As Seen in…
Places to visit in Kenya and on our African tours
Why visit Kenya?
This is a land of primeval magnificence where millions of elephants once roamed unencumbered by human interference and the idyllic lakes reverberated to the song of innumerable birds and yet, almost incredibly, it is still possible to recapture some of the sense of nature in its fullest glory amidst the variegated and compelling landscape of Kenya. Hominids first stepped on these soils as early as 20 million years ago and Richard Leakey’s 1984 discovery of ‘Turkana Boy’ suggests that, at 1.5 million years old, this region could well mark the cradle of human civilisation.
Today, Lake Turkana’s almost surreally opaque emerald waters, encircled by girdles of volcanic mountain ranges, host reminder of the prehistoric past as shrewd Nile crocodiles slide away from muddy shores into timelessness itself. From 500 B.C., ancient pastoral tribes have eked out an existence here and their descendants – the Turkana, Maasai and Samburu – still existed in a relatively unbroken line of heritage and lifestyle until outside interference in the 19th century. By the first millennium A.D. the Bantu advances had taken hold on the coast and tribes like the Kikuyu, Kissi and Aembu had established significant settlements and were active traders.
By the 1st century A.D. Arab traders brought wealth to towns like Mombassa, Malindi and Zanzibar and the next centuries led to establishment of the Kilwa Sultanate which held sway along the Tanzanian-Kenyan coastline. This dominant Swahili culture first encountered Europeans in the form of the Portuguese who again traded heavily, and increasingly so in slave centres like Malindi. By the time of the arrival of the British to impose their imperial designs on the region, the interior was still relatively pristine. This began to change with the 1890s construction of the railway to Uganda which opened up new territory to the white settlers. By 1950 they numbered 80,000 here and this led to wholesale cultural changes, with nomadic tribes forced to lay down residential roots and an increasing migration to the urban centres. Kenya’s loyalty to Britain was manifest in their supply of huge military support in World Wat II, but the growing wealth gap and rising tide of nationalism meant that the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s was only the beginnings of a call for independence.
This was achieved in 1963, but a series of ethnic wars, dictatorships and rigged elections made the youthful nation’s economic progress sluggish. Since 1992 when multi-party elections were finally instigated, Kenya has increasingly looked beyond its borders to share its incredibly diverse natural wonders and thereby fund its growing conservation successes: facing increases in deforestation and over-grazing, with pioneers like Joy Adamson in the 1960s vanguard, there is hope now that the efforts may yet reclaim this wonderful land for its magnificent mammals, abundance of avifauna, and rich array of reptile and amphibians, as well as maintaining the ecological setting that can sustain such biodiversity.