Once upon a time, before the insidious intrusion by the ever-increasing human population, the Guineo-Congolian forest eco-system extended all the way across central Africa from coast to coast; today, Kakamega Forest is the only little pocket of true tropical rainforest left in the whole of Kenya!
The forest is of great interest to botanists and zoologists due to the fact that this little island of tropical forest is completely cut-off from the rest of the Guineo-Congolian rainforest, and is therefore widely studied to ascertain how an isolated environment can continue to survive when separated from its larger body.
Kakamega Forest National Park is situated close to Kenya’s western border with Uganda, so getting there is quite a mission, but bird watchers and nature lovers alike will certainly find the experience well worth the long journey.
Kakamega Forest Reserve is a place of great beauty and true serenity – the perfect get-away-from-it-all destination. Because of its remote location Kakamega seldom features on any list of popular tourist destinations, which adds to its charm and means that you could very well have the whole place to yourself on any given day.
You do need to be able to explore on foot to enjoy Kakamega Forest – although driving is permitted on the roads through the National Reserve, you will see just about nothing due to the density of the surrounding vegetation. Arrange to spend at least two days in this amazing place to get the most out of your experience.
It’s all about enjoying a remarkably diverse eco-system before it is forever lost to man! Look forward to the following:
Wildlife watching and counting the butterflies
Visits to Saiwa Swamp and Mount Elgon National Park
There are several self-guided trails that you can follow without a guide, and it is quite a liberating experience to set off into the jungle on your own. However, a knowledgeable guide can make all the difference between a pleasant jungle hike and a fascinating experience that you will never forget. We strongly suggest that you do at least one guided walk during your visit.
If you enjoy camping and don’t mind roughing it a little, there is no better place than Kakamega Forest Reserve to get really close to nature, without worrying about big hairy (and possibly hungry?) animals lurking outside your tent! Fall asleep to the sounds of the forest and be right on-site for a brilliant sun-rise walk to the sound of the dawn chorus of birds.
There are several guides who know the forest like the back of their hands and will greatly contribute to your enjoyment of this unique environment. Most guided walks take around 2 hours, and will introduce you to the fascinating small animals and the stunning forest vegetation. In addition, it is also possible to book a special Sunrise (5 – 8am) and/or Evening (5-8pm) walk. The later may reward you with a rare sighting of the nocturnal Potto, the slowest creature on earth!
Kakamega Forest is home to many small animals, but the most delightful to observe are the playful primates which appear and disappear as if by magic. There are seven different species to look out for, if you can tear your eyes away from the multitude of birds and the unique rainforest flora. Wherever you turn titillating flashes of colour will alert you to the presence of yet another beautiful orchid, a brilliant bird or an amazing butterfly.
Of course you need to record all this forest bounty to remind you of your jungle adventure! There will be great photographic opportunities around every corner, so it would be wise to bring an extra battery for your camera.
Once you have travelled all the way to Kakamega Forest it would be silly to leave this western corner of Kenya without visiting Saiwa Swamp, home of the rare semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope. Also within striking distance is Mount Elgon National Park, Kenya’s second-tallest mountain, where hikers can enjoy yet another brilliant hiking experience up to the rim of this extinct volcano.
Read more about these parks here:
The Forest itself! Undoubtedly, it is this small piece of tropical rainforest that is the main attraction. The park has over 100 species of trees alone, as well as numerous other plants and flowers. A great many of the plants in this forest are used in traditional medicines by the local people, and are believed to cure anything from the common cold to prostate cancer. (Ultimately, of course, this is one of the facts that most threatens the survival of Kakamega forest.)
Some of the forest vegetation you can expect to see and learn about include 150 species of trees, 170 shrubs, 60 species of Orchid (9 of which are only found here!). See if you can identify the following:
Red and White Stinkwood
Ferns – 60 different species
The Wildlife includes many small mammals, rodents and primates. Once there were Leopard in Kakamega, but the last sighting was about 25 years ago. Look out for:
African Clawless Otter
Porcupine (including the rare endemic Brush-tailed Porcupine)
Primates are plentiful and include the following:
De Brassa’s Monkey
Black-and White Colobus Monkey
Potto – a rare nocturnal Sloth-like primate
There are plans to possibly re-introduce Chimpanzees into the forest at some stage.
The vast majority of visitors to Kakamega Forest National Reserve come to see the birds! There are 330 species, and it is one of the few birding destinations where lowland and highland species can be seen alongside each other. In addition, about 45 of Kenya’s bird species are confined to this region of the country. Two globally threatened species, Chaplin’s Flycatcher and Turner’s Eremomela live here, as does the African Grey Parrot, which is considered to be regionally under threat.
Also look out for:
Blue-headed Bee Eater
Great Blue Turaco (and also several other species of Turaco)
Raptors – a large variety of Hawks, Eagles and Buzzards can be spotted
Kakamega Forest is also home to a great many beautiful Butterflies – in fact there are over 480 species of these colourful insects, and another 600 species of their less-colourful cousins, the Moths. A few of the most impressive are:
Forest Mother of Pearl
If you would like to stay in the heart of the forest, you can choose between camping at one of the two campsites, renting a KWS self-catering banda (cottage) or staying at one of the guesthouses. All these options are inexpensive and rustic at best, however they do give you the opportunity to enjoy night and dawn excursions in the forest.
If you prefer something a little more comfortable, then Rondo Retreat is a possibility.
As its name indicates, Rondo is a Christian retreat, which has opened its doors to guests, operating as a very serene and welcoming guesthouse, right in the heart of the forest. There are fifteen en-suite bedrooms, all comfortably furnished and decorated in keeping with the colonial theme of the house. Although the retreat is not licensed, and does not serve alcohol, they do not mind you bringing your own, if you wish.
The Golf Hotel in Kakamega Town (about 15km from the forest) is a modern hotel with 60 en-suite rooms with all the necessary modern conveniences including Wi-Fi and satellite TV. The hotel has a pool and is adjacent to a 9-hole golf course.
As mentioned before, Kakamega is really remote! From Nairobi it would take around 7-8 hours to drive to the reserve, on roads that can be quite challenging, especially after rain.
The most sensible way to travel to the reserve is to fly to Kisumu or Eldoret. There are two or three scheduled flights each day from Nairobi to both these places, and flight time is around 45min. From either townsit will take about 1 to 1.5 hours by road to the reserve. If you plan to include Mount Elgon and Saiwa Swamp in your visit, then flying in and out of Eldoret will be most suitable, while Kisumu would suit you better if you plan to visit Lake Victoria.
For a complete change of pace during your exciting Kenya Safari, swop the Big Five for the little guys and embrace the intriguing inhabitants of Kenya’s last remaining remnant of tropical rainforest. See some of Africa’s most beautiful birds, butterflies and orchids, as you make your way through a pure jungle paradise. Let Africa Point arrange it all for you!
Read more about Kenya’s lesser-known western parks and Kisumu on our blog: http://www.africapoint.com/blog/article/western-kenya-tourism-circuit-and-kisumu-tours.html