Zebra herd, antelopes and wildebeest at sunset in the savannah, Masai Mara, Kenya
Masai Mara, Kenya
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Experience East Africa's Comeback Destination on a Kenyan Vacation

8 min read
Published on Apr 11, 2017
Aren Bergstrom
By Aren BergstromManaging Editor, Globetrotting Magazine

Despite numbers dipping over the past five years, Kenyan tourism is finally on the upswing. This makes 2017 an ideal time to head on a Kenya vacation or safari. Hotels, lodges, and tour providers are pulling out all stops to attract tourists to the country - meaning services are excellent, but prices haven’t risen as will inevitably happen when tourist numbers get back to their 2007 levels. If you head on a Kenyan safari, you’ll avoid the crowds while enjoying the best services available in East Africa.

Kenya’s Tragic Few Years

It’s no mystery why tourism numbers in Kenya slipped. Despite being one of the most popular destinations in Africa, home to wondrous national parks and bountiful beachside resorts, the country also shares a border with Somalia, and has suffered some of that country’s overflow of extremist violence. The terrorist organization, Al-Shabaab, started attacking border towns in retaliation for Kenya’s military incursions into Somalia. These attacks led the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France (among other countries) to place travel advisories on Kenya. As any smart Globetrotter is aware, it is wise to listen to your country’s travel advisories, thus, many tourists wanting to experience the Great Migration and the wonders of Mount Kenya decided to stay home and delay the dream trip a few years until things settled down. Well, things have settled down. The US, UK, and France have all lifted their travel advisories. Canada has amended its advisory to only include border regions with Somalia and South Sudan, which both remain in a state of sociopolitical crisis. As well, the Kenyan government has poured billions of dollars into security infrastructure and successfully fought back Al-Shabaab from the borders. All these efforts have paid off and the tourism numbers are starting to turn the corner.

An Investment in Hospitality

Aside from prioritizing safety, the Kenyan government has done much to encourage visitors to return on an East Africa vacation. The government capped national park entry fees, ensuring that access to the nation’s incredible wildlife remains affordable to all manner of visitors. They began construction on a new cruise terminal in Mombasa, which is slated to open in September. When open, the terminal should make it easier for Globetrotters on an African cruise to connect to the mainland and extend their journey with a safari or mountain hike. Other infrastructure investments include the building of more roads connecting Mombasa International Airport to Mombasa, Maasai Mara Road, and Meru Road.

Cheetah walks along a dirt track in the Masai Mara. Tourist vehicles are parked behind with unidentifiable tourists watching

Kenya has also partnered with its neighbours, Rwanda and Uganda, to launch a joint tourism portal. It's the first of its kind in East Africa to unify the countries’ tourism endeavours, encouraging visitors to visit multiple countries when they head on an Africa vacation. This joint venture also provides tourists with a multi-country visa, allowing them to cross borders between the countries without having to produce new documentation.

The Great Wildebeest Migration

It’s happy news for Globetrotters that Kenya has fought back the tide of violence at its borders and invested more in sharing its incredible landscape and culture with the world. There’s a reason Kenya is such a sought-after destination. It is home to some of the most fascinating wildlife on the planet. Everyone who has watched a nature documentary like Planet Earth or even the Disney film, The Lion King, has a sense of how incredible the wildebeest migration is. Called the Great Migration, this annual movement of animals sees over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle head from the southern reaches of the Serengeti in Tanzania, to the west and then north across the border into Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. Head to Maasai Mara in August and September to see the herds before they head back south once the short rains begin.

It’s not just the wildebeests and zebras that make Kenya so appealing. The country is home to all the manner of incredible animals. It boasts all of the so-called “Big Five,” those five animals that were apparently the most difficult to hunt in colonial times, and are now the prize sights on any African safari: the lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo, and rhino. Kenya is also home to hippos, giraffes, and enough exotic birds to make a birder faint for joy.

Buffalo lying in the water on the background of big flocks of flamingos. Kenya. Africa. Nakuru National Park. Lake Bogoria National Reserve.

The Natural Wonders of Kenya

Your best spot for seeing birds is Lake Nakuru, in Central Kenya in the Great Rift Valley. Lake Nakuru National Park was initially envisioned as a bird sanctuary when it first opened and is the only fenced-in national park in the country which affords protection to its endangered wildlife, including giraffes and white and black rhinos. Of course, the main attractions of Lake Nakuru are the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that nest along its shores. The flamingos feast off the algae that grows on the lake’s surface and sometimes blot out all sight of the lake itself. It’s an unforgettable sight to gaze upon this mass of pink feathers, that almost seems to be one continuous mass when viewed in its entirety. Kenya is also home to Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain on the continent after Mount Kilimanjaro, which sits in Tanzania to the south. Mount Kenya provides around 50 percent of the county’s water from glacial runoff and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. As the mountain is 5,199 metres tall, it’s not exactly a spring jaunt to ascend it. However, there are several routes that require either rock climbing or intensive hiking to reach one of its many summits.

Urban Kenya

When people imagine Kenya, they often do the country a disservice by only thinking of its natural landscapes and forgetting its cities. It’s important to remember that Kenya is a modern country with bustling cityscapes and thriving urban environments. No city in East Africa is bigger than Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. With a little over three million people, Nairobi serves as the definitive metropolis of East Africa. It’s was founded as a railway site for the Uganda Railway at the end of the 19th century, and has transformed into a cosmopolitan city boasting a variety of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Nairobi might not be the most attractive city in Africa, or even in Kenya - there’s a reason people call it a concrete jungle, with its endless parades of concrete apartment blocks and roadways - but it certainly has energy. Globetrotters on their Kenya vacation, who are able get over its drab architecture, will be rewarded with an incredible culinary environment and one of Africa’s party capitals. There are also plenty of museums to keep you occupied, from the Nairobi National Museum, with its look at the country’s history, to the Karen Blixon Museum, exploring the life of the famed Out of Africa writer.

Nairobi Modern Cityscape Kenya, East Africa
Nairobi cityscape

Mombosa is Kenya’s other major city, sitting to the southeast of Nairobi on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Visitors who were unimpressed with Nairobi’s architecture will find much to celebrate in Mombasa. The city is a cultural garden, with a stunning blend of architecture and ethnic groups due to its status as the largest port in East Africa. Mombasa is where India, Arabia, and Africa meet. Popular beaches lie to the north and south, as well as several premium resorts, popular with African and foreign tourists alike. The Old Town is a popular tourist destination, with the 16th century Portuguese fort, Fort Jesus, garnering most of the attention. Beyond the ocean and the architecture, Mombasa is known for its musical culture. Taarab music, best known in the Zanzibar region of Tanzania, abounds, as do more local styles, Bango, Chakacha, and Mwanzele. With hundreds of night clubs, bars, and restaurants putting on shows every night, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the city’s distinctive musical stylings.

Kenya’s appeal has stood the test of time and the trials of terrorism and political destabilization. This East African nation is incredible for its wildlife and its vibrant example of modern African life. It’s an ideal time to take a Kenya vacation, as its stabilization continues and its comeback moves into full stride. Beat the crowds and the high prices and see all that this incredible nation has to offer on an East Africa vacation.

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Aren Bergstrom
Aren Bergstrom
Goway - Managing Editor, Globetrotting Magazine

You might say that Aren was destined to become a globetrotter after his family took him to Germany two times before he was four. If that wasn’t enough, a term spent in Sweden as a young teenager and a trek across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand confirmed that destiny. An independent writer, director, and film critic, Aren has travelled across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. His favourite travel experience was visiting the major cities of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, but his love for food, drink, and film will take him anywhere that boasts great art and culture.

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