Places to visit in Kenya with unexpected beauty

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kenyainfo-icon is a beautiful country offering more natural features than just the Masai Mara. There are many unique and remote places to visit in Kenya. I have been travelling quite a bit and selected my top highlights of places to visit in Kenya for you.

Lake Turkana, cradle of mankind in the desert

On the border between Kenya and Ethiopiainfo-icon, there is Lake Turkana. It is actually the world’s largest permanent desert lake. You can for sure imagine how unique this phenomenon is and how amazing the lake looks in the middle of the desert. Prehistoric fossils of homo erectus as well as rock paintings were found there. These ancient discoveries helped scientists to better understand the human evolution and history. It also brought the honouring title “Cradle of mankind” to this remote region. I spend an extended weekend in the only more or less modern place is Loiyangalani, a tiny and dusty township with an airstrip and a catholic missionary. It is not easy to get here, as it is one of the most remote places to visit in Kenya.

South Island is a small island of volcanic origin located right in the middle of the lake. It is also known as The Isle of Mystery and it is all covered in volcanic ash. Not only the lifeless nature gives you goose bumps, the exotic fauna does so as well – namely crocodiles. Small boats can be rented to observe them swimming in the lake. Watching them from a safe distance is terrifying, knowing that those huge creatures can snap your boat in halves easily. This whole area is protected by UNESCO because it is a natural breeding ground of rare mammals and reptiles.

Another tiny island belongs to the El Molo tribe and hosts their holy shrine. This local tribe is as authentic as it gets, having neither jobs, money nor property. Goat milk and fish is their only luxury. As they are nearly untouched by the outside world, their traditions have remained the same for centuries. One fisherman of the El Molo tribe showed me where they worship their Gods, sacrificing the little they have.

Diani Beach, lay back and enjoy the sun

Diani Beach, with kilometres of white sand, is by far the most quintessential beach I have ever seen. Its peaceful and quiet atmosphere was almost astounding compared to other unbridled African wonders and just an hour south of busy Mombasa. No wonder that British colonisers were so keen to stay there with such a beautiful scenery. Today, it is still one of the most relaxed places to visit in Kenya.

Along the endless strip of white sandy beach, there are many resorts to relax and slow down. Most of them are really spacious and not crowded at all, but this comes at a premium price. A great exception is the newly opened Sports Hostel that offers large rooms for about ten times less than all its neighbours. The lesson is: if you do your homework, you can reach amazing places without breaking your back.

The most one-of-a-kind experience, though, was Ali Baba, a restaurant built inside a natural coral cave. The meals and service were absolutely wonderful, especially the local seafood. Transport to this renowned restaurant was provided by a shuttle bus.

Lamu Island, Islamic lifestyle in the Indian Ocean

Lamu Island is a small world for itself, located in the Indian Ocean by the north east coast of Kenya. It is inhabited by Muslim Swahili people with some Arabic, Portuguese and even slight Chinese influence. Their language and culture was spread across eastern Africainfo-icon without frontiers - as far as the Congo. But only along the coast did they preserve their religion. The people here are extraordinarily friendly and helpful despite the small distance to the hostile Somalia.

Unlike other places to visit in Kenya, this laid back island does not allow any cars but still relies on donkeys. They are used as the main mean of transport in here and the only car is said to be an ambulance. An appreciated change from the busy metropolitan lifestyle! The local architecture uses and combines uncommon natural resources like coral stone and mangrove timber. The material cultural heritage is also protected by UNESCO. Tourism could not yet have been established, for the low awareness of locals about the world around and the nearby Somalia with its contiguous riots. There are many crumbling real estates that were bought and abandoned by Europeans decades ago. This place could be a true paradise and hopefully soon will be again.

Hell’s Gate, unique safari game drive on a bicycle

Hell’s Gate is the name of a rocky canyon and the surrounding national park. The shape itself, as the name suggests, resembles a gate and is shrouded in many stories. It was formed in prehistoric era by a lake that went dry long time ago. The rocks still bear strong signs of the water abrasive effect and give the classical safari wildlife a distinct new look.

Places to visit in Kenya
Safari Game Drive on a Bicycle in Hell's Gate National Park

On my visit, we were two white travellers amongst 50 young Kenyans. All of them were incredibly motivated and open to introduce us foreigners into their circle. The tour operators took every chance to unite the group and form strong bonds by playing games. The national park is ideal and well known to be explored on a bicycle. At first, being unprotected like this amongst wild animals feels unsafe. Within minutes, however, this becomes a unique experience, as you feel to be part of nature. Once there was a lake, now herds of zebras and gazelles are grazing and running along the dirt roads. Some of the rock formations are widely used for climbing. Right outside of the national park, a hot sulfuric spring gave rise to a natural spa, where you can relax after a day of cycling. This place is just within reach from Nairobi and a must visit for everybody.

Rift Valley Railway from Nairobi to Mombasa

This railway was built in early 1900, in order to connect Ugandainfo-icon with the coast through the Rift Valley. Though many things have changed within the last hundred years, in those trains the evolution in transportation has made an abrupt halt. The railway station in Nairobi looks more like a well-preserved museum. There is no sign of modernity, no advertisement or digital signs whatsoever. This is one of the best places to visit in Kenya to learn about history.

Places to visit in Kenya
Old Railway Station in Nairobi

Mere 45 dollars will get you a first class ticket in a private sleeping compartment from Nairobi to Mombasa. The dining car is worth mentioning for providing three full meals during that time and by that dulcifying the whole journey. The only detail, that can be off-putting for some, is the endless ride on low-quality railroad tracks. You have to be ready to enjoy your luxury ride for a full 20 hours of shaking and rumbling bumps. The children running after the train prove that it still is a big thing in rural areas. This certainly is one of the most unique experience, worth trying but probably not repeating.

There are many astonishing natural wonders and many exclusive places created by people that can only be found and lived in Kenya and I will dedicate some of the future articles to describing them closer.

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Dunga Beach - enjoying the silence of a hidden paradise at the lake together with local tourists
enjoying the silence of a hidden paradise at the lake together with local tourists
Lake Nakuru - finding a large family of rhinos instead of an endless group of flamingos
finding a large family of rhinos instead of an endless group of flamingos
El Molo - visiting a small village of a local tribe with nothing but straw huts and fish
visiting a small village of a local tribe with nothing but straw huts and fish
Shela Town - enjoying some quiet time at a beautiful beach, deserted thanks to Somalia
enjoying some quiet time at a beautiful beach, deserted thanks to Somalia
Indian Ocean - sailing on the third largest ocean with fisherman who can't find North
sailing on the third largest ocean with fisherman who can't find North
Diani Beach - staying at the far end of Diani at a very quiet and extraordinary beautiful beach
staying at the far end of Diani at a very quiet and extraordinary beautiful beach