Widely regarded as the birthplace of safari, Kenya is undoubtedly one of Africa’s premier safari destinations. The country boasts unbeatable wildlife regions like the Masai Mara and Amboseli, as well as jaw-droppingly gorgeous beaches along its Indian Ocean coastline.
From seeing the Big 5 on daily game drives to witnessing the spectacle of the Wildebeest Migration from a hot-air balloon, Kenya delivers the kind of holiday experiences that dreams are made of. But what if you’re in search of things to do in Kenya other than the traditional safari experiences? Look no further!
From fly fishing on the country’s highest mountain to exploring an island that’s been the centre of Swahili culture for over 700 years, here are the best things to do in Kenya apart from going on a traditional safari…
1. Conquer Mount Kenya
Standing at just over 3,800 metres (17,000 feet) tall, Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in the country and the second highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The massif comprises three main peaks: Batian and Nelion (the two highest and highly technical climbs) and Point Lenana (no technical climbing skills required but still challenging).
Most climbers go up and down a combination of three main routes – Naro Moru, Sirimon and Chogoria – which generally take about five days to complete. Trekking through breath-taking mountain scenery of glaciers, lakes, mineral springs, and alpine forests is one of the best things to do in Kenya if you’re an active traveller.
There are various camp sites around the mountain for the more adventurous, and several lodges that offer other activities like guided nature walks, horse riding tours and trout fishing in Kenya. The mountain is home to a number of streams and lakes that harbour rainbow trout of legendary sizes – some of the best locations for fly fishing in Kenya.
2. Cycle Through Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate National Park is one of very few parks in Africa that visitors can explore on foot or bicycle, as there are no dangerous animals. The park envelopes two extinct volcanos, which shaped the unique lava-carved landscape and several geothermal features like hot springs and natural geysers.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Kenya, exploring the open spaces and winding trails of Hell’s Gate is highly recommended. Don’t have your own wheels? No problem! Bicycles are available to rent inside the park, as well as from vendors outside the main gate.
3. Scuba Dive, Wind Surf & Jet Ski at Diani Beach
Known as one of the best destinations in East Africa for water sports, Diani Beach is where to go to enjoy activities like snorkelling and scuba diving in Kenya. Situated about 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Mombasa, it delivers a lively atmosphere which has long attracted beach-lovers seeking a classic sun and sea vacation.
Diani Beach offers a selection of exquisite boutique hotels and private villas, all located within easy reach of flawless white sands and safe, shallow waters – perfect for kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and paddleboarding. And if you’re looking to spend some time under the water, Diani offers some of the best scuba diving in Kenya. Fringing coral reefs and pinnacles are home to green and hawksbill turtles, triggerfish, moray eels, clown fish, stingrays, and even giant manta rays and whale sharks.
The best time of the year to go scuba diving in Kenya is between November and April, or between January and March if you want to see migrating whale sharks and manta rays.
4. Dine at Ali Barbour’s Cave
Imagine sitting in a naturally sculptured coral cave, marvelling at the moon and stars shining through an open ceiling while you sip on a delicious glass of wine and nibble on ocean-fresh seafood. Welcome to Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant in Diani Beach!
Believed to be around 150,000 years old, the cave comprises a series of interlinking, open-air chambers at depths of up to 10 metres (33 feet). World-renowned for an unrivalled romantic atmosphere, the restaurant serves mouth-watering cuisine and specialises in seafood dishes (but chicken, red meat and vegetarian options are on offer too). The Chili Crab is an absolute winner!
Ali Barbour’s serves an incredible fine dining experience in an unforgettable setting. If you’re spending a couple of days on the coast near Diani and looking for one of the most unique things to do in Kenya, make a reservation at Ali Barbour’s Cave. The restaurant offers a free pick-up and drop-off service from most hotels along Diani Beach.
5. Swim With Bioluminescent Plankton in Kilifi
Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism, and occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as terrestrial arthropods like fireflies. The Kilifi Creek, further up the coast from Diani Beach, is famous for its bioluminescent plankton.
The glowing plankton of Kilifi create a very unusual and beautiful display that can only be found in very few places around the world. Kilifi becomes magical after sunset when the natural bioluminescence in the tidal creek provides a shimmering night-time swimming experience. This fascinating phenomenon, in which the plankton are motion activated, lights up the water as you splash about. For the best experience, go between May and October.
Kilifi also hosts Kenya’s first boutique wellness festival, the annual Kilifi Wellness Festival. This four-day event is dedicated to holistic healing through wellness sessions, treatments, and workshops hosted on the alluring, open-air waterfronts of Bofa Beach and Kilifi Creek.
6. Adopt an Elephant or Rhino at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues, cares for and rehabilitates orphaned elephants, rhinos and other wildlife from all over Africa. This Orphans’ Project offers hope for the survival of Kenya’s elephant and rhino populations that are threatened by poaching, loss of habitat due to human conflict, deforestation and drought.
For as little as USD 50 a year, you can support the Orphans’ Project by adopting one of the orphans who are in the care of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, offering life and hope to an animal in need.
Your digital adoption will include:
- A personalised adoption certificate
- A monthly email update on your orphan and the project
- A monthly water colour painting by Angela Sheldrick
- Access to special content like the Keepers' Diaries, videos and photos
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has a public viewing from 11:00 to 12:00 daily, which can get rather busy with many visitors. If you’ve adopted an animal, you can have a more intimate encounter by enjoying the private viewings at 15:00. You can walk among the baby elephants with their keepers – truly one of the most soul-stirring things to do in Kenya!
Adopting an orphan elephant at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi for a year is a wonderful experience. Before travel, prospective sponsors scour the biographies of the resident orphans, which describe their backgrounds and characteristics. Once in Nairobi, sponsors are welcome to join the elephants at the centre for their evening feed and bedtime routine – an unforgettable encounter shared with far fewer people than the early public viewing.
The orphans spend the afternoon with their keepers in the adjoining grassland of Nairobi National Park, learning to graze and forage. But as the sun begins to dip in the sky, they have only milk on their minds. At a given signal, they all begin to shove and tumble back into the orphanage, rushing towards their keepers and sponsors holding over-sized milk feeding bottles. After a guzzle and a snuffle around the visitors, they are clad in blankets to stave off the cold and enter their stables where they will spend the night; the youngest with their keeps, the older ones with their friends. As a sponsor, it’s really hard to leave.
7. Tick Off Your Bird Checklist at Lake Nakuru
Because Lake Nakuru National Park is home to healthy populations of large mammals in a contained area, a day visit to the park is one of the best things to do in Kenya during a road safari between the Masai Mara and Samburu. It offers reliable sightings of white rhino, buffalo, eland, waterbuck, rare Rothschild giraffe, and lion. Forming part of the natural heritage site known as the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru is a beautiful landscape that offers incredible photographic opportunities.
Lake Nakuru was famous for the mega-flocks of flamingos that blanketed big parts of its shallow waters. Sadly, their numbers have decreased significantly since the major flooding that took place between 2012 and 2014. The now deeper, less alkaline waters of the lake cannot sustain the kind of saline ecosystem the flamingos need to feed or breed. You will still see flamingos, but the vast flocks of yesteryear are no longer present in Lake Nakuru.
However, if you’re an avid twitcher, Lake Nakuru’s phenomenal birdlife is the pièce de résistance of the park. It’s home to over 400 species like great white pelican, greater and lesser flamingos, Hottentot teal, greater blue-eared starling, long-tailed widowbird, and a fantastic variety of raptors like Verreaux’s and long-crested eagles. The best time to visit the park for birdwatching is between November and April.
8. Step Back in Time in Lamu Town
The fabled Lamu Archipelago is located just off Kenya’s north coast and comprises the beautiful islands of Lamu, Manda, Pate, Kiwayu and Manda Toto. These Indian Ocean jewels are well worth visiting if you’re looking for blissfully tranquil, away-from-the-crowds beach vacations.
Visiting Lamu Island – one of the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlements remaining in East Africa – is one of the top things to do in Kenya for cultural tourists. Although small, the island’s Lamu Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and still retains some of its traditional functions today. Constructed with coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterised by its ancient layout, quintessential tall and narrow Swahili architecture, winding alleys, and elaborately carved wooden doors.
The island also boasts some of the best beaches in Africa with dazzling coral reefs, a wealth of activities, great cuisine, and friendly, discreet service.
Lamu is arguably one of my favourite places along the East African coast. A lot quieter than Zanzibar and steeped in history – a true hidden gem! I love the fact that vehicles are simply not found here – because of the small roads on the island, one can only get around on foot or by donkey. The pace of life is simply relaxed. Stop for sunset drinks at Peponi Hotel and enjoy the delicious local cuisine. Visiting Lamu makes you forget how fast-paced our lives can be. Nothing less than five nights would do it justice!
9. See Lake Tarkuna From the Sky
Another one of Kenya’s Rift Valley Lakes, Turkana is the world's largest alkaline lake and the world’s biggest permanent lake in a desert. Although this arid area in Northern Kenya is inhospitable, Lake Turkana boasts an eerily beautiful, apocalypse-like atmosphere where time seems to have stood still for over three million years.
Lake Turkana is not a traditional wildlife destination – although it’s a stopover for migrant birds and a major breeding ground for Nile crocodile – but if you can make the journey to this secret corner of Kenya, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most unique scenery in the world.
One of the best ways to see Lake Turkana is from the sky on a helicopter safari. Fly over rocky outcrops, arid plains, winding riverbeds, volcanic craters, and ancient cycad forests as you marvel at some of the last remaining, untouched wilderness areas on our planet. If you’re staying at safari lodges like Sirikoi in Lewa, this extraordinary excursion is one the best things to do in Kenya if you have some holiday funds to splurge.
10. Explore the Ruins of Gedi
If you enjoy visiting cultural heritage and historical sites, then an excursion to the Gedi (or Gede) Ruins is one of the most satisfying things to do in Kenya. This archaeological site is located near the Indian Ocean coast of Eastern Kenya, just outside the town of Malindi.
The mysterious ruins suggest that a Swahili city was once thriving within a dense indigenous forest, yet there is very little written record of its existence. Built entirely from rocks and stones, it’s believed that Gedi originally dates to the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. The presence of mosques, a palace and houses indicate that the city became prosperous and reached its peak after the rebuild. The abandonment of the city back to nature in the 17th century is presumed to be the result of a few factors such as the coastal raids by Congo tribes in 1589, a falling water table, and threats from a hostile nomadic tribe from Somalia.
Explore this perplexing lost city while butterflies flit through the dappled shadows of an ancient forest alive with birds and curious monkeys. The indigenous forest surrounding Gedi remains a sacred site for traditional rituals by the surrounding community.
11. Deep-Sea Fishing in Watamu
Watamu is a small town on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, located about 105 kilometres (65 miles) north of Mombasa. The area’s shoreline features beautiful white-sand beaches and coral gardens protected by the Watamu Marine National Park, one of Kenya’s first marine parks.
Further offshore, Watamu’s waters are world-renowned for sensational deep-sea fishing in Kenya. Offering several fishing opportunities, it’s one of very few places in the world where sailfish, broadbill swordfish, shortbill spearfish, and three types of marlin are all available.
Local community groups and the area’s tourist sector play a vital role in protecting the Watamu Marine National Park, and are among the pioneers of practicing 'tag-and-release' fishing in Kenya. Establishments like Hemingways Watamu run professional tag-and-release fishing charters for guests and award certificates to anglers in recognition of their catches. Ranging from half- to full-day, these excursions offer anglers of any skill level the opportunity to experience the unrivalled thrill of a big catch, while contributing to eco-tourism in Africa.
12. Bungee Jump in Sagana
Sagana is a small town in central Kenya, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Nairobi. And if bungee jumping is one of your things to do in Kenya, then you should head for Sagana.
A daunting bungee tower stands 60 metres (197 feet) tall in a scenic spot overlooking the Tana River (also known as Sagana River), which is Kenya's longest. You’ll climb 220 steps to the top, get connected to the chord, gather your courage, and wait for the countdown. Five, four, three, two, one… Bungee! The free fall lasts until the cord tightens just before you can touch the Sagana River with your fingertips. Pure adrenaline!
13. Saddle Up a Camel & Explore Samburu
Did you know you can ditch the 4x4 vehicle, saddle up a camel, and explore the African wilderness while riding one of these humped ungulates? It’s a fantastic alternative to the traditional game viewing experience!
Camels are perfectly suited to desert landscapes like Northern Kenya, which makes the Samburu National Reserve the ideal place to go on a camelback safari. This extraordinary experience allows you to get up-close with plains game like zebra, giraffe, and ostrich as you saunter through the wilderness, camel bells chiming away, completely at one with the pulse of nature. It certainly ranks high as one of the most fun things to do in Kenya.
14. Trek Mount Elgon
Less crowded than Kilimanjaro – but just as spectacular – Mount Elgon’s peaceful slopes deliver fantastic wildlife spotting opportunities. And with several waterfalls and hot springs to soak in, climbing the mountain is an experience not to be missed.
Mount Elgon is an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya, and can be climbed from both sides. The three commonly-used routes in Kenya are through the Mount Elgon National Park, from Kitale, Endebess and Masara, and the third route is via Kimilili – said to be the best route from the Kenya side. Note that walking along the road in Mount Elgon National Park is not permitted and a 4WD vehicle is recommended.
15. Brave the Tana River Rapids
If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Kenya, then the thrills and spills of a white-water rafting expedition on the Tana River will not disappoint. Kenya’s longest river delivers Class II to V rapids in less than a two-hour drive from Nairobi.
The Tana is a drop-pool river – after a rapid, there is a calm pool to regain composure before the next rapid – and offers thrilling white-water rafting adventures ranging from a couple of hours to overnight river excursions.
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