Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - See the Great Migration Up Close in the Masai Mara
Of all of Kenya's wonders, few match the spectacle of the Great Migration in the Masai Mara. From July to October, over a million wildebeest, hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle, and predators like lions and cheetahs traverse the Serengeti and Masai Mara in search of greener pastures. It's nature's greatest show on earth.
For the best vantage point of this epic migration, head to the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Mara's endless grasslands dotted with acacia trees provide front row seats to the theater of the wild. Each day brings new movement and drama as thundering hooves kick up dust clouds on the horizon. Groups of wildebeest and zebra, called herds, can blanket the landscape as far as the eye can see. It's a primal sight that stirs wonder and humility in equal measure.
Early mornings in the Mara offer a frothy sea of animalsawakening with the rising sun. Blankets of fog lift to reveal mega-herds grazing peacefully across the plains. Sunbeams pierce through the mist to illuminate the scene in ethereal light. Later in the day, crocodile-infested river crossings make for heart-stopping viewing. Skittish herds inch nervously into the water as the crocs wait patiently to ambush them. It's a tense face-off where young calves are most vulnerable.
For a truly unforgettable Great Migration experience, book a hot air balloon ride over the Mara at sunrise. As your balloon gently floats above, you'll witness extraordinary numbers of wildlife below. With birds-eye views over the entire ecosystem, the scale and grandeur of the migration becomes apparent. Seeing wildebeest river crossings and prides of lions from above puts the whole picture into perspective.
Safaris into the Masai Mara allow you to get even closer to the action. Open-top jeeps navigate rough dirt tracks to find lions napping under trees and cheetahs scanning the grasslands for prey. Elephants flap their ears to cool down as hippos wallow in muddy pools. Endangered Grevy's zebras, Rothschild's giraffes, and black rhinos can also be spotted by lucky safari-goers.
For the trip of a lifetime, camping right in the middle of the migration is an option for intrepid travelers. Waking up in a tent hearing lions roar goodnight and zebras gossip is an experience like no other. Night drives reveal the Mara's remarkable nocturnal inhabitants, like aardwolves, bat-eared foxes, and aardvarks. Don't forget a flashlight for venturing to the bathroom in the wee hours.
What else is in this post?
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - See the Great Migration Up Close in the Masai Mara
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Climb Mount Kenya, Africa's Second Highest Peak
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Swim with Dolphins in the Indian Ocean
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Go on a Hot Air Balloon Safari Over the Savannah
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Visit Giraffe Manor and Feed Giraffes from Your Balcony
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Explore the Great Rift Valley, Cradle of Humanity
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Take a Dhow Cruise to Wasini Island's Marine Park
- Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Immerse Yourself in Maasai Culture with a Village Visit
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Climb Mount Kenya, Africa's Second Highest Peak
Rising from the lush green valleys and rolling hills of central Kenya, Mount Kenya's snow-capped peaks beckon intrepid climbers to ascend Africa’s second highest mountain at 17,057 feet. While Kilimanjaro may boast the continent’s loftiest summit, Mount Kenya offers a more technical climbing challenge that draws mountaineers from around the world. Its jagged ridges and glacier carved valleys demand skill and stamina to traverse safely. The rewards for those who do are views of Kenya in all her glory: the equatorial snows, Afro-alpine moorlands, montane forests, and distant savannas.
The ascent of Mount Kenya requires careful preparation and route selection based on your mountaineering experience. The popular direct routes to Pt. Lenana take 3-4 days and involve scrambling over boulders with some light climbing on the summit approach. More technical routes up the icy sheer cliffs of Batian and Nelion peaks should only be attempted if you have rock climbing and glacier travel skills. Most climbers fly into Nanyuki or Naro Moru for trailhead access. Porters can be hired to help carry your gear up but count on doing most of the work yourself.
Climbing through the ecological zones of Mount Kenya is visually stunning. The lower montane forest belt has dense stands of cedar and olive trees draped in old man’s beard. Further up, giant heather and lobelias dot the moorland as the vegetation becomes sparser. Above 13,000 feet is an Afro-alpine wonderland of glaciers, ice-fringed tarns, and endemic plants found nowhere else. Sitting atop a 16,000-foot rocky summit on Mount Kenya feels like being on top of the world. Looking out across the ice-carved Lewis Glacier and seeing nothing but sky is both exhilarating and humbling.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Swim with Dolphins in the Indian Ocean
Of all of Kenya’s wildlife encounters, few compare to the joy of swimming with wild dolphins in their natural ocean habitat. Several locations along the Kenyan coast offer these extremely rare interactions with pods of spinner and bottlenose dolphins. Slipping into the warm Indian Ocean waters to frolic with these intelligent marine mammals creates lifelong memories.
At Watamu Marine National Park, experienced guides lead small groups of snorkelers offshore daily to find pods of dolphins. Luck plays a role but most outings encounter a curious pod. As the boat idles beside circling fins, you'll slip on your mask and fins with pounding heart. Entering the water, you'll be amazed as a few dolphins glide toward you to investigate the new visitors. With rapid clicks and squeaks, they signal each other while changing direction in unison. Their speed and agility is astounding up close. You'll surface grinning ear to ear after the friendly dolphins swim circles around you.
Down south, at Shimoni near Wasini Island, another remarkable opportunity exists for an even more personal experience. Here, local guides take small groups to meet a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins that freely approaches swimmers. After donning lifejackets, you'll slip into the sea as the bottlenose dolphins arrive like clockwork. With the pod cruising past, you can reach out and actually touch the dolphins if they initiate contact. Few things compare to caressing the silky smooth skin of a wild dolphin or watching one look into your mask with friendly curiosity. It's an intensely personal connection that elicits great awe for these social mammals.
Those spending time in Mombasa can also search for dolphins on dhow sailing tours of the reefs ringing Mombasa Marine National Park. Early morning or sunset cruises provide plenty of dolphin sightings around the coral formations as they chase fish. Spinner dolphins often race and leap beside the dhows while feeding. Since you stay onboard the boat, simply observing and photographing their natural behaviors, no permit is required.
For family-friendly guaranteed interactions, visiting a responsible dolphin education center like Dolphin Encounters in Diani Beach can be rewarding. Here, visitors learn about dolphin conservation while touching and feeding three resident Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins. With a trainer's supervision, kids delight in getting wet with the dolphins in shallow waters right from shore. It provides enriching education about these special creatures we share the planet with.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Go on a Hot Air Balloon Safari Over the Savannah
Of all the ways to experience the drama and grandeur of the Great Migration in Kenya's Masai Mara, few compare to drifting over the wilderness in a hot air balloon. As the balloon gently floats across the boundless savannah, you gain a unique bird's-eye perspective of the natural world waking up below. The scale and diversity of wildlife becomes apparent from this lofty vantage point above herd-dotted plains. It provides an unforgettable way to observe animals in their natural habitat undisturbed from above.
The predawn launch begins atop a plateau as the balloon inflates upright like a giant mushroom. The pilot fires up the burners with roaring blasts of hot air until the balloon fills and strains at its tethers. As passengers climb into the basket, the ground crew releases the lines and you slowly ascend into the cool morning sky. Suspended under the giant balloon, your feet dangle in mid-air inside the open basket as Kenya's vast grasslands unfold below bathed in golden sunrise hues.
Looking down from 1,000 feet up, you'll spot endless numbers of wildlife awakening on the savannah. Wildebeest and zebra emerge from acacia groves to begin their endless migration. Packs of spotted hyena return to dens after successful hunts. Lions stir awake and stretch after sleeping under bushes. From your lofty perch, you’ll gain new appreciation for the natural rhythms and inhabitants of the Mara triangle.
One of the most thrilling spectacles visible from a balloon is watching columns of wildebeest gathering on the Mara River’s banks before attempting treacherous crossings. From above, the scale of their numbers becomes apparent as thousands mass along the water’s edge. Holding your breath, you’ll have extraordinary views of wildebeest nervously entering the water while massive crocodiles line the opposite bank awaiting their chance to ambush them. Seeing this iconic struggle for survival unfold from a hot air balloon adds new meaning.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Visit Giraffe Manor and Feed Giraffes from Your Balcony
Of all the unique and luxurious places to stay in Kenya, none capture the imagination quite like Giraffe Manor. This iconic 1920s manor house turned boutique hotel lies within 140 acres of indigenous forest just outside Nairobi. What makes it so extraordinary is its resident population of reticulated giraffes that roam the grounds and visit the manor throughout the day hoping for treats. You’ll delight in hand-feeding giraffe right from your balcony or as they pop their heads into the dining room windows during afternoon tea. It’s an only-in-Africa experience that feels like walking into a storybook.
Waking up on your first morning at Giraffe Manor, you’ll be startled by a giraffe staring through your second floor window. Peeking out onto the balcony in your pajamas, you’ll find several long-eyelashed giraffes waiting patiently for you. Their long bluish tongues will gently pluck pellets from your outstretched hand before nuzzling your arm for more. Getting kissed by a giraffe is a truly unique sensation. Their ossicones (horn-like protuberances) make combing your hair an occupational hazard however. You’ll learn each giraffe’s unique markings and warm personality during your stay.
While the hotel only has 10 rooms, the intimate nature makes every guest feel like an honored visitor. The stately manor retains its historic ambiance with a mahogany staircase, antiques, Persian rugs and silver. You’ll take afternoon tea in the gardens or fireside in the sitting room. While giraffes wander by outside, attentive staff deliver decadent high teas with finger sandwiches and sweets. Every meal feels straight out of a classic novel.
When not enjoying the manor grounds, you can visit the local Rothschild’s giraffe sanctuary and orphanage run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. Getting up close to baby giraffes or going on a guided walk spotting warthogs and bushbucks provides a greater appreciation for conservation efforts. You’ll also understand the moving story behind how the original owners rescued and raised a Rothschild’s giraffe calf in 1959 that started this enduring relationship between the regal creatures and the hotel.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Explore the Great Rift Valley, Cradle of Humanity
Spanning over 3,700 miles from the Middle East down through East Africa, the Great Rift Valley is the most extensive rift system on Earth. This giant gash in the planet’s surface was caused by tectonic plates slowly splitting apart over millions of years. As the Somali plate drifts away from the Nubian plate, enormous faults opened up creating the valley’s steep escarpments and sunken floor. It’s part of the geological process that will eventually lead to a new ocean dividing Africa. Beyond its origins though, the Rift Valley encompasses many sites that reveal the evolutionary story of early mankind. That’s what brings curious visitors to explore its fossil troves and prehistoric sites.
In Kenya, some of the world’s most significant paleoanthropological discoveries have been made in the valleys near Lake Turkana in the north. Called the Cradle of Humankind, this region has yielded famous fossils like the 1.5 million year old Turkana Boy skeleton of Homo erectus and a nearly complete Homo habilis skull. The arid landscape preserves traces of our earliest ancestors dating back four million years like the trail left by three hominids at Laetoli. Visit the Turkana Basin Institute’s Ileret research campus to see their fossil collection and labs. Then head out on safari excursions led by their guides to look for ancient remains eroding out of the Rift Valley sediments. You’ll gain amazing perspective peering out over the Rift’s jagged cliffs while imagining its world millions of years ago.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Take a Dhow Cruise to Wasini Island's Marine Park
Nestled just off the southern Kenyan coast, tiny Wasini Island protects one of the Indian Ocean’s most pristine coral gardens perfect for snorkeling and diving. Getting to this less visited marine park means a scenic dhow cruise through mangrove-lined channels full of colorful birdlife. Locals have sailed versions of these graceful wooden boats for centuries between coastal villages and outlying islands. Now tourists can experience the magic of traveling to Wasini Island aboard a traditional dhow.
Most dhow trips depart from Shimoni village near the Tanzanian border. Arriving dockside in the morning light, you’ll step aboard the dhow’s covered rear deck and get comfortable on cushioned benches. Below deck is the crew’s quarters while an open central platform features a thatched-roof shelter. With the anchor raised and brilliant white sail unfurled overhead, the dhow silently glides into the channel leaving Shimoni behind. From your shaded seat, you can view the passing scene as if you slipped back centuries in time.
Mangroves draped in spider webs line the banks while snowy egrets and hammerkop storks go fishing. If you’re lucky, some of Wasini Island’s resident pod of wild bottlenose dolphins may pay your dhow a friendly visit. Their sleek gray backs hint at their presence before they surface nearby to play in the bow wake. Reaching Kisite Marine Park surrounding Wasini Island, your dhow will lower sail and drop anchor. Brilliant coral formations await just below the surface, making this one of East Africa’s best snorkeling and diving sites. Donning mask and fins, you’ll be amazed seeing angelfish, parrotfish, and octopuses up-close swimming among branching staghorn and boulder corals. For new divers, local guides lead intro dives along the sloping reef.
Go on Safari and More: 10 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Kenya - Immerse Yourself in Maasai Culture with a Village Visit
Of all the ways to experience authentic Kenyan culture, few compare to visiting a traditional Maasai village. As one of Kenya’s most iconic indigenous groups, the semi-nomadic Maasai have maintained their distinctive customs despite encroaching modernization. Visiting their tight-knit communities provides a window into traditional Maasai life and values. Their warm hospitality and pride in their heritage shines through during these personal encounters.
Setting out for a Maasai village, you’ll likely spot petite, bright-shirted Maasai children walking along roads or herding goats. Arriving at a traditional village, or manyatta, local guides explain etiquette before entering through a livestock corral into the community. A chorus of minguni (welcome) greets your arrival as villagers sing and dance in celebration. Taking seats under an acacia tree, the village elder (oloiboni) shares stories of Maasai origins and customs. Afterwards, you'll be shown around the boma homes enclosed by acacia thorns where families cook, socialize, and sleep in windowless huts. Stopping inside one, you'll get a sense of traditional life from the firepit and hanging gourds used to store milk or honey beer.
What fascinates many visitors are the Maasai’s dazzling shuka fabrics and beaded accessories. A group of women may give a lesson in their craft, demonstrating how they coil and weave bracelets from leather, beads, and telephone wire. You'll appreciate their artistry seeing their work up-close and trying it on. The Maasai also eagerly share about other traditions like male rite-of-passage ceremonies and sipping blood from their prized long-horned cattle during rituals. Visiting the village school provides additional perspective on how modern education is valued today. However some Maasai choose to maintain traditional nomadic lifestyles herding livestock across the savannah. Their values of dignity, courage, and respect for nature remain strong cultural pillars even today.