It’s fair to say that the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kenya are impressive. These natural and cultural destinations are highly popular for visitors to the country and, of course, contribute greatly to tourism in Kenya.
If you’re visiting Kenya with a Kenyan eVisa this year, planning where to go is almost as important as deciding what to pack. To help you get ready for your trip and help you find some of the best UNESCO world heritage sites in East Africa, the following article will detail just what cultural and natural gems Kenya has to offer a tourist.
UNESCO Cultural Sites in Kenya
Kenyan culture blends the many different tribal and ethnic identities found in the country today and throughout its history. Naturally, this mix of cultures and western influence over the years has led to the creation of numerous significant landmarks that are of still considered of great value to this day. At present, there are 3 historical and cultural sites that have been earmarked for UNESCO status.
Fort Jesus in Mombasa was built by Portuguese colonizers in the late 16th century as a fortification for the port town. This well-preserved structure gained UNESCO status in 2011 and is an early example of Western colonial influence on the lucrative Indian Ocean trade network.
Lamu Old Town
Lamu Old Town gained UNESCO Heritage status back in 2001. This coral stone and mangrove timber structured town is found on Lamu island just off the nation’s northern shores. It is said to be one of the best-preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa and is a notable center of study for both Islamic and Swahili scholars alike.
Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
The highly sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests just outside Mombasa were granted UNESCO heritage status in 2008. However, they were protected and venerated by local elders and the population long before gaining UN recognition. That tradition still also continues to this day with councils of local elders still enforcing its sacred status.
The Kayas (fortified villages) date back to the early 16th century and were once home to the Mijikenda people before their abandonment in the 1940s. The site offers an excellent glimpse of the traditional lifestyle of its former inhabitants and valuable information about vulnerable cultural practices in Kenya.
Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site
In Kenya’s Lake Victoria region near the border with Tanzania, tourists can visit the pristinely preserved dry stone-walled settlement of Thimlich Ohinga. This site only recently acquired UNESCO Heritage status in 2018 and was selected especially for the evidence it provides of historic Lake Victoria basin civilization culture and building structures.
UNESCO Natural Sites in Kenya
In addition to the rich cultural heritage found in the country, there are also numerous natural UNESCO sites in Kenya. These distinctive locations have been recognized for their impressive beauty and unique ecosystems. At present Kenya currently has 3 UNESCO status natural areas.
Kenya’s Lake System
Kenya’s Lake System found in the country’s central Great Rift Valley was granted UNESCO status in 2011. It comprises 3 alkaline lakes which include:
- Lake Bogoria – 10,700 ha
- Lake Nakuru – 18,800 ha
- Lake Elementatia – 2,534 ha
These lakes are home to a diverse variety of birdlife and some 4 million flamingoes. The volcanic nature of the Great Rift Valley also makes the area of special interest to geologists as well as biologists. However, for those on a short visit to the country, it also is a spectacular location to observe some of Kenya’s most celebrated wildlife as well as the breathtaking natural beauty of the surrounding area.
Lake Turkana National Park
Lake Turkana is located between Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia and is the world’s 4th largest salt lake at 161485 ha in size. It was given UNESCO status in 2001 and like Kenya’s Lakes is marked out for attention due to the diversity of the wildlife living there.
The Lake itself is home to Nile crocodiles and various species of hippopotami. However, on the land surrounding the lake, there’s just as much biodiversity to observe with zebras, lions, and giraffes also calling the area home.
Mount Kenya National Park
Africa’s 2nd highest peak and the mountain from which the country takes its name is found within a large national park in Kenya’s center. Mount Kenya National Park became a UNESCO recognized site in 1997 and tourists wanting to see the mountain itself will not want to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the nature found around its base.
From the foothills surrounding the holy mountain itself, tourists can observe lakes formed by former glaciers, green forests and expansive grasslands. They will also be able to find numerous species of wildlife such as elephants, monkeys, and buffalo.
Kenya is quite rightfully well-recognized by UNESCO for its many notable cultural and natural sites. However, these sites do not tell the whole story of this naturally and culturally diverse nation.
There are also other spectacular locations like Masai Mara National Reserve, Tsavo East National Park, and cultural spots like Karen Blixen’s house or the preserved Swahili town of Shanga to be explored too. Quite simply Kenya has a lot to offer a tourist on vacation.