Africa rarely brings up thoughts of snow-covered peaks, but the unique location of Kenya includes coastal land, high mountains and acres of savannah grasslands. The area around the African Great Lakes has been inhabited for more than two million years and the near-dessert region along the Ethiopian border has wildlife completely different from what visitors expect from Africa.
The Great Wildebeest Migration at Masai Mara National Reserve
From July to October more than two million wildebeests are on the move, traveling from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the grazing lands at Masai. The zebra herd is often moving at the same time and other groups of animals join the trek to take advantage of the protection. The migration has been called one of the seven wonders of the modern world and is perhaps the largest collection of animals to be seen in any one place.
As the herd migrates north following the rains, they attract predators and have to overcome the obstacles of the terrain. The Mara River is particularly treacherous as not only is the moving water dangerous, crocodiles feast with abandon on the slower and weaker members of the herd. Once across the river the wildebeest are in the territory of the densest lion population in the world. The entire struggle of life on the African plains is condensed into one large, moving area.
The Flamingos of Lake Nakuru National Park
A group of lakes runs through the eastern side of the African continent known as the Rift Valley. Many are “soda lakes” and the alkaline water supports specialised organisms not found in fresh water. Nakuru is a shallow lake with a large algae bloom that attracts many birds including hundreds of thousands of flamingos.
The number of birds can sometimes even be in the millions, obscuring the surface of the water and creating a surreal pink lake in the middle of a dry environment. Mixed in with the flamingos are over 400 other species of birds that come for the algae and small fish that live in the lake. The view from Baboon Cliff shows not only the flamingos feeding but also any number of giraffes and rhinos that gather at the edge to take advantage of the water.
The Wild Beauty of Lamu Island
Part of the Lamu Archipelago, the island has remained relatively untouristed and retains not only the unspoiled coastline but also the curious ancient charm of Lamu Town, one of the oldest Swahili settlements in East Africa. The town is built of coral stone and mangrove timber with inviting courtyards and verandas typical of old Muslim communities.
The island is reached by boat and has very few motorized vehicles. Instead of roads, islanders lead donkeys along footpaths or take a boat to visit the other villages on the island. The beaches at Shela are spectacular although the village is not quite as picturesque as Lamu Town.
Pride Rock at Hell’s Gate National Park
The park was the inspiration for the landscape of The Lion King with Fischer’s Tower as the model for Pride Rock. The small park has an amazingly diverse mix of terrains and scenery and is more remarkable for the fact that you can visit it without a guide. Although lions, leopards and cheetahs inhabit the park, hiking and camping (in campgrounds) is considered safe.
Fischer’s Tower is one of the remnants of two extinct volcanoes in this otherwise geologically active park. Both Fisher’s and Central Tower are popular with rock climbers and are quite challenging. The gorges hide some natural hot springs and the rocks are hot enough to burn in places. It’s a fascinating place to visit and a rare chance to know you are walking the same paths that lions use.
The Glaciers of Mount Kenya
An ancient volcano, Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro and has 12 remnant glaciers that are rapidly receding. A section of forest around the base is designated as a national park and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The area is also listed as a Biosphere Reserve by the same agency.
Although the mountain is just below the equator, the height provides cool temperatures and there is a layer of permafrost near the top. Climbing the mountain will take you through farmlands, forest, bamboo, timberline forest, chaparral, giant lobelias and finally to the barren nival zone created by retreating glaciers. Wildlife stay mainly near the base where food and cover is more plentiful. Walking paths take visitors up the mountain at a comfortable pace with bunkhouses set up at the camps. Those that wish to climb need a guide and technical rock-climbing gear.