The Exhilarating Outdoor Life in Kenya

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The Exhilarating Outdoor Life in Kenya
The thrill of Kenya's vast wilderness will define your trip memories. Feel a spray of water as elephants tumble into a nearby river, gulp thin air from the summit of Mount Kenya, or glide past coral reefs on a marine park snorkel trip.
By Harriet Constable, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Charlie Grosso
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    The Great Migration
    Kenya's annual wildebeest migration is one of earth's greatest spectacles and a flagship reason to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve between July and September. During the largest migration of mammals in the world, over a million wildebeest make the journey from Tanzania's Serengeti to Kenya in search of greener grasslands. Along the way they come up against perilously steep river banks, hungry crocodiles, angry hippos, and salivating lions, and if lucky, gallop through to a feast of lush grass.
    Photo by Charlie Grosso
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    Walking with Wildlife
    A 4x4 vehicle is the standard safari transportation, and its protection is often essential. But even an open-topped vehicle can't compete with the exhilaration of a walking safari. Typically led by an armed guide with unmatched local knowledge, these bush walks are permissible only in specific conservation areas. At El Karama Eco Lodge in Laikipia, guides allow visitors to escape the fluff of the contrived safari experience, and show them how to interpret animal tracks in the dust to piece together the story of an animal encounter. Watch a giraffe galloping across the sunset from ground level just once, and you'll be a believer in the walking safari.
    Photo by Liz Titone
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    An Underwater Safari
    Kenya's land animals get all the glory, but beneath the shimmering coastal waters a glimpse of a lionfish can be as gratifying as a glimpse of a lion. Watamu Marine National Park is a world-renowned refuge for sea turtles, flamboyant tropical fish, and even whale sharks at certain times of year. Its ecosystems are accessible on snorkeling or diving trips organized by local outfitters. If staying above water sounds more appealing, Watamu also offers some of the best kite-surfing in the country.
    Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/age fotostock
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    The View from Mount Kenya
    Just a stone's throw from the equator, Mount Kenya's glacial peaks are capped with snow. Deified by the local Kikuyu people, the mountain—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second-highest peak in Africa—lords over a number of hikes that wind through the national park around its base. The mountain is also home to elephant, buffalo, and leopards. Its tallest peaks can be tackled only with technical mountaineering skills, but a third peak, Point Lenana, is accessible to most active hikers. After several days of trekking, the final push to the top rewards hikers with a spectacular view over the Kenyan landscape.
    Photo by Stefan Auth/age fotostock
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    The Wild, Wild North
    Safari vehicles and human herds cluster in Kenya's southern wildlife areas, but in the less-traveled northern districts, parks still feel utterly wild. Walking across the dusky plateaus of Laikipia, hiking through the forested mountains of the Mathews Range, and camping on the edge of Lake Paradise in Marsabit National Park are all not to be missed. However, the final and most spectacular destination on any northern road trip has to be the hot, windy, forbidding landscape around the jade-blue waters of Lake Turkana


    Photo by Mary Ramos
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    Sail Above the Grasslands
    You can truly appreciate Kenya's majesty and scale from the air. Hot-air balloons in some parks reward guests with dazzling flights over snaking rivers and teeming herds of wildlife. One of the best options is within the Masai Mara National Reserve. At Angama Mara, one of Kenya's most luxurious lodges, the detail-oriented team makes the experience truly spectacular, and all trips culminate in a champagne breakfast in the bush.


    Photo by David DuChemin/age fotostock
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    Bewitching Birds
    After seeing the fabled Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino), safarigoers often turn their attention to the skies. Even Kenya's most quotidian birdlife will enthrall enthusiasts or transform the uninitiated into avid birders. In Lake Nakuru National Park, see pink flamingos take to the sky, joined by white pelicans and spoonbills. In the Kenyan capital, the Karura Forest is home to some 200 species of birds, which flit among the fragrant eucalyptus trees.
    Photo by Frans Lanting/age fotostock
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    Cooling Down on the Coast
    After dusty days on safari, many travelers head to Kenya's sparkling coast to chill out. Two hours north from hectic Mombasa, Kilifi is a seriously relaxing option. Here a giant estuary of cerulean blue spills out into the Indian Ocean, and the wide, perfectly white beach is usually deserted, which leaves miles of warm ocean water and soft sand just for you. Further south, Diani Beach is a more built-up destination with bars, cafés, shops, and restaurants. Ali Barbour's is one restaurant not to miss: The unbelievably romantic spot is set in a cave with flickering candles tucked in the nooks of the stone walls.
    Photo by Jessica S.
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    The Twinkling Night Sky
    While the landscape is the focus all day, at night eyes turn up toward Kenya's glittering skyline. The Loisaba Star Beds in Laikipia make a unique place to spend the evening if stargazing is your thing. Here, in the middle of hundreds of acres of wild scrubland, sleep in beds on a private deck, with just a thin black mosquito net overhead. As darkness sets in and the lights go out, nothing but sparkles lie above you. The more adventurous can set up camp on a tree platform in Ngare Ndare Forest and take an after-dark canopy walk to admire the night's sky from a midair perch.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Hiking Kenya's Landscapes
    Seeing the landscape through binoculars is efficient, but hiking restores the original spirit of the safari. Just beyond Nairobi, the green Ngong Hills—made famous in the opening lines of Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen—provide a ramble and a respite from the city hustle. A 1.5-hour drive north of Nairobi is Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano with a lush forest interior inside the crater. It's a steep hike to the top, and only the fittest will want to also attempt scaling the crater rim in the heat, but the effort is rewarded with terrific views.
    Photo by Rob Penn/age fotostock