Kenya may seem like just another African country, but its history is ancient and it has so much to offer. If you consider visiting Kenya and you’re trying to figure out how much time you should spend there, take a look at some of its most popular cities and the unique things you can do there!
Nairobi is Kenya’s largest city and since 1907 it is also the country’s capital. The name refers to the Nairobi river that flows through the city. The city houses over 3 million people, so finding something to do is not a problem at all. Here are some of your options:
NAI NAMI: Nairobi Storytelling Tour with Street Children
Experience Nairobi through the eyes and ears of its former children. The tour guides used to be street children who had to find their own way to make a living on the streets of Nairobi and therefore they have a unique perspective of the city. Together, they embark with their visitors on a three-hour journey through Nairobi, detailing the events of their lives. This is an experience like no other! Not only does it make for a one-of-a-kind story back home, but you also contribute by keeping these young men employed. Sounds like a win-win!
Bomas of Kenya
If you enjoy learning about the local cultures, the Bomas of Kenya is an important stop during your visit to Nairobi. Serving as a preservation and educational site for Kenyan culture, the centre is a great first stop to help you understand your upcoming experiences. The Bomas of Kenya house a live village with daily exhibitions on the heritage and cultural background of Kenya. There are also live musical performances on offer, known for the energy and excitement it creates!
Nairobi is a beautiful and versatile city and therefore it’s not surprising that it has so much to offer its visitors. There are a variety of guided tours you can choose from that range in length — some are half a day long, others the whole day and some only a few hours. Regardless, some of the most popular destinations include the Karen Blixen Museum, the Nairobi Animal Orphanage And Giraffe Center, Hell’s Gate and various walking tours through Nairobi. Start here if you don’t know where to begin!
Ologesailie archaeological site
About 40 miles southwest of Nairobi on the way to Lake Magadi, lays the Ologesailie pre-historic archaeological site. It is the discovery site of some implements thought to have been made about 500,000 years ago and still contains some fossils. The fossils are protected from the elements and open to the public for guided tours. The tour reveals some interesting information about how humans lived in the stone age and the variety of animals that were hunted and consumed — all in the beautiful city of Nairobi!
The Alchemist Bar
Don’t think that Nairobi only caters to the culturally inclined! Besides, even they want to party every now and again! When you want to do that, there’s only one place in Nairobi to go to — the Alchemist Bar. Serving as both a bar and an events venue, the Alchemist Bar is the centre of the nightlife in Nairobi. Live music, dance floors, art exhibitions, food stalls and bars are a standard part of the night. The venue also hosts various not-to-be-missed events that are open to the public.
Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city and sits along its coast. It’s also the oldest city in the country, so you can be sure that there will be lots to do and see. Mombasa is a cultural hub with entertainment ranging from sports and music to sightseeing and museums. Take a look at what Mombasa has to offer!
Fort Jesus was built in the 1500s by order of a Portuguese king and its original purpose was to guard the Mombasa’s Old Port. Today it is a popular attraction, but also home to a view establishments including a conservation lab and Old Town conservation office, an education department and a few research programs. The fort is a great introduction into the history and culture of Mombasa and was as such declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
Next to Fort Jesus in Mombasa is Old Town, the residential area to the original workforce of the Fort. The locals are a mix of settlers from Arab, Portuguese, British and Asian descent, so you can only imagine how culturally rich the area is! The buildings have been well maintained and preserved and visitors can walk around in the narrow streets to get a glimpse of local goods on offer. Ranging from souvenirs and African memorabilia to food and the popular Mombasa Old Town fish market, Old Town is worth booking a day in Mombasa!
Located in Bamburi, Mombasa is a nature park called Haller Park, with a special story. It was once a quarry wasteland, home to a cement factory that rendered the area inhabitable. Now it is a popular attraction to Mombasa, a flourishing park with a diverse ecological wildlife, including a variety of animal and plant species. The park allows visitors to view and sometimes even interact with animals that would be considered dangerous and deadly if found in the wild. A thrilling experience for the whole family, plan to spend some time here while you’re in Mombasa!
Mamba Village Center
The Mamba Village Center in Mombasa is an entertainment centre on its own! There are so many things to keep yourself busy with, but mainly the activities include nature and animals — and food, of course! Choose between petting baby crocodiles in the Croco Park; facing your fears up close in the Snake Park and Spider House or go horse riding on the beach. End it all off by having an early dinner at the Center’s restaurant and it sounds like the perfect day spent in Mombasa!
The Wasini Island is about 70km south of Mombasa and its inhabitants have stayed true to living a quiet, simple life. The island does not contain one car, bicycle or motorcycle, all travelling is done by foot and goods are transported in wheelbarrows! A beautiful coral reef is visible not far from the island’s coast so snorkelling and diving are some of the most popular activities in the area. Otherwise, come and enjoy a day of peace and quiet, away from the crowds, noise and traffic of Mombasa!
Nakuru, located about 1,8km above sea level is Kenya’s fourth-biggest city and also the largest urban centre in Kenya’s mid-west. Besides the fact that the city of Nakuru is really into sports (including football, cricket, rugby, athletics and motorsports), it has a few other attractions that include a lake, a national park, a prehistoric site and a volcano! Find out more about what there is to do in Nakuru!
Lake Nakuru is in the Lake Nakuru National Park, to the south of Nakuru. The lake is well-known for the vast number of flamingos that flock to it, due to the high level of algae in the lake. Besides the flamingos, there are also other animals to be seen at the lake like warthogs, baboons, rhinos and other types of birds — in fact, Lake Nakuru is documented to be visited by about 450 different bird species and 56 different mammal species!
The Menengai Crater in Nakuru is the second largest surviving volcanic crater in the world, which also means the volcano is dormant. The crater has a fantastic drop of almost 500m from the rim and of course, the summit has become home to many a hiking trip. Don’t fear if you’re not the hiking type — it is also accessible by vehicle. The hike is fairly easy, though, as long as you keep hydrated. If you want to do a thorough hike, you can hire a guide who will enrich the experience.
Lord Egerton Castle
14km outside Nakuru lays the fortress-like house called Lord Egerton Castle. The castle was built like a fortress in 1954 and was opened to the public in 2005. Its 52 rooms now serve as study rooms, master bedrooms, dance halls and even a dark chamber for developing photos. The tour through the castle takes about 2 hours, but book the whole afternoon, because the big lawns outside the castle beg for long afternoon picnics.
The Kariandusi Museum in Nakuru serves as an exhibition hall to the archaeological site discovered there. The site proves that large lakes used to occupy the area, with proof of pre-historic men living there between 700,000 to 1 million years ago! The museum is not the only attraction to the site, although the history can be found there. Also open to the public are camp sites, nature trails, the archaeological site, picnic sites and bird watching spots. Put this site on your list of things to do in Nakuru if you enjoy rich historic sites and tales!
There is nothing like witnessing the African wildlife first-hand, with someone to guide and inform you of all you can see and experience. Nakuru is home to that typical African beauty and that means that there are many safaris available. On Lake Nakuru visitors can see the hundreds of bird species, the crocodiles and maybe even hippos, from the safety of a boat. In the Nakuru National Park there are waterbucks, warthogs, impalas, buffalo, giraffes and even endangered white rhinos to be seen. You cannot skip Nakuru if you want to experience the African landscape and wildlife first-hand!
About 350km northeast of Mombasa, across the sea channel, lays Lamu Island, the capital of Lamu County and also a UNESO Word Heritage site. The island boasts with beautiful, deserted, soft sand beaches which makes it a popular attraction along with its cultural heritage. If you want to escape the busy life and be reminded of a time that life was without stress, make sure to visit the following places in Lamu:
We already said it, so you should have guessed that our very first move in Lamu would be to visit the beach. Lamu has endless deserted beaches that are undeveloped with only a few hotels scattered along the soft white sands. Do some soul meditation, relax with your family or admire the beauty of Lamu’s beaches.
Just south of Lamu town is the village of Shela, a centre for tourism on the Lamu Island. With a history etched in battles won and lost, Shela is best known today for a few things: the many beautiful mosques scattered throughout the village, its spectacular beaches and the lovely guest houses available to tourists longing a breakaway from a busy work life. You must visit Shela Village during your time in Lamu if you want some peace and quiet and be reminded of the simple life.
Lamu town – national heritage site
Lamu Town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the best preserved and probably oldest Swahili settlement in the east of Africa. Lamu town only has three cars and a handful of motorcycles, but Lamu town can easily be reached — simply walk from Shela during the low tide using either a donkey or one of the taxi-boats. Along with the history you’ll find in the museums, you’ll also find various Swahili shops that sell African fabrics, furniture and traditional artefacts, specific to the Swahili culture.
The Ruined City Of Takwa
The Takwa ruins in Lamu are best known for the great Friday Mosque in its centre, its large pillar one of the most notable features of the ruined city. The city was once a thriving Swahili trading town until the 1600s when it was abandoned. The ruins are well preserved and makes for an interesting outing when accompanied by a guide who will explain the history. The Takwa ruins in Lamu offer visitors market places, mosques and tombs, where Sheikhs or kings and their subject are supposedly buried.
Vegetable market for Swahili food
If you love the local African food and culture, the vegetable market next to the Old Fort in Lamu Town is a must. The atmosphere is highly charged, a little chaotic, but definitely friendly and it is a fantastic place to see how the locals interact with each other. Fresh fish like tuna and sailfish, along with fresh vegetables and ripe fruit can be found here. Make some time to visit the vegetable market in Lamu Town for a truly unique and African experience!
About 100km north of Mombasa lays the small town of Watamu between the Blue Lagoon and Watamu Bay. An eco-loving tourist’s dream, the town is lined with white beaches and is the ideal spot for a swim. Besides fishing, there are other things that you can do in Watamu — read about it here:
If you enjoy watersports you simply have to visit Tribe Watersports, Watamu, Kenya. The facility is one of the world’s best watersports training providers and specialises in a variety of watersports. At the facility you can sign up for training, to rent equipment or simply to ask for advice regarding kitesurfing, paddle boarding, deep sea fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Visit Tribe Watersports in Watamu for the adventurist in you!
Bio-Ken Snake Farm
Bio-Ken Snake Farm is located in Watamu and serves as both an educational and a research facility. The farm extracts venom from snakes to conduct medical research and to create anti-venom that they provide for free to those in need. The farm’s staff removes snakes from residential homes in the area and these snakes are put on display in a zoo-like environment to educate its visitors on the different venomous and non-venomous snakes.
The Gedi ruins are situated in Watamu and was established as a National Monument in 1927. It is a historical and archaeological site that dates back to the 13th century. The reason for its abandonment and downfall is a great mystery, but nevertheless, the ruins were discovered in the early 20th century. The site is now managed by the National Museums of Kenya and is open to tourists for walking the trails through the ruins (preferably with a tour guide), visiting the museum and reading about the history in the information centre. The surrounding forest has plenty of monkeys that might visit you if you picnic outside the ruins.
On the edge of Mida Creek in Watamu is the Pilipan, a popular restaurant with an interesting menu. The food has Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Thai influences and consists mainly of seafood. The atmosphere is lovely, with enough calm to refresh, but not bore. After sunset, the restaurant lights up with hundreds of fairy lights, creating an intimate atmosphere that makes you want to stay for longer than the good food and tasty cocktails last! Make sure you stop here for a great meal while you’re in Watamu!
Watamu Marine National Park
Located in Watamu is the Watamu Marine National Park, established in 1968, making it one of Kenya’s first marine parks. The park houses about 600 species of fish, more than 100 species of stony coral and numerous invertebrates and other marine life. Some other fish include whale sharks, octopus and manta rays. Visitors can also view the different species of turtles, forming part of the park’s turtle watch programme. Make sure you visit the Watamu Marine National Park to see the amazing life the ocean has to offer!
About 120km northeast of Mombasa, at the mouth of the Galana River, lays the town of Malindi. Its major industry is tourism, with most of its visitors being Italian and the majority of its population being Muslim. Besides the endless alleys to walk through in the atmospheric old town, you can swim in the crystal-clear waters of the beaches in Malindi’s national park or dine on the most delicious Italian food on the African continent.
The Falconry of Kenya
Just off the Lamu Road in Malindi is the private zoo of the Falconry of Kenya, which features various birds of prey and a few other animals. You can watch falcons and eagles at close range, hold non-venomous snakes and even let the falconer use you as an assistant during their shows — if you want one of these majestic birds to land on your shoulder! The birds have a chance to fly free, but they always return to the sanctuary, which means that if you’re in Malindi, you also need to see what the Falconry of Kenya is all about!
Kipepeo is the Swahili word for butterfly, which should already give you an idea of what this project is about. Located at the Gedi National Monument, the Kipepeo Project is about 15km south of Malinda along the highway that connects Malindi to Mombasa. The project supports both the environment and the local Malindi community by marketing and selling butterfly and moth pupae, other live insects and even honey and silk cloth produced by the community. The process is very interesting and open to visitors where you can view exhibitions of the insects, learn about the different species and even see the breeding farms where the parent stock is bred and raised.
Vasco da Gama’s Pillar
When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama signed a trade agreement with Malindi authorities in 1498, he erected a coral pillar on the Malindi coast, known today as Vasco da Gama’s Pillar. It was used to aid navigation for ships in the coming trade meetings and he was received warmly in Malindi. The pillar still stands today, albeit somewhat eroded over time, and is topped by a cross made from Lisbon stone. Besides the interesting history, the Pillar facilitates beautiful views, of both the Malindi coast and out over the ocean.
The Portuguese Church
Still in Malindi and not far from Vasco da Gama’s Pillar is the thatched-roofed Portuguese church, reputedly built by Vasco da Gama, with two of his crew members buried there. St Francis Xavier visited the church on his way to India too, which sees tourists flock to Malindi, as it is believed his powers still reside in the building. Today it is a monument managed by the National Museums of Kenya, after they found it neglected. Visit the church free of charge, straight after visiting Vasco da Gama’s Pillar, for a rich cultural experience in Malindi.
Fermento Disco & Piano Bar
For a truly upmarket night out in Malindi, the Fermento Disco & Piano Bar is an absolute must. Come early, just before sunset to start the night with some delicious cocktails before heading out to the packed dance floor. Have you ever seen Africans dance? No-one does it quite like them! Some nights there are professional singers to entertain the crowd and on other nights, informal karaoke contests take place between the locals. For the best night out in Malindi, make sure you get to the Fermento Disco & Piano Bar!
Kenya has many treasures to offer its visitors and regardless of which city you choose to visit, you are sure to be entertained, educated and well-rested when you return home!
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