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Among Kenya safaris itineraries, this is a birder and trekkers paradise. Kakamega Forest National Reserve was opened in 1985 and is 418 Kms from Nairobi covering an area of 240 Sq. Kms. It 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.
Rising 4,000 to 7,000 Ft above sea level, the forest has been a protected area of Kenya since its vital role in the eco-system was first recognized in 1933.
The sheer size and grandeur of these rainforest trees, some over a hundred years old, is impressive. The trees create a complete environment for the birds, insects, butterflies and wildlife, so plentiful in the area. It is a home-coming for birdwatchers and trekking in the forest gives the feel of the real African wild, all in one Kenya safari package.
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 color, 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 beauty.
Kakamega forest has 7 kilometers 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. 350 species of bird have been recorded including rare snake-eating birds. Butterflies and snakes normally only found in West Africa can also be spotted, although visitors need have no concern about meeting them round every corner.
Forest mammals among them the bush pigs, grey duikers, civet, Sunni, clawless otters and some fascinating nocturnal game: Ground Pangolin, porcupines and the occasional leopard. Kakamega forest offers excellent primate viewing with Black and White Colobus being plentiful 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 primate are common here such as the Blue Monkey, frequently seen near the Ishiuki Falls, the Olive Baboon and the Red Tailed Monkey.
Accommodation is available within the Reserve: one guest house (total 8 beds), self-help bandas with 10 beds and two campsites. Other nearby hotel accommodation is available as well as the Rondo Retreat, recently opened to visitors, 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 South Nyanza, 140 kilometers from Kisumu town. The 120 sq. kilometers 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.
You can watch Bohor’s Reedbucks, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Roan Antelopes, buffalos, leopard, serval cats and hyenas.Birding is exelent with many species recorded. There is no accommodations in the park apart from two camping sites.
Two other parks on this circuit are Ndere Island National Park and
Kisumu Impala Wildlife Sanctuary.
Ndere Island Park is only 4.2 square kilometers, an island just off the northern shores of Lake Victoria, opened in November 1986. Ndere means ‘Meeting Place’ in the language of the local Luo tribe. According to Luo folklore, Kit Mikayi, mother of the tribe, rested up near Ndere after her long journey south down the Nile Valley. She found the lush shoreline so pleasing that she and her people stayed.
It is home to a variety of birds including fish eagles and a dense population of swifts. Hippos and crocodiles, including the lesser known Spotted Crocodiles, are at home here. 50 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 impalas and provides safe grazing grounds for hippos 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 square kilometer.