The basaltic cliffs of the Rift Valley located northwest of Nairobi, Kenya hem in a classic East African landscape of open savannah studded with forest-clad mountains, valleys, volcanoes, rivers, grasslands and huge lakes, helping make the Great Rift Valley Africa’s most biologically diverse region.
Thanks to its unique positioning on part of the Great Rift Valley, it comes as no surprise that Kenya is home to more than half of the lakes in Africa. Many of these resemble swampy marshlands scattered across the landscape, dotted pink by the thousands of flamingos that have swarmed upon the area to pick at the algae and crabs seen scuttling sideways between the reeds.
Visitors can rumble along the valley in open-air safari vehicles in search of the Great Rift Valley Lakes. The Great Rift Valley's inhabitants include lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, cheetahs, giraffes, antelopes, zebras and primates. The area, however, is renowned for its prolific birdlife, the main attention-grabbers being the million-strong flocks of flamingos that frequently amass at Nakuru and Bogoria lakes. Lake Nakuru, Naivasha and Bogoria offer the best sightings of these fuchsia-feathered birds. The alkaline nature of the lakes in the Rift Valley creates a thriving hub for algae and small crustaceans, which brings huge flocks of greater and lesser flamingos to the area to feed. Occasionally, the powerful beating wings of a fish eagle can be heard as it swoops in to prey on our long-legged friends.
Formed in millennia gone by as the African tectonic plates began to shift and edge apart, the Rift Valley Lakes region of Kenya supports an array of endemic species and well-preserved hominid fossils. Lake Turkana in particular is widely seen as the Cradle of Humankind because of the amount of hominid fossils found there.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting Rift Valley Lakes
Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a year-round destination. But some months are better suited for game viewing and the famous Great Migration while others are ideal for scenery, birdlife and beach-and-bush combinations. It all comes down to your own interests and preferences. Let’s have a look at the seasonal highlights.
August – October
This is the best time to visit Kenya for wildlife safaris and to experience the Great Wildebeest Migration in the Maasai Mara. The migration is triggered by rainfall patterns and new grass growth. These dry, wintry months are also best for general game viewing. So with or without witnessing the Great Migration, your East African safari experience will be amazing!
December – March
The best time to visit Kenya for beaches, scenery, birdlife and wildlife viewing outside of peak season is from December to March. During these months, game viewing is still excellent and fewer travellers means great deals to be found. Days are hot, mostly clear and not too humid along Kenya’s tropical coastline.
April – May
So when is it not the best time to visit Kenya? The so-called long rains drench Kenya in April and May with a wet monsoon that renders the coastline a muggy haze and the hinterland a boggy though seriously picturesque quagmire. The perfect time to visit Kenya if you want the place to yourself. Contact our Travel Experts before deciding when to travel to Kenya.
East Africa is famous for its wildlife-rich plains, classic African landscapes and the Great Wildebeest Migration, which must top every best-of Kenya list:
- Experience the Great Migration, as millions of wildebeest, zebra, topi, Thomson's gazelles and other plains game drift back and forth with seasonal water and food sources.
- The “Samburu Special 5” consisting of unique species found nowhere else: Grevy's zebra, Somali ostrich, gerenuk, beisa oryx and reticulated giraffe.
- Massive unfenced national parks, where large herds of animals move freely along their ancient migration paths.
- The successful cohabitation of people and wildlife in conservancies surrounding national parks.
- The people of Kenya like the colourful and striking Maasai and Samburu with their traditional African lifestyles.
In addition to incredible wildlife, there are many fascinating places to visit in Kenya including World Heritage Sites such as Lamu Old Town on Lamu Island, 13th century ruins of Arab port cities, Mount Kenya and the magnificent Swahili coastline.
Best of both worlds bush-and-beach combinations with easy access to the coastline and tropical islands like Lamu, Zanzibar Archipelago, and Seychelles.
Kenya safari holidays are family-friendly thanks to closed vehicles for example. Many lodges offer triple rooms, family units and children-only safari activities.
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is one of East Africa’s largest commercial hubs with international arrivals from many parts of the world.
Stay a couple of nights soaking up Nairobi’s city culture or just a single night to enjoy a proper bed after the long flight over. You also have the choice, depending on the time your international flight arrives, to skip out on the city and head straight to what you came for – a classic East Africa safari.
While carriers seem to chop and change their routes to Africa on a whim, you can currently get to Kenya from these great cities:
- Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways
- Amsterdam with KLM or Kenya Airways
- Bangkok with Kenya Airways
- Doha with Qatar Airways
- Dubai with Emirates or Kenya Airways
- Frankfurt with Lufthansa
- Istanbul with Turkish Airways
- London with British Airways or Kenya Airways
- Mumbai with Kenya Airways
- New York with Kenya Airways
- Paris with Air France or Kenya Airways
- Zurich with Swiss Air
Having arrived in Nairobi after your long-haul flight, you can enjoy your Kenya wildlife safari by road, by air or a combination of both. Time, cost and convenience will influence your decision.
Flying around Kenya
Domestic air travel is by far the most comfortable, convenient and time-efficient mode of transport on your Kenya safari holidays or your classic bush and beach adventure. Aircrafts are usually of the smaller Cessna type and they’re served by Nairobi’s domestic airport 90 minutes’ drive from the international airport (an important consideration if you want to connect on the same day). A fly-in safari is obviously a spectacular way to see Kenya’s attractions, removes a large chunk of travelling time and side-steps the discomforts of a long, bumpy drive.
Driving around Kenya
East Africa has a bit of a reputation for poor driving conditions, but for many travellers, this adds authenticity to their Kenya safari holidays. Driving is also a more affordable option. Travelling by road, you can hire your own 4x4 for a private self-drive safari or book a road transfer.
A self-drive safari in Kenya rewards the intrepid visitor with the bragging rights to a unique, off-piste African experience that reduces your transport cost, but can increase your hassle cost with long distances, rough roads, corrupt cops and inadequate roadside facilities. A scheduled departure removes the hassle factor, cuts costs and still gives you a unique, authentic African experience. Combining a fly-in where necessary with a self-drive safari or scheduled road transfer gives you the best of both worlds without breaking the bank.
The cost for a Kenya safari ranges from $200 to $3,000 per person per day. Chat to one of our Travel Experts to ensure the best Kenya safari experience according to your time and budget. Here are a few examples of what influences your final Kenya safari cost:
- Time of year with great differences between low and high season prices.
- Your choice of safari lodges and camps.
- Duration of your stay, with great specials for extended bookings
- Where you go, with the cost going up proportionally to the remoteness of your destination and your choice of transportation – e.g. fly-in vs. overland safari vehicle.
- Your choice of safari activities ranging from inclusive wildlife activities to exclusive hot air balloon rides.
Yes. We recommend anti-malarial medication no matter what time of year you plan to visit Kenya. Consult your health practitioner for advice on the right choice of prophylaxis for your body well in advance of your departure date. And if you live in a yellow fever region or plan to travel through a region where it is endemic during your stay, you will need a vaccination and certificate.
Kenya has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to 6 million BC, with the earliest known Orrorin tugenensis (one of the oldest early humans) who lived in the Tugen Hills. Today this area of Kenya is protected and preserved, and you can explore humans’ ancient history at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi.
As the years went by, further tool-making Homo erectus and Homo sapiens were recorded, which highlights the deep roots this land has cultivated.
By 1498, the Portuguese, along with Vasco da Gama, arrived in Kenya and took rule over most of the ports including Mombasa. Two hundred years later, Arab influence forced the withdrawal of the Portuguese. Around the 1840s, European missionaries arrived, awestruck at their first sighting of Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania).
By the 1850s, lakes Tanganyika and Victoria were discovered by Burton and Speke, which you can read about their expeditions in the historical novel by William Harrison. After increasing British influence in Kenya, the British Government acquired Kenya and Uganda to become British East Africa by 1895.
Over the following six years, Nairobi was forcibly transformed from a Maasai farming village into the railway headquarters between Mombasa and Uganda, which reached Kisumu on the edge of Lake Victoria in 1901 to open up trading between these flourishing lands. By 1920, Kenya was officially declared a British colony.
Following many attempts to further colonise Kenya, its people fought back. From 1942, members from numerous local tribes united to fight for freedom from British rule. Ten years later, Jomo Kenyatta, 61 at the time, was actively directing this movement of independence and was subsequently imprisoned along with 82 other nationalists.
The rebellion continued and in 1963, Kenya gained its independence with Jomo Kenyatta was elected as Prime Minister. Since its independence, Kenya has been paving the way for its people and, although a journey filled with its own dark history, the country continues to fight and stand together to flourish and grow for the future of its country. Today, tourism is a big part of Kenya’s growing economy and success.