Kenya’s wildlife remains at the heart of its attractions, yet there is much more to discover in this fascinating country outside the game reserves. You can climb the slopes of Mount Kenya to find tropical ice on the Equator, or explore the coral reefs of the Mombasa coast. Seek out the origins of man and a rich cultural heritage in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Or simply explore the country’s natural wilderness, from northern deserts to the wildebeest migration: the greatest wildlife show on earth.
Kenya has always been on the intrepid travellers wishlist. It is, after all, the place where the Safari originated. Kenya has been on the forefront of African tourism as early as the 1930’s when overseas visitors and explorers started visiting Kenya mainly for big-game hunting expeditions. Others came in search of solitude. Locals dubbed these expeditions “Safaris”.
Following the 2007 presidential election and the 2007-2008 Kenyan crisis, tourism revenues plummeted 54 percent from 2007 to 2008 and tourist arrivals more than halved. People’s perspectives of Kenya as a destination changed dramatically once footage of the violence that occurred in certain areas was shown repetitively on international television screens. Many people cancelled their bookings or opted to visit Tanzania instead, even though the main tourism areas were totally unaffected by the crisis.
Kenya’s ability to bounce back from the 2007 crisis is phenomenal. I visited Kenya during October 2008, the end of their traditional peak season. I was amazed at the positive changes in the country since my previous visit in early 2007. The city of Nairobi has had a major cleanup, serious development plans have been implemented for Jomo Kenyatta Airport, and the locals are more than happy to welcome the steady increase in tourists.
On the Safari circuit, the game reserves are quieter than usual. This offers excellent game viewing opportunities without the masses often associated with the major reserves in Kenya. The road networks between the reserves are receiving a major upgrade and I am pleased to say that you will soon be able to halve the travel time from Nairobi to the Masai Mara by road thanks to a new tarred road being built by the lovely Italians.
With over 70 different tribes in Kenya you are surely going to have a rich cultural experience … the people are as diverse and contrasting as the landscape. One thing that does bring the people together is the realization that the natural resources of Kenya need to be protected. During my trip to the Masai Mara in October, local children were being taken around in Matatu’s (local transport). For many of these children, this is the first time they have seen animals in a wilderness area. Traditionally Park entrance fees have generally been too expensive for locals to even consider.
It is good to see that the Kenyans are getting to enjoy their own Game Reserves. They are also welcoming the return of tourists and have a renewed appreciation for their land and its attraction for foreign visitors. Most Kenyan’s you will encounter on your visit are extremely grateful and proud that you have chosen to visit their country.
By Charl Grobler