It is hard to think of Kenya without thinking of the great African safari, a sea of rolling yellow framed by greens and blues, filled with beautiful animals and endless adventure. Who wouldn’t want to experience giraffe sightings, searching for the great prides of lions, and riding jeep-side along a knowledgeable guide while taking in one of the most exquisite natural landscapes of the world? But when planning a trip to Africa and to Kenya specifically, pack your bags for more than a safari– Kenya is home to a variety of other sights, entertainment, and adventures, too. As you’re planning your trip, don’t forget to check out these alternative ways to see this diverse African country.
Immerse yourself into local village life
Anyone who travels knows that moving from city to city and crowd to crowd while on the road can be exhausting. Cities, while culturally fascinating with the endless opportunities for art, theater, music, and culinary exploration, can also be chaotic and crowded. Traveling in tourist hubs gives you a look into the city culture of a country, but it can leave you with an incomplete picture. What better way to slow things down and discover a different aspect of local Kenyan culture than to find a smaller, more remote village to visit or volunteer? Kenya is home to 42 unique tribes whose cultures have survived and thrived into modern day, and these tribe’s ancestors still live amongst the natural beauty of Kenya in small, independent villages scattered throughout the country.
Local villages offer a once-in-a-lifetime way to see this culturally rich country
In some places, stays with local families can be arranged. In this vein, visitors have the unique opportunity to experience authentic Kenyan village life. You will live in the same house as your host family, share the same amenities as these people, and really spend time getting to know one corner of Kenya and its people intimately and thoroughly. You canalso volunteer in various villages through cultural exchange sites like Workaway or through WWOOFing hosts depending on your interests. Hosts ranges from organic gardening to working with orphans and school children. Volunteering offers a different way to travel, and working with locals adds another layer to the relationships you will build during your stay. Plus, you might leave with a new skill, though you will be sure to leave with countless stories. Whichever route you go, be it touring or volunteering, you are sure to get a taste of Africa seldom seem to the city traveller.
Who says laundry isn’t fun!
Kick off your shoes and spend some time on the coast
Coastal Kenya is an often-forgotten playground for marine lovers and beach goers alike. With a large portion of the country bordering the western Indian Ocean, Kenya offers a variety of beach and coastal activities to enjoy such as boating, scuba diving, marine life viewing, and tropical beaches. Kenya’s reefs are accessible year round, though the waters are more disturbed in July and August and can make underwater life harder to see. One of the best places for diving and marine wildlife viewings is Watamu Marine National Park where, depending on the season, you can see green sea turtles, whale sharks, and migrating whales from South Africa. At Watamu, the beautiful landscapes are not just found in the waters of the ocean– stunning cliffs and pristine shorelines will wow and awe any traveler, and regardless of your desire to scuba, a trip to Watamu will not disappoint.
A paradise of white sand and tropical vibes await you at one of the many beaches on Kenya’s eastern coast.
In addition to excellent diving opportunities, Kenya is home to myriad of beach towns that can provide sun, surfing, and seafood to the beach-bums of the traveling world while still satisfying the cultural urge to explore a new place. Make sure to plan your coastal Kenyan trip around the Mombasa Carnival, taking place the entire month of November in Mombasa, an island in the southeast. This ever popular festival gathers international visitors every year, and it is clear why! Every sounds of drums and Kenyan singing fill the air as tourists and locals alike wander the vibrant streets of downtown Mombasa near Fort Jesus. Sample local food and drinks, listen to local music, enjoy a stroll down the streets, bask in the sun on the beach, and browse artisan crafts and arts. The Mombasa Cultural Festival is a fun and exciting way to explore the rich cultural history of Kenya while remaining in a coastal environment.
Camels greet visitors on the beach in traditional, colourful garb.
Explore the proud heritage of Kenya at cultural sites and museums
The beauty of any place lies in its history and culture, and as travellers, we can learn so much about a place by taking the time to understand its past in all its complexities. Kenya is no different, and there are countless cultural sites and museums spread throughout the country where you can learn and appreciate Kenya and Africa’s historical significance. One of the major museums in Kenya is the Nairobi National Museum and is open 365 days a year. Here, exhibits and galleries are all centered around exploration: explore heritage while viewing art galleries dedicated to modern and historical artworks; explore the wildlife at the natural history exhibits; and explore human history by learning about both evolution and the history of Africa.
Kenya is full of distinct culture and offers travellers an opportunity to learn about its history
In addition to museums, be on the lookout for cultural landmarks like Fort Jesus, which was built in the late 16th century and served as a Portugal’s only foothold in Africa during European colonisation of Africa. The stone structure still stands today, overlooking the ocean and serving as a significant reminder of the realities of colonialism in Africa and the changes brought to Kenya and other countries by western influences. You should also take time to explore the significant archaeological African sites as well, such as the Gedi ruins in eastern Kenya. The ruins are a stunning display of medieval Swahili-Arab civilisations. The once bustling civilisation can be seen now in the imaginations and interpretations of visitors. Walk among the stone walls and try to picture it as it was in the 13th century— a bustling trade town with advanced technology such as streets, running water, and flushing toilets. Marvel at the craftsmanship and advanced, complex nature of this ancient African civilisation, the ancestors of Kenya and the people who still reside there today. Sites include mosques, a palace, and homes and can be toured daily.
Whether you are a casual traveller or one who would rather get down and dirty, Kenya is guaranteed to please! This diverse, vast country offers endless opportunities to explore nature, to learn about the history and culture, and to leave with a better understanding about this beautiful place and its people. The only question that remains now is: when are we getting our plane tickets?
Kathleen Goodwin is an English teacher from the United States. Over the past year, she spent four months backpacking through 16 of America’s national parks and traveled for three months in India and Nepal, and she is already scheming and dreaming of her next trip. She loves travel because of the opportunity it presents to experience new cultures, meet new people, and eat new foods. She enjoys reading, writing, practicing yoga, gardening, and hiking. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband Zack and their dog Sadie. Connect with her online at her website, thegoodwinlife, or on Instagram @kdgoodwin11