Exploring Kenya’s Kakamega rainforest in the west of Kenya was a firm highlight of my travels around Kenya. Not knowing what to expect by coming off the tourist path, I was immediately glad that I had the chance to divert from the normal and do something that seemingly very few tourists do when visiting Kenya.
Kenya’s Kakamega rainforest isn’t your normal African safari experience. It is the remains of a tropical rainforest that was once linked to the great Equatorial forests of the Congo basin and is believed to have once stretched along the equator across the entire expanse of Africa. Here you will find huge buttressed trees, tangled vines and branches, and a medley of flowering plants, including a variety of orchids. In fact, it is a biodiversity hot spot and contains over 380 recorded species of plants.
If plants aren’t your thing then not to worry, this rainforest is teeming with wildlife. We arrived and sat down to a picnic lunch after along drive, only to find we would have to fight for our food with the mob of monkeys that fancied a cheese sandwich! In fact, fighting for your food may not be your only challenge. Identifying the monkeys out of the many different species that live here may be tricky. You will find the Colombus monkey, Potto, De Brazza’s monkey, Blue monkey, Olive baboon, Red-tailed monkey and white-nosed monkey, though some species will be harder to spot than others!
In the bottom layers of the rainforest you will find forest hogs, aardvarks and porcupines (though you’ll have to be lucky to find them!) We were also told there are small cats there such as Civets and Servals. At night we were treated to displays of fireflies and the sounds of frogs and jungle insects chirping their songs. Listen out for the loud call of the giant forest squirrel too!
Must knows when exploring Kenya’s Kakamega rainforest
Getting to Kakamega rainforest
Road access to Kakamega is via Kakamega Town, easily accessible from Kisumu by bus/matatu. You’ll need your own transport, or to be part of a safari, to get to the rainforest. We had a little trouble finding the entrance as it isn’t very well marked. Ask one of the many village locals if you get lost!
We stayed at the KEEP campsite in the southern part of the forest. This basic campsite next to the rainforest headquarters, making it easy to book guides and gather information about the forest. You will feel as through you are camping in the rainforest itself, with daily visits from the monkeys and a huge range of birds, butterflies and insects. The toilets and washing facilities are extremely basic, but worth it for the feeling of being immersed in the nature around you. There were also several Bandas here.
In the northern part of the rainforest you will find Udo’s campsite which is much more developed. There is a cooking area and better facilities though you won’t feel so at one with nature here!
You will need to bring a tent and bedding, and all your own food and cooking supplies.
There are several guest houses and bandas that you can hire for your stay. The bandas at the KEEP campsite we stayed at looked quite basic but also very charming. You can find out more about the guest houses available here.
A little more luxury
For something a little (lot) more luxurious try Rondo Retreat Centre. These cottage style buildings offer a very comfortable way to see Kakamega rainforest and the surrounding gardens are beautiful. It is possible to visit for afternoon tea and we rocked up there after a trek in the rain, covered in mud and soaked to the skin, but we still had a warm and friendly welcome.
What to do there
Kakamega is best explored on foot. Although you can explore on your own it is highly advisable to take a guide. Not only will they make sure you go the right way, but they are also extremely knowledgeable about the rainforest and will make your hike so much more enjoyable. They will be able to point out wildlife that you wouldn’t be able to spot and explain about all the trees and flowers around you.
A must-do while you are there is the early morning hike to Buyangu Hill, the highest point of the forest. As you reach the top you will be treated the most incredible view over the mist covered rainforest and the dawn chorus mixed with the sounds of animals and insects waking with the sunrise is one of the best pieces of music you will ever hear. The forest is home to the hammer-headed fruit bats, known to be the largest bats in Africa. On the same trek you will find the cave they inhabit, found in the higher elevations of the forest.
We loved our visit to Isiukhu fall, but beware of the dirt track you will need to use to get there after rainfall! This small waterfall will make you feel as though you have just stepped out of the jungle book, with tall ferns surrounding beautiful pools of water that look like they should be full of hippos and crocodiles. This spot is quite near Rondo Retreat, so if you aren’t staying there already then pop in for a cup of tea and a cake!
Kenya’s Kakamega rainforest is a must visit for anyone wanting to see more of Kenya than just the giraffes. Driving here alone will give you a taste of the diversity in this country, you will pass through endless tea fields and small villages full of waving children. Then reaching the rainforest you will be plunged into a different world from that of the dusty safaris. It is a welcome escape from the bustle of Nairobi and you are guaranteed experiences that will stay with you forever.
If you love the idea of escaping the crowds make sure you also check out Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, the closest safari park to Nairobi for spotting the big five and a safari park with a difference.