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'Cradle of humanity'

Excavations in Kenya suggest that the region is the cradle of humanity, the home some 3.25 million years ago of Homo habilis, from whom Homo sapiens descended. What is certain is that, in more recent times, Kenya was the settling place of a huge number of tribes from all over Africa, with a long history of migration, settlement and conflict. During the following centuries, the region became prosperous on the profits of trade, and also as an entrepôt for commerce from the Indian Ocean.

Today, Kenya, regarded by many as the ‘jewel of East Africa’, has some of the continent’s finest beaches, most magnificent wildlife and scenery and an incredibly sophisticated tourism infrastructure. It is a startlingly beautiful land, from the coral reefs and white sand beaches of the coast to the summit of Mount Kenya, crowned with clouds and bejewelled by strange giant alpine plants. Above all, Kenya is a place for safaris.

Between these two extremes is the rolling savannah that is home to game parks such as Amboseli, the Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo; the lush, agricultural highlands with their sleek green coat of coffee and tea plantations; and the most spectacular stretch of the Great Rift Valley, the giant scar across the face of Africa.

One-tenth of all land in Kenya is designated as national parks and reserves. Over 50 parks and reserves cover all habitats from desert to mountain forest, and there are even six marine parks in the Indian Ocean.

Kenya also has a fascinatingly diverse population with around 40 different tribes, all with their own (often related) languages and cultures. The major tribes include the Kikuyu from the central highlands, the Luyia in the northwest, and the Luo around Lake Victoria. Of them all, however, the most famous are the tall, proud, beautiful red-clad Masai, who still lead a traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle of cattle-herding along the southern border.

Kenya does have its downside as a tourist destination. Rampant corruption means that many of the roads are in poor condition and driving can be a chore. Urban crime is high and continuing inter-tribal skirmishes and banditry are a threat in some areas of the North. More prosaically, the tourist trade has taught people there to think of foreigners as open wallets. Prices for everything from park fees to hotel rooms are set way above the local level.

There is enormous pressure to buy anything and everything, often at ridiculously inflated prices, and even taking a photograph in the local market is likely to incur a cost. But despite this, the people are friendly, and the tourist trade is supremely well organised and professional. For those in search of a little adventure, this can be an ideal holiday destination.

General Information

582,646 sq km (224,961 sq miles).
32.8 million (UN estimate 2005).

Population Density
56.3 per sq km.
Nairobi. Population: 2.5 million (UN estimate 2003).
Republic. Gained independence from the UK in 1963.
Swahili is the national language and English is the official language. There are over 42 ethnic languages spoken, including Kikuyu and Luo.
Mostly traditional but there is a sizeable Christian population (both Catholic and Protestant) and a small Muslim community.

GMT + 3.

The coastal areas are tropical, but tempered by monsoon winds. The lowlands are hot but mainly dry, while the highlands are more temperate with four seasons. Nairobi has a very pleasant climate throughout the year due to its altitude. Near Lake Victoria, the temperatures are much higher and rainfall can be heavy.

Required Clothing:   Lightweight cottons and linens with rainwear are advised for the coast and lakeside. Warmer clothing is needed in June and July and for the cooler mornings on the coast. Lightweights are needed for much of the year in the highlands. Rainwear is advisable between March and June and October and December.
220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are UK-type square three-pin. Bayonet-type light sockets exist in Kenya.
Social Conventions
Western European habits prevail throughout Kenya as a result of British influences in the country. Kenyans are generally very friendly. Dress is informal, and casual lightweight clothes are accepted for all but the smartest social occasions.

Head of State
President Emilio Mwai Kibaki since 2002.

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