Nobody needs to be reminded just how much wildlife and natural beauty Africa offers tourists. But few countries on the continent have quite the same appeal as Kenya, a land synonymous with breathtaking scenery and wild safaris in equal measure. Encapsulating that offering is Mount Kenya National Park, still an ecotourist’s dream destination.
Like most of Africa, Kenya’s abundance of nature makes it a highly desirable tourism destination. In fact, the Kenya Tourism Board likes to call it ‘Magical Kenya’, and it’s not hard to understand why. To its east are the tropical sandy beaches that hug the Indian Ocean, while to the north is the immense Lake Turkana in the middle of a harsh arid landscape.
To the west are the lush lands along the shores of Lake Victoria, and to the south are dense forests and superb views of Africa’s highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro, just over the border in Tanzania. And finally, in its heart are the savanahs that surround the nation’s capital, Nairobi.
Basically, Kenya offers everything, whether you love mountain climbing, safari rides or want to experience some unique culture – not least life among the Maasai. There is no shortage of options, but a resilient light among the ecotourism and nature conservation category is Mount Kenya National Park.
Mount Kenya National Park
Located close to the geographical heart of Kenya, just 20 kilometers northeast of Nyeri and about 100 kilometers north northeast of Nairobi, this extinct volcano is the second-highest peak on the entire continent. At 5,199 m (17,057 ft), Mount Kenya has been a focal point for millennia, with local tribes considering it a holy mountain. The Meru community to the northeast, for example, still performs traditional rituals to the god Ngai and his wife Mumbi, who they believe live on the mountain.
Established in 1949, it was founded specifically to protect the region surrounding the mountain, something it still does very effectively thanks to the ring of forest reserves around it. Its importance was rubber-stamped in 1978 when it was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and again in 1997 when it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These are both titles that the park has proudly upheld, but visitors are often struck simply by the diversity the park has to offer. At different altitudes are different growing climates, while the high level of rainfall nourishes the forests at its foot despite the fact the mountain is located only 15 kilometers from the equator.
The forests, meanwhile, are home to an extensive range of wildlife, including the giant forest hog, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, black rhinos, and leopard. The African elephant migrates through the area every year and, in the skies, you can see some of the rarest birds, including the green ibis, the Abyssinian long-eared owl and the Ayres hawk eagle.
Sustainable Tourism And The Eco-Experience
There are several towns and villages located within the area of Mount Kenya National Park. Unsurprisingly, tourism is a major industry to them, employing thousands and helping to sustain the local economy. These communities are still largely poverty-stricken, with several NGOs doing their utmost to improve the situation. Education Bridge Africa, for example, is training untrained teachers to improve education standards, while also teaching adults business methods and finance management, empowering them to start and maintain local businesses that can capture a share of the tourism market.
The park has plenty for lovers of adventure and the outdoors to do. Eco-friendly safaris like the Maasai Mara Tour takes visitors around the savannahs where elephants, rhinos, lions and other animals can be observed, with nights spent camping under the stars. You also visit a Maasai village, and experience a taste of the probably the most famous of the native cultures.
Mountain climbers can take 5-day hikes up to the peak, but there are several routes to choose from that suit a hiker’s particular ability level. Running down the mountains sides are the remnants of 12 ancient glaciers, which are receding quickly thanks to climate change, but remain impressive.
There are also birding tours for twitters to enjoy, with over 130 bird species recorded and fishing tours on some of the many lakes in the area.
For more on Kenya’s ecotourism options, check out:
Education Bridge Africa is based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, but promotes education, social and economic initiatives in disadvantaged and marginalized communities in cities and towns, like Nakuru, Nyeri, Nyandarua, and Laikipia. For more information on Education Bridge Africa, visit their MyCharityMap Profile Page, our Outreach feature on them, or their official website.