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Kenya off the beaten track | Explore the country's hidden gems

by Laura

Kenya has so much beauty to offer. Most tour operators stick to the well-known, touristy and expensive highlights. But, as a roadtripper, a whole different sight of Kenya appears when driving around in your own vehicle with your camp gear stuffed in the back of the car.

Meet authentic locals and inspiring fellow travellers, design your itinerary on the go, and eat and sleep for a dime. Forget bucket list travelling; explore Kenya off the beaten track!

This guide lists some great off-the-beaten-track destinations for an adventurous roadtrip in Kenya. Have you got a hidden gem to add? Drop us an email, we love to hear about it! 

Hidden gems in western Kenya 

Western Kenya offers a green jungle, numerous lakes, a gigantic mountain, several national parks and very few tourists. These are our favourite off-the-beaten-track experiences in this region:

  1. Mount Elgon – An extinct volcano divided by the Kenya-Uganda border, reaching Mount Elgon's summit requires a four-day climb. For those seeking shorter adventures, the area offers enchanting day hikes along serene trails.
  2. Kerio Valley Drive - An incredible rollercoaster ascending the Rift Valley wall to Iten. Enjoy a wonderful lunch and breathtaking views at Kerio View Hotel, and consider an overnight stay at the scenic Lelin Overland Campsite.
  3. Kakamega Forest Reserve - This isolated piece of dense, tropical rainforest is a remnant of jungle that once stretched from Congo to Kenya. There are many walking trails to enjoy, and all local guides are very well-trained. Forest Guest House is a pretty campground where you can make a campfire and enjoy the sounds of the forest. 
  4. Saiwa Swamp - Accessible only on foot through boardwalks and hiking trails, Saiwa Swamp is a small, secluded National Park. Boasting over 370 bird species, it is a birding enthusiast's paradise. The well-maintained public campsite enhances the overall experience.
  5. Ruma National Park – Tucked away and secluded, Ruma National Park features a distinctive habitat and is a haven for rare animals such as Roan antelopes and Bohr's reedbuck—species found nowhere else. Self-sufficiency is key, as the campsite offers no facilities, allowing you to truly connect with the park's unique wilderness.

Hidden gems in north/central Kenya

  1. Meru National Park - Meru is increasingly re-appearing on safari itineraries, and for good reason. The park fell into neglect in the 1980s and wildlife suffered greatly from out-of-control poaching. With great efforts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Kenya Wildlife Services, the park was restored with new tracks, a dedicated force of rangers, and a new poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate.

    Game viewing in Meru now easily matches the sort of safari experience you’ll have in the more popular Kenyan parks with increasingly frequent sightings of all the ‘Big Five’, plus cheetah and numerous other savannah species. Birdlife in Meru National Park is also exceptional. One of Meru’s biggest draws is the successful rhino sanctuary, home to both white and black rhinos. The sanctuary is located near the main gate. 

    Recommended places to stay are Offbeat Meru, Ikweta Safari Camp, Rhino River Camp and, for those who can afford it, the fabulous Elsa’s Kopje. Meru National Park is included in our North Central self-drive tour

  2. Ol Pejeta Conservancy - Back in the colonial days, Ol Pejeta was a cattle ranch. Nowadays, it is praised for being one of the most successful private conservancies. Besides being home to a variety of animals including the Big Five, Ol Pejeta is a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees and the largest sanctuary in East Africa for the endangered Black Rhino. In addition, Ol Pejeta has one of the highest predator densities in Kenya. Visitors can participate in various exciting conservation experiences, such as lion tracking, night game drives, horse riding amongst the rhinos, or jogging in the wild - making this a fun and also very family-friendly safari destination.

    You can plan and book your visit and activities online, through the park's excellent conservancy website, here. More info about Ol Pejeta can be found in our Travel Blog about the most beautiful national parks in Kenya

  3. Ngare Ndare Forest - Ngare Ndare is a lush, indigenous forest located at the foothills of Mount Kenya. It's hardly visited by tourists and a true hidden gem. Branch off the A2 at Timau. From there, it's a 15-kilometer detour on a rough road (45 minutes). Highly recommended!

    At Ngare Ndare you can hike to waterfalls, swim in azure blue pools and do a canopy walk - the longest one in East Africa. There is a big chance of spotting elephants, a special sight in the forest. The entrance fee is 4000 ksh/person + 1000 ksh for the ranger. Call in advance to ensure a ranger is available to guide you to the pools - they are very friendly and knowledgeable. 

    For camping enthusiasts, there is a public campsite at Ngare Ndare. Otherwise, continue to Nanyuki (90 minutes), the gateway town to Ol Pejeta. Nanyuki has a well-stocked supermarket, a few good restaurants and hotels.

    A day visit to Ngare Ndare Forest in Kenya is included in our North Central self-drive tour

Taking off on your Kenya self-drive adventure

Are you ready to rent a car and explore the hidden gems of Kenya on a self-drive trip? Get in contact with our experienced team at Roadtrip Africa to check availability, and secure your 4x4 now!

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