This is the land of the Great Rift Valley, Africa’s most prominent geographical feature. Stretching over 5 000kms across the continent, the formation of this massive developing fault line has significantly shaped the region.
Encompassing towering volcanoes, impressive mountain ranges, vast lakes, extensive savannah plains, dense rainforests and almost 1 500kms of coastline with various marine environments, visitors to the region have an astonishing array of attractions carrying an immense diversity of animal and plant life to choose from. And a safari in East Africa is also a window into the customary and cultural world of the Maasai and Samburu as well as a host of other fascinating groups of people. While the region offers great experiences throughout the year, the peak periods are January through March and July to October windows as these coincide with the most exciting viewing of the Great Migration and the gorillas and chimps, the highlight wildlife attractions.
Kenya is the true birthplace of ‘the safari’, and no one does the traditional mobile option better than the Kenyan operators. While lacking for the most part the vast and remote wilderness areas that Tanzania and some Southern African countries boast, for many it remains a preferable option because it offers easier travel and a wider selection of accommodation and price options.
Because of this, Kenya tends to be a high-volume destination. Nonetheless, an incredible diversity of habitats with superb game viewing, and the unique cultural experiences that are part and parcel of almost every destination more than compensate for the throng at some national parks and along most of the coastline. Highlights include the annual Great Migration of over one million animals through the Masai Mara, the rugged, remote and dry terrain of Samburu and the far north, the incredible flamingo and pelican viewing at Lake Nakuru, the private lodges and conservancies of Laikipia and the Swahili character of the Lamu Archipelago.
Uganda is all about the primate axis, and nothing can prepare you for a close-up encounter with gorillas or chimpanzees. Highly social and intelligent, it is difficult to look one of these creatures in the eye without being moved by a deep sense of familiarity, nurturance, and compassion as well as a sense of anguish for their fate. Endangered, yet sharing more than 96% of the human genome, a trekking journey in search of these fellow-primates is nothing short of a journey in search of soul.
Other highlights include Kidepo, the remote savannah park in the north, the woodland regions of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the extensive river and wetland habitats around Murchison Falls, Lake Victoria and the other great lakes. And for birders, Uganda is one of Africa’s top destinations with a species list of over 1 100 birds.
Situated in the very heart of the continent, Rwanda straddles the steamy rainforests of Central Africa and the more open woodland savanna terrain typical of countries to the east. With its thrilling rolling mountainous landscapes, this tiny nation is often referred to as “The Land of a Thousand Hills”, and more recently through the work of Dian Fossey with the rare mountain gorillas, it has also become known as the Land of “Gorillas in the Mist”.
These idyllic images were shattered for a brief period in 1994 and 1995 with the horrors of the genocide, but the country has long since settled its political differences by forging a lasting sense of national, rather than ethnic, identity. The memorials to this tragic event have become a sobering component on the itineraries of most visitors. While gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains remains the country’s traditional tourism highlight, the montane forests of Nyungwe, the savannah plains of Akagera and the waters of Lake Kivu are additional attractions.
Tanzania is substantially larger and less developed than Kenya, but this allows for a more remote and adventurous option with an impressive list of attractions, including many ‘off the beaten track’ routes.
Because of its size, visitors typically choose one of three recognized circuits: the northern, southern, or western circuits with each having a variety of incredible parks and wilderness areas. And like Kenya, the country also offers fascinating cultural experiences, particularly with the Maasai people in the north. Highlights include the annual Great Migration of over one million animals through the world-renowned Serengeti; the awesome wonder of the Ngorongoro Crater; the relatively untouched west of Mahale and Katavi that includes chimpanzee trekking; the massive parks of the south, the Selous and Ruaha; and scaling the summit of Africa’s highest and most majestic peak, Mt Kilimanjaro. (Zanzibar is covered under Islands of Africa)