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Fishing boat on Lake Victoria.
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Kakamega Forest
Mount Elgon
Ndere Island
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Safari glossary
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More parks: Western Kenya
Most safari-goers that come to Kenya visit the southern, central or south-eastern parts of the country, where the prime parks (Masai Mara, Tsavo etc) that offers the most animals are situated. But nature and wildlife can be enjoyed and explored also in other parts.

The west
Western Kenya has a mixed landscape of forests, mountain ranges and rolling hills. The country's second highest mountain, Mount Elgon, borders Uganda to the west.

Map of Africa Namibia Botswana South Africa Zambia Mozambique Malawi Rwanda Tanzania Kenya Uganda
The parks of western Kenya may not offer as rich wildlife as the prime parks further east, but may attract visitors that are looking for places off the beaten track or places offering special features.

The parks and areas described below have fewer visitors than the prime parks, and generally offer a less developed infrastructure. The roads may be very poor, the options for comfortable accommodation fewer or absent, etc.

Kakamega Forest National Reserve
Kakamega Forest National Reserve (45 km2/17 sq mi) is a tropical rainforest in western Kenya, north of Lake Victoria and towards the border to Uganda. The forest is of the same type found over much of southern Uganda, but is the only remaining of its kind in Kenya. It is surrounded by open farmland. Kakamega Forest covers some 240 km2/95 sq mi, of which the reserve is only a part. The distance to Nairobi is some 500 km/310 mi.

Rainforest with 100 tree species
Kakamega's main attraction is the rainforest itself. More than a hundred tree species are found in the park, as are numerous other plants, including orchids. The mammal wildlife includes monkeys such as black-and-white colobus, de Brazza's monkey and blue monkey. The brush-tailed porcupine is found in no other area in Kenya. At night, anomalures (a type of flying rodents) glide between the trees, and pottos (a primitive primate) move in slow motion along branches.

Great blue turaco and bulbuls
The bird life is rich. 350 bird species have been recorded in Kakamega Forest, including species that are rare or absent in other parts of Kenya. There are for example great blue turaco, various sunbirds and many bulbuls. There is also a rich representation of reptiles, among these many snakes.

Accommodation is available in bandas and camping sites. Kakamega Town is 15 km/9 mi from the forest, and offers hotels, lodges and other accommodation.

The road to Kakamega Forest from Kisumu Town on northern Lake Victoria is a one-houe drive through a pretty landscape. Travelling from Nairobi is a long full day on the roads.

Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria (68,800 km2/26,550 sq mi, 100 m/330 ft deep) is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, shared by northern Tanzania, western Kenya and south-eastern Uganda. After seeing it in 1858, John Hanning Speke pointed it out as the source of the Nile River, but the discovery wasn't acknowledged until 1875, after Henry Morton Stanley had also visited the lake.

The lake is huge enough to affect the climate of south-western Kenya; the evaporation from the lake combined with surrounding mountains cause moist air and heavy rains. The lake is bordered by densely populated and productive farmlands, known for its production of tea. Bananas, sugar canes and maize are also grown.

Kisumu on the northern tip of Kenyan Lake Victoria is Kenya's third city in size, with a population of approximately half a million. Some tourist attractions in Kisumu are Impala Park, where you may see the rare sitatunga antelope, the hippo hangout Hippo Point, and Kisumu Museum, which has exhibitions showing arts and crafts from the region. The Kisumu market is said to be one of the largest and busiest in Kenya. Not far from Kisumu are the fishing village Ndunga Beach, Mfangano Island, which has rock paintings, and Ndere Island National Park, a small island park with some wildlife.

Further south in Lake Victoria is Homa Bay, a small port that is often used for accommodation by visitors to Ruma National Park. The bay is home to one of Lake Victoria's crocodile populations. Rusinga Island, a beautiful island not far away, is visited by many anglers coming to catch the huge nile perch of the lake. The island is rich in fossil, the most famous being those from Proconsul, an early genus of primates that lived from 27 to 17 million years ago. Nearby Takawiri Island is also visited by anglers.

Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon, an extinct volcano on the western border towards Uganda, is Kenya's second highest mountain (4,302 m/14,114 ft; a slightly higher peak is found on the Ugandan side of the border). Mount Elgon National Park includes 169 km2/65 sq mi of the mountain. The nature varies from savanna woodland at the lower altitudes, to montane moorland at the highest. The mountain has an 8 km/5 mi crater (a caldera, i.e. the remains after an eroded or collapsed mountain or peak) and caves partly created by elephants digging for minerals.

Mount Elgon map.

The mammal wildlife in the area includes elephant, African buffalo, black-and-white colobus, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, bush pig and leopard. A very rare cat, the African golden cat, has been reported from Mount Elgon. There is also a rich bird life, including turacos, trogons and orioles.

The park is quite far from the most visited Kenyan safari parks. Some other parks of this area are Saiwa Swamp and Kakamega Forest.

Mount Elgon Lodge is located just outside the park, offering basic accommodation. There are also bandas and camping sites inside the park.

Nasolot & South Turkana National Reserves
Nasolot National Reserve (92 km2/36 sq mi) and South Turkana National Reserve (1,091 km2/421 sq mi) are found in north-western Kenya, towards the Ugandan border. Both parks are unexploited, at least as to tourism; a hydroelectric power plant has been built in Nasolot. The area is dominated by dry scrubs and by two mountains. The wildlife isn't very rich, but includes elephant, lesser kudu (Nasolot) and greater kudu (South Turkana). There are no lodges in the area, which is some 500 km/300 mi from Nairobi.

Ndere Island National Park
Ndere (4 km2/1.5 sq mi) is an island in eastern Lake Victoria. It has small populations of herbivores, plus crocodiles and birds. The main activities attracting visitors are walking, fishing and game viewing, the latter by foot or from boats. You get to Ndere Island by boat from Kisumu on the mainland.

Ruma National Park
Ruma National Park (formerly Lambwe Valley National Reserve) (120 km2/46 sq mi) is situated in western Kenya, 20 km/12 mi east of Lake Victoria and 350 km/220 mi west of Nairobi. Some roads have been built and the wildlife protection has improved since Ruma was upgraded from national reserve to national park.

Most of the park is undulating savanna patched with woodlands. It was originally established to protect the local population of roan, an antelope species found in only a few places in Kenya. Other herbivores that are otherwise rare in Kenya are oribi and Jackson's hartebeest. There are also natural populations of for example leopards, African buffalos and topis, and attempts to introduce ostriches, giraffes and zebras have been made.

Ruma has no lodges or tented camps. Many visitors stay in lodges or hotels on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Saiwa Swamp National Park
Saiwa Swamp National Park (3 km2/1.2 sq mi) is found not very far from Mount Elgon on Kenya's border to Uganda. It's the smallest national park in Kenya, established to protect the local population of sitatunga, which is a wetland antelope. Most of the park is covered by wetlands and forests. Vehicles are not allowed, so you are restricted to visiting the park by foot.

Apart from the sitatunga, you may see de Brazza's monkey, black-and-white colobus, potto, spot-necked otter and leopard, and birds such as great blue turaco, go-away birds, narina trogon, barbets and other species. All in all 250 bird species have been recorded in Saiwa Swamp, which is a lot, considering the small size of the park.

There is a camping site in conjunction with the park, and a few tented camps in the surrounding areas. Kitale, 22 km/14 mi from the park, has an airstrip.

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Page updated 26 January 2010