“A feast for the senses”, said a visitor recently. Kakamega Forest National Reserve is the only tropical rainforest in Kenya, left over from past millennia when dense rain forest stretched from West Africa, across Central Africa and into the highland areas on the west and eastern walls of the Great Rift Valley. The forest has been a protected area of Kenya since its vital role in the eco-system was first recognised in 1933.
Altitude 4,000 – 7,000ft
Area 240 sq. kms
Distance from Nairobi: 418 kms
Opened: May 1985
Highlights: Kenya’s only Tropical Rainforest, Excellent Bird Viewing, Unique Species, Nature Trails, Camping, Picnics, Night Game Walks, Butterfly watching snake observation
Game includes: Rare Monkeys & Porcupines
The sheer size and grandeur of these rain forest trees, some over 100 years old, is impressive. The trees create a complete environment for birds, insects, butterflies and wildlife, which are plentiful in this area.
The forest includes some of Africa’s greatest hard and soft woods: Elgon teak, red and white stink woods and several varieties of Croton and Aniageria Altisima. Splendid orchids sit amongst the branches of the larger trees. Walking beneath the lush forest canopy the deep shade is pierced by flashes of colour, exotic birdcalls, the scents of wood, flower and moss. The best time to visit is during the rainy season, April to July, when the flowers are at their most beautiful.
There are seven kms of trails with a team of ranger guides to escort visitors through the forest. The walk to Buyango Hill, the highest point in the forest, is a must for visitors. The indigenous trees lining the trails are identified on signs with their local and latin names.
The Reserve is twice the size of Nairobi National Park with 380 species of plants spread in swamps, riverine and hardwood forest areas, glades and the shallow forest around the edge of the reserve. About 350 species of birds have been recorded including rare snake-eating birds. Butterflies and snakes normally only found in West Africa can also be seen. Visitors need not worry about meeting them round every corner. Forest mammals include bushpig, grey duiker, vicet, sunni, clawless otters and some fascinating nocturnal game: Ground Pangolin, porcupines and the occasional leopard.
Kakamega offers an excellent primate viewing opportunity. Black and White Colobus are in plenty and the De Brazza Monkeys (known as ‘Karasinga’ in Swahili, thanks to its distinctive white beard) can be found in the adjacent Kisere forest area. Many rare species of primates are common. They include the Blue Monkey, frequently seen near the Ishiuki Fall, the Olive Baboon and the Red tailed Monkey.
Accommodation is available within the reserve: one guest house (total eight beds), self-help bandas with 10 beds and two campsites. Hotel accommodation is available nearby. Rondo Retreat, opened recently to visitors is located inside the reserve.
Easily included on the same western circuit is Ruma National Park. Created as a reserve in 1966 to protect the only remaining habitat of Roan antelope, the Park is in the Lambwe Valley in Southern Nyanza, 140 kms. from Kisumu town. The 120sq. km park is a mix of rolling savannah, woodlands, rivers and hills. Its main attractions are game-viewing, birdwatching, hiking and walking and fishing in the rivers. Game in this park include Bohor’s reedbuck, Rothschild’s giraffe, Jackson’s hartebeest, Roan antelope, buffalo, leopard, serval cat and hyena, as well as diverse birdlife. There is no hotel/lodge accommodation in the park, but there are two campsites.
Ndere Island National Park is only 4.2sq. kms. The island is just off the northern shore of Lake Victoria, opened in November 1986. Ndere means ‘Meeting Place’ in the dholuo language of the local Luo. According to Luo folklore, Kit Mikayi, mother of the tribe, rested near Ndere after her long journey south down the Nile Valley. She found the lush shoreline so pleasant that she and her people decided to stay. It is home to a variety of birds including fish eagles and a big population of swifts. Hippos and crocodiles, including the lesser known Spotted Crocodile, are a familiar sight. Fifty impalas have been introduced to the woodland which fringes the shores. Attractions include hiking, walking, traditional fishing, boat safaris and picnics. No accommodation is available.
Kisumu Impala Wildlife Sanctuary was opened in October 1992, to protect a herd of impala and provide safe grazing grounds for hippo from the lake. It is used as a holding point and sanctuary for “problem” animals, such as leopard, hyena and baboon. It is close to Kisumu town and occupies less than one sq. km.