Kenya

“Here I am, where I ought to be.”
—Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

You can have breakfast in the hot desert of Samburu, lunch on Mount Kenya, and cocktails accompanied by one of the most brilliant sunsets of your life on the grassy savanna of the Maasai Mara.

And if this isn’t enough, you might just wake up early the next morning to float in a private hot air balloon on the Maasai Mara, taking in the seemingly endless plains, dotted with acacia trees. If you are lucky, you might witness the crossing of the Mara River by part of the millions-strong Great Migration, which stretches between Kenya and Tanzania. Many clients choose to include both countries.

In Kenya, within relatively close distances from each other are some of the greatest natural phenomena in Africa, as well as a remarkably rich environmental diversity.

Maybe it was inevitable that Kenya would give birth to the classic Hemingway-style safari.

These natural wonders are all created by the 3,700-mile long Great Rift Valley. Here the earth’s tectonic forces are constantly trying to create new plates by splitting apart old ones. It is one of the few active rift valleys in the world and is the largest rift in the world that is not entirely underwater.

The Rift runs from Jordan to Mozambique, but nowhere is the Rift Valley more prominent than in Kenya. The heterogeneity of environments caused by all of this leads to an assortment of habitats and, therefore, a remarkable variety of wildlife.

Kenya is unequalled in Africa for its wealth of species. Beyond enormous herds of plains game, such as wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle, there are the Big Five and also many endangered species, like the rare Hirola Antelope (found only in Kenya). Its bird list numbers over 1,100 species, the most extensive in Africa.

The Mara is one of the most spectacular areas in Africa to view game in abundance and in the most African of settings. It was here that Out of Africa was filmed. This is Africa the way you have always imagined it. It all happens here, including one of the most exciting events of the Great Migration: the dramatic crossing of the Mara River. Wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle, in groups of thousands at a time, and up to two million over the course of one year, attempt to cross the river, infested with crocodiles and with predators in wait on the other side.

To the southeast of the Mara, Amboseli is a relatively small park with dense game and dramatic views of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro. At 19,300 feet, besides being Africa’s tallest mountain, it is also the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. And it is a stunning backdrop for just about anything, but perhaps most especially for African wildlife.

Also in southeast Kenya, the savanna gives way to mountain ranges and the oft-bypassed Chyulu Hills. Aside from the abundance of wildlife, the terrain offers ample opportunity for horseback riding and mountain biking.

Running along the Great Rift are a series of soda lakes – so called for their high level of salt and other minerals. The best known are Bogoria and Nakuru. Flamingo love to feed on algae here. At times, you’ll see up to a million flamingoes at once.

We are happy to arrange an immersive experience at a camp for rescued orphan elephants, safari on horseback, or further explorations of Kenya’s landscape by hot air balloon or helicopter.

Just as rich as animal life in Kenya is tribal life. Perhaps the most famous, and the most dominant, are the much-photographed Maasai, who inhabited most of the Rift Valley until the arrival of the European colonists, and who gave their name to the Maasai Mara. Over 150,000 strong, they are fierce warriors and hunters. They live in semi-nomadic villages and their lives revolve around the rearing of cattle, which they believe are a gift of God to his chosen people.

They dress in vibrant colors, most famously in bright red, and wear elaborate beaded jewelry. They also shave their heads and wear body tattoos. Perhaps you might see the “adumu” or jumping dance, in which young men rocket themselves several feet into the air to show their strength.

There are over 50 tribal groups in Kenya. Some of the most interesting are in the north, including the gerontocratic Samburu, the desert-dwelling Rendille, the nomadic Turkana, and the camel-herding Gabra.

We are happy to arrange encounters with members of traditional tribal groups, including a visit to the Maasai Olympics, a brilliant conservation project working towards replacing traditional rites of passage into manhood, which have always focused on hunting, with competitions of spear throwing, sprinting, and the Maasai High jump.

One of the great legacies of tribal groups in Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, is Rock Art. Often dating back thousands of years and found in caves and sheltered areas beneath overhanging rock, Rock Art was once a means for people to express themselves and record their lives. Most importantly, it functioned as part of the ritual of worship. Often, these works held hidden meaning. Kenya contains a number of important sites as well as an important center of research and documentation. We can arrange for you to meet the director of that center.

Going back further in time, Kenya was the cradle to, well, us. Many of the most important fossil discoveries of early man (hominid) and our ancestors have been made near Lake Turkana (northern Kenya) and the Tugen Hills (western Kenya) as well as in Olduvai Gorge in nearby Tanzania.

The notion that humans originated in Africa is widely accepted today, but it was not always so.
The finds of the Leakey family of Nairobi and other paleontologists working in these areas have changed the way we understand our evolution. We are happy to show you some of these sites, guided by people who have been involved in the digs.

And if that all sounds too dusty, Kenya offers miles and miles of coastline with excellent watersports, and the ancient Swahili island of Lamu. And, don’t forget, Zanzibar (in neighboring Tanzania) is only a short flight away.

Whether your interests lie on land or in water, in old bones or living tribes, or in some of the most amazing animal life you will ever see, check out our Idea Lab.