Which is the best country to visit in Africa?
Wild Life in their natural habitat at the Masaai Mara
Beautiful Kenya: Paradise on the Equator—with a mix of History, Royalty, and Hollywood.
Some countries probably just got lucky and ended up with some of the best regions on our beautiful planet. One such country, though not too well known in this part of the world, is the East African country of Kenya. This is where geography, and quite a bit of history, makes it a very special visitors destination. The history part traces the special connection that the country has with the British royal family—but more on that later. Throw in some Hollywood glamor and you end up with a delightful mix for a visitor!
Let’s find out how Kenya measures up to the expectations of demanding travelers:
- Those looking for the wow factor. Kenya is blessed with diverse wildlife and it has several well-maintained Game Parks. They are a major attraction for tourists and the word “safari” (literally a trip or a journey) originates from this region. One of the renowned game parks is the Masaai Mara that stretches into the Serengeti in neighboring Tanzania. These parks teem with spectacular wildlife and anyone having witnessed the various animals in their natural surroundings could scarcely be expected to want to visit a zoo in the future!
- Those seeking some lofty sights to behold! From outer space, the astronauts have reported sighting the famous “Great Rift Valley”. Caused by a massive earthquake several million years ago, the formation is actually a “rift”, a deep fissure or a fault in the Earth’s surface that runs thousands of miles through Eastern Africa. Some viewpoints near the capital Nairobi offer spectacular views of the valley. Also in the valley is Lake Nakuru that has the world’s largest population of flamingos—more than a million of them! On the first glance, the lake appears to be one vast pink blanket!
- For breathtaking landscape. Large parts of Kenya are in the “Highlands” that rise up to 8,000 feet above sea level. These cover large areas of beautiful forests, breathtaking landscapes, trout-laden mountain rivers, and lakes with Tilapia (not farm raised!) and Nile Perch in Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest lake.
- Those who love to soak in the sun and laze on the beaches. Game parks and highlands notwithstanding, the country has a long coastline with pristine beaches—for those who’d rather spend a holiday under the sun. The eastern part of Kenya lies on the Indian Ocean, with the port city of Mombasa down south. Extending north, up to the border with Somalia, are some magnificent beaches with clear azure waters and coral reefs. The city of Malindi has some of the best beaches—and an obvious choice for the many Europeans who decided to settle in this country.
- Those who love lush surroundings. A country earns little respect from other nations if it is unable to feed its people. Kenya has no such problem—blessed, as it is, with large tracts of fertile soil. The farmers grow not just the staples for the locals, but there are also coffee and tea plantations and farms that produce and export fruits, flowers, and vegetables in large quantities to Europe.
- And those who love holidaying in pleasant weather. The highlands enjoy perhaps the best weather anywhere, with the capital city Nairobi being ideally located (see the author’s article Where is the best weather in the world?). The weather is pleasant all through the year. Besides, the Equator runs through the country, and you thus enjoy about twelve hours of daylight all year round.
- Not to be left out—mountain climbing. Almost plumb on the Equator is the snow-capped Mount Kenya, some 17,000 feet high. And across the border in neighboring Tanzania, is Mount Kilimanjaro, made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” But there is also some intriguing bit of history. The story goes that in 1886, the British Monarch, Queen Victoria, who then ruled colonial Kenya, decided to “gift” this mountain to her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the colonial power of neighboring Tanzania (then called Tanganyika). The problem was that Kilimanjaro lay within the Kenyan borders—the problem was solved by redrawing the borders so that the mountain now lay within Tanganyika! The story, however, remains unauthenticated.
Now for the intriguing part about the British royalty. In 1952, Crown Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, visited Kenya on a holiday with her husband. They spent a night at the Treetops Lodge in the Aberdare National Park. The lodge, providing basic overnight accommodation, is built literally on tops of trees. It overlooks floodlit watering holes and from where visitors can view the animals who visit the holes at night. While the princess spent the night in the lodge, cut off by communication from the rest of the world, her father, King George VI, passed away in England. As the lodge opened its doors next morning, Elizabeth who had entered the lodge as a Princess the previous evening, now descended the steps as the Queen!
Members of the royal family continue to make frequent visit to Kenya; Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton while they were on a trip to Kenya.
Even Hollywood stars have not escaped Kenya’s charms. The famous star of 1950’s, William Holden, had large estates in Kenya and in 1959, was one of the founders of a famous resort “Mount Kenya Safari Club,” overlooking Mount Kenya. After his passing away in early ‘80’s, Holden’s friend, the popular star, Stephanie Powers, is reported to be still managing the William Holden Wildlife Foundation that focuses on wildlife preservation.
The country has provided themes and backdrops for many box-office hits from Hollywood that have been filmed in Kenya. How many of them have you seen?
- Born Free (the story of Elsa the Lioness with Joy Adamson)
- Hatari (with John Wayne)
- Out of Africa (with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford)
- To Walk with Lions (with Richard Harris as George Adamson).
- The Ghost and the Darkness (with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer)
“Time” magazine recently featured an article on Daphne Sheldrick, who runs “animal orphanages” near Nairobi. Newly-born elephants and rhinos, who have lost their mothers, are brought in by the rangers and nurtured until they are big enough to be released back into the wild.
That’s quite a bit of Geography and History, along with British Royalty and Hollywood—wouldn’t you agree? But this beautiful country packs in so much more—and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface…