As a holiday destination Kenya is unrivalled. An ancient land born of ice and fire, such are the extremes of the Kenyan climate, which ranges from tropical heat to glacial ice, that it has formed a diversity of habitats found nowhere else on Earth. Kenya is named after Mount Kenya or ‘Kirinyaga', the ‘Mountain of Whiteness'. A vast mosaic of lion-gold savannah, rolling grasslands, ancient rainforests and volcanic plains, Kenya rises from the idyllic shores of the Indian Ocean to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya which, at 5,199 metres above sea level, is an extinct volcano some three and a half million years old. A natural paradise, Kenya is also a cultural microcosm and the age-old ‘cradle of mankind'. Kenya's people, united under the green, black and red of the national flag, comprise more than 50 ethnic groups and their warmth and hospitality is best expressed in the national motto; ‘Harambee'; meaning ‘let's all pull together'.
The highest city in East Africa (1,700 m), modern and fast growing, Nairobi is the capital and has over 3 million inhabitants. Mombasa is the coastal capital and the largest port on the East African coast. Other major cities include: Kisumu, Eldoret and Nakuru.
Kenya covers an area of 583,000 sq km, 13,400km of which is inland water, including part of Lake Victoria. The coastline is 536 km long. The climate in Kenya is one of the most beautiful in the world, typically featuring long sunny days with clear blue skies, champagne-fresh air (especially up-country), golden evenings and spectacular sunsets (day and night are almost equal all year round, with sunrise between 5.45am and 6.15am and sunset between 6.30pm and 7.00pm). The ‘rains' act as a natural division of the seasons; the ‘long rains' normally lasting from April to June and the ‘short rains' from November to December. During the ‘rains' most of the rain falls at night and showers are moderate in the daytime, often followed by sunshine. In general, July and August are the coolest months while September through to March are the warmest. Specifically, the coast is hot with an average daytime temperature of 27-31 degrees centigrade whilst the average daytime temperature in Nairobi is 21-26 degrees centigrade. Nairobi can become cold enough for coats and fleeces.
There are over 40 tribal groups distinguished by two major language groups: Bantu and Nilotic. The largest tribes of the Bantu are the Kikuyu, Meru, Gusii, Embu, Akamba, Luyha and Mijikenda. The largest tribes of the Nilotic are the Maasai, Turkana, Samburu, Pokot, Luo and Kalenjin. A third group made up of Cushitic-speaking peoples includes the El-Molo, Somali, Rendille and Galla. The coastal region is the home of the Swahili people.
Kenya's total wildlife conservation area is 44,359 sq km or 7.6 % of the total area. The main parks are: Aberdare National Park, Amboseli National Park, Hell's Gate National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Meru National Park, Mount Elgon National Park, Mount Kenya National Park, Nairobi National Park, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park. One of the most popular tourist destinations, the Maasai Mara, is designated a National Reserve. There are two major marine parks: Mombasa Marine National Park and Malindi/Watamu National Park.
World Heritage sites include Fort Jesus, the Gedi Ruins, Koobi Fora, Mount Kenya, Hell's Gate National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Kenya has over 400 historical sites ranging from paleolithic remains, 14th century slave trading settlements, Islamic ruins and the 16th century Portuguese Fort Jesus.
The landscape of Kenya is distinctly divided into two halves - the eastern half which slopes gently to the coral-backed seashore, and the western portion, which rises abruptly through a series of hills and plateaus to the Eastern Rift Valley. West of the Rift is a westward-sloping plateau, and the lowest part is covered by Lake Victoria. The highest point in the country is the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya (5,199 m), the second highest mountain in Africa. The coastline extends some 536 km from the Tanzanian border in the southeast, to the Somali border in the northeast. The main rivers are the Athi/Galana and the Tana. The major lakes are: Lake Victoria, Turkana, Baringo, Naivasha, Magadi, Jipe, Bogoria, Nakuru and Elementeita.
Kenya's flora is diverse. Coastal forests contain palm, mangrove, teak, copal and sandalwood trees. Forests of baobab, euphorbia and acacia trees cover the lowlands to an elevation of approximately 915 m. Extensive areas of savannah are interspersed with groves of acacia and papyrus, which characterize the terrain from 915 to 2,745 m above sea level. Bamboo and camphor are common in the dense rainforest of the eastern and south-eastern mountain slopes. The alpine zone (above 3,550 m) contains many Senecio and Lobelia plants. There are 80 major animal species ranging from the ‘Big Five' (elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard) to tiny antelopes such as the dik-dik, which is slightly larger than a rabbit. At least 32 endemic species are endangered. Kenya boasts around 1,137 species of birds. Spotting over 100 bird species in a day is not uncommon.