There’s nowhere better for off-the-beaten track adventures than Kenya, which has 59 National Parks for visitors to explore. You’ve heard of the Big Five – but what about the Samburu Five, a quintet of rare animals a short flight from Nairobi? Hop in a Jeep to the Samburu National Reserve for the five headline acts: the gerenuk, the reticulated giraffe, the Somali ostrich, the Grevy’s zebra and the beisa oryx. While you’re there, meet the Samburu tribe, related to the Maasai. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd cattle, but also keep sheep, goats and camels. Samburu is one of the best places on earth to see elephant and cheetah; visitors can also go rhino-tracking with Saruni Rhino, a luxury camp that’s an hour and a half from Samburu by car.
If you like the idea of having the Big Five (almost) to yourself, swap the Maasai Mara for Laikipia in central Kenya, which is gaining recognition as one of Kenya’s best safari spots. Laikipia offers plenty of room for discerning explorers and is home to a wealth of endangered species, including roughly half of Kenya’s black rhino population. Why not try an alternative safari here? Explore the region with a walking tour, or go horse-riding or mountain-biking. Another Laikipia lure is Ol Pejeta, the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa. Ol Pejeta is home to the last two remaining northern white rhino in the world; it’s also the only place in Kenya where you can see chimpanzees.
Keen climbers and walkers may already know that the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya is the continent’s second-highest mountain, measuring in at a lofty 5,199 metres. There are plenty of treks to choose from, with options to suit all abilities: the lush, green lowlands make for pleasurable, scenic strolls; thrill-seekers can pick from the main summit, Batian, and the second summit, Nelion (the third peak, Point Lenana, is more accessible at 4,985 metres). Wildlife-lovers are in luck: elephants, Cape buffalo, colobus monkeys, bushbucks and giant forest hogs can be seen in the park’s 228 square miles of foothills. You could also explore Karura Forest just northwest of Nairobi or go hiking in the Ngong Hills, southwest of the capital.
If you love the idea of experiencing island life, Kenyan style, head to Manda or Lamu: two beautiful, historic islands off the Lamu Archipelago of Kenya, linked by a ferry service. On Manda, discover the ruins of the once-prosperous ports of Takwa and Manda town, which date back to the ninth century. There are no roads on Lamu – instead, locals get around on foot or by boat, and donkeys are used to pull carts and transport goods. These unspoiled coastlines make for incredible diving and snorkelling.
Land-lovers might prefer to spend time at Shimba National Reserve, which is just a couple of hours from Mombasa. This ideal day trip stars Kenya’s only population of Sable Antelope; visitors can also admire more than 700 elephants roving in the park. Here, Kenya’s wildlife comes with beautiful views of the Indian Ocean. Hikers should head to the Chyulu Hills, just west of Tsavo, considered to be some of the youngest volcanic mountains in the world. This trekkers’ paradise is bordered by an expanse of black lava flow known as Shetani: the source of many local legends. The region is famous for its elephant herds, leopard and breathtaking views from the Hills. Go horse-riding, camping, mountain climbing and bird watching; look out for buffalo, bushbucks, elands, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, reedbucks and giraffes – plus myriad reptiles and insects.
The magnificent expanse of Lake Victoria lies at Kenya’s Western frontier. This massive (nearly 70,000 sq kms) lake forms a natural boundary between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The lake is at the heart of the African continent – it’s the source of its mightiest river, the Nile, and its mighty body of water is rich in fish life, with shimmering shoals of colourful cichlids and large Nile perch. Many visitors to the lake are lured here by the latter: Nile perch are ranked as a world-class game fish. Join a fishing expedition, or explore Kisumu: a quiet port town on the Lakeshore, which has elegant colonial architecture and wide streets. Get your wildlife fix at the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, which shelters herds of impalas and zebras; its animal orphanage protects cheetahs and baboons.