With the exception of zoos, there are few places on earth that put visitors face-to-face with wild animals in urban settings. This is what makes Nairobi National Park, the first game reserve in Kenya, so unique. Located just a few kilometers south of the city, this national park is the only protected area in the world that sits so close to a nation’s capital. Visitors are likely to spot black rhinos, lions, giraffe and zebra, as well as some of the 400 birds that make Kenya a destination for birders.
This 120-acre conservation center in the heart of Kenya’s largest city provides a natural breeding ground for one of Africa’s most graceful animals. As part of a concerted effort to increase numbers for these endangered species, giraffe calves are bread, born and raised in this protected environment before being introduced to the wild at the age of two. Visitors can sit in on talks about the center’s conservation activities and efforts, then climb a raised platform to pet and feed giraffes before taking to the 1.5-kilometer nature trail for guided birding or a tree identification tour.
Kenya is a nation dedicated to conservation and this elephant and rhino rescue just outside the city is a pioneer for protection and rehabilitation. Expert team leaders retrieve orphan animals from the wild and rehabilitate them to return to their natural environment. Keepers bottle-feed babies every three hours, 24-hours a day, and often sleep with elephants until they can be returned to the wild. The trust no longer allows visitors to feed the animals, but it still offers the rare opportunity to see the offspring of Africa’s largest mammals up close.
Better known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen, Karen Blixen is the woman behind the colonial-era love story Out of Africa. Her historic farm, located at the foot of the Ngong Hills just outside Nairobi, was the setting for her timeless story of a broken marriage, cross-cultural romance and adaptation to a new foreign land. Today, literary buffs, history junkies and nature lovers can all enjoy a visit to Blixen’s former home and farm. The museum, which explores her life within the context of Kenya’s rich history, is situated on a portion of the original 4,500 acre plantation where scenes from the movie were also filmed.
The National Museum of Kenya opened in 1930 as a place for local naturalists to collect and display their specimens. But in 2005, the museum doors closed and the once archaic structure got a much-needed facelift. Today, it houses more than mere evidence of Kenya’s unique flora and fauna (although its massive East African bird collection is impressive and the botanical garden and nature trail are perfect for afternoon wandering). In addition to biological wonders, the National Museum now houses galleries that examine the rich culture and traditions of its numerous tribes, outline the nation’s history, and even galleries that display the talents of Kenya’s contemporary modern artists.
During the last years of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a massive fort to protect the port of Mombasa. Designed by Giovanni Battista Cairati, Fort Jesus is one of the best preserved examples of Portuguese military architecture from the era, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today, Mombasa’s most visited attraction houses the Fort Jesus Museum. The collection includes archaeological finds not only from Fort Jesus, but from nearby sites as well. Highlights include a collection of ceramics from the Kenyan coast and what’s left of the San Antonio de Tanna, a Portuguese gunner that sank not far from the fort in the late seventeenth century.
On Aug. 7, 1998, at the corner of Moi Avenue and Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi, what was then the United States Embassy was blown up in a terrorist attack, causing 218 deaths and thousands of injuries. The August 7 Memorial Park opened on the same date in 2001 as a tribute to the victims of the blast, and also to serve to educate people about the futility of violence.
The Memorial Park comprises a tranquil landscaped garden, a wall commemorating the names of those who died, and a sculpture made from the debris of the blast. The park also features a Conference Center and a Visitors Center with a Memorial Museum displaying various images and exhibits, plus a documentary about the events surrounding the tragedy.
One of the world’s most fearsome predators is on display at Mamba Village, East Africa’s largest crocodile farm. A typical day at Mamba Village begins with an informational video introducing the crocodile, its lifecycle and the important ecological role it plays. Visitors to the farm can observe crocodiles ranging from hatchlings to behemoth adults, including the supposedly 100-year-old Big Daddy.
The highlight of the day occurs in the afternoon at feeding time, when the giant reptiles duke it out for fresh meat. The village also offers horse and camel rides, botanical gardens and a restaurant serving up grilled crocodile among other game meats.
Situated at an altitude of 1884 meters, Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake in Kenya located around 100 kilometers northwest of Nairobi and near the town of Naivasha (formerly East Nakuru). The lake is part of the Great Rift Valley and its name comes from the Maasai word, Nai'posha – which translates as "rough water" – on account of the storms that can suddenly arise here.
This vast lake is surrounded by a swampland and fringed by papyrus plants. Among the residents of the lake are over 400 species of birds, including fish eagles, ospreys, lily-trotters, black crakes, and herons, and it’s also home to a large community of hippos. A number of other mammals are also drawn here and it’s not uncommon to see zebra, impala, buffalo, giraffe, and kongoni grazing in the areas surrounding the lake.
Aberdare National Park is in a cloud forest in some of the higher areas of Kenya's central highlands marked by deep ravines and forested mountain slopes. Because of its altitude -- mostly above 10,000 feet -- it's often shrouded in mist. Animals often observed in the park include the black rhino, leopard, baboon, black and white colobus monkey and Sykes' monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis). Rarer are lions and the bongo, an elusive forest antelope that lives in the bamboo forest. Animals like the eland (a type of antelope) and serval cat (a solitary, nocturnal feline) can be found higher up in the moorlands. Birders will note that there are more than 250 species of birds in the park, including the Jackson's Francolin (Pternistis jacksoni), sparrowhawk, goshawk, eagle, sunbird and plover.