Kenya has huge untapped potential for outdoor activities, with hiking and climbing particularly good inland and diving and snorkelling the outstanding coastal activities. Walking, running, horseriding, fishing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, rafting and golf also have strong local followings and are easy for visitors to take part in. Cycling is increasingly popular, and there are some good cave systems.
It’s worth seeking advice from the Mountain Club of Kenya, not just on climbing but on outdoor pursuits in general. For detailed descriptions of various climbing, hiking and caving locations in Kenya, see the “East Africa Mountain Guide” section of Executive Wilderness Programme’s website (wewpnet.com).
Walking and running
If you have plenty of time, walking is highly recommended and gives you unparalleled contact with local people. In isolated parts, it’s often preferable to waiting for a lift, while in the Aberdare, Mau and Cherangani ranges, and on mounts Kenya and Elgon, it’s the only practical way of moving away from the main tracks. You will sometimes come across animals out in the bush, but buffaloes and elephants (the most likely dangers) usually move off unless they are solitary or with young. Don’t ignore the dangers, however, and stay alert. You’ll need to carry several litres of water much of the time. You might prefer to go on an organized walking safari, at least as a starter. Such trips are offered by a number of companies in Nairobi and by most of the smaller lodges and camps in the private game sanctuaries, especially in Laikipia.
Popular parks where lions are normally absent and you can hike include Hell’s Gate and Lake Bogoria. Parks inhabited by lions, but in which you can generally hike, include Aberdare and Mount Kenya.
Kenya produces some of the world’s top long-distance runners, and jogging and running are popular. If you’re a marathon runner, there are several events to tie your trip in with, which usually offer fun runs and half-marathons too. The Safaricom marathon (wsafaricom.co.ke/safaricommarathon) is the best known, on account of its location, in the prestigious Lewa conservancy north of Mount Kenya, and altitude (an average of more than 1600m), both of which make for a tough and exciting race. Marshals ensure your safety in the wildlife areas, but you’ll be running on dirt tracks through the bush. It usually takes place in June. The Nairobi marathon (wnairobimarathon.com) takes place in October, running on roads. The Mombasa marathon takes place in August.
Apart from Mount Kenya, there are climbing opportunities of all grades in the Aberdare, Cherangani and Mathews ranges, in Hell’s Gate National Park and on the Rift Valley volcanoes, including Longonot and Suswa. If you intend to do any serious climbing in the country, you should make contact with the Mountain Club of Kenya (wmck.or.ke; clubhouse at Wilson Airport; $30 joining fee, plus $30 annual membership). They’re a good source of advice and contacts. Don’t expect them to answer detailed route questions, however; leave that until you arrive. Safari companies in Nairobi offer everything from a simple hike to technical ascents of Mount Kenya.
Cycling is more popular in Kenya than you might expect, given the often steep terrain, and you will even see hardy road riders and mountain bikers – both locals and expats – braving the traffic-clogged streets of Nairobi. But the real joy of cycling in Kenya is out in the bush, on quiet roads in the Rift Valley or Laikipia, or on the coast. Hell’s Gate National Park is a popular place to cycle with the wildlife. A number of companies offer tours ($300–500 per day) and you can usually rent bikes at several places on the coast, notably in Diani Beach, Malindi and Watamu; some visitors even bring their own.
Kenya’s big attractions for cavers are its unusual lava tube caves, created when molten lava flowing downhill solidified on the surface while still flowing beneath. Holes in the surface layer allowed air to enter behind the lava flow, forming the caves. Lava tubes in Kenya include the Suswa caves near Narok, and Leviathan cave in the Chyulu Hills, one of the world’s biggest lava tube systems, with more than 11km of underground passages. For more information, contact one of the lodges in the Chyulu area.
There are good opportunities for horseriding in the Central Highlands and Laikipia, and there’s an active equestrian community in Nairobi and scattered throughout the country. Bush & Beyond, Safaris Unlimited and Safari & Conservation Company offer riding safaris in the Amboseli area, the Chyulu Hills and the Mara, and Offbeat Safaris (woffbeatsafaris.com) do horseback safaris in the Mara. The African Horse Safari Association (wafricanhorse.com) is a useful resource. Camel safaris are popular too, though the best operators to contact tend to change from year to year.
Some of the highlands’ streams are still stocked with trout, imported early in the twentieth century by British settlers. A few local fishing associations are still active. The Fisheries Department, next to the National Museum in Nairobi (t+254 (0)20 3742320), can supply more details and permits. For lake fishing, it’s possible to rent rods and boats at lakes Baringo, Naivasha and Turkana (Loiyangalani), and there are luxury fishing lodges on Rusinga, Mfangano and Takawiri islands on Lake Victoria.
Kenya’s superb offshore coral reef, with its deep-water drop-offs and predictable northerly currents, is ideal for near-shore angling. For ocean fishing, Watamu and Malindi are the most popular centres (see Diving below).
Diving and snorkelling
Kenya’s coastal waters are warm all year round so it’s possible to dive without a wetsuit and have a rewarding dip under the waves almost anywhere, though the best period is October to April with October, November and March ideal. Most of the dive bases located at Malindi, Watamu, the coast north of Mombasa or Diani Beach, will provide training from a beginner’s dive to PADI leader level. For underwater photographers, in particular, the immense coral reef is a major draw. The undersea landscape is spectacularly varied, with shallow coral gardens and blue-water drop-offs sinking as deep as 200m, and as there are few rivers to bring down sediment, visibility is generally excellent. There are some useful guidebooks and, if you plan to do a fair bit of snorkelling, it makes sense to bring your own mask and snorkel, though they can always be rented.
Wind- and kite-surfing
Windsurfing has been a feature of the Kenya coast since the 1970s, while Diani Beach and Che Shale north of Malindi are increasingly popular among kitesurfing enthusiasts. The coast has excellent conditions from December to February, with the northeast monsoon tending to get up in the afternoon, blowing between 16 and 22 knots (Force 4 to 5 Beaufort), which is ideal for both beginners and experienced riders. While the southeast monsoon, blowing from June through to September, isn’t as reliable as the northeasterly, it can offer some exceptional conditions.
Both the Tana and Athi rivers have sections that can be rafted when they’re in spate. Approximate dates are early November to mid-March, and mid-April to the end of August. Savage Wilderness Safaris is the main operator, and offers single- and multi-day trips.
Kenya has almost forty golf clubs, notably around the old colonial centres of Nairobi, Naivasha, Thika, Nanyuki and Nyeri in the central highlands, and Kisumu and Kitale in western Kenya. There are also several courses on the coast, and – the most bizarre – on the scorched moonscape shore of Lake Magadi. Green fees vary widely, usually from about $30/person per day. Details for all of these can be had from the Kenya Golf Union (wkgu.or.ke). For organized upmarket golfing safaris, contact Tobs Golf Safaris Ltd (wkenya-golf-safaris.com).