From the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya to the arid sands of the Chalbi Desert, Kenya is an expansive place to explore. So, whether you’re into safaris, trekking or coastal recreation, here are the top unmissable attractions in Kenya.
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Make a stop at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and adopt an elephant, meet orphaned animals and learn more about conservation. The conservancy in Nairobi National Park is open to the public for one hour every day, from 11am to noon. During this time, you can watch the orphans arrive for their midday mud bath and be fed.
The Aberdare Range, north of Nairobi, soars to heights of 4,000m (13,120ft) and drops into verdant V-shaped valleys. On the gentle eastern slopes, rainforest gives way to bamboo groves and moorland, and the landscape is teeming with wildlife, from elephants and black rhinos to leopards and the rare African golden cat. Aberdare National Park is also home to the highest waterfall in Kenya, Karuru, which drops 273m (896ft).
Lake Turkana, the largest alkaline lake and largest permanent desert lake in the world, has so much history that it was named a Unesco World Heritage site – one of seven in Kenya. Here, fossils of some of humankind’s earliest ancestors have been uncovered, including some that are millions of years old. In the middle of the lake, Central Island – also called Crocodile Island – is a vapour-emitting active volcano.
Ol Pejeta is the largest black-rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and is home to the last two remaining northern white rhinoceros, Fatu and Najin. A popular safari destination, the conservancy is also home to the rest of the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant and leopard) as well as the endangered chimpanzee.
Visit the oldest and best-preserved place in Swahili culture and discover distinctive architecture and labyrinthine streets that have been inhabited for more than 700 years. This Unesco World Heritage site is built with coral stone and mangrove wood and was once an important port, historically associated with the slave trade and exports of ivory. Take a ride on a dhow (a traditional wooden sailing boat); try halwa (a jelly-like sweet dessert); and visit the Lamu Fort.
From Malindi to Diani, the Kenyan coast has beautiful white-sand beaches from which you can watch lovely sunsets. Malindi, founded in the 13th century, has been known as Little Italy since the 1980s thanks to its large Italian migrant community, whereas Diani, south of Mombasa, is known for its coral reefs, 17km (11mi) of sands and kitesurfing.
The indigenous Ngare Ndare Forest lies in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Here, 200-year-old trees expand into the canopy, and you can take a walk through the treetops – across a 450m (1,476ft) long suspension bridge 10m (33ft) above the ground – or camp, hike, dive, or swim in the chilly natural pools.
This massive shield volcano lies in the Great Rift Valley and is one of the largest calderas in the world. Make your way to the viewpoint (the highest point on the caldera rim) and you can see Lake Nakuru shimmering on the horizon. You can then take a hiking trail down to the caldera floor.
The highest mountain in Kenya – and second highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro – rises to a peak of 5,200m (17,000ft). You can climb Mount Kenya by using any of the routes, some of the most popular being Naro Moru, Sirimon and Chogoria. Although getting to the summit is an activity for seasoned mountain climbers, lower peaks remain achievable for those less experienced.
See the magic that is the Great Rift Valley. This ridge system, bordered by steep escarpments to east and west, runs the length of Kenya and contains active volcanoes, a series of lakes and national parks. Soak in the views from the Rift Valley Viewpoint, an hour outside Nairobi, and make sure to explore the many natural points of interest here.
Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world and the largest lake on the continent, is shared between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, with 3,219km (2,000mi) of coastline. This freshwater lake expands to the horizon, and is known in Kenya as Nam Lolwe (body of endless water). It’s home to more than 200 fish species; try a fresh catch with ugali – a polenta-like dish commonly made with maize flour.
The Central Highlands are a fertile eastern plateau covering Mount Kenya, the Aberdare Range and the Samburu Game Reserve. Filled with coffee and tea shambas (plantations), this is the agricultural heartland of the nation. A visit to the Kenyan Highlands is incomplete without visiting one of these farms, where you can make your own blend.
Known for its geothermal activity, Hell’s Gate National Park in the Great Rift Valley is the perfect place to spot wildlife, rock climb or cycle. There are also three campsites that provide a chance to sleep under the stars. The park also includes the Maasai Cultural Centre, which promotes an understanding of Maasai traditions.
This archaeological site near the Indian Ocean lies two hours north of Mombasa. The ruins, which include a palace, mosque and fortified wall, are of a town that prospered from the 11th century until it was abandoned in the 17th century. Lying within a 18ha (45-acre) site in the primeval Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Gedi is an unmissable insight into Kenyan history.
Chloe Thrussell contributed additional reporting to this article.