- 1 Week
Ideal for those with limited time, this classic safari route brings you face to face with the continent’s most charismatic creatures. To do it in a week, you'll need to fly between the three destinations. Safari njema – have a good trip!
Begin in Nairobi. Kenya’s (in)famous capital is not without charm – track down endangered giraffes, orphaned elephants and four of the Big Five set against a backdrop of not-so-distant skyscrapers. Plan on one full day, then fly from the capital's Wilson Airport to the Masai Mara National Reserve. Between July and October, the Mara hosts the annual wildebeest migration, one of the greatest wildlife concentrations on earth, but it's worth visiting any time. Three days is a minimum; spend four if you can.
From Maasailand fly, possibly via Nairobi, to Amboseli National Park, where you can get closer to elephants than almost anywhere else in Africa. From here, the views of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, are without rival. After two nights, you'll fly back to Nairobi, wondering why you're not staying longer.
Big Five & the Best of the Parks
- 4 Weeks
Kenya has some of the best national parks and reserves in Africa and seeing the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo) is something of a mantra for many first-time visitors to Africa. With three weeks to cover all this territory, you could easily get around in your own rented vehicle.
Many Kenyan safaris begin in Nairobi and this one's no exception. You can see four of the Big Five in much-underrated Nairobi National Park, before heading north to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, up on Laikipia Plateau – it's the closest place to Nairobi where you can see the Big Five and, at last count, they had 111 black rhinos. Ol Pejeta has plenty of organised activities to get you lion-tracking, cycling within sight of rhinos or simply walking out into the wild. Stay for at least three days to make the most of it.
Before leaving Kenya's Central Highlands, allocate a week for one of East Africa's most rewarding adventures – the trek to the summit of Mt Kenya, Africa's second-highest peak, will leave you gasping for both air and superlatives. A roughly southwesterly trajectory takes you down to Lake Nakuru National Park, one of Kenya's most compact and excellent parks for buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino.
A loop down to Kenya's far southwest takes you onto one of Africa's most celebrated terrains with the Masai Mara National Reserve, a wildlife epic. Allow at least three days, preferably more, to explore the reserve and consider a few extra days in a luxurious tented camp in one of the surrounding conservancies. It's a long day's drive back to Nairobi, with another half day to Amboseli National Park, home to lions, cheetahs and elephants in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro.
From Amboseli it's a short hop to wildlife- and wilderness-rich Tsavo West National Park, which is home to all the Big Five – see them in one day and you’ve hit the safari jackpot. Close to the southern fringes of Tsavo West, Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary is also good for the Big Five, before a visit to the outstanding Tsavo East National Park.
From here you can head down the highway to the ancient Swahili port of Mombasa, where you can either fly straight home, or start a whole new journey exploring the Kenyan coast.
Sun, Surf & Swahili
- 3 Weeks
Whether you’re interested in exploring the remaining vestiges of Swahili culture or simply kicking back on the beach for days on end, don’t miss the chance to explore Kenya’s sun-drenched coast. Three weeks is a minimum for this journey, which can be made on public transport, but you could take far longer if you find a beach you never want to leave. Check the security situation before setting out.
First explore the coastal gateway of Mombasa, one of the truly great port cities on earth and the essence of East Africa. It gets steaming hot here, so after a few days your first stop heading south should be Tiwi Beach, a tranquil white-sand paradise popular with independent travellers. Just down the road, you can head on to the package-holiday destination of Diani Beach for a taste of the full-on resort experience with plenty of water sports thrown in.
Near the Tanzanian border, Funzi and Wasini Islands provide a dose of unspoilt coastal life; on the latter, Mkwiro is somewhere close to paradise. These islands also afford easy access to the excellent Kisite Marine National Park. Whether you spot crocodiles along the banks of mangrove-lined rivers or dolphins crashing through the surf, a visit to the marine park is a wonderful complement to Kenya’s terrestrial wildlife destinations. Offshore, humpback whales are a possibility from August to October. A trip in a traditional dhow is also a must. Allow at least a week in this area.
Heading north back on the coastal trail, make a quick stop in the charming town of Kilifi before pressing on to Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, one of the largest remaining tracts of indigenous coastal forest in East Africa. It has prolific birdlife, forest elephants and the golden-rumped elephant shrew.
Further north are the ruins of Gede, an ancient Swahili city dating back to the 13th century. Another historic destination along the Swahili coast is Malindi, a 14th-century trading post that’s now one of the country’s leading beach destinations for Italian holidaymakers. It has bucketloads of charm once you get beyond the beach.
This itinerary ends at the wonderful Lamu Archipelago, a veritable tropical paradise and Swahili heritage gem.
Rift Valley & Wetlands
- 2 Weeks
Kenya's Rift Valley ranks among Africa’s defining geological marvels. To complete this itinerary in two weeks, you'll need your own set of wheels. You're covering a lot of places, but many are quite close together.
Begin near Nairobi at the Olepolos Country Club, contemplating the Rift's glory while nursing a Tusker. Drive north to, and then climb, Mt Longonot, one of the Rift’s prettiest vantage points, and walk amid the dramatic rock forms of Hell's Gate National Park. Allow a couple of days around here. Then it’s an easy hop to Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo; spend a further two days here.
Take the loop through the Cherangani Hills to the lovely Saiwa Swamp National Park, a real wetland treat.
Heading south, explore the lush Kakamega Forest Reserve, then pass through Kisumu on your way to Mfangano Island, arguably Lake Victoria's most rewarding island escape – plan on spending a couple of nights resting from life on the African road. Finally, visit tiny Ruma National Park, a rarely visited gem. From here you can either make for the Masai Mara or head down into Tanzania.
- 3 Weeks
This adventurous trail winds through the barren but beguiling landscape around Lake Turkana. You could take forever if you try to explore the area by public transport – rent a 4WD with a driver to get around.
The eastern gateway to this region is Isiolo. As you make your way north, the Matthews Range is great for walkers. Back on the road, Marsabit is a dusty tribal centre, home to a fine national park, and is a quintessentially northern Kenyan outpost.
Take the western loop to Turkana via North Horr, heading for the tiny lakeside settlement of Loyangalani, a base for trips into even more remote parts. From here the trail leads south again, passing all kinds of scenic zones and the stopover towns of South Horr and Baragoi. It’s worth stopping for a couple of days in Maralal to replenish supplies and search for traces of Wilfred Thesiger.
If the remote north has you under its spell, head up to the other side of Turkana, passing through the lush western area around Marich Pass to reach sweltering Lodwar and the lovely lakeshore at Eliye Springs.