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KENYA FACTS AND PLACES OF TOURISM INTEREST

Kenya Safaris

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Astride the Equator, Kenya is a golden land of adventure and splendour!
Appropriately crowned “God’s Country” rich in wealth of its contrast, landscapes, culture and the welcome it extends to all its guests and visitors!
Kenya affects many people in many ways. There are many images valid in Kenya.
Images of Vanderbilt and Hemingway on Safari…images of nights under the African stars…the upside down configurations for visitors from the northern hemisphere…a flaring camp fire and noises from the dark beyond…a moonrise chorus of Crickets & Nightjars…a racket of Hyrax and the low cough of a predator, possibly a Leopard!…the stories of the professional guide….the attentive service from the camp or lodge staff delivering the traditional Sun downer followed by Dinner of sumptuous fare… Images of Coastal sojourns with palm fringed beaches and sapphire clear seas.

All this and so much else!
The Swahili word “safari” entered popular American usage after Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Kenya in 1909 and hired 500 Porters to follow him into the bush with everything from collapsible bathtubs to cases of Champagne!  Soon thereafter socialites, plutocrats, maharajahs, royalties and movie stars begun to parade across Kenya. A century later, “Safari” is still an extraordinary experience desired by all, and from all walks of life. Whichever your holiday choice, Whatever you do & Wherever you go,
We feel there is a good chance that you to will come to love Kenya’s many different faces!  Kenya is habit-forming and like all the most pleasant obsessions, is one difficult to abandon. We understand! Because we share the same feelings!

The capital of Kenya and a vital tourist gateway to the game parks of East Africa, Nairobi is often the starting place for safaris.  The city’s history dates back to the times of rail travel and was a stopping place on the rail line between the coast and Uganda because there was always a plentiful supply of water to fill the boilers on the locomotive.  The high altitude makes for pleasant temperatures throughout the year.

 Nairobi National Park

Just 10 km from the city centre and only 117 sq km in size, this is Kenya’s oldest park, established around 1946. With over 500 varieties of birds recorded and more than 100 mammal species, it makes a great early morning or afternoon’s excursion from the city centre. Common sightings include zebra, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, gazelle, eland, hippo, vulture and lion. It is also a great place to see black rhino.

 Lakes Region
The Great Rift Valley is part Of the Afro-Arabian rift system which stretches from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south. Nowhere is it more clearly defined than in Kenya where in places it is as wide as 80 km (50 miles) across, with escarpment walls rising up to 600 m. (2000 ft). Some of the views from these walls are quite spectacular.

In Kenya a chain of seven shallow lakes is scattered along the floor of the Rift Valley. Several of these lakes have no outlet and some are extremely alkaline because of the deposits from the many volcanoes in the valley. These include the South, Central and North islands in Lake Turkana, Londiani and Menengai (near Nakuru), Eburru, Longonot and Suswa (around Lake Naivasha) and Shomboli on the Kenya/Tanzania border.

 Lake Elmenteita
Most of this shallow 18 sq km soda lake is on private land and forms part of the Delamere Estate’s Soysambu property. There is some game in the bush around the lake, with flamingo and pelicans congregating along the shores. Some very pleasant escorted nature walks around the lake’s shores are available.

Lake Naivasha
Steeped in 19th century settler history, this is a very picturesque 900 sq km freshwater lake and a favourite weekend haunt for Nairobi residents. Here, you can fish, sail and visit Crescent Island where gentle walking is popular. Nearby is the dramatic Hell’s Gate, overshadowed by the mysterious Mount Longonot.

Lake Turkana
Lake Turkana is one of the natural wonders of the world, a massive inland sea that is classified as the largest desert-lake in the world and covers 6,405 sq km. The lake is a source of life to some of Kenya’s most remote tribes and is also believed to be ‘the Cradle of Mankind’ due to the 1.6 million year old ‘Turkana boy’ (Homio erectus) found here. It is a very remote destination, but one that repays the intrepid traveller with rich rewards.

Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate covers an area of around 69 sq km and is situated close to Lake Naivasha, a short drive from Nairobi. The main characteristic of the park is its diverse topography and geological scenery, with some spectacular gorge walks, scenic landscape and hot springs to enjoy. It is also an important home to the lammergeyer vulture.

Kenya tours mara Lake Nakuru

The most famous of the Rift Valley lakes, Nakuru is a soda lake set within the 62 sq km park, renowned for its magnificent array of spectacular bird life. It is the migratory flocks of thousands of greater and lesser flamingo that really create the attraction here, when the lake’s shallow waters turn pink with their vast numbers. Black and white rhino, the rare Rothschild’s giraffe, a small herd of buffalo, dik dik, klipspringer, eland, the occasional leopard and many other plains game are also found here.

 

Lakes Baringo & Bogoria (3200 ft. 970 m)

These are two of the more remote lakes, lying approximately 250 km (150 miles) from Nairobi. Lake Baringo is the second freshwater lake in the Rift Valley (Naivasha being the only other) and is a source of constant amazement to first time visitors, as it is a permanent muddy brown colour. The waters of Lake Bogoria are extremely saline and this is often the alternative home for the large flocks of flamingo.

Lake Baringo

This is the larger lake, with tourist accommodation on the shores and also on the small but attractive Lokwe island in the centre of the lake. The muddy colour of the water is believed to be caused by soil erosion on the western perimeter of the lake.

This scenic area, surrounded by high hills, is a bird watchers’ paradise.

In the cliffs just inland from the lake a number of raptors can be found as well as varieties of dry country birds which live in the scrub. Waders and water birds inhabit the lake and the river and bird viewing can be arranged either on foot or by boat. Hippo and crocodile can be seen in the lake and on the shores.

Lake Bogoria

This scenic alkaline lake is dominated by the sheer face of the Siracho Escarpment to the east. In recent years this has become another favourite home of the millions of flamingo which seasonally visit its shores. It is a truly unspoilt area, with no tourist accommodation at all, and on the western shore a series of hot springs and geysers erupt. The heat is such that it would be possible to boil an egg over these if anyone could venture close enough.

There is a small wooded area to the south of the lake which is populated by greater kudu and zebra, gazelle and warthog graze on the lake’s shores. Buffalo, leopard and cheetah are occasionally seen.

North of the lake the Kesubo Swamp offers excellent opportunities for bird watching.

Kakamega Forest

Situated in a relatively unspoilt area of Western Kenya, this tiny area is the remains of what was once the gigantic rain forest stretching from the Atlantic in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east. Here, in an area which is probably no more than 230 sq km, live a huge variety of birds and animals, in an environmental island surrounded by dense cultivation.

This is an ornithologist’s paradise. Within this little bit of forest more than 300 species have been recorded, including the huge great blue touraco, the black and white casqued horn bill, Ross’s touraco and brightly coloured sun birds, barbets, and more, and more and more. Recommended that you take the best bird book you can lay your hands on to help identify the wide variety you will see whether walking, driving or sitting quietly under the high canopy of the trees. At present this is not a National Park or Reserve and it is possible to walk quietly in the late evening or early morning hoping to spot the rare De Brazza monkey. Other primates include the red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus and the blue monkey. Bush babies and genets live in the area as well as palm civets and even potto which is a slow moving lemur type animal.

Kakamega is fairly well off the normal tourist route, but the drive up through the Great Rift Valley and the higher tea country is cool and attractive, and there is one excellent Jesuit Retreat which offers accommodation of a high quality within the forest itself.

Kenya Mountain

Mount Kenya

An extinct volcano, over three million years old, Mt. Kenya (the second highest mountain in Africa after only Mt. Kilimanjaro on Kenya’s south west border) dominates the northern circuit. Believed at one time to have been higher than Mt. Everest, Mt. Kenya is in fact a giant extinct volcano, the rim of which has long since fallen away. The twin snowcapped peaks of Batian (5199m/17155 ft) and Nelion (5192 m/17133 ft) were the eroded plugs of this volcano from which lava and ash outpourings eroded its well known silhouette.

The Kikuyu (who live beneath its bulk) believed the mountain (which they call Keree Nyaga or Kiri-nyaga) to be the sacred home of Ngai, their God.

When the first reports from the explorers reached Europe in 1849, no-one took the tale of a high mountain with snow lying on the equator at all seriously. It was not until 1883 that the explorer, Joseph Thomson, confirmed the existence of the mountain and the first recorded scaling of the highest peak (Batian) was by Sir Halford Mackinder in 1899. A fascinating book ‘Facing Mt. Kenya’ tells of Italian prisoners-of-war who escaped from their prison camp in nearby Nanyuki, and succeeded in climbing the third highest peak Lenana (the one most popular with climbers), their only ‘map’ being a sketch of the mountain taken off a can of bully beef!

The Mt. Kenya National Park covers approximately 227 sq miles/580 sq km above the 11375 ft/3468 m. line, with two salients stretching down the western slopes. The vegetation on the mountain is unique to East African mountains and is zoned by altitude.

Between 2000 and 2400 metres was dense cloud forest, sadly depleted in recent years. Over 2400 m. the forest gives way to giant bamboo and above this is the unusual Afro-Alpine moorland. Above this is the area of the blue flowered lobelia (lobelia keniensis and lobelia telekii) which grow up to 4 metres in height and giant groundsel which grows even higher, at 6 metres.

Wildlife which can be found in the park includes buffalo, elephant, leopard, bush buck, giant forest hog and Colobus monkeys. This is also the home of some of the most beautiful birds in Africa – malachite sunbirds, golden-winged sunbirds, montaine francolin, and Mackinder’s eagle owl.

Hikers will find beautiful tarns, some of unknown depth, amongst the high peaks. Most first time climbers aim for Point Lenana at 4986 metres, and specialist rock climbing knowledge is needed to scale the two higher peaks.

A word of warning – there can be high winds and tricky rock to contend with. The mountain rises so steeply from the lowlands that there is a risk of contracting pulmonary edema and ascents should not be too fast. There are several climbers’ huts at various points on the mountain. The main base for climbing is Naro Moru River Lodge where equipment can be hired and updates on the mountain conditions are regularly available.

 

Aberdare National Park

The Aberdare National Park is part of the Aberdare Mountain Range, a fascinating region of Kenya. According to traditional Kikuyu folklore they are one of the homes of Ngai (God).

Mountain ranges and peaks soar to around 12,900ft (3,930m) giving way to deep V-shaped valleys with streams and rivers cascading over spectacular waterfalls – this area is a must for landscape lovers. From its vital catchment area the Aberdare Rainforest feeds the entire local and Nairobi water supply. Above the forest is a belt of bamboo, a favourite haunt of the Bongo, a rare and elusive forest antelope. At 10,000ft (3,000m), the bamboo gives way to moorland, home to eland, spotted and melanistic serval cats. Other features are the giant alpine varieties of lobelia, groundsel and heather. Ideal for walking, picnics, camping and trout fishing in the rivers, the moorlands are reminiscent of the European highlands.

Deep ravines cut through the forested inclines, through which hidden trout streams flow and waterfalls cascade down hundreds of feet of rock face.
Above the forest stretch miles of open moorlands,broken by lichen – covered rocky outcrops, hills and crags,thickets of giant heath and tussock-grass bogs.

In the forest are red Duiker, suni, Bushbuck – some of the old males are nearly black – Elephant, Buffalo, Giant Forest Hog, Leopard- all black examples have been recorded – and colobus monkey.

The moorland thickets are the home of Bush Duiker and Black – fronted Duiker and also the Black Rhino.

Bird life is abundant and varied. Perhaps the most conspicuous group is the sunbirds. Four species may be seen – Tacazze sunbird, brilliant metallic violet and bronze with a black belly; Golden-winged sunbird, scintillating coppery-bronze with golden yellow edged wings and tail; the emerald green Malachite Sunbird, and the tiny double collared Sunbird with metallic green upperparts and throat and scarlet chest band.

Game birds include Jackson’s and Scaly Francolins in the forest and the very local Montane Francolin on the moorlands. Birds of prey are specially interesting and crowned and Ayres’ Hawk Eagles, Mountain Buzzard, Rufous-breasted Sparrow Hawk and African Goshawk are usually to be seen.

Birds in the higher moorland are the Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird – but rare here than in Mount Kenya – The tame and confiding Mountain or Hill Chat, Augur Buzzard, Slender-billed Chestnut-wing Starling and White-naped Raven.

There is a variety of accommodation. Treetops tree-house lodge and the Ark, a lodge built in the shape of Noah’s Ark. Night gameviewing is provided by the lodges in the Salient area of the Park with excellent sightings of elephant, buffalo, lion and rhino, drawn to the waterholes and saltlicks each evening.
Overall within the Aberdare National park there are two lodges (total 219 beds), three self-help band sites (total 18 beds), eight special campsites (requiring advance booking) and one public campsite (moorland). There are five picnic sites.

Samburu National Park

The three game reserves lie along the banks of Ewaso Nyiro River in one of the most unusual and attractive scenic areas of Kenya.

Situated approximately 400 km (240 miles) due north of Nairobi in a very dramatic area with Ololokwe (a large table mountain) in the background, views of the Mathews range of mountains in the distance, and Mt. Kenya dominating the south eastern skyline on clear days. This is an area of blue and purple landscapes, dry and barren, but with a beauty all of its own.

The permanent river, which rises in the Aberdare mountains in the west, supports a wide variety of wildlife and some of the species, such ‘as Grevy’s zebra, Somali blue necked ostrich, the striking reticulated giraffe and the dainty gerenuk, are unique to this area.

Elephant families play in the waters, there are large herds of buffalo and (except during droughts) the river is host to large numbers of crocodile. Lion and cheetah hunt in the short scrub, leopard shelter in the high fever trees beside the river, and oryx and greater kudu are regularly sighted.

This is the home of the pastoral Samburu tribe, cousins of the nomadic Masai.

Samburu & Buffalo Springs Reserve

The southern border of the Samburu Reserve and the northern border of Buffalo Springs lie alongside the river.

There are several lodges in the Samburu Reserve and the original tented camp in Buffalo Springs Reserve has recently been upgraded to offer more permanent accommodation.

Shaba National Reserve

Shaba, which takes its name from an outcrop of rock, lies across the main road from the entrance to Samburu Game Reserve.

It was here that the artist and author, Joy Adamson (best known for the story of Elsa, the lioness, portrayed in the series ‘Born Free’ and ‘Living Free’) was brutally murdered while rehabilitating the cheetah (which featured in the book ‘Pippa the Cheetah’).

The CBS TV series Survivor 2, was based in Shaba and viewers will recall the superb settings for the filming.

There is only one lodge in this Reserve, built by a natural spring overlooking the river.

 kenya safaris samburu

Masai Mara

Undoubtedly the best known of all the Kenya Game Reserves, Masai Mara lies along Kenya’s south west border with Tanzania, bisected by the Mara River and bordered on the western boundary by a spectacular escarpment (several scenes in the film ‘Out of Africa’ were shot in this area). Mara is an area of 2700 sq km (690 sq. miles). It is the home of the greatest variety and largest number of wild animals in Kenya.

It is also the northern extension of Tanzania’s famous Serengeti National Park and the animals wander freely (no immigration stamps required) across man-made boundaries.

It is impossible to prepare the first time visitor for the number of animals they may see. The waving wheat-eared grass attracts huge numbers of plains game. Zebra, giraffe and a variety of gazelle, including topi and eland, graze in proximity to large herds of buffalo, while elephant meander across the landscape or browse in the cooler areas of forest and swamp. During the migration the whole Reserve may be dotted with herds of visiting wildebeest (resident animals remain in Mara throughout the year) mingling among the smaller game such as warthog, jackal, hyena, mongoose and bat-eared fox to name but a few. From the normal quiet and peaceful rolling grasslands, the Reserve resounds to the lowering of the visiting herds which will remain until the rains once again turn the grass green in Serengeti, when they will return from whence they came. A count during the migration in the 1980s revealed over a million wildebeest, half a million gazelle and over 200 000 zebra resident in the Reserve at any one time.

In recent years Mara has been host to the ‘Big Cat Diary’ and viewers all over the world are familiar with the life of prides of lion, and families of cheetah and leopard. For the visitors more used to the busy helter-skelter life of big cities, it is a once in a lifetime experience to sit in silence beside a pride of lion and watch their daily interaction – an experience that will remain in their memories throughout their lives.  Masai Mara is a Game Reserve and not a National Park. As a Game Reserve the people of the area are permitted to co-exist alongside the animals. The Masai tribe who inhabit this area have lived in peaceful companionship with the game for centuries. It is not uncommon to see a Masai ‘enkang’ on the skyline close to where a herd of elephants are ‘chomping’ their way through the high grass, and both people and animals are wary about crossing each other’s paths!

The bird life in Mara is also prolific with 350 different species recorded including 53 different birds of prey.

In Masai Mara it is possible to enjoy a hot air balloon ride. Balloons take off at dawn, to avoid the thermals which develop as the day progresses, and drift high over the grazing herds which cannot be accessed by vehicles. After approximately an hour’s flight, a gentle landing is followed by a champagne-style breakfast on the landing site, where pilots and passengers toast yet another memorable experience.

Daily flights from Mara take passengers to visit Lake Victoria for a day’s fishing, or a longer period during which visits to villages on the nearby islands and bird watching can be arranged. Comfortable accommodation is available for those who wish to spend more time on the lake.

There are many lodges and tented camps both inside the Masai Mara Reserve and in the more recently developed Conservations Areas which protect the boundaries of the Reserve and in which the wildlife also abound.

Some properties outside the reserve allow night game driving and game walking or horse back riding safaris can also be arranged.

Amboseli National Park

The 392 sq km Amboseli National Park lies due south of Nairobi, within clear sight of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 5896 m. The waters of the mountain feed the seasonal swamps and marshes on which the game and birds which live in the park rely. It is here that photographers will hope to shoot the classic picture of the elephant or giraffe standing against the dramatic backdrop of the snow capped mountain.

The park takes its name from the seasonal lake Amboseli, which in dry weather resembles a massive salt pan. In recent years it has become world famous as the home of herds of elephant, which lived here in comparative safety throughout the times of intense poaching during the 1980s and early 1990s.

For years the Maasai shared the area with the wild animals. They were pre-occupied with their own herds of cattle and seldom bothered the game but in dry seasons there is insufficient pasture for game and cattle.

An area of 379 sq km (152 sq miles) has been set aside as a National Reserve, but the Maasai may still be found grazing their cattle inside the park from time to time.

The large herds of elephant can most often be found grazing in the permanent swamps. On the plains there are still large herds of buffalo and plains game such as gazelle and zebra, and wildebeest abound. Families of warthog trot off through the all-pervasive dust while hyena and jackal vie with the flocks of vultures over the carcasses left by the occasional lion or cheetah.

The birdlife in this area is magnificent. During the wet season waterbirds may be found within the swamps and after the rains it is a common sight to see large flocks of flamingo wading in pools of water below the mountain. Raptors soar in the thermals rising from the hot ground, ostrich and bustard stamp across the plains, and weavers and other colourful smaller birds are found in the grounds of the tourist lodges.

There are several tourist class lodges and permanent camps within the park. There are also campsites which are generally used by Kenya residents.

 

Tsavo National Parks

By far the largest of the national parks, the combined areas of Tsavo East and West National Parks is more than 21 000 sq. km and is watered by the Athi/Galana river. This was originally one huge national park, split in two by the main Nairobi/Mombasa highway and for administration purposes.

This area does not host the large number of visitors who go to the better known parks, but it has a large variety of animals, more difficult to see because of the seasonal depth of vegetation and because they are spread over such a large area.

During the terrible poaching years of the nineties the huge elephant herds of Tsavo East were decimated, but strict controls have seen a great reduction in poaching activities and large numbers can be found in both parks.

There are over 60 different mammals in the parks and the bird life is equally varied.

Taita Hills Sanctuary is to the south of Tsavo West and south west of the main highway. High standard accommodation as well as camping sites are available in all three areas.

Tsavo West

Undoubtedly the main attraction in this, the smaller of the two Tsavos, is the beautiful area of Mzima Springs 40 km from Mtito Andei.

From these springs, which are fed underground from the nearby Chyulu Hills, flow an estimated 97 million gallons of water a day, and the palm fringed oasis attracts animals from all around to drink in the clear waters.

A most unusual underwater observatory allows visitors to watch the inhabitants of the waters, hippo, crocodile and shoals of barbet from a very ‘different’ viewpoint.

Around this area are flows of lava and the most spectacular is the Shetani lava flow, believed to have formed only 200 years ago (the Chyulu Hills from which the flow came are themselves only 500 years old).

Shetani means ‘devil’ in Swahili and the older residents tell blood curdling stories of the fate of their ancestors during the original eruptions.

An excellent network of roads offers opportunities to explore deeper into the park where predators abound and herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra and gazelle (including oryx) may be found.

In the scenic area of Ngulia is a Rhino Sanctuary where numbers of black rhino browse in safety.
Tsavo East

Once away from the riverine vegetation of the Galana River and the imposing Yatta Plateau, this area is mainly dominated by flat bush and huge baobab trees. It was the main area of poaching in the past and some parts still remain closed to the public.  At one point the river tumbles down a narrow gorge known as Lugard’s Falls, named after Lord Lugard who travelled up the Galana on his way to take up governance of Uganda and to forget an unrequited love in England.

The Kenya/Uganda railway line runs close to the road in this area of the park and it was here that work on the railways was halted in the early 20th century when man-eating lions dragged several workers away and devoured them in the bush. This gruesome episode is described by the eventual killer of the man-eaters, Col. J. H. Patterson, in the ‘Man Eaters of Tsavo’.

Taita Hills

The Taita Hills lie to the south of Tsavo West and on the fertile land in the saddles between the main peaks the Taita tribe grow a variety of vegetables.

On the plains below the hills the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary has been established and is home to elephant, lion, oryx, lesser kudu and a wide variety of smaller animals.

The variety of animals which live in this small 110 sq. km sanctuary are often easier to spot than those in the larger Tsavo Parks.

A variety of short excursions can be made from the Sanctuary. Towards the Tanzania border lie Lakes Jipe and Chala, the former, home of many water birds, while Lake Chala is the deepest crater lake in Africa.

The nearby Kaisugu Hills were the battle ground of the German forces and the British Army led by General Smuts in the 1914/18 war, and it is here that the formidable Lord Grogan (famous for his walk from Cape to Cairo for the love of a lady) built his home which is locally known as Grogan’s Castle.

With over 300 miles (500 km) of white sandy beaches, fringed with coconut palms and lapped by the warm Indian Ocean, and a history stretching back to the first century AD, the Kenya Coast is a ‘must’ in any holidaymaker’s itinerary.

The early history of this part of the East African coast is vague, but it was certainly referred to in early maps as ‘Tonike’. References to trading in the area date back to the second century AD and on the south coast there is an early Iron Age site, carbon-dated to the same era. The capital city, Mombasa (which only became a city recently), was described as the residence of the King of Zenj (Arabic for black Africans) in the 12th century. The Swahili people of the Kenya coast share a common language (Swahili), religion (Islam) and culture.

The charm of the coastal atmosphere is probably best summed up by the Swahili proverb ‘haraka, haraka, haina baraka’ – ‘haste, haste, has no peace’. Up country residents refer to a fatal disease’ coastitis’ from which, once caught, there is no return. It is best described as ‘continuing manyana’ – a wonderfully relaxed attitude to life, found in an amazingly relaxing area.

The beaches themselves offer opportunities for blissful relaxation or for the insistently energetic swimming in the balmy ocean, sailing in a variety of types of boats exploring the protective coral reef which stretches just offshore for the majority of the coastline. There are fleets of deep sea fishing boats, equipped with the latest in modern equipment, from which blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, shark and smaller species are regularly caught. The deep sea diving is superb and experts and beginners alike will find diving organisations in most of the leading resort areas. For the less adventurous, goggling can be arranged from resort hotels, as can water skiing and a variety of other water sports.

Holidaymakers can book into international or local hotels, or arrange for their own holiday home which can be rented at very reasonable prices. Tourist class hotels offer excellent and varied cuisine and there is generally a variety of entertainment organised. Restaurants on the Kenya coast specialise in  superb, fresh seafood as well as a variety of other cuisine. Nightlife varies depending on the nearest town, and the area chosen, although visitors are welcome in the majority of hotels.

 

Mombasa

The city was the seat of Government in Kenya until 1906 when it moved to Nairobi. It has a population approaching 1.5 million and a fascinating history.

It was in 1498 that Vasco da Gama first brought the Portuguese fleet into the town.  It was not long before his countrymen took over the east coast trade and ruled for more than 200 years.

Their domination was not unchallenged and in 1593 the construction of a fort (to be known as Fort Jesus) commenced on a spectacular site overlooking the harbour. However in 1652 the Omani Arabs raided nearby Zanzibar and Pate islands and killed all the Portuguese. Over the next 40 years there were continuous raids on Mombasa and in 1696 an Omani fleet arrived at Mombasa Island and besieged Fort Jesus. Mombasa was to know no peace for many years, and at one time the fort underwent a siege lasting 33 months. At the end only 15 out of the 2000 inhabitants of the fort remained alive. Eventually the Portuguese left the Kenya coast in 1720 and the Arab rulers controlled the town until 1832.

This was the year that the Sultan of Oman moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.  From that date until the British East African Protectorate was set up in 1895, the Zanzibari flag fluttered over Fort Jesus. The fort is now a museum and is always included on all scheduled day tours of Mombasa.

An excellent sound and light show (presented on a regular basis) recreates its rich history. Construction of the railway line to Uganda began shortly after the BEA Protectorate took control and the prosperity and development of the island has continued since that time. Visitors should certainly take time to explore what is left of the “Old Town” with its narrow streets, carved doors and upstairs verandahs. Elsewhere in the town the Hindu and Jain Temples, the Sheikh Jundani Mosque and the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches are all worth a visit.

There are few tourist class hotels on the island as most visitors prefer to spend their time closer to the beach, but no-one who visits the Kenya Coast should fail to explore this fascinating city with its colourful and busy shopping areas and places of quiet history.

South of Mombasa

After crossing the ferry which links the south coast to the island of Mombasa, the road runs for 70 miles (112 km) to the Tanzania border, and there are many beautiful beach resorts from which the visitor can choose.

Furthest away is Shimoni, ‘the place of the caves’ and now a major center for deep sea fishing. The nearby Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Reserve encompasses several small islands and the diving and snorkeling is unsurpassed, although these are not the best beaches.

The best resort area is Diani, lying 30 miles (48 km) north of Shimoni. Here there are number of hotels of varying standards, and the nearby village has several good restaurants. Each hotel offers a variety of water sports, and there are separate centers which cater for those who choose to stay in private accommodation.

 

Shimba Hills

Lying in the cooler hills, only a few miles inland from Diani, is a small, peaceful National Reserve which is very well worth a visit for those staying more than one or two days on the beaches. The nearby Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary is a successful conservation project to the North West of the Shimba Reserve.

North Coast

Crossing the Nyali bridge, north of Mombasa, the beaches stretch for many miles and there are excellent tourist hotels of different standards. Water sports are available in all the main centres, and some hotels offer tennis, squash or golf. The nightlife varies from hotel to hotel and within the different villages. More information on this can be found in one of the many Guides to Kenya. The first resort area is Nyali which lies close to a variety of shopping centres and the Nyali Golf Club. The Bamburi Nature Trail is a well known conservation area, previously a quarry, into which a variety of wildlife has been successfully translocated. There is a crocodile (‘mamba’) village nearby and the Bombolulu Workshops (whose disabled inhabitants produce some excellent handicrafts). 12 miles (19 km) north of Mombasa lies Mtwapa Creek and both here and in Tudor Creek (the northern inlet round Mombasa Island) the historic Arabian dhow has been converted for cruise excursions, offering participants the chance to dine on board (very often to the accompaniment of native bands) and learn something of the history of the area.

A third creek, Kilifi, lies 25 miles (40 km) north of the island. Both Mtwapa and Kilifi Creeks are safe areas for water sport, and are centres for deep sea fishing. Still further north (25 miles/ 40 km from Kilifi) lies the famous ruined city of Gedi, inexplicably abandoned some three centuries ago. Recent excavations have uncovered well preserved relics of the Great Mosque and houses in traditional Swahili style. Watamu is the nearest holiday resort to Gedi, with clean sandy beaches on the shores of a marine national park. Here the coral heads are close to the shore and visitors can hire glass bottom boats to view the brightly coloured fish.

Malindi

This historic coastal town lies 60 miles (l00 km) from Mombasa and is believed to be the ‘Melind’ of Paradise Lost. Chinese junks visited the port in the early fifteenth century and, after the arrival of Vasco da Gama’s fleet, Malindi prospered as the centre of Portuguese influence for nearly one hundred years.

For nearly three hundred years, slaves were sold in front of the pillar which stands by the Juma Mosque. In 1900 the enforcement of the ban on slave labour crippled the economy and Malindi entered the twentieth century as a ‘small fishing village:

However the introduction of agricultural settlement schemes and the building of the first beach hotels in the 1930’s turned Malindi into a thriving township.  Just south of the township is Casuarina Point and the coral gardens of the Malindi Marine Park, a fascinating underwater wonderland, visited every day by glass bottom boats and snorkellers.

Malindi hosts the International Billfish Contest in February each year. Sailfish breed along the mouth of the Sabaki River (3 miles/ 5 kms north of Malindi) and sailfishing is at its best from October until February. In recent years night fishing has been introduced, to search for the elusive broadbill.

The Kenya Association of Sea Anglers keeps a tight control on the size of fish which can be brought ashore, and all members prefer to tag billfish to protect the species.

 

Lamu

Lamu could be referred to as ‘an island older than time’. Although linked to the mainland by a dirt road, no cars are allowed on  Lamu Island and regular daily flights carry visitors to the island. The Peri plus of the Erithrean Sea, the earliest account of the trade of the East Coast of Africa, refers to Pyralaon Island (the Lamu Archipelago). There are no further records until the 10th Century AD, but excavations on Manda show the influence of the 9th century Persians.

In the late 16th century the Turks challenged the ruling Portuguese power and many years of internecine strife followed between the various island city-states.  A great battle at Shela on Lamu island resulted in victory by the Lamu people, who butchered all invaders.

The economy of the island was based on slavery but with the abolition of this trade the population fell by over a third and Lamu went into decline, only arrested with the advent of international tourism.

Lamu is an island of narrow winding streets and alleys, mosques, bazaars and whitewashed buildings which remain remote and generally unspoilt to the present day.  There are several hotels on the island itself, and developments are taking place on other islands. The archipelago is a place of constant fascination with a number of old ruins and quiet little populated waterways.

There are boats available for deep sea fishing. There is an excellent museum on Lamu and curios can be tracked down in the winding side streets.

Lamu is not the place for those who prefer crowds and plenty of activity. It has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere which will always appeal to those who prefer to spend time ‘off the beaten track’.