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Where to go in East Africa

Visit East Africa's Best Destinations


When deciding where to go in East Africa make sure you include a visit to at least a few of its best destinations. Go on safari in some of Africa's famous parks; the Masai Mara and Serengeti. East Africa has some of the continent's best treks--the most popular is Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro. Lamu and Zanzibar are historically fascinating and their beaches aren't too shabby either. For culture, you can't beat Ethiopia's Omo River Region or the rock churches of Lalibela. You can also track gorillas for a truly unique adventure.

Click on each heading for more information about these top 10 East African destinations.

The Masai Mara, Kenya

Migration of wildebeest at river, Kenya
Getty Images/ Tom Brakefield
If you want to see the 'big five' in one morning, Masai Mara in Kenya is the place to be. During the dry season from July to October the wildlife spectacle is unparalleled. Nowhere else can you watch the annual migration of over a million wildebeest from a hot-air balloon. The 'Mara' is as close to "Out of Africa" as you can get.

More About the Masai Mara National Reserve:

Omo River Region, Ethiopia

Karo Woman, Omo River Region, Ethiopia
© Angela Fairbank
Combining white-water rafting with an unparalleled cultural adventure is my idea of a perfect holiday. The Omo River Region of Southwestern Ethiopia, is a fascinating destination. The remote location, which is barely accessible by 4 wheel-drive, has meant that traditional customs and beliefs are very much intact for the more than 50 tribes who live there. It's advisable to join a tour since it's difficult to get around on your own and it'll enhance your understanding of the different cultures you're seeing.

More information and photos about the Omo River region.

Virunga Mountains (Tracking Gorillas), Uganda, Rwanda, DRC

Mountain Gorillas census drc
With only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world, seeing them in the wild is something only a few people will ever have the chance to experience. About 300 mountain gorillas inhabit an extinct volcanic region called the Virunga Range along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC in East Africa. The time you are allowed to spend observing the gorillas is limited, but I can guarantee the hour spent sitting and watching these incredible animals will be one of the best you've ever had.

More information about Gorilla Safaris in the Virunga Mountains.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar is one of East Africa's top destinations because of its fascinating history and its incredible beaches. Zanzibar's location in the Indian Ocean (off the coast of Tanzania) has made it a natural trading center throughout its history. Famous for its spices, Zanzibar also became an important slave trading post under its Arab rulers.

The Arab influences are obvious throughout Zanzibar, but especially in Stone Town one of the island's biggest attractions. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Stone Town boasts beautiful traditional houses, narrow alleyways, a Sultan's palace, and many mosques.

Find out more about Zanzibar.

Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)

View from tent, Nyumu Camp, Southern Serengeti, Ndutu Area, Tanzania
© Erika Bloom
The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania offers the absolute classic African safari setting. The grasslands make the Serengeti fantastic for spotting lion kills because you can see the whole spectacle clearly. The migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra starts here and because it's much larger than the Mara (see above); it is also less touristy.

Lamu, Kenya

Banana House, Lamu, Kenya
Banana House, Lamu, Kenya
Lamu is one of Kenya's oldest towns, settled by the Swahili about 700 years ago. More recently discovered by backpackers, Lamu is a great place to unwind and wash off the dirt and grime accumulated from some hard traveling. No matatus or mini-buses here, just donkeys and the sound of the ocean waves. You can take a Dhow and explore the islands or enjoy wandering the narrow alleys of Lamu's old town.

Where to Stay on Lamu:

Shela Beach area: Lamu Retreats offer several houses for rent; the cheapest is probably the Banana House. More upscale is the Peponi Hotel.

Lamu Town Petley's Inn is the best place to stay. Cheaper options include Pole Pole Guest House and the Kipepeo Guest House.

More about travel to Kenya.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania)

Elephant grazing in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
© Erika Bloom

The Ngorongoro Conservation area in Tanzania includes the world's largest crater, which acts as a natural enclosure for almost every species of wildlife found in East Africa. The Maasai still live within the conservation area, and it's also home to Oldupai (Olduvai), where some of man's earliest remains have been found.


Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Lemosho trail day 3, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
© Erika Bloom
Africa is known as one of the best destinations for adventure travel, and what can be more adventurous than hiking up the world's tallest free-standing mountain. Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, stands at 19,340 feet (5896m) and will take you 6 days to conquer. The exciting thing about this mountain is that anyone who is fit and determined can make it up. No special climbing equipment or expertise is needed. That said, almost 75 attempts fail because people figure it's doable in shorts, t-shirt, and a couple of beers for hydration. Check out these pictures to see what the hike is like.

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Church, Lalibela, Ethiopia
© Robert Eilets
Lalibela, in Ethiopia's central highlands, is now the size of a large village, but in the 12th century it was a major holy city. Today, visitors to Lalibela come to marvel at the unique churches built out of solid rock. There are 13 of them and all are thought to have been built during the 12th and 13th centuries. Lalibela remains an important site for pilgrims and the town is literally filled with priests wearing impressive, colorful robes. Lalibela is a unique place to visit, whether you're on a religious tour or simply sightseeing.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru is famous for its huge flocks of flamingos that enjoy the alkaline waters of this shallow soda lake. Other than 1 million flamingos and many more species of birds, the park is also home to white rhino, warthog, giraffe, hippo, ostrich, and lion. Lake Nakuru is slowly recovering from several environmental pressures that caused its flamingo population to decline in the 1990's.

Best Time To Go:Year-Round

Where to Stay: There are two main lodges and several public and private campsites in the park.

Getting There: By road from Nairobi (3-hour drive).

More About Kenya's Best Parks and Reserves and more about Kenya's incredible birds.

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