Whilst Kenya is only three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and only eight hours flying time, it is a million miles away from the UK in most other respects. Few other countries are able to offer the sheer diversity of habitats which range from the baking hot desert terrains found around Lake Turkana in the north, to the permanent snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya and its alpine meadows on the lower slopes, the savannah grassland, equatorial forests, coral reef, tropical beaches, extinct volcanoes – the list is endless. Kenya is, not surprisingly, a wildlife enthusiast’s dream and still holds the world record for the most number of bird species recorded in one country in a single day!
The Safari was born in Kenya – the Swahili word for a journey. The Masai Mara, over 1,000 square miles of world famous National Park, contains Africa’s largest population of lion in addition to large quantities of elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo which go to make up the ‘Big Five’. It is also the end point of what is generally regarded as one of the world’s most fabulous wildlife spectacles – the annual migration of over 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras from the Serengeti plains to the lush grasslands of the Mara which usually takes place between June and September.
The country’s diverse geography means that the temperature, rainfall and humidity vary widely, but generally the climate is warm and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the north and North-East. The undulating plateau of Western Kenya is generally hot and fairly humid with the highest rainfall occurring during April. In the Central Highlands and Rift Valley, the ‘long rain’ occurs from April to the beginning of June and the ‘short rain’ (when rainfall is less frequent and less intense) from October to the end of November. The coastal belt is hot and humid all year round, though tempered by coastal see breezes. The rainfall here ranges from a minimum of 20mm in February to a maximum of 300mm in May, with the average temperature ranging between 22°C and 30°C.
The Masai Mara is one of 48 National Parks (of which five are Marine Reserves), many of whose names conjure up images which are uniquely ‘Kenya’. Lake Nakuru, whose waters are often covered by a living pink carpet made up of thousands of flamingos – Tsavo, a vast wilderness larger than Jamaica – The Aberdares where, whilst honeymooning at Treetops, the young Princess Elizabeth received news of her father’s death – and just twenty minutes from the cosmopolitan bustle of the capital city lies Nairobi National Park.
Kenya is not just about National Parks – Kenya is also a country with a wealth of culture. There are 42 different cultures including the Masai and the Samburu as well countless languages and dialects and one of the most richly diverse social tapestries on earth.
The Kenyan coastline is blessed by gentle trade-winds which brought Arab trading dhows to the region. The resultant mix of indigenous and imported cultures gave rise to the Swahili culture which became the pervasive influence throughout the country – Swahili is the most commonly spoken of the African languages. Walk through the Old Town of Mombasa, Kenya’s second city, and you will find yourself transported into the pages of ‘The Arabian Nights’.
A comprehensive domestic flight service between the gateway cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, the game-rich National Parks and the beautiful Indian Ocean coastline is operated by both the national carrier, Kenya Airways and the regional airline, Air Kenya (along with some other domestic carriers). An excellent air charter service to the many landing strips is also available (some of the game lodges and homes are only accessible by light aircraft charter). Kenya has a good road network too – well-equipped and fully serviced safari vehicles are also used to provide a romantic ‘Out of Africa’ safari experience reminiscent of the days of Karen Blixen.
Whichever way you choose to get around this fascinating and awe-inspiring country, you will always be assured of a friendly smile and greeted with the one word heard all over Kenya – ''karibu'' – the Swahili word for welcome.