It may come as a surprise, but there are things to do in Kenya that don’t involve animals. Though, admittedly, some of the best activities are a smidge wildlife-centric. We’ve picked out ten of Kenya’s best bits for a little inspo that goes beyond bumping across the plains in a 4×4 in search of wildebeest. We’re getting you closer to Kenya’s animals – in THE best way. Steering you towards cultural highlights and suggesting you hike a trail or two…
Hang out with some baby elephants
Obviously, Kenya safari holidays are THE thing to do in this neck of the woods. But if you’ve ticked off the Big 5 and want to get a little closer, there is a way. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rehabilitates orphaned elephants. And, once a day, you can watch the keepers feeding the calves with bottles of milk. The real magic happens when the babies chose to take tentative steps towards you for a scratch. The orphans are all part of a release program, so you can rest easy that these elephants will one day be roaming a national park with a herd.
Solve the mystery of the Gedi Ruins
What’s the deal with this abandoned village in Malindi? At first glance, the rather swish, urban and coastal Gedi village was quite the place to be back in the day. So why did everyone up and leave? And, more importantly, why did they leave some of their treasures behind? Digs in the 44 hectare site – which was a tad advanced for its time – have uncovered Ming vase remnants and other pottery and glass from around the world. With running water, houses made from coral bricks and other fairly swanky upgrades, it would’ve have been a glorious spot in the rainforest. Take a wander through the ruins and see if you can figure it out.
Track down some banana beer
There are probably easier Kenyan delicacies to track down, but the banana or Urwaga is probably the most intriguing. Recipes differ across Africa, but in Kenya, you’re looking at a pint of fermented bananas and sorghum flour. The resulting drink has a bit of heft, and can be a little filling. You’re not quite in thick shake territory, but it’s more than a little different than your average craft ale. It can be reserved for ceremonies and celebrations – so don’t expect to order it in just any bar. Eyes peeled then for the Urwaga as you tick off your things to do in Kenya list.
Share your breakfast with a giraffe
In Kenya, animals are everywhere. And, at Giraffe Manor, they’re even joining you at the breakfast table. Which is a little more ethical than it sounds. You, the Manor’s guest, will be dining indoors. The endangered Rothschild giraffes will, if they feel like being sociable, be craning their overly large necks in through the window. They roam freely in the Giraffe Manor grounds and are here as part of a breeding program to up the low numbers in the wild. Book a room in the luxe hotel on the second floor and you can feed them from your balcony too.
A tour of Kibera throws up all kinds of ethical questions. As Nairobi, and Africa’s largest slum, it shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re in the market for things to do in Kenya. But do the people there really want groups of onlookers passing through their daily lives for a dose of reality before hopping back in the minibus to their glamped up safari tent? Unlikely. So this is very much a tread-carefully option. There are tours run by local community guides – such as Explore Kibera – who run respectful tours that touch on the political, cultural and human side of the slums.
Scamper through the Great Rift Valley
Part of the 6,000kms that make up the Great Rift Valley runs through Kenya. And the lakes, volcanoes, desert and forest are only overshadowed – in the tourism stakes – by the safaris. In any other country, it’d be the star attraction. So do make sure you do your very best to see at least a little of it. There is a National Park within the boundaries – Hell’s Gate, but it’s perhaps the lakes that steal the show. Vast, ancient bodies of water that provide homes for some of the world’s most intriguing birds. Expect to see storks, pelicans, kingfishers, flamingos and eagles – along with around 400 other bird species, through your binoculars.
With all eyes firmly on the national parks, it’s easy to entirely miss Kenya’s stunning coastline. Which is a shame, because you’re skipping a tropical paradise, that still comes with plenty of wildlife action. Diani’s the set of sands you’ll hear most about, but Gazi is the untouched beach of your dreams. Flanked by mangroves, it comes with eco and sustainable stays and coconut palms under which to live your best beach life. If you need a little more get up and go mixed into your shoreline sojourns, do track down a tender to island hop among the Lamu archipelago. Not the easiest place to access, the rewards for those that do are worth the extra effort.
Wander through the Maasai Markets
Admittedly this is the Kenya culture lite option. But a wander through any of the Maasai markets that pop up around Nairobi does offer a little peek into life in Kenya. Expect to browse stalls laden with traditional art, crafts, colourful clothing, artisan jewellery and curios. Yes, there’s a smattering of trinkets that are aimed at the tourist market, but brush up on your Swahili and you’re good to go. Bargain hunting isn’t necessarily the way forward, but do be mindful of prices. Not all traders are pricing their wares fairly. The bartering vibe is expected – but only to a point.
Nairobi’s National Museum
If you’ve only got time for one museum, make it Nairobi’s National Museum. A one-stop shop for a deep dive into Kenya’s art, history, culture – and, of course, its animals. And, if you can’t bear the thought of being cooped up indoors for too long, the grounds of the museum deliver on outdoorsy activities. Don’t miss the Botanical Garden, Snake Park and Nature Trail. Although, to be fair, we’d understand if you wanted to give the Snake Park a hard pass.
Hike in the Chyulu Hills
Kenya has an unfairly beige reputation. Lions, sun-bleached savannahs and, perhaps, some tumbleweed are all glorious, if a little one note. Step forward the lush, green Chyulu Hills. Serving you a hiker’s paradise, along with landscape photo opportunities that dreams are made of, it’s a chance to see yet another side of Kenya. Hiking trails cater for everyone from casual strollers to experienced hikers, bush walks lead you on misty schleps looking for indigenous plants and game drives give you the chance to see Chyulu Hill’s leopards, lions, rhinos, elands and more. Birders will want to point their binoculars towards the forests for cinnamon doves – it’s all eyes to the plains for the martial eagles and abbots sterlings though.