Independence from Britain in 1963 may have been the beginning of a new chapter for Kenya but this East African country has a human history that stretches back to prehistoric times.
Lying at the heart of a region from which modern humans emerged some 150 000 years ago, Kenya's history has been shaped not only by indigenous and migrating African ethnic groups but by European and Arabian traders, missionaries and colonisers as well. Jomo Kenyatta was the first leader of independent, post-colonial Kenya and his conciliatory rallying cry harambee - all pull together - became the national motto.
Today, Kenya boasts the largest and most advanced economy in East Africa. Agriculture accounts for 75% of the work force but it is the service industry, dominated by tourism, which contributes nearly two thirds of Kenya's GDP.
Kenya's predominantly young population (nearly 75% of Kenyans are under 30) is made up of many ethnic groups that include the famous Maasai. English and Swahili are the official languages (any attempts to speak Swahili will be warmly received by locals!) and the vast majority of Kenyans consider themselves Christian. About 10% of the population are Muslim, the majority living on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast.
Straddling the equator, Kenya is dominated by the Rift Valley, a raised region of lakes, hills and mountains that is the result of a 6 000km crack in the earth's crust. Dividing the flat coastal plains from the fertile shores of Lake Victoria, the rolling temperate grasslands of the central Rift Valley are home to huge numbers of animals and consequently Kenya's most famous parks and reserves.
Northern Kenya's hot and arid scrublands are home to wilder, more remote parks and a different set of animals while the Indian Ocean coast is a place of long sandy beaches, coral reefs and tropical islands.
Most famous for the wildebeest migration that moves through the Masai Mara and Serengeti ecosystem, Kenya's ban on hunting plus private and local community conservation initiatives have helped to safeguard one of Africa's most important populations of large animals. There are healthy numbers of the Big 5, abundant predators and plains game, and a long list of bird species. No wonder then that several Kenyan parks deliver the easiest game viewing in Africa!
At a Glance
Synonymous with safaris and home to the must-see Masai Mara wildebeest migration, Kenya delivers top-notch game viewing as well as enticing tropical beach holidays.