During holidays, such as the Easter, most Kenyans head to the Coast for relaxation and merrymaking or some of the well-known national parks such as Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli and Samburu.
Most have not visited the Western circuit despite its abundance of hidden gems that will reward a visitor with unexpected experiences.
For instance, how many Kenyans know how exciting it is to walk in Kericho’s sprawling tea bushes? Or watch gorgeous sunsets each night as the sun drops low in the sky over a lake?
Kericho Tea Hotel, which is located one kilometre from town, offers guided tours in tea fields. During the tour, one can learn a lot about tea, the country’s leading source of foreign exchange.
In Kisii, one can visit the Tabaka soapstone carvers who have been making ornate decorative art and jewellery as well as functional items such as plates and bowls. In Kisumu, there are many spots where one can spend the holidays.
There is Dunga Hill Camp, a popular spot for boat rides and with best sights of Lake Victoria and the Kisumu skyline. Well, you do not have to love fish; their nyama choma is as sumptuous.
Then there is Kit Mikayi, located about 30 kilometres from Kisumu. This place is popular for its unusual stone formation.
Margaret Kawala, the manager of the site, says it is gazetted under the National Museums of Kenya as a national monument and is currently the fourth heritage site left under the management of a community, the other being in the Coast.
Cultural dancers entertain tourists at Kit Mikayi while women, mostly widows, serve traditional food including “nyuka” which is fermented porridge.
Besides the unique sites, Kisumu Tourism minister Achie Alai says, the lakeside city is one of the “best destinations in the world to watch the sun go down.”
“It offers the perfect spot from which to watch the hot African sun sink over Lake Victoria. We have plans to sell Kisumu’s as sunset destination,” Mr Alai says.
According to Ouma Oluoko, an expedition’s guide selling Western Kenya as a destination, the region is less travelled and has one of the most magical places to enjoy.
“The circuit has many attractions for both domestic and international tourists and offers alternatives to the conventional beach and safari,” says Mr Oluoko, who is also the chairman of We Western a lobby of hoteliers eyeing to help Kenyans rediscover the tourism gems of the region.
“It’s a beautiful city with so much to offer,” adds Shanawaz Basheer, the general manager of the Grand Royal Swiss Hotel.
In Siaya, there is Yala Swamp, a large freshwater swamp, which is considered the source of River Nile. A tour of Yala Swamp cannot be over until one visits Lake Kanyaboli, the second largest ox-bow lake in Africa.
It forms the mouth of both Rivers Nzoia and Yala and provides an important habitat for refugee populations of certain fish species, which have otherwise disappeared from Lake Victoria.
While in Siaya, one can also visit Kogelo village, former President Barack Obama’s birthplace. Part of the trip is the opportunity to spend time with Mama Sarah Obama, his grandmother.
In neighbouring Homa Bay county, there is Lake Simba Nyaima. The community attaches great importance because of the legendary story surrounding it in a crater lake. A visit to the lake provides one with the opportunity to listen to the story of the woman who visited the village looking for shelter and food. Simbi Nyaima in the Luo language means the village that sank. Entrance is free.
Also in Homa Bay, there is Ruma National Park, which promises undiscovered wildlife treasures and undisturbed peace.
It is also Kenya’s last remaining sanctuary for the endangered roan antelope. The park also plays host to largest Rothschild giraffe population in Kenya and the second largest in the world.
Other gems include Rusinga Island, which offers a fantastic night view of Lake Victoria as anglers come fishing and Birds Island, which is home to many bird species. One can also visit Mfangano Island, the home of the late Tom Mboya.
While at Rusinga Island, do not forget to enjoy a ferry ride. There is an alternative route for the ride, where you drive from Kisumu to Luanda K’otieno, then take a 45 minutes ferry ride across the Winam Gulf to Mbita.
Rusinga Island is connected to Mbita, via a causeway that takes about 30 to 45 minutes to the island. The ferry ride offers a perfect spot to watch the sun dip into the horizon in a magnificent array of pink and orange, while you watch in awe.
On the Kisumu-Kakamega highway at Khayega, there is the crying stone of Ilesi, which resembles a gowned figure, perpetually in tears flowing from ‘head to toe’, which is becoming a major tourist destination. There is a lot of myth and folklore around it.
Then the Equator Point at Maseno. This is the home to Maseno University, the only university in the world that straddles the equator.
Another destination you should put in your bucket list is Kakamega Forest, the only forest with rare birds in the world. They include the blue-headed bee-eater, black billed turaco, Turner’s Eremomela and grey parrots.
The national reserve is also home to various mammals including bush pigs, giant forest hedgehogs, colobus monkeys, Debrazzar monkeys and pottos.
Apart from bird watching, one can also enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Also, don’t miss the view point of Buyangu Hill, which provides a wonderful view of the surrounding forest consisting of 380 species of trees.
The view is especially spectacular at sunrise.
If you go, here’s where to sleep in Nyanza
- Grand Royal Swiss Hotel
- Acacia Premier
- The Vic Hotel
- Sovereign Hotel
- Ciala Resort
- Jambo Impala Eco Lodge
- Wigot Gardens
- Rusinga Island Lodge
- Prinias Hotel
- Millsview Hotel
- Pikadili Hotel (KenduBay)