If there’s one thing that has constantly stood out as part of the Kenyan heritage and pride, it has to be our wildlife and natural spaces. Regardless of the country’s pulse, nature has stood as a silent observer, gazing from the inside out to the rapidly growing urban Kenya that has nudged our wildlife to hide further and further into the wild.
While it’s not surprising to meet a Kenyan who hasn’t traveled to around the country, this is gradually changing. Gauging from my own experience, the fact that you grew up with wildlife in your backyard means that we may take a lot of what nature offers us for granted; what with a cheeky monkey or five still running through your kitchen window and snatching your fruit off the rack, an occasional pride of lions choosing to play hide and seek with urban residents adjacent to the Nairobi National Park.
Loisaba in the morning. | Image: Tatiana Karanja
Do you ever look at the map of Kenya and wonder what lies in some vast, open spaces that seem unoccupied? That was the thought that ran into my mind as I travelled towards Loisaba Conservancy, which lies in Laikipia. It seemed like we drove for miles without seeing any humans, but well beyond our prying eyes were diverse communities: the local inhabitants who have been there for as long as time can tell, and who play a key role in wildlife conservation. Often overlooked in the discussion of wildlife heritage and maintenance, these communities work hard to keep harmony between themselves and nature. It was refreshing to learn from them on the work they have done with organizations such as The Nature Conservancy in this area, such as habitat maintenance, grazing stability programs that protect both the livestock and wildlife, education and health provision for the locals, and economically empowering projects that allow everyone to earn off the land and its resources.
Pinstripes look good| Image: Tatiana Karanja
There has been a shift to attitudes towards travel though as the Kenyan populace grows younger – with many more seeking adventure, and possibly a break from the normal 8 – 5 job schedule. It’s quite common to run into traffic on a Sunday evening, as many head back from weekends of exploration outside the urban areas. In my observations, there are three main reasons why many more citizens are traveling within the country, reshaping the domestic tourism sector.
To get anywhere, you need a route there. With improved transport infrastructure to most corners of the country, access to tourist destinations has changed to open up these remote corners. One of the fastest ways to get to the coast of Kenya is via the Madaraka Express, the new passenger rail service that moves from Nairobi to Mombasa, with stops in towns such as Mtito Andei and Voi. With the 2nd phase of the railway set to open the Western Kenya area, many more will seek to explore the area. The road network has also greatly improved, and some of the best sceneries are on the roads to North Kenya. I’m particularly waiting for a chance to take a drive up to Marsabit and Moyale, and experience those wide roads and panoramic views.
The burgeoning home-stay industry has also opened up possibilities, with more travelers preferring to stick to groups and manage their own accommodation needs. It means that previously inaccessible places are also opened up as residents see the potential in their backyard and are willing to share the same with budget travelers, and this further drives an infusion of cultural learning between the hosting and traveling groups. Shared travel costs also means that the overall experience is much more pocket friendly. Many have also discovered that hotels have affordable rates for Kenyan citizens and residents, and the same applies to our national parks and reserves.
One thing remains big on the list – the desire to travel. Without this need to see new places and experience new cultures, food, and people, travel would be a non-existent activity and industry. For a long time, Kenyans didn’t desire to travel that much, with the belief that travel is expensive and reserved for the elite. In addition, many have discovered hidden gems within their own rural areas, and as these open up, travel has ceased to belong to an exclusive club. All you really need to do is make time, plan your budget and go; and you can travel well within Kenya as a solo tourist.
Pause. Breathe fire into life. Live. | Image: Tatiana Karanja
With all this going for us as a country, we should not forget the one thing that remains an elusive dream for some nations – wildlife, open and natural spaces, and the different regions that offer amazing and diverse experiences. Here, you have options ranging from the sun, sand and sea, to forests and wild savannahs, mountains and high altitude areas, as well as open desert panoramas.
We have to be our country’s best ambassadors, sharing and showcasing the best that we have to offer, to a global audience that can access such content at a click. The wild country as we know it may one day cease to exist as it is, and the next generations will have to learn from our tales of travel. These experiences are the same that will inspire us and them to be responsible in resource and wildlife management for generations beyond us. It’s a dream to many, but an achievable one if we realize the true value of the heritage we have in our hands.
We cannot also forget that domestic travel will boost local communities, and drive the empowerment of these communities to do better for themselves. After all, they are in the frontline, living and communing with nature every day.
I hope you’re ready as I am to continue exploring Kenya and beyond, and discover the magic around us.