Kenya is where "going on safari" started. A hundred years or so ago, visitors from all over the world, including Teddy Roosevelt, started travelling to Africa, lured by stories of multitudes of wild animals; there were more than 3 million large mammals in constant movement around East Africa's plains at the time. Today millions of international visitors continue to flock to this East African nation each year. Although humans have made their mark, Kenya still holds onto its pristine wilderness.
But Kenya's tourism industry, the main source of foreign revenue, is very susceptible to perceptions of tourist safety. Tourism declined in the late 1990s following a series of attacks on tourists and the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, but the industry has seen a rise in visitor numbers in recent years, with record figures for the first half of 2007 showing a 30% increase. There seems to be no reason to consider Kenya unsafe as a tourist destination. Fingers are crossed that Kenya continues on her stable path and that the tourism industry continues to grow.
Kenya's human history dates back at least six million years. In 2001 the controversial Millennium Man was discovered near Lake Baringo in the northwest. This find and Richard and Mary Leakey's literally ground-breaking discovery of Homo Habilis in the 60s fuel ongoing excavations.
Today there are more than 70 ethnic groups in Kenya that range from the Masai, Samburu, Kikuyu, and Turkana tribes to the Arabs and Indians that settled on the coast and the descendants of the first white settlers in and around Nairobi and the Kenya highlands. In Nairobi, about 40% of the population is Kikuyu—a Bantu people numbering more than 6 million. Islam arrived along the coast in the eighth century, followed in the 15th century by Portuguese explorers and sailors who came looking for the sea route to India. During the rule of Seyyid Said of Oman in the 1830s, German, British, and American merchants established themselves on the coast, and the notorious slave routes were created.
The British created what was then known as British East Africa in the late 1800s. After a much-publicized and often sensationalized struggle by native Kenyans against British rule in the 1950s, known as the Mau Mau era, Kenya finally won independence in 1963.
If there were animal karma some of Kenya's great parks, like the Masai Mara, would be an animal's nirvana, because this is food paradise. It's an abundantly stocked raptor restaurant that offers something for every predator's palate: a hyena hamburger place, a jackal fast-food joint, cheetah takeaways, banquets for bat-eared foxes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for leopards, feasts for lions, and lush grazing for vegetarians.
Don't be put off by people who say that there are far too many tourists, which sometimes makes you feel like you're in a big zoo. Although the Masai Mara is much more crowded with visitors than neighboring Tanzania's Serengeti, you'll still get a superb year-round game experience, and your safari could be cheaper, too. Kenya has a compact and easily accessible tourist circuit, and the authorities are now limiting visitor numbers in national parks, as they do in South Africa's Kruger Park.
Kenya is not just about big game. It has a gorgeous tropical coastline with white sandy beaches, coral gardens, superb fishing, and snorkeling, diving, and vibey beach resorts. Traditional triangular-sailed dhows still ply their trade providing unforgettable seafood to the surrounding restaurants. You'll discover unique islands with ancient stone Arab buildings, where a donkey is the main means of transport, and where time really does seem to have stood still.