Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange revenue in Kenya. It dominates the service sector of its economy which makes up 62% of its GDP. If you think it is all about safaris, you are wrong. While Kenya is probably the best destination in the world for photo safaris with 19 national parks and game reserves, it is also attracting visitors to its beaches along the Indian Ocean, mosques in Mombasa, view of Kilimanjaro across the border with Tanzania, Great Rift Valley and its spectacular sceneries and coffee plantations at Thika. Tourists from Germany and United Kingdom are among the most common visitors.
Before deciding to visit Kenya, it is good to know some basic facts. Geographically, Kenya is a part of the East Africa, the region of Great African lakes. It is has a diverse terrain. In the west there are high plateaus and mountains including Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, and lakes including famous Lake Victoria. Eastern parts are generally lower, and on the south east there is Indian Ocean coast with the large coastal city of Mombasa. Climate varies from hot and humid tropical climate in the low and coastal regions, to relatively cool climate at higher elevations, and arid climate towards the north and deeper inland.
Kenya does not have a single culture that identifies it. Like many other African countries it consists of many different ethnicities that speak different languages and have separate cultures. However, there is a sense of national unity, because all the peoples of Kenya participated together in their fight for freedom against the British Empire. Kenya gained its independence in 1963. After that time it had many different regimes and today it’s a representative democracy. People in Kenya are generally optimistic about the future and there has been some progress in recent years.
Most of the people are Christians, mainly Protestants (47.7%) and Catholics (23.5%). There are also 11.2% Muslims, living mostly in coastal regions and some followers of traditional religions. Official languages are English and Swahili.
If you walk through the center of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, you might get the impression that you are in a rich country. Indeed, Nairobi is becoming very important economically and there are headquarters of many domestic and international companies and organizations. However, Kenya is a land of big economic inequality. While urban elites enjoy comfortable life, a large percentage of population still lives in poverty. Still, Kenya has the strongest economy of all the Central and South-Eastern African countries, and it also experiences greater political and economic stability than most of its neighbors.
Political stability, unfortunately, does not mean the absence of crime. Nairobi is quite dangerous city, with high frequency of robberies, con artists and even elaborate scams involving sometimes up to 10 people. That’s why it got the nickname “Nairobbery”. The beggars, however, are not as common as in other African cities, due to the pride of Kenyan people. Also, the north of the country, near the borders with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia is known for its lawlessness and it is best to avoid it, because of the frequency of armed robberies and abductions. Other dangers in Kenya include diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever, as well as HIV/AIDS. As much is 6% of population is HIV positive. So before traveling, inform yourself about all the needed vaccines and do not practice unprotected sex in Kenya. In spite of all these concerns, Kenya is one of the most popular touristic destinations in Africa, and if you follow all the necessary precautions, you can safely visit it, and have a great time!
A typical touristic arrangement would include at least one safari in one of Kenya’s national parks. The most popular is Maasai Mara National Reserve, because it has a large amount of big cats including lions and cheetahs as well as huge variety of birds. In fact it is one of the most popular and well known safari locations in entire Africa. Not surprisingly, game viewing is the most popular activity there, and you will enjoy watching not only big cats but also elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, etc. The most famous sight in the reserve is a massive migration of animals called the Great Migration which occurs in July and August every year.
Lake Nakuru national park is also very famous, and one of the two premium national parks in Kenya. It is a paradise for bird lovers, with 400 different bird species and over 50 species of mammals, of which the most common are African buffalos, waterbucks, white rhinos, zebras, impalas, olive baboons, Rothschild giraffes, and vervet monkeys.
Of the big cities, Mombasa is most popular for tourists, due to its coastal location and vicinity to many beach resorts. Its greatest attractions are Fort Jesus, built by Portuguese in 1593, the Old City and its numerous mosques. The oldest one, Mandhry Mosque, dates back to 1570. Mix of Portuguese and Islamic architecture and influences gives it a very cosmopolitan character.
As mentioned in the beginning, those are just some of the most famous attractions in Kenya. If you want to see them all you’ll have to run around the country, and maybe that’s the reason why Kenya has the best distance runners in the world. Jokes aside, distance athletics is one of the most recognizable things about Kenya. To see how dominant Kenya is in these disciplines, you can simply check the first three places of the last Boston marathon. Both in male and female categories they were all from Kenya.
So, if you are ready for some adventure, don’t wait, come, no, run to Kenya now!