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Kenya See And Do

Amboseli National Park
Kenya
www.kws.org/amboseli.html

For all the attractions scattered around Kenya, Amboseli National Park might offer the definitive photo op, with its famous elephants stomping through the bush and Kilimanjaro's snowy shoulders flexing in the background. Sure, Africa's most famous peak is technically on the Tanzanian side of the border, but with the stunning views this park affords, Kenya has more or less co-opted those snows for itself. Wildlife-watching in Amboseli centers on its packs of pachyderms, but watch out for wildebeest, impala, and zebra—even the odd cheetah feasting on a fresh kill. Evening game drives are pure magic, when the clouds part, the birdsong bursts from the acacias, and Kilimanjaro's snowcapped crown catches the last rays of daylight. It's no surprise that Hemingway drew much of his inspiration from Amboseli's landscape (at least, when he wasn't shooting its wildlife). Those traveling with an outfitter may not have the option to choose, but if you're organizing your own trip, treat yourself to a stay at the award-winning Tortilis Camp, an intimate escape from the park's barren, dusty plains.

The Gedi Ruins
Arabuko Sokoke National Park
Kenya

The coastal forest of Arabuko Sokoke, north of Mombasa, conceals butterflies, birds, and monkeys in its depths, as well as the ruins of Gedi. This 13th-century Swahili town flourished here for hundreds of years, hidden from Portuguese invaders. The town was eventually deserted, but today, ruined houses, palaces, and mosques are visible amid the trees and tangled vines. Visitors can take a bus, matatu, or car to Arabuko, but there is limited private-vehicle access to the reserve itself, so you are better off going with one of the trekking companies that organize trips from Nairobi or Mombasa.

Kakamega Forest National Reserve
www.kws.org/kakamega.html

Most people give the place a pass—or a pass-by en route to gorilla tracking in Uganda—but Kakamega Forest is one of Kenya's must-see spots. Buried deep within the country's remote western reaches, the reserve protects the last rain forest ecosystem in Kenya. It's a marvel of biodiversity: Monkeys chatter in the trees, snakes slither along the footpaths, and colorful birds and butterflies flit about the canopy. Take the lovely, meandering route along the banks of the Isiukhu River, or hike to the top of Buyango Hill to see the forest sprawl beneath you—the perfect African snapshot. It may lack the big-name spectacles of the "Big Five," but the reserve's subtle pleasures—think orchid blossoms and bird song—make it a welcome respite from the regular safari trail. Accommodation in the area ranges from the very basic to the very-very basic, so embrace the idea of roughing it. The nearby Golf Hotel offers simple, clean rooms and arranges daily tours of the forest (Kakamega; 254-56-30150-51; www.golfhotelkakamega.com).

Laikipia
www.laikipia.org

While the southern safari circuit embraces Kenya's biggest attractions (and most of its famous postcard panoramas), in-the-know travelers have been staking out Laikipia for years. Follow the long, bumpy road from Nairobi in a solid 4WD (you'll thank us later) or take a quick zip on a charter flight, and you'll arrive at this spectacular gateway to Kenya's rugged north. Straddling the equator, with Mount Kenya's snow-capped beacon beaming in the distance, Laikipia is home to dramatic escarpments, sprawling plateaus, and some of the country's most intriguing tribes. Conservation is the name of the game in these parts, and high-profile lodges like the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have flourished, thanks to partnerships with several area tribes. You might have a Samburu sous-chef, a Turkana tour guide, and a Masai moran—spear in hand—greeting you as you coast into a private airstrip. Luxe lodges have been built by local workers using local resources, with most of the profits pouring into the neighboring communities.

Lake Nakuru National Park
Nakuru
Lake Nakuru National Park
Kenya
www.kws.org/nakuru.html

"Pretty in pink" might not be the perfect advertisement for an adrenaline-charged safari, but Lake Nakuru's famous flocks of flamingos are one of Kenya's most celebrated spectacles. Skirting the lake's shores in a long, dazzling ribbon of pink, the birds are an ornithological marvel: a million-plus perched on slender pins, nibbling away at the lake's algae. You'll also see plenty of pelicans, storks, and cormorants keeping them company, while the surrounding woodlands, framed by green-cloaked cliffs, are a popular stomping ground for lion, leopard, waterbuck, buffalo, and the endangered black rhino. If you're looking to make Nakuru your base for a few days, stay at the Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge. Though it may lack some of the glitz of the country's more over-the-top lodges, the location is ideal: The 67 chalets sit on a plateau overlooking the lake. It's bird-watching with a stylish twist (Lake Nakuru; 254-20-271-4444; www.sarovahotels.com/lionhill).

Lamu Island
Lamu
Kenya

Far from the tourist overdrive of Kenya's southern coast, low-key Lamu is an idyllic island of swaying palm trees, gliding dhows, and donkeys plodding through a maze of narrow, winding streets. Settled by Swahili traders in the 14th century, the namesake town is one of East Africa's treasures, its alleys abuzz with barefoot children, women in swirling bui-bui robes, and clattering carts piled high with coconuts. Keep your eyes peeled for the ornate door carvings that are a Swahili trademark. On the island's southern shore, glorious Shella Beach embraces the warm waves of the Indian Ocean in a long ribbon of powdery sand. It's a favorite among the well-heeled expats buying up the pleasure palaces nearby. Neighboring islands Manda and Kiwayu are home to some of Kenya's most exclusive hideaways; a speedboat can zip you to the archipelagos farthest reaches in under an hour, though for our money, a long, lazy dhow ride suits Lamus laid-back rhythms to a tee. After hours, expats gather for sunset drinks at the breezy waterfront Peponi or for seafood at the rooftop restaurant of the Baitil Aman Guest House.

Masai Mara National Reserve
Masai Mara
Kenya
www.maraconservancy.com

Spread across a savanna so vast it reaches into neighboring Tanzania (where it becomes Serengeti National Park), Masai Mara is Kenya's consummate game park. Lions snooze in the grass; wildebeest thunder across the plains; acacia trees spread their prickly parasols on the horizon. The wealth of wildlife and the accompanying high-end lodges have made the Masai Mara one of the most popular safari spots in Africa. While the park's popularity is off-putting to some—sometimes it can seem like there's a fleet of 4WDs around every last lion—those willing to spend a bit more cash can take advantage of prime locations deep inside the Mara (and far from the tourist tumult). The park's highlights—too numerous to list individually—range from guided game walks to Masai village visits to lodges overlooking crowded watering holes. Of course, the splendid spectacle of the wildebeest migration is not to be missed, with more than a million beasts rumbling their way from the Serengeti between July and October.

Mombasa

Largely overlooked by travelers, Kenya's second-largest city anchors the action on the country's southern coast. True, most visitors buzz by en route to the spectacular beaches, like Diani and Lamu. But Mombasa has been the unofficial (and unabashed) capital of coastal Kenya since the 15th century, when it became an influential trading port. Tuk-tuks putter through the streets while passing cars blast tropical beats. Vendors hawk piles of fresh fruit from the colorful carts they wheel around town. If you need a break from the nearby beaches, an afternoon around the evocative Old Town offers the best glimpse into the region's Swahili roots this side of Lamu. You can pass an afternoon shopping for local crafts and wandering the maze of roads that wind between buildings and mosques dating back to the 19th century. End your trip with a tour of the stout ramparts of Fort Jesus, which loom over the blue-green waves of the old harbor (Ndia Kuu Road; 254-11-312-839; www.museums.or.ke). The 16th-century fort offers a sobering reminder of the area's role in the slave trade, and visitors can tour the holding cells and torture chambers where slaves were kept before being transported around the world.

Mount Kenya

With all the fanfare surrounding Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya might be the planet's least-appreciated 17,000-foot peak. But Africa's second-highest summit rises majestically over central Kenya, challenging visitors to scale its snowy heights. Located just ten miles from the equator, the mountain's glacial crown gleams with icy cap for much of the year. The trek to Point Lenana, the highest peak accessible to casual hikers, is a tough test of endurance; to reach the two peaks above it, you'll need technical climbing skills. The Naro Moru Route is the most popular choice for the ascent, since it makes a beeline for the summit and descends again in just four days. The Sirimon and Chogoria routes offer more impressive scenery and gentler ascents; allow at least five days for each. Two of the most respected outfitters for organizing treks, the Bantu Mountain Lodge and the Naro Moru River Lodge, are based in the scruffy town of Naro Moru, from which most treks begin. All-inclusive packages that cover fees and rentals are the most practical option if you'd like to minimize the planning hassle.

Whatever you decide, it's worth giving yourself an extra day or two to enjoy the terrain. The mountain's forested slopes are rich in wildlife, and you might spot a few Sykes monkeys or a rare bongo (an elusive antelope species) prowling through the woods. After a few frosty days on the mountain, cozy up at the stately Mt. Kenya Safari Club nearby, which was recently purchased by the Fairmont group. Be sure to add your name to the venerable guest book aside those of Winston Churchill and L.B.J.

Nairobi

After years of heading the short list of Africa's most dangerous cities, Nairobi—one of the continent's busiest capitals—has taken a fresh turn. Energetic efforts to clean up the downtown area have paid dividends, and the streets that once earned this place the notorious nickname "Nairobbery" are safer than they've been in years. Youre still not likely to spend too much time around the capital, when Kenyas wildlife and beaches beckon, but Nairobi is the best place in East Africa to do a bit of splashy shopping—or sample some serious dining. Diplobrats, expats, and up-country sophisticates flock to the surrounding suburbs for the hottest nightclubs and haute-est cuisine, while luxe retreats like Ngong House offer a cozy oasis outside the city's spotlight.

The city itself was built on a swamp in the late 1800s as a railroad stop-off between Mombasa and Uganda, and later became the capital of what was then known as British East Africa. You can get a window into that history by checking out the National Museum, which houses cultural and geological exhibits as well as East African artifacts. Pick up artifacts of your own (or just regular old souvenirs) by trolling the sprawling stalls of the City Market.

For those who want to kick-start their safari, you can head to the Nairobi National Park on the outskirts of town to view lions, rhinos, and elephants against the backdrop of the city skyline. You can also get up close and personal with giraffes at the Langata Giraffe Centre, a sanctuary in a suburb of Nairobi for the rare Rothschild giraffe. Can't get enough? Then book a night at the grand Giraffe Manor (next door to the sanctuary), a historic bed-and-breakfast where the gracefully gawky creatures roam the grounds and pop their heads in the windows during meals. Also outside Nairobi, you can visit the farmhouse of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen.

Safaris in Kenya

Ask a dozen travel experts for the perfect safari, and you'll hear a single theme throughout: It all depends on the client. With the diversity of ecosystems and wildlife that Kenya has to offer, tailor-making a safari all depends on your priorities. Fortunately, established outfitters can help you wade through a bewildering number of options. Be prepared before you pick up the phone. If the "Big Five"—lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhinoceros—are the big draw for you, you'll probably stick to the southern safari circuit, especially when the wildebeest come marching through the Masai Mara from July to October. Birders will want to consider the stunning lakes of the Great Rift Valley—like Nakuru, Baringo, and Bogoria—while the truly adventurous might want to explore up north, where game-viewing takes a back seat to the sheer thrill of getting off the beaten track. Whatever you decide, timing is an important factor. For wildlife watchers, it's worth braving the crowds, traffic, and high-season rates to catch the great migration in July and August. Divers should avoid the poor visibility in the summer months, though, and wait for clearer waters in December and January.

Cox & Kings is the longest-running show in the luxury safari business, with 250 years to their name. Ker & Downey offers legendary safaris. Micato Safaris also ranks high on safari lists.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.