Kenya: The Coolest Trip in Africa
The Africa of people's dreams.
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.
Day 1: Nairobi. We arrive in Nairobi and are transferred to our hotel for a three-night stay in the city.
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.
Day 6: Aberdare Mountains. We head for the Aberdares (where we overnight), visiting the Solio Plains en route. Here we will 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.
Day 7: Abadares to Nakuru. Today we will explore Thomson’s Falls, checking flowering Leonotis bushes for the spectacular Golden-winged 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 Southern 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 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.
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, before 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, with luck, Ross’s and Schalow’s Turacos.
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.
East Coast Extension (7 days)
We drive southeast to Tsavo 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. 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 Sooty Gull and Saunders’s Tern. Next we bird Lake Jipe and visit the ancient remnant forest of the Eastern Arc in the Taita Hills, looking for Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis, and Taita White-eye, before flying back to Nairobi where our trip concludes.
Day 1: Nairobi to Tsavo
Day 2: Taita Hills and Tsavo
Day 3: Tsavo to Sokoke
Days 4-6: Sokoke
Day 7: Flight to Nairobi. Departure.
CLIMATE: Cool to hot, with some rain likely. Hot and humid on the extension.
DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. There are some fairly long walks at Kakamega on flat terrain. Moderately early starts are required, and there are a few long drives.
ACCOMMODATION: We will be based in good to excellent lodges throughout.