From the capital’s contrasts to the highs and lows of the highlands, this route is about extremes – nowhere more so than where the Jade Sea cuts through the desert. Allow two to four weeks for some or all of this loop.
Wildlife, parks and forests bring balance to East Africa’s biggest city, where urban life – from museums and crafts workshops to cutting-edge restaurants and clubs – sets the agenda.
2 Mount Kenya NP
Scale Africa’s second-highest peak on one of four different routes, but take time to enjoy the wildlife-rich forests and frenetically active towns on the lower slopes.
Challenging the Maasai Mara as Kenya’s best wildlife destination, Laikipia offers rare rhinos and opulent conservancy stays as well as wild dog-tracking and budget camping.
This semi-desert, alternately dusty and muddy cowboy outpost, the unofficial capital of the Samburu people, hosts an annual camel derby.
5 Samburu NR
Watered by the forest-fringed Ewaso Nyiro, this is a relaxing area to encounter northern wildlife – from reticulated giraffe to Somali ostrich.
6 Marsabit NP
A true desert oasis, this mountainous outburst of volcanic craters and rich soil stands thick with misty, creeper-swathed forest.
7 Lake Turkana
Getting to the fabled Jade Sea is half the fun, but the annual Lake Turkana Festival is a huge incentive. And at any time of year, expect colourful cultural adventures.
Strike out across the Great Rift Valley to freshwater and soda lakes, then climb to the Mara basin’s rolling grasslands, one of the last rainforests in Kenya and giant Lake Victoria. Some of this journey could be done in a fortnight, but allow three weeks to do it all.
1 Lake Naivasha
Head into the Rift Valley for a breezy escape from Nairobi, with country retreats and backpackers’ camps and walks in Hell’s Gate and austere Mount Longonot.
2 Maasai Mara NR
Only in the Mara can you experience a wildlife panorama stretching from horizon to horizon. Stay on a community wildlife conservancy and see the herds without the crowds.
3 Lake Victoria
Spend a day or two in characterful Kisumu and catch musicians and markets. Then head for one of the islands to see rock paintings and watch fishermen.
4 Kakamega Forest NP
The bird and reptile hotspot of western Kenya, this stranded piece of central African rainforest is a joy for independent travellers.
5 Lake Baringo
On one side the changing lake colours, crocs and hippos and Njemps fishermen of the lake; on the other the green lawns, backpacker haunts and safari camps of the shores and islands.
6 Lake Nakuru NP
This Rift Valley soda lake is famous for black and white rhinos, leopards and (sometimes vast) flocks of flamingos.
Historic sites dot Kenya’s coast behind the coral beaches, while inland, vast national parks offer the classic safari experience. Allow three weeks for this loop, and don’t stint on days in Lamu.
This island city, dating back more than a thousand years, is best explored on foot. Don’t miss Fort Jesus Museum and the narrow streets of the Old Town.
2 Shimba Hills
A park of forested hills – Shimba is the only place to see sable antelope in Kenya.
3 Kaya Kinondo
This hidden jungle treat is packed with buttress-rooted trees and woodland wildlife.
4 Taita Hills
Off the tourist routes, the people of these fertile peaks have preserved some cultural treasures.
5 Tsavo West NP
Prepare to be enchanted by Tsavo’s landscapes, including lava flows and the magical Mzima Springs.
6 Amboseli NP
Magnificent Kilimanjaro rises behind plains and marshes roamed by huge herds of elephants and other wildlife.
7 Tsavo East NP
Kenya’s biggest national park is home to brick-red elephants, lions, crocs and superb birdlife.
Diving, kitesurfing, eating out and nightlife are all big here, and it’s close to the small resort of Watamu and fascinating Gedi ruins.
Lamu’s unmissable combination of historic town and laidback beaches is the best place to finish a Kenya trip.