Nairobi

Nairobi is the capital and largest city of Kenya. The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to “cold water”, the Maasai name of the Nairobi river, which in turn lent its name to the city. However, it is popularly known as the “Green City in the Sun” and is surrounded by several expanding villa suburbs. Residents of Nairobi are known as Nairobians.
Founded by the British in 1899 as a simple rail depot on the railway linking Mombasa to Uganda, the town quickly grew to become the capital of British East Africa in 1907, and eventually the capital of a free Kenyan republic in 1963. During Kenya’s colonial period, the city became a centre for the colony’s coffee, tea and sisal industry. Nairobi is also the capital of the Nairobi Province and of the Nairobi District. The city lies on the Nairobi River, in the south of the nation, and has an elevation of 1795 m above sea-level. Nairobi is the most populous city in East Africa, with a current estimated population of about 3 million. Nairobi is now one of the most prominent cities in Africa politically and financially. At 1,795 metres above sea level, Nairobi enjoys a moderate climate. Under the Köppen climate classification, Nairobi has a subtropical highland climate.
The altitude makes for some cool evenings, especially in the June/July season, when the temperature can drop to 10 °C (50 °F). The sunniest and warmest part of the year is from December to March, when temperatures average the mid-twenties during the day. The mean maximum temperature for this period is 24 °C (75 °F). There are two rainy seasons, but rainfall can be moderate. The cloudiest part of the year is just after the first rainy season, when, until September, conditions are usually overcast with drizzle.
As Nairobi is situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are minimal. The seasons are referred to as the wet season and dry season. The timing of sunrise and sunset varies little throughout the year for the same reason.

Mombasa

Height A.S.L. :
Sea Level

Seasonal Variation :
Little seasonal variation in temperatures, though May to September are slightly cooler. Humidity is fairly high throughout the year, particularly between December and August. April and May experience the heaviest rains

Precipitation :
Around 1,200 mm annually.

Temperatures :
28°C – 33°C (daytime maximum); 21°C – 25°C (nighttime minimum)

The City : As well as being Kenya’s second-largest city – after Nairobi – Mombasa’s coastal location on the Indian Ocean makes it a good base for visiting the beautiful nearby beaches to the north and south.

But even before heading for the sands, visitors to the area will find that the city has an atmospheric Old Town area and interesting traces of its long and diverse history. Mombasa is located on an island, connected to the mainland by a combination of two causeways, a bridge and a ferry. While it is not clear exactly how long the settlement has been here, its history has certainly been influenced by the Portuguese and the British colonials and flavored by visiting Omanis, Iranians and Somalis, amongst others. Its population of around one million is truly cosmopolitan, made up of peoples from many ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Despite its rich history, there are not many true historical ‘tourist’ sights here, although the famous Fort Jesus is a focus for visitors. Once a mighty fortress which featured in the city’s turbulent past, it is now a monument and a small but worthwhile museum.

The Old Town area is the place for towering mosques and temples, reflecting the town’s diversity. A casual stroll around town will reveal many traces of Mombasa’s previous colonizers. A profusion of Indian and other cuisines in various restaurants is also testimony to the diversity to be found here. For shoppers, the city offers some good choices, with woodcarvings and fabrics being among the favorite buys.

The Surrounding Area : Mombasa acts as a busy center for safaris, especially for the excellent Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, which can be visited either as day-trips or with the inclusion of an overnight stay. Combining these with the city and coast will give the visitor a mix of adventure and relaxation.

For beaches, the visitor has the choice of the nearby northern beaches such as Nyali, only ten minutes by car, or the more developed southern stretches of sand such as Diani. The activities on offer are what you would expect of beaches flanked by the beautiful, clear waters of the Indian Ocean: dhow trips, swimming, snorkeling and scuba all feature highly, to complement the less active pastime of sunbathing.

A city stay and safari and beach trips : Mombasa can provide its many visitors with all of these, a combination for a great holiday.

Maasai Mara National Reserve

Conservation Status :
National Reserve

Established :
1961

Location :
South-western Kenya, 5 hours by road from Nairobi

Size :
1,510 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
1,500 – 2,100 m

Seasonal Variation :
Dry season is from July – October, the most popular time for tourists.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall varies between 800 mm (East) and 1,200 mm (West). Most rain falls from March to May, with another short rainy season between November and December.

Temperatures :
Damp climate, daytime temperatures 30°C (85°F); night temperatures 15°C (60°F)

Activities :
Game drives for awe-inspiring wildlife-viewing, with the ‘Big Five’ all present and big cats very prevalent. The legendary ‘Great Migration’ and the Mara River crossing, with countless wildebeest to the fore, is a natural wonder. Hot-air balloon rides are highly recommended.

World-renowned as Kenya’s richest and densest wildlife reserve, the Maasai Mara is teeming with animals of all species. The sheer numbers are bewildering, beyond the imaginations of those who have yet to visit. The annual circular tour of migratory wildlife, between July and October, and taking in the Mara as well as the Serengeti in Tanzania, involves literally millions of animals. There can be 1.5 million wildebeest in the Mara at any one time, while at the other extreme, the endangered black rhino numbers only a few dozen. In between, there are antelope and zebra, gazelles, hippos, crocodiles, elephant, lions, leopard and buffalo, and many, many others. Predators, prey and scavengers all take their parts in a ritualistic play, making the reserve a true delight for wildlife viewing. Add in over 400 bird species, as well as a varied landscape, and you start to get the picture.

The culture of the welcoming and fascinating Maasai people, from whom the reserve takes its name, is another great reason to visit. Steeped in preciously guarded traditions, these vibrant people have evolved from fearsome warriors to peaceful pastoralists. The opportunities to learn about their family structures, initiation ceremonies, manyatta (living compounds) and many other thought-provoking aspects of their colorful culture, will further enrich the experience of any visitor to the region.

The Maasai Mara can be divided into distinct parts, each described briefly below.

Ngama Hills and the Eastern Plains : Being the nearest part of the reserve to Nairobi, it is no surprise that this area attracts the most visitors. The Ngama Hills provide a useful landmark in this part, with the lower ranges of Ol Opelalagonya and Ololoitikoshi to the southeast. The vegetation in these higher areas offers some sanctuary for the remaining and rare black rhino, though it is on the flatter plains where you’ll find animals in greater volumes: lion and cheetah, ostrich, eland and gazelle, plus the attraction of a healthy population of elephant.

Mara and Talek Rivers : Year-round water means a different type of wildlife and the Mara River and its tributary, the Talek, are the locations for hippo and crocodile populations. The Mara River is crossed several times each year by countless wildebeest, an event unsurpassed anywhere in Mother Nature’s calendar, as the migrant millions proceed on their annual circular procession. This is feast-time for the waiting crocodiles, indeed. The forests that flank the rivers provide good habitat for other species, too, with leopard, vervet monkeys, as well as a rich and unique birdlife which differs markedly from the rest of the park.

Maasai Mara Central Plains : Big cats are perhaps the main attraction in this area, with lions, cheetah and leopard to the fore. Mass gatherings of wildebeest and zebra dominate the plains between August and October, however and jackal, hyena and bat-eared fox are prevalent too.

The Mara Triangle : The Mara Triangle occupies the west of the Maasai Mara and could be called the “original” game reserve, as it was marked out as such in the 1940s. Wildlife here features the ‘Big Five’, big cats, itinerant wildebeest and zebra (in migration season), plus klipspringer antelope and, dominating the airspace, the imposing Verreaux eagle. The Oloololo Escarpment and the distinctive granite outcrops known as koppies provide dramatic topography in this area.

Lake Nakuru

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1961

Location :
5 Kms South of Nakuru city, 145 Kms Northwest of Nairobi.

Size :
188 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
1750 m

Seasonal Variation :
Lowest rainfall in January and February, temperatures constant throughout the year.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall around 930 mm, rains fall in all months, heaviest rainfall is April to May.

Temperatures :
Between 24°C and 27°C (daytime maximum); 8°C and 10°C (nighttime minimum). Low humidity.

Activities :
Small but popular, with a really rich biodiversity, Lake Nakuru annually attracts hundreds of thousands of human visitors. For them, the highlights are a fabulous birdlife, plus a decent population of both black and white rhinos, and many, many other animals.

Lake Nakuru National Park can be visited throughout the year and offers its many visitors a great variety of wildlife-viewing in a fairly compact setting. The lake itself is alkaline in composition, fed by three rivers and a number of springs. Lake Nakuru’s size varies wildly, both across the seasons and from year-to-year: at times, it was feared that it might dry up and disappear, though such fears have diminished – at least for now.

Birdlife varieties are truly outstanding, with at least 400 species recorded. Eurasian migratory birds add to the spectacle when they join the resident species between November and March, but birdwatchers will be rewarded at any time. Previously the lake was known for the huge flocks of flamingos which fed on the algae here. In recent years, perhaps due to the arrival of large numbers of white pelicans, the damage caused by the development of nearby Nakuru town and fluctuating water levels in the lake, the presence of the flamingos in great numbers has become less reliable. Nevertheless, despite the upheaval, these pink-tinged birds still congregate in sufficient numbers to provide a wonderful spectacle.

For many, seeing black and white rhino in the same park will be a special memory of any trip to East Africa – and Lake Nakuru can happily oblige. Successful breeding of both types, following their translocation in the 1990s, has resulted in a good number of each. Another rarity here, and another highlight, is the presence of the Rothschild’s giraffe. This is another species which has thrived since being brought into the park and Nakuru’s population is the largest in Kenya. A wealth of other mammal varieties is also on view, with a small hippo pod, buffalo, zebra, ostrich, jackal, hyena, gazelle, dik-dik, warthog, reedbuck and bushbuck.

Monkeys and havoc-wreaking baboons are present, too, but there are no elephant and a lion-sighting would be rare, indeed. As for other cats, leopards are occasionally seen in the southern park section.Vegetation-wise, the eastern shore hosts a forest of euphorbia, a mighty cactus-like tree which reaches heights of 15 meters. Acacia woodland characterizes much of the southern section, mixed with grassland, while the northern part has most traffic and least wildlife. Flamingo-viewing is best from the west shore of the lake, above which the Baboon Cliffs are a great viewpoint.

Amboseli National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1974 (previously a National Reserve, from 1968)

Location :
230 Kms South of Nairobi, via Namanga

Size :
392 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
1200 – 1400 m

Seasonal Variation :
Peak wildlife viewing is at the end of the rainy seasons.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall between 300 – 500 mm, spread between two rainy seasons: April – May, and November – December.

Temperatures :
Hot and dry, between 24°C and 33°C (daytime maximum); 14°C and 17°C (nighttime minimum).

Activities :
Big game, with a large ‘big-tusked’ elephant population, are the highlights ; some big cats, zebra, wildebeest, impala and many more are present. A varied birdlife. Stunning setting beneath mighty Kilimanjaro – a wildlife watcher’s and photographer’s dream location.

Under the watchful eye of Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak, this small park combines dusty savanna with a large swampland area to provide its visitors with a great game-viewing location. Topographical highlights include swampland, the aptly-named Observation Hill and a (usually) dried-out lake. Enkongo Narok Swamp takes its water from the snow-melt streams of mighty Kilimanjaro to provide a crucial drinking-hole for mammals during the park’s long dry seasons. Ol Okenya Swamp is a favorite for elephants’ feeding and bathing.

Observation Hill is of volcanic origin and conveniently serves as an excellent viewpoint over the plains and marshes and the always-fascinating animal inhabitants. At the west side of Amboseli is the giant lake of the same name, usually devoid of water, yet still a sight in itself. When the waters do arrive at the lake… so does the wildlife.

Away from the lake, of particular interest to elephant lovers will be the giant tuskers of Amboseli, who largely escaped the ravages of the ruthless poaching which took place elsewhere in the 1980s. Indeed, this is often cited as being the best place for elephant-viewing in Kenya. But the predatory animals are less numerous here, as many were hunted by the Maasai following the tribespeople’s expulsion from the park in the 1960s. All the same, this beautiful park does support some lion, cheetah, jackal and hyena. And there are plenty of herbivores, with giraffe, hippo, wildebeest, zebra and gazelle to the fore, accompanied by impala and many more. Ol Tukai, the park’s headquarters, attracts mischievous baboons and monkeys.

Birders will be spoilt for choice, with the different geographical diversities host to a wide variety of winged beasts. The swamps attract waders such as herons, pelicans and cranes, while smaller varieties like lapwings and jacanas stick to the shallows. Elsewhere, the wide plains are home to such favorites as the yellow-necked spur-fowl, secretary bird and the wonderfully named white-bellied go-away bird. Raptors include fish eagle, martial eagle and the pygmy falcon.

Despite past disputes with the government, the tall, proud Maasai can still be seen bringing their herds of cattle into the park during the dry season

Tsavo East National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1948

Location :
Southeast Kenya. Mtito Andei entrance gate is located at 230 Kms Southeast of Nairobi; Voi Gate is 160 Kms Northwest of Mombasa.

Size :
13,747 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
200 m – 1,000 m

Seasonal Variation :
Less dramatically seasonal than other parks. Dry season is between July and October, a good time to see wildlife herds as they gather around the park’s rivers and various waterholes. Rain falls most heavily in March to April and November to December.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall is around 600 mm.

Temperatures :
27°C to 33°C (daytime maximum); 18°C to 21°C (nighttime minimum).

Activities :
Wildlife viewing, especially for the ‘Big Five’, excellent bird-watching, rock and cave paintings, diverse landscape including spectacular rocks and river habitats, as well as the world’s largest lava flow and Mudanda Rock – a smaller version of Australia’s famous Ayers Rock.

Together with its western neighbor, Tsavo West, this is Kenya’s largest national park and also its second-oldest. The eastern part attracts much fewer visitors than Tsavo West and as well as adding to the park’s already ‘truly wild’ atmosphere, this can allow opportunities for game-viewing in near-solitude.

Humans are scarce here, due to water supply issues. Wildlife, however, is plentiful. Visitors, who often visit the park from coastal retreats, can expect to encounter elephant, buffalo, cheetah, hippo and crocodile, as well as oryx, hirola and gerenuk. Sightings of the country’s small number of black rhino are more common in the Tsavo West area, however. Of particular interest are the Tsavo lions, which have no manes.

Landscape here consists mainly of open plains, though the quartzite Mudanda Rock is an impressive, stand-out feature, not far from the main highway and a good observation-post for the waterhole below. Tsavo East is also characterized by its two rivers – the Galana and the Voi – which attract wildlife in season

As the former wends its way towards the Indian Ocean, flanked by palms, it hosts the Lugard Falls (which in reality are rapids than a waterfall) and some great viewpoints for hippo- and crocodile-watching. The Voi is known for its Aruba Dam, which was constructed to ensure a permanent source of water, thus guaranteeing a good selection of water -birds and mammals, unless there is severe drought – not unknown in what, after all, is an otherwise arid environment.

The huge Yatta Plateau, an ancient lava flow, lies to the north of the Galana River and the area beyond that is largely unvisited. Birdwatchers will not be disappointed here, with francolin, golden pipit and Somali ostrich just a few amongst the many, many species present.
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Tsavo West National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1948

Location :
Southeast Kenya. Mtito Andei entrance gate is located at 230 Kms Southeast of Nairobi.

Size :
7,065 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
150 m – 1,200 m

Seasonal Variation :
Dry season is best for game-viewing, especially January, February and August – October. Rains fall in April, May and November.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall is around 500 mm.

Temperatures :
27°C to 33°C (daytime maximum); 18°C to 21°C (nighttime minimum).

Activities :
Wildlife viewing, in a fairly compact area. Black rhino are more frequently encountered here than in Tsavo East, thanks to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. Visiting the Mzima Springs and the Shetani Lava Flow. Birdwatching is also a highlight here, with 600 recorded species.

Smaller than its partner, Tsavo East, Tsavo West is also more developed. It enjoys a wide variety of landscape including flat plains, volcanic cones, dense bush, and lava flows. Nearly all of the visitors to Tsavo West restrict their time to the ‘developed part’ which occupies just one-seventh of the total park area. Within the park, visitors will find the renowned Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, built in the 1980s as a protection against an increasing threat of poaching.

Although there only around 60 of these precious, endangered species here, the sanctuary still represents one of the best chances of seeing them in the whole of the country. Other wildlife highlights in Tsavo West are elephant, lion, cheetah, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, zebra, gazelle, impala, baboon and dik-dik, though the dense vegetation can at times make the animals more elusive than elsewhere. An incredible 600 species of bird are another attraction, with migrants visiting mainly in October and November. Frequently seen birds include fish eagles, pied kingfishers and darters.

The park is also particularly well-known for some interesting topographical attractions. The Shetani Lava Flow is the product of comparatively recent volcanic activity (only 200 years ago) and offers a bleak, barren landscape near the Chyulu Hills. More evidence of Mother Earth’s instability is provided by the Chiamu Crater, an almost perfect ash cone which can offer tremendous views over the surrounding plains. A huge favorite with park visitors are the Mzima Springs, where naturally filtrated and therefore crystal-clear water feeds a number of pools, providing residence for hippos and crocodiles and attracting frequent visits from antelope and other species. There’s even an underwater viewing area, allowing visitors a unique perspective of some interesting fishing. The hippos are a bit shy, these days, preferring to bathe away from prying eyes!

Lake Naivasha National Park

Conservation Status :
RAMSAR site. Various wildlife sanctuaries can be found around the lake.

Established :
Listed as a RAMSAR site in 1995.

Location :
90 Kms Northwest of Nairobi.

Size :
130 Km² (although this is highly variable, due to fluctuating water levels).

Height A.S.L. :
1884 m

Seasonal Variation :
Rainy season is April and May. Low humidity year-round.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall around 700 mm.

Temperatures :
Between 22°C and 2°7C (daytime maximum); 8°C and 11°C (nighttime minimum).

Activities :
Game-viewing is superb, particularly in some of the wildlife sanctuaries around the lake. Excellent birdwatching is a feature, some of Kenya’s best . Boat trips and expeditions by bicycle or on horse are possibilities. Elsamere, formerly the home of Joy Adamson (‘Born Free’) and now a museum and center for field studies, can be found on the southern shore. The landscape itself is varied and beautiful.

Travelling along the Rift Valley from Nairobi, freshwater Lake Naivasha often presents visitors with their first chance to experience the country’s amazing wildlife. Neither the setting nor the animals here are likely to disappoint. Two main rivers feed the almost circular lake from the north and the freshness of the waters is attributed to an underground outflow, as yet undiscovered. Although not designated as a national park or reserve, there is certainly no wildlife shortage and a few sanctuaries around the lake provide great opportunities to see them.

The lake itself has a hippo population and the occasional crocodile can be seen. On the eastern shore, Crescent Island’s unmistakable half-moon shape is the location for a popular game sanctuary, which is home to wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, gazelle, impala and waterbuck. The hippo can be seen here and huge (but harmless!) pythons are another feature of the island.

On the opposite shore lies Green Crater Lake, a tiny crater-lake colored green by the algae that tempt a number of lesser flamingos to visit and stay. Resident hyena and leopard are rarely seen, but various monkeys, waterbuck, bushbuck and eland are all prevalent. Birdlife here is rich and varied. Just to the south of Green Crater Lake is the larger Lake Oloiden, itself a haven for birds and animals, and to its west is the Oserian Wildlife Sanctuary which occupies former ranchland. Here there is a small but easily seen number of white rhino and a variety of other species brought in from elsewhere in Kenya: wildebeest, Grevy’s zebra, topi and oryx all fall into this category. With some luck, you might spot a leopard or cheetah here.

Naturalist Joy Adamson is known to many from the book ‘Born Free’ and you can find out about her life and work at Elsamere, her former home, which is now a museum and field center, located on Naivasha’s southern shore. Enjoying some afternoon tea here may briefly take you back to the colonial times!

Hell’s Gate National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1984

Location :
100 Kms Northwest of Nairobi.

Size :
68 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
1,500 m – 2,200 m

Seasonal Variation :
Two rainy seasons, March to April (‘long’ rains) and November to December (‘short’ rains). Best wildlife-viewing is June to October.

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall between 200 mm and 700 mm.

Temperatures :
Between 20°C and 30°C (daytime maximum).

Activities :
Game-viewing, especially on foot, cycling, watching raptors nesting, visiting hot springs, Olkaria Geothermal Station, gorge-walking – all within a relatively small area

Hell’s Gate is one of the few places in Kenya to offer its visitors the chance to get even closer to the animals by taking a walk, climbing or cycling through a spectacular landscape of cliffs, jagged gorges, volcanic rock and geothermal activity. The park is as exciting and dramatic as its name, which was given to it by two 19th Century explorers after the basaltic cliffs that square up to each other like giant gateposts.

Grazing animals are plentiful in the dry season, with zebra, giraffe, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, impala, dik-dik, bushbuck, klipspringer, common duiker and buffalo all present on the rolling grasslands which make up most of the park. There are fewer predators in this small park, with lions and leopard being very infrequent visitors, although sighting a cheetah (or at least its tracks) is always a possibility.

Servals, spotted hyena and civets are numbered amongst the smaller carnivores at Hell’s Gate, while baboons and vervet monkeys occupy the trees. Hell’s Gate is famed amongst birdwatchers for its many raptors, the most notable being the Verreaux’s eagle, steppe buzzard and peregrine falcon, though the once-present Lammergeyer vulture may have gone from here forever. But there are plenty of other bird species of interest, such as ostrich, guinea fowl, hoopoe and dozens more.
The narrow Hell’s Gate Gorge lies within the park, with distinctive red cliffs and two volcanic plugs. The first of these is the Fischer Tower, an impressive 25m stack believed by the Maasai to be a Maasai girl, turned to stone for her disobedience. Of further interest here are the giant, rodent-like rock hyraxes, scuttling around the tower looking for food. Even larger than Fischer Tower is the second plug, known as Central Tower, but also called ‘Embarta’, or ‘the horse.’

Located at the east side of the park, is the Obsidian Cave, where quickly cooled lava flows has left an impressive black, glassy rock surface. Also impressive, but in a different way, is the Ol Karia Geothermal Power Station, which taps into the 300 degree Celsius steam some 1,500 meters below the surface to produce an incredible 25‰ of the country’s electricity through its huge turbines. It is expected that this output will increase in the future.

Lake Magadi

Location :
2 hours’ drive (110 Kms) South of Nairobi, close to the Tanzanian border

Size :
100 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
630 m

Seasonal Variation :
‘Short’ rainy season (25% of rainfall) in October – December; ‘long’ rainy season (75% of rainfall) April to May.

Precipitation :
Semi-arid, around 500 mm annual rainfall.

Temperatures :
One of Kenya’s hottest locations, with temperatures rising at times to 43°C

Activities :
The lake itself, nestling in its location at the lowest point of the Great Rift Valley and which is the world’s second-largest provider of soda, is a highlight. Bird-watching is popular here, particularly for waders.

Shimmering hazily in the hot African sun, Magadi is in fact the most south-lying of the lakes in the Kenyan Rift Valley. This is one of Kenya’s hottest and driest places, nearly 1000 meters below Nairobi’s altitude, so visitors should come well-protected against the heat and the glare produced by the white, salty surface of the alkaline lake.

Magadi is the Maasai word for soda, and the dried soda which is used in the making of glass is an important mineral for the Kenyan economy. The common salt gathered here is purified, both for human and animal consumption. The lake is fed constantly by a variety of hot springs, ensuring an endless supply of briny water which obligingly evaporates, leaving its treasured deposits. At times the depth of the salt marooned on the surface can extend to over 30 meters. Occasionally, (after the rainy seasons) the lake can take on a distinctive pinkish hue.

Although the Magadi area is a harsh environment, it nevertheless enjoys a good reputation for birdlife. Waders are especially prominent, especially the flamingos who gather in numbers at the lake’s southern end. Storks and spoonbills can also be seen here, as well as herons. The swamplands at the southern end of Magadi, are fresh water and therefore popular with many other bird species.

The surrounding terrain is mainly open bush, where Maasai tribesmen tend to their herds of livestock. Behind the lake rises the Shombole volcano and also prominent is the dramatic Nguruman Escarpment, which ascends to some 2,300 meters.

Mount Kenya National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park (upper slopes); Forest Reserve (‘middle’ slopes)

Established :
1997 (declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Location :
140 Kms Northeast of Nairobi

Height A.S.L. :
4,985 meters (accessible peak). Two higher peaks, only accessible to fully experienced and fully equipped mountaineers, are 5,199 and 5,189 meters respectively

Seasonal Variation :
Ascent is possible all year-round, but the weather here is very unpredictable. February and August are considered the most dependable months. January and July are also good

Precipitation :
Rainfall is very variable, according to season, altitude and slope. Annual precipitation can reach 2,500 mm on the south-east slopes. All climbers should expect some rain at some point on their ascent

Temperatures :
Temperatures are also very variable, according to altitude. Expect between 5°C and 15°C (daytime maximum, on the mountain itself); below freezing (nighttime minimum, at the summit). Daytime temperatures can reach 26°C on the surrounding plains.

Soaring skyward to well over 5,000 meters, Mount Kenya’s twin rugged peaks truly dominate the surrounding landscape. Africa’s second-highest mountain has a year-round snow-cap and is laced with spectacular retreating glaciers, making it a true photogenic star – at least when the weather is clear! To the local Maasai and Kikuyu peoples, Mount Kenya is known as the ‘home of the Gods,’ a special and venerated place. To foreign visitors, it represents a challenge and each year many thousands reach the highest accessible summit of Point Lenana (4,985meters). For the less energetic visitors to this region, the varying landscapes on the lower, snow-free slopes offer excellent trekking, through moorland and heath, bamboo and forest.

For those wishing to make the summit ascent, a number of routes will take you to the top. At three days minimum, Naro Moru is the shortest and steepest route. Chogoria takes at least five days and is considered the most scenic, while Sirimon approaches from the northwest and is the driest. (While other routes are possible, they require permits and are seldom used.) This is no Sunday afternoon stroll, and altitude sickness and freezing temperatures demand a good level of fitness and preparation. An extra day taken on the ascent will reduce the chances of altitude sickness and increase the chances of summiting this mighty mountain.

A number of huts and camps are provided on the routes for climbers, but accommodation here is certainly far from luxurious. As well as the varied vegetation, with giant lobelias and heathers, the landscape on the slopes is characterized by a number of small tarns (lakes) which catch the frequent rain showers. Perhaps surprisingly, there is also wildlife to be seen on Mount Kenya’s slopes. Buffalo and elephant are not uncommon on some parts of the mountain; eland, klipspringer and zebra can all be seen, and the occasional panther or lion may break cover, too.

Duiker antelope are to be found at surprisingly high altitudes and the three-horned chameleon is definitely worth looking out for. Exhilarating views, a sense of real achievement, wonderful landscapes, interesting vegetation and a bit of wildlife-viewing… all in all, an ascent of Mount Kenya will be an unforgettable experience, one to treasure forever.

Aberdare National Park

Conservation Status :
National Park

Established :
1950

Location :
160 Kms North-west of Nairobi

Size :
766 Km²

Height A.S.L. :
1,800 – 4,000 m

Seasonal Variation :
Many of the higher tracks are impassable during the main rainy seasons which occur between March and May, and November and December

Precipitation :
Annual rainfall varies between 1,000 mm (North-western slopes) and 3,000 mm (South-eastern side).

Temperatures :
High altitude means lower temperatures than lower parks, misty and damp year-round. Nightimes can be cool.

Activities :
Game-viewing, all the ‘Big Five’ are present here, particularly elephant. The mountainous landscape is a highlight in itself and for those staying here overnight, nighttime game-viewing offers something a bit different. The Afro-Alpine moors are home to some interesting species of plants, such as giant lobelias and colorful heathers.

Towering peaks, high moorlands, deep ravines and spectacular waterfalls… Africa’s highest National Park can certainly differentiate itself from its lowland rivals. Named after a former president of the Royal Geographical Society, the park was created to offer some protection to the lofty Aberdare mountain range, the high point of which is at Ol Doinyo Lesatima (meaning ‘Bull-calf mountain’ in the Maasai language) which stretches to 4,000 meters. While this very different topography is a wonder of nature in its own right, there is still plenty of wildlife to look for at Aberdare.
A healthy elephant population of around 2,000 animals guarantees sightings of this huge mammal. The less numerous black rhino is resident here, with around fifty of the species – small, but nevertheless a significant figure for this gravely endangered animal. Another rarity in Aberdare is the nocturnal and elusive mountain bongo, a reddish-brown, horned antelope. Lions, leopard, golden cat, giant forest hog, baboons, black and white colobus monkeys are all viewable inhabitants in the park.

Spectacular waterfalls are another particular feature of this high-altitude park, with the Karura Falls being the favorite as they take a 300-meter plunge down the rock-face in three distinct stages. Two famous accommodation options within the park are located in the lower ‘Salient’ area of Aberdare. Called the Ark and the Treetops, they provide perfect locations for game-viewing, each having its own waterhole. It was while staying in the Treetops that Princess Elizabeth awoke as the uncrowned Queen of England, as her father had passed away during the night.

Amongst the myriad varieties of birdlife – over 250 different species have been recorded here – visitors can reasonably expect to see some interesting forest and montane-dwellers. Specific bird highlights are the Jackson’ francolin, plus a host of raptors such as eagles, sparrow-hawks and goshawks.