Create your own Kenya bucket list with this collection of world class landmarks and hidden gems in Kenya.
The Kenya Bucket List and Hidden Gems in Kenya
Kenya, one of Africa's most geographically diverse countries, brims with places worth visiting. Voted by Lonely Planet as the best value African country for 2014 and 2015, it is the perfect destination for those who wish to experience a real adventure or a once in a lifetime trip.
From east coast beaches and snorkelling through colourful coral reefs, to safaris where herds of animals roam alongside your jeep, to climbing the iconic Mount Kenya, you'll simply never be bored.
So, if you're considering a tour to Kenya but you aren’t sure where to start, then you’re in the right place! We’re going to present what you should have on your Kenya Bucket List and include some of our favourite hidden gems in Kenya.
Let’s get it started then!
Applying for Your Kenya eVisa
First and foremost, you should get acquainted with the concept of the Kenyan eVisa. The introduction of electronic visas has made travelling to Kenya much easier for international visitors.
But what exactly is it? The Kenya eVisa is an online visa that the Kenyan government implemented in 2005, allowing visitors from certain countries to visit Kenya for tourist, business, or transit without facing excessive paperwork.
Kenya has three types of electronic permits, which are tourist, business, and transit visas. Those travellers who also want to visit Rwanda and Uganda as tourists can apply for East Africa eVisa. All applicants need to fill out and submit a form to apply for a Kenyan visa online.
The Kenya Bucket List
No for the awaited Kenya bucket list.
1. The Maasai Mara National Reserve
The first one on our Bucket List is the mighty Maasai Mara National Reserve (also written as the Masai Mara National Reserve.) And it is first for a reason. This award-winning park is one of the finest in Africa.
You'll find wide-open plains filled with wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, and gazelles as well as fierce predators like lions, leopards, and cheetahs. For your family to have even more fun, especially for children, book into beautiful, family-friendly resorts like Mara Serena, Mara Intrepids, and Speke's Camp.
Maasai Mara is now considered to be one of the most popular national reserves in East Africa. Moreover, this place has been home to so many iconic movies such as “Out of Africa,” “Born Free,” and “The Ghost and the Darkness.”
2. Spend in the day in the capital, Nairobi
If you're flying in, there's a high possibility you'll end up in Nairobi anyhow. Why not spend some time exploring the city? Nairobi is the largest city in Kenya. It's also known as the green city due to its large number of parks and gardens, which are a great place for families or couples to spend time together.
Nairobi National Park is another popular destination where you can watch wildlife including lions, elephants, zebras, and giraffes. The park has an excellent visitors' centre with information boards about each species found there. Explore the sights, try some of the cuisine, and, most importantly, get lost in the city's lively nightlife!
3. Enjoy Island Life in Lamu
Lamu is a small island on the northern Kenyan coast. It's famous for its old Swahili architecture: whitewashed buildings with colourful doors and shutters contrasting against deep blue water. You'll also discover delicious fresh seafood (including lobster!), friendly people, and an easygoing atmosphere.
Visitors can enjoy many different outdoor activities, like snorkelling, for which they can take a boat trip to an island with coral reefs just off-shore. You should also explore the ruins of ancient mosques and other buildings in Lamu town itself, going up in one of Lamu's tall wooden watchtowers offering great views over the rooftops. Lastly, nothing beats lounging about like royalty at sunset on Lamu beach! It's definitely a spot to add to your Kenya bucket list.
4. Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park is an excellent site to observe various bird species, including the world-famous pink flamingos. These magnificently attractive birds cluster in their hundreds on the lake's shallows, where they feed on the algae and crustaceans that give them their bright pink colour. Other types of animals, such as warthogs, giraffes, baboons, and even rhinos, can also be seen here.
5. Nairobi National Park
In the whole globe, just one national park is located within city limits: Nairobi National Park. This isn't the only thing that distinguishes this park. If you want to get a flavour of Kenya in one convenient location, you must visit Nairobi National Park! Nairobi National Park provides a taste of what the rest of the country offers in terms of wildness and wildlife.
6. Hell's Gate National Park
There are just a handful of national parks in the world that enable you to explore them on foot or by mountain bike. One such park is Hell's Gate National Park. Hell's Gate National Park, located less than two hours from the capital city, is a popular location for residents to explore the great outdoors. It's also a great spot for experienced climbers to test their abilities on cliffs and smooth rock walls.
7. Travelling up north into the wild Turkana
Lake Turkana is both the world's largest alkaline lake and the world's largest permanent desert lake. While this one-of-a-kind lake itself is a natural wonder, there are a plethora of things that come with travelling up North that most tourists would enjoy. From the Chalabi (Chalbi) desert to a few islands in Lake Turkana, as well as long expanses of wild and uninhabited sandy beaches. Plus, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It deserves a place on your Kenya bucket list!
8. Climbing Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa, after Kilimanjaro, and the fifth highest in the world.
The mountain's name comes from the Kikuyu, Embu and Kamba words "Kenya," meaning "a white house."
There are three different routes for completing the climb. A difficult route, an easy route and a middle route. All of these routes start on the same side of the mountain and finish on the other side of it. All take around three days and earn a rightful place on any Kenya bucket list.
9. Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo is a national park in Kenya, and is one of the most popular safari destinations to make it onto most Kenya bucket lists.
The park covers about 845 square kilometers and is home to a variety of species including lions, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, zebras and rhinos.
The park has been cited as one of the best places in Africa for viewing wildlife and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its value in protecting a wide range of natural habitats and species.
Tavo was established in 1968 and it's managed by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Hidden Gems in Kenya
And now onto the secret places in Kenya. Places where your game drives take place in isolation and the beauty of the earth unfolds before your eyes alone.
Samburu National Reserve
The Samburu National Reserve is in the heart of Kenya, about 120 miles northwest of Nairobi. It’s a classic African game reserve with an abundance of wildlife, including elephants, lions, cheetahs and leopards.
You can spot animals like the endangered Grevy’s zebra and the black rhino in this expansive landscape that spans more than 1,900 square miles.
Samburu National Reserve is also well known for its outstanding birdwatching opportunities; over 400 species have been identified here!
The reserve was established in 1973 with an area of 18,510 acres. It was given National Park status in 1996 by President Moi's government with a declaration that all hunting was outlawed inside its boundaries.
Where to Stay
The Samburu Game Lodge is a luxurious hotel that is located in the heart of the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. They offer a variety of amenities for guests such as, but not limited to, spa treatments, safari-style activities and guided excursions. Look out for the excursions to experience the singing wells, a local tradition and cultural practice.
The Chyulu Hills
The Chyulu Hills are located southwest of the town of Molo, southeast of the town of Nyahururu, and west of the Chania River. The hills are heavily forested with indigenous trees such as mahogany, ebony and wawao woods.
Visitors will find a variety of Kenyan wildlife, including giraffes, zebras, water bucks and baboons. There is also a large population of long-tailed monkeys which are native to this part of Africa. The area is also home to many different species of birdlife including ostriches, eagles and vultures.
Saiwa Swamp National Park
As the smallest national park in Kenya, Saiwa Swamp National Park qualifies as one of the best hidden gems in Kenya.
It is a paradise for nature lovers. The park features an abundance of exotic plants and trees, plus over 100 species of birds. This is also the habitat of the endangered and very rare semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope and a refuge for the rare and distinctive De Brazza’s monkey.
In this tropical wetlands and mosaic of woodland, you'll find a great variety of birds. Expect areas of sedges and acacia woodlands, with fringing dense rushes and grass beds. In the water, there's the lesser jacana, grey heron and African black duck. Flying high in the forest, we can find Narina trogons, collared and orange-tufted sunbirds and the Noisy Ros’s turaco.
The Gedi Ruins
The Gedi ruins are among East Africa’s most important archaeological sites, with the earliest levels dating back to the 10th century AD. The site is located in northern Kenya (near Lamu) and is situated on the Indian Ocean coast.
The site is known for its well-preserved architecture, which includes numerous large buildings, water reservoirs and defensive fortifications. The most impressive building in the Gedi ruins is a mosque with a minaret which was built around 1200 AD. It was likely one of East Africa’s most impressive buildings at the time of its construction and represents a significant achievement in architectural design.
It is not known why this city was abandoned, but it is thought that it could be because of conflicts with other tribes or malaria outbreaks.
Wake Up with a Giraffe
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Giraffe Manor invites guests to sleep in a stone stately home while endangered giraffes roam past the window. At breakfast, they swoop their heads in to say hello. You can read the full Giraffe Manor Review here.
Visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya is a home for orphaned elephants. It was founded in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick and today it is the world’s leading elephant orphanage and one of the best loved wildlife organisations anywhere.
Orphaned elephants are rescued from across Africa and brought to The Trust where they are given milk, the company of other orphans, and a safe haven to grow up in.
Take to the Skies on Your Kenya Bucket List
Take a hot air balloon over the Great Rift Valley and discover one of Kenya's hidden gems: the view from above.
Kenya Travel Tips
1. Kenya has two rainy seasons
One of the most important things to know about Kenya before going there is its two rainy seasons. The longer one usually lasts from the end of March to the beginning of May, while the shorter one usually occurs around November. Although it is not necessary to avoid travelling to Kenya during the rainy season, it does make a lot of things easier.
For example, seeing animals on a safari is way easier in the dry season, and if you want to drive while in Kenya, you should be aware that certain roads may be damaged due to heavy rains.
2. You'll probably need some injections
It is always advisable to follow the vaccination recommendations before setting off for a trip to Kenya to keep yourself and everyone around you safe.
Tetanus, Typhoid, Diphtheria, Yellow Fever, Cholera, and Rabies are some of the disorders you may need to be vaccinated against. The covid-19 vaccine is also highly recommended before going to Kenya. Check up to date recommendations from your country of origin and use our international checklist as a helpful guide.
3. Think Twice About a Road Trip
Kenyan roads aren’t the kind of highways that you would usually find in the USA or Europe, so be careful and be alert to the differences. Prepare for potholes, animals and passersby blocking the highways.
Driving at night can be risky owing to the inadequate lighting since you face the risk of hitting a large pothole. Always keep your doors and windows locked when driving, especially in big cities where auto theft is a frequent phenomenon.
4. Bring some dollars to Kenya
Even though the Kenyan shilling is the country's official currency, all tourists to Kenya are highly advised to bring some US dollars. It is a widespread practice for traders to quote prices of their goods in US dollars.
When in Kenya, you must also remember that bargaining is a must! The prices may be very high at the beginning, but this way, the vendors want to encourage you to negotiate the price.
5. Get ready for some hospitality
Kenyans are one of the most hospitable nations worldwide
When visiting Kenya, you should expect to meet extremely open and friendly people all along your way. Kenya has several tribes; each tribe has its own way of welcoming visitors. The Maasai people greet visitors with songs and dance while other tribes offer gifts such as traditional drinks or local food items. For example, the Kikuyu people give gifts such as maize which symbolises sharing in Kikuyu culture. You can pay them back by offering a small gift too.
Your Kenya Bucket List in Summary
Kenya is a wonderful destination that many fall in love with at the first sight. You should be prepared for amazing views from unspoiled terrain with wild creatures in their natural environment. There are also many eye-opening sites to visit in the country, which is home to some of the kindest people on the planet.
Visitors from all over the world have described their experience of being in Kenya as one that made them appreciate life more by witnessing how beautiful nature can be when left undisturbed by humans.
So isn't it time you wrote our your own Kenya bucket list?
More About Travel in Africa
- The best places to visit in Africa: how to build your bucket list
- Namibia and the oldest desert in the world
- The best beaches in Madagascar
- What safari guides really fear in Botswana's Okavango Delta
- The riddle of the Philae Temple in Egypt, 2000 years on
- The sobering secret of this graveyard in Madagascar
- Top things to do in Madagascar for curious travellers
- How the red tsingy in Madagascar are the perfect antidote to travel overload.
- The real pride rock
- Hiking in the Atlas Mountains takes walking to a new level
- The highs and lows of driving in Morocco
- Waking up with giraffes in Kenya