Kenya offers 480 km of coastline including coral reefs, beaches, Lamu archipelago and the Tana River estuary. Beyond the coastal strip the land rises up to the plateau and the terrain changes to become bushland and scrub desert.
The Kenyan coast offers wonderful tropical beaches with upmarket resorts, excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities and a variety of interesting historical sites. You can laze about on gorgeous beaches with white sand, coconut palms and clear blue water. When you're ready to explore the colourful underwater life of the coral reefs, dive sites lie in wait at Malindi and Watumu, as well as at the less accessible Shimoni and Wasani islands.
If your interests extend beyond sun and surf, there're plenty of cultural, architectural and historical sites to visit such as Lamu, Fort Jesus and Gedi. Ruins of towns, forts, tombs and mosques line the coastline, many of them not on the mainstream tourist itinerary. You'll find a strong Arab-Muslim influence along this coastline.
The breathtaking Rift Valley stretches right across the length of Kenya. It's dotted with lakes, from Lake Turkana to Lake Magadi, as well as the remains of extinct volcanoes. Travelling east from here you'll find the densely forested slopes of the Aberdare Mountains and further east you arrive at Africa's second highest mountain, the 5199 metre-high Mount Kenya. For farmers cultivating crops, these mountain slopes are the most fertile sections of Kenya. Nairobi is found in the southern section of the Central Highlands.
To the west is where you'll find the fertile shores of Lake Victoria, Mount Elgon (Kenya's second highest mountain) and the largest, most popular wildlife reserves of Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo. The terrain varies: undulating plateaus (from the Sudanese border to Tanzania in the south), richly cultivated lands (near Lake Victoria) and scrub and savanna (where cattle and wildlife graze).
This is Kenya at its wildest. The north and east are the least touched by the modern world. Rainfall is scarce in this mountainous region of scrub, bushland and desert making it suitable only for grazing cattle.
Kenya's capital city is as you'd expect it to be: big, busy and bustling. However, with its landscaped gardens, cosmopolitan atmosphere and many cultural, historical and wildlife attractions, Nairobi is an interesting place to spend a few days before heading out into the bush or to the coast. In between sightseeing, mingle with locals or fellow travelers in the many restaurants, cinemas, bookshops, art galleries, cafes and bars. Just do be aware of your belongings, as in most big cities. It's not without reason that Nairobi is nicknamed Nairobbery besides its more pleasant names such as City of Flowers or Green City in the Sun.
Get some perspective on the city by taking in the view from the 28th floor of Kenyatta Conference Centre.
Everyone knows about the thorn tree at the Thorn Tree Cafe in the Stanley Hotel where travelers have traditionally left notices for each other. Although the old acacia is no more, it's been replaced with another tree to keep this fun tradition alive.
For good prices on a variety of crafts including baskets, beads and gourds, wind your way down Moi Avenue to the Maasai Market.
A visit to the National Archives is highly recommended. There's quite a bit to see including an exhibition of handicrafts, paintings and other historical pictures.
Tour the National Musuem where you can see "Peoples of Kenya" portraits by Joy Adamson (of Born Free fame) commissioned by the government to record the traditional cultures of local people. The Prehistory Gallery has fossil displays, a re-creation of a prehistoric rock art site and a cast on the floor recording the footprints of three people (thought to be Homo erectus) as they walked across volcanic ash four million years ago. You'll also find examples of birds (stuffed) that you're likely to see on your travels, local art and the Lamu Gallery with a variety of cultural artifacts.
If you're interested in viewing living examples of the snakes found in East Africa, as well as tortoises and crocodiles, pop in at the Snake Park opposite the museum.What to do nearby Nairobi
Visit the Nairobi National Park, just a few kilometers from the city. It's one of the oldest parks in the country and you'll see buffalo, rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, zebra, gazelle and oryx. There are no elephants though.
See traditional dances and songs at The Bomas of Kenya, a cultural centre at Langata.
You can hand-feed Rothschild giraffes and take a self-guided forest walk at the Langata Giraffe Centre.
Pop into the Karen Blixen Museum. This farmhouse was the residence of Out of Africa author, Karen Blixen, who lived there from 1914 to 1931.
Ngong Hills provides excellent views over Nairobi and down into the Rift Valley. This is where early settlers set up farms in colonial days.
At Limuru, take a tour of a tea farm, walk into the forest to see the Colobus monkeys and waterfalls and then visit the settler's club, Kentmere.
From Nairobi, you can take a day trip to Sagani to go white water rafting on the Athi River up to the Masinga Dam. It includes 2 km of mild rapids, 4 km of Grade 4 plus rapids, portage round a waterfall and 15 kms of smooth water. You can also do a thrilling three-day trip from Yatta Gap to Tsavo Safari Camp (74 km). Only Athi/Glana has substantial rapids, chutes and waterfalls. Tana is sluggish, not suitable for rafting,
Mombasa is the main city on the coast of Kenya. What many people don't realize initially is that it's actually an island, with two causeways and a bridge connecting it to the mainland. It has a hot, humid climate but is worth exploring before hitting the beaches to the north and south. There are a variety of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, markets and shops to hang out at in Mombasa. Do try the Swahili and Indian cuisine.
As a trading post dating back to the 12th century, Mombasa is the largest port on the East African coastline. You can still see the influence of the previous rulers, especially in the mosques and Portuguese fort. The old section of the town, with its cramped streets, mosques, carved doorways and old houses leading down to the dhow harbour is the most interesting. The Old Town has the same kind of coastal Swahili architecture found in Lamu. You'll notice late 19th century Indian styles and British colonial architecture, as well as intricately carved woodwork.
Most tourists make a point of visiting the Portuguese fort in Mombasa, called Fort Jesus. It was built in 1593 and changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875. The angular construction of the fort walls made it impossible for invaders to lay siege to one wall without being attacked by soldiers on the other wall. It was later used as a prison but it is now a museum. Make sure you pop in at Omani house in the fort's north-western corner. From the roof, you can see over the Old Town.
As you'll discover, local sarongs (known as kangas and kikois) serve a multitude of purposes. Kangas bear brightly coloured prints and are made of cotton. Every different print represents a Swahili proverb. They're traditionally sold in pairs: one to wrap round the waist, the other to carry a baby on your back. Kikois are the thicker, striped fabrics which originated in Lamu, still one of the best, but not only, places to buy them.
At some point you're bound to encounter the local specialty.. It's called nyama choma (barbecued goat's meat) and is often served with a vegetable mash (matoke). Locals and expatriates both seem to love it but, to the uninitiated, this tough meat takes some getting used to.