Kenya: The Coolest Trip in Africa

Kenya offers Africa in a nutshell, from the soda-encrusted, flamingo-filled Rift Valley lakes to alpine Mt. Kenya and the western lowland forests at Kakamega. These habitats, combined with bird-rich savannas, Tsavo’s semi-deserts, Sokoke’s coastal forests, and of course, the parks that make it the world’s premier big mammal watching destination, make Kenya a perennial favorite in Africa. This is not surprising when you consider you will probably see more bird and mammal species than any other African tour. Most of this tour (apart from the extension) is above 3000 feet elevation, making the climate surprisingly pleasant, far from the blistering heat that some people may expect from equatorial Africa.


See more Kenya photos on our Flickr site

Day 1: Nairobi. We arrive in Nairobi and are transferred to our hotel for a three-night stay in the city, which boasts the largest bird list of any city on earth!

Days 2-3: Nairobi. We visit Nairobi NP before beginning our exploration of the Great Rift Valley lakes. Highlights may include Von der Decken’s Hornbill and the multicolored Red-and-yellow Barbet, or our first flamingos among many wintering Palearctic shorebirds on Lake Magadi.

Days 4-5: Mt. Kenya. Heading for the country’s highest summit, our journey to Mt. Kenya could yield Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Rueppell’s Robin-Chat, Mountain Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-crowned Canary. The lodge’s waterhole attracts many mammals including African Buffalo. We’ll spend the early mornings searching for White-starred Robin, Abyssinian Crimson-wing, African Crowned Eagle, African Emerald Cuckoo, and Moustached Green Tinkerbird. A shaded riverside trail may reveal Crowned Hornbill, Mountain Wagtail, and up to eight species of sunbirds, including the stunning Tacazze Sunbird. Two nights will be spent just outside the park.

A Secretary-bird stomps across the plains
A Secretary-bird stomps across the plains (Ken Behrens)

Day 6: Aberdare Mountains. In the morning, we bird the Solio Plains, where we hope to find Temminck’s Courser, Jackson’s Widowbird, Black-bellied Bustard, and various other grassland species. In the afternoon, we head for the Aberdares Mountains, where we overnight.

Day 7: Abadares to Nakuru. Today we explore the alpine moorland above the treeline, perhaps encountering Jackson’s Francolins as we climb up into the highest accessible Lobelia-covered plains in Kenya. Our targets here include Alpine Chat and, with luck, we’ll find the specialized and beautiful Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird. In the afternoon we drop down into the Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru where we overnight.

Day 8: Nakuru to Naivasha. We will awaken to vast flocks of flamingos, pelicans, and other waterbirds. The surrounding woodland holds Narina Trogon, Red-throated Wryneck, Arrow-marked Babbler, and African Firefinch. After lunch we venture to Naivasha, another of the Rift Valley gems.

Day 9: Naivasha to Baringo. We will spend the early morning at Lake Naivasha, sifting through vast flocks of waterbirds, and birding productive lakeside woodland. Later we drive to Lake Baringo, rich in arid-zone birds, where we search for Hunter’s Sunbird, Heuglin’s Courser, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, and Northern White-faced Scops-Owl. At dusk, we should see Slender-tailed Nightjars gliding along the hippo-covered shore. We overnight at Lake Baringo.

Day 10: Baringo to Kakamega. Today exemplifies birding in Kenya. We begin in the sub-desert and end up in the most eastern tract of lowland equatorial rainforest in Africa. First we visit the cliffs near Baringo, scanning for Fan-tailed Raven, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Mocking Cliff-Chat, and Bristle-crowned Starling. Later we explore the Kerio Valley, where we search rocky, scrubby hillsides for Green-backed Eremomela, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Brown Parrot, White-crested Turaco, Pearl-spotted Owlet, and Black-headed Gonolek. Late in the day we arrive at Kakamega for a three-night stay.

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Days 11-12: Kakamega Forest. Kakamega is full of birds and is justly famous as one of Kenya’s birding meccas. Many of Kenya’s fantastic forest birds are available only here. These include dapper Equatorial Akalats, comical Great Blue Turacos, and sensational Blue-headed Bee-eaters among other beauties like White-chinned and Banded Prinias, Jameson’s and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes, Bocage’s and Luehder’s Bushshrikes, Black-billed and Vieillot’s Weavers, Gray-headed Negrofinch, Red-headed Malimbe, and Red-headed Bluebill.

Day 13: Lake Victoria to Masai Mara. Today we head to Lake Victoria, searching for swamp specialties such as Blue-headed Coucal, Swamp Flycatcher, and the striking Papyrus Gonolek. Rice paddies may produce African Openbill, Southern Red Bishop, and Zebra Waxbill. In the afternoon, we head south to the Masai Mara National Reserve for a three-night stay.

Days 14-15: Masai Mara. The Mara, the northern portion of the magnificent Serengeti system, offers spectacular vistas over flat-topped acacia and grassy plains riddled with ungulates and other animals. We’ll spend the days in the western part of the reserve looking for East Africa’s famous Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, African Elephants, gazelles, and other wildlife. However, birding does not take a back seat, and we should be rewarded with views of many large raptors and vultures that gather at the kills, as well as storks, Kori Bustard, Southern Ground-Hornbill, and other species that suffer from disturbance outside these large protected areas. Other highlights may include Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Temminck’s Courser, Sooty Chat, and Schalow’s Turaco.

Long-tailed Widowbird displaying over montane grassland
Long-tailed Widowbird displaying over montane grassland (Ken Behrens)

Day 16: Nairobi. Today we return to Nairobi for a final night, searching for the endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw and other grassland specialties en route.

Day 17: Departure. Today we fly out on our international departures or join the Eastern Extension.

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EXTENSION OPTION

East Coast Extension (7 days)

The East Coast extension will likely run in a modified format in 2015.

Day 1: Nairobi to Tsavo. From the capital, we drive southeast to Tsavo National Park where we look for dry Acacia savanna species including Black-headed Plover, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Golden Pipit, Golden-breasted Starling, and with luck, Somali Courser and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse.

Day 2: Taita Hills and Tsavo. In the early morning we’ll visit the ancient remnant forest of the Eastern Arc in the Taita Hills, looking for Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis, and Taita White-eye. The afternoon will be spend down in the dry lowlands of Tsavo West NP.

Day 3: Tsavo to Sokoke. This is an exciting day spent driving through Tsavo East National Park, on our way to the coastal forest of Sokoke. We’ll observe the remarkable transition from semi-desert to lush rainforest. Tsavo is excellent for mammals like elephant and gerenuk, plus a diverse range of dry scrub birds.

Days 4-6: Sokoke. Early mornings are spent in the incomparable Sokoke Forest where we filter through bird parties looking for the three near-endemics, Sokoke Scops-Owl, Sokoke Pipit, and Clarke’s Weaver. Other species here include Green Barbet, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, and Amani Sunbird. The nearby Mida Creek will provide the spectacle of hundreds of Crab Plovers and Palearctic shorebirds, as well as chances for Sooty Gull and Saunders’s Tern.

Day 7: Flight to Nairobi. Departure

Sokoke Scops-Owl is a major target on the extension, and can often be found during the day
Sokoke Scops-Owl is a major target on the extension, and can often be found during the day (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Most days we will need to be up early, around 6 am, and will stay out fairly late, around 5 pm, in order to take advantage of the best times of day and to enjoy the finest birds and mammals that Kenya offers. Where possible we will use the middle of the day to rest up, or travel between localities. There will also be a few days that are very full days in the field. There will be only a handful of optional outings after dark to search for owls and nightjars; these are normally done just before dinner and seldom last for more than an hour (typically between 6–7 pm). Kenya is a decent sized country but the road infrastructure is good and traveling between major sites is not too bad – there will be drives of 4-6 hours on four days of the main tour. There will be packed lunches on many days; but sitting with a packed lunch for a siesta under a tree is often a far more relaxing way to do things than spending a long time driving back to camp for lunch, only to head out again in two hours.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Almost all the birding is done from mostly flat roads and other easily accessible areas, and much time is spent in your safari vehicle. There is little walking on this tour, with the exceptions of Mt. Kenya, Kakamega, and Sokoke, where we can expect to walk about 2 miles (3 km) a day. The trail walking at these sites is fairly easy with only short, hilly sections.

CLIMATE: Quite variable and you will have to come prepared for all seasons. The higher altitude savanna and forest sites like Nairobi NP, Mt Kenya, and the Aberdares are cool (usually 50°-70°F, 10°-20°C), with rain highly likely at some stage. In the rift valley at Naivasha, Nakuru and Baringo it is a little hotter and drier (usually 53°-81°F, 11°-27°C), and at the Kenyan coast on the extension it is hot and humid (usually 72°-102°F, 22°-38°C).

ACCOMMODATION: Very good to superb (including some of the nicest accommodation available on a birding tour!), all have private, en-suite bathrooms, and full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. Internet is fairly widespread, but not available everywhere.

PHOTOGRAPHY: If you are a casual photographer, you will love this trip! Nowhere in Africa are birds more cooperative, and mammals easier to take pictures of, and because we are visiting many places where birds are common, tame and easily seen, there are plenty of opportunities for the casual photographer to indulge and enjoy shooting. If you are a serious photographer however, you may wish to consider our Kenya, Namibia or South Africa Photo Journeys.

WHEN TO GO: We often run our set-departure tour in May, when the birds are all breeding, in nice plumage, and very vocal. This trip can be run as a custom tour at almost any time of year, and in the boreal winter (October – March) many migrants flood into Kenya meaning your bird list can even be longer. If you want the best chance to see Masai Mara river crossings, June –August is the best time, although in our opinion, the best of the wildebeest and zebra migration is during the birthing cycle (Feb – April) in Tanzania; see our Tanzania tour.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are required of most nationalities, but since September 2015 most nationalities can get an online e-Visa (must be obtained at least 10 days prior to travel), including citizens of US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and China, most European countries, and many others. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s a good idea to double check six weeks before you travel, or check with our office if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 16, and to the night of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 17, and to breakfast of day 7 of the extension if also taking the extension (if you have a very early flight on your departure day, you may miss the included hotel breakfast); reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with telescope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 16, and from day 1 to the the afternoon of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; one arrival airport transfer and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers are only provided on the specific arrival and departure dates, and may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 16 (and from day 1 to day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension) in a suitable safari pop-top vehicle with driver; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; 2 boat trips – one on Naivasha and one on Baringo; if taking the extension, the one way flight from Malindi to Nairobi; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; excess baggage charges; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

Gallery of the top 20 Birds of Kenya: