich corals.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Scenic Ol Pejeta is nestled between the Aberdare Range and the foothills of Mount Kenya in a fertile area called Nanyuki. The conservancy is made of 36,500ha (90,000 acres) of land and is a sanctuary for black rhinos, elephants and other wildlife. The landscape leaves you with little doubt that you are on hallowed ground. Although the 2018 loss of the world’s only male white rhino, Sudan, who lived in Ol Pejeta, has been profoundly felt, the sanctuary remains home to the largest population of black rhinos in East Africa.

Chloe Thrussell contributed additional reporting to this article.

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