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Kenya - Snow-capped mountains and searing deserts

Janine Gates |
When you think about safari, you most probably think about Kenya. And with a reason: there's some kind of magic in that land on the eastern coast of Africa. Let's uncover why tourists love this country of contrasts.

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Kenya is covering an area of about 586,600 square kilometres; it is bordered by Somalia and the Indian Ocean to the east, Ethiopia to the north, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. The beautiful coastline is 550km long and it opens a fantastic views of the Indian Ocean. What makes Kenya so attractive is its fantastic topographical diversity: Kenya has glaciated mountains with snow-capped peaks, the Rift Valley with its scarps and volcanoes, ancient granitic hills, flat desert landscapes and coral reefs and islets.

Coastal plains give way to and inland plateau that rises gradually to the central highlands. The coastline is broken and composed of beaches, coral cliffs and reefs, creeks and numerous offshore coral islands. Inland, a mainly level but narrow coastal plain lies on sedimentary rocks, with some igneous intrusions such as Dzombo and Mrima. Beyond low rolling hills lies the so-called Nyika Plateau, mainly on sedimentary rocks.

The Great Rift Valley, with its associated escarpments and mountains, is a major feature. It runs the length of the country from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Natron on the southern border with Tanzania. The central portion of the rift is raised, with the Aberdare Mountains and Mt Kenya to the east and the Mau Escarpment and Cherangani Hills to the west. The northern and southernmost sectors of the rift are low-lying, arid and rugged, with spectacular volcanic landforms.

Kenya has a long and complex history. From the prehistoric records of early man to the present day, Kenya has been a land of unending change. It was a meeting place for peoples from the plain lands of the south, the forests of the West and the deserts of the North. The sea brought influences from the outside world, and the passage of the spice trade created the unique coastal culture, where lines between Africa and Arabia blurred.

The first explorers discovered a land of great peril and greater beauty, and their great adventures created the most unique colony in the British Empire. This was a meeting place of cultures, where adventurers and soldiers of fortune mingled with a complex tribal society, and the arrival of labourers and merchants from India brought new and pervasive influences.

There are several national parks, so we recommend just one: Samburu National Reserve. It is one of the lesser-known national parks, but is nevertheless teeming with life. The reserve is rich in wildlife with an abundance of rare northern specialist species such as the Grevy's zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and the beisa oryx. The reserve is also popular with a minimum of 900 elephants. Large predators such as the lion, leopard and cheetah are an attraction you must see and you must not miss Kamunyak, the lioness that adopted the baby oryx.

The annual mean temperatures range between 18 C and 30 C, while the mean annual rainfall is 345 mm with peaks in November and April. The dry season starts in late May, and goes up to early October when a large concentration of wildlife is found in the reserve due to availability of lush vegetation along the Ewaso Nyiro River, the main source of water to the Reserve and the nearby communities. Wild dog sightings are also a common attraction to this unique protected area. Bird life is abundant with over 450 species recorded. Birds of the arid northern bush country are augmented by a number of riverine forest species.

"No other country on earth can offer the visitor as much to see and do." That's the slogan of Kenya and we think it's very very close to the truth. Within the borders of a single country you can find rich savannas, famous tribes unchanged by the modern world, pristine beaches and coral reef, equatorial forests and snow-capped mountains, searing deserts and cool highland retreats. Here you have endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation, no matter which activity you like.

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