The Natural Landmarks in Kenya
Definition of Natural Landmark
A landmark is an interesting or important site. Generally speaking, it could be a feature of the natural environment or something that has been built by humans. The recognition of this unique local landmarks and landforms encourages their conservation of either outstanding biological or geological resources, regardless of landownership. Although Kenya has yet to put in place a Natural Landmarks Program that officially recognizes such sites, most are the subject of fascination and attraction, receiving hundreds of visitors each year who visit here to marvel at their singular beauty. This Guide to Landmarks in Kenya identifies the origin when the feature became a landmark, the county where the landmark is found, and provides a description which qualifies these as germane natural landmarks.
1. Olduka Valley
Much of Baringo’s beauty arises from its precipitous landscape typified by a patchwork of high cliffs, hillocks, gorges, and valleys. One of its memorable displays can be seen at the surprisingly little-known Olduka Valley, just 2 kms from Mogotio Equator Station. Here, the natural wonder of the steep-sided canyon curved by centuries of fast-flowing flush flood has left in its wake a picturesque scenery of moonscape like formation. Its unique combination of erosional configurations, geologic colour and shrubland forms a decorate valley of rare beauty. It is possible to scale down and walk some sections of the valley, preferably during the earlier parts of the day. The nearby Hotel Lomanira offers biking-tours of Olduka Valley. It’s located about 1 km from the Lomanira Hotel.
2. Paka Volcano
One of the more impressive formations in Baringo’s backwoods between Lake Baringo and Nakengere Falls (close to the northern boundary with Turkana) is Paka Volcano. This cone-like volcanic complex is interspersed by a number of smaller satellite volcanic conoids and dominated by a young central caldera at the summit, which is 1.5 km in diameter. Paka, which means ochre in the local Pokot, betokens the fine volcanic dust that typifies the locale. Paka Volcano, or Paka Mountain, is part of the nine axial volcanoes located within the northern sector of the Kenyan Rift along with Lake Turkana Islands, Andrew’s Cone and Barrier, Namarunu, Emuruangogolak, Silali, Chepchuk and Korosi. Mount Paka is located 25 kms north of Lake Baringo, and 15.5 kms east of Nginyang’ Village.
3. Chebloch Gorge
The 71 ms high and 3 ms wide Chebloch Gorge set along the boundary of Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo Counties is a deep taper gulch hewing the Kerio Valley floodplain. Chebloch Gorge is distinguishable by its bizarrely eroded and spiky rocks caused by the attrition of the rapidly streaming Kerio River. The obvious highlight at Chebloch is, of course, the team of daring local divers who plunge 70 ms through the narrowed gorge, into the Kerio River. While the thought of following suit would make most trippers literally jump-out-of-their-own-skins, considering how thin the gorge is, the divers make light work of this extremely dangerous leap, again and again. It doesn’t help either that the rocks at the top of Chebloch Gorge are quite slippery. It is located 15 kms from Kabarnet Town.
Elgeyo Marakwet County
4. Kerio Valley
Kerio Valley, an extension of the Great Rift Valley in north-western Kenya, is perhaps the most distinguishable sight in Elgeyo Marakwet County. It sprawls northwards from Kimwarer, near the head of Kerio River, to Chesegon, on the border between Marakwet and West Pokot Counties, extending some 100 kms. The valley is a bushed grassland set hard on a fairly flat, resplendent, lowland between Elgeyo Escarpment and the Tugen Hills, on an elevation of 1000 ms. Kerio Valley is typified by grasslands. Its superb sights can be enjoyed either along the C51 Eldoret-Iten Road on the hairpin descent along the curving road, which levels out close to Kabarnet; or via B53 Iten-Kimwarer-Kabarnet Road which passes through Chepkorio and Nyaru. This scenic valley is also where the paragliders land. A word of caution is necessary here: Retrieving services need to be arranged prior to embarking on a jump. The journey back to base can be forbidding considering the Valley is torrid, with limited lines of communication.
5. Elgeyo Escarpment
The grand Elgeyo Escarpment, sometimes known as the Kerio Fault, is a most magnificent landmark both for its sheer scale and beauty. The stack wall-like escarpment, forming part of the western wall of the Rift Valley, rises abruptly above the Kerio Valley up to 1830 ms and sprints the entire 110 kms western boundary of Elgeyo Marakwet County from close to Biretwo, in the south, to near Chegilet, in the north. Scenically, the Elgeyo Escarpment is typified by a craggy rock face with bush and shrubs excepting small sections higher up and strips along rivers and streams where fields with cassava and millet are seen. Only the part of the Elgeyo Escarpment between the highlands and the plateau is covered with forest, around Kapchemutwo and Kessup. Rather impressively, the area halfway down the Escarpment is dotted with homesteads, surrounded by corn fields. It a terrifying long drop from here. Fewer examples could better demonstrate ‘life on the edge’, and overcoming fear of heights is only one of the challenges of living here. All along its marches, the Elgeyo Escarpment is a jaw-droppingly beautiful natural marvel. From a vantage point, like Kolol View, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of this escarpment. One of the best ways yet to appreciate it is on a “paragliding jump” that takes you over it to the floor of Kerio Valley. Then there’s the Kerio View Resort set up right at its edge.
6. Mount Kenya
Of the five mountains in Africa whose peaks rise over 14,000 ft, only three are permanently snow-capped – Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft), Kenya (17,058 ft) and the Ruwenzoris (16,763 ft). They were climbed in that order – Kilimanjaro being first in 1888, Kenya second in 1889, and the Ruwenzoris in 1906. Every year, thousands of people take to these three mountains for the hiking challenge. Mt. Kenya, which is more scenic than faunal, is the most-liked climbing destination in Kenya. The ascend to Point Lenana, 3rd highest peak, can be made through eight different trails but the two most popular are Naro Moru and Sirimon. The snowy peaks of Mount Kenya, lying just south of the equator, are the prominent landmark in Embu County, which is one of five counties whose borders extends to the tip of Mount Kenya alongside Nyeri, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, and Kirinyaga.
Homa Bay County
7. Gwasi Hills
Rising abruptly from Kavirondo Gulf to 2,133 ms, the highly dissected massif of the Gwasi Hills, in part forested, covers 1,048 km2 at the northwest corner of Homa Bay County, south of the Mfangano Island. Only along the upper reaches and hilltops of the steep-sloped Gwasi Hills do the deciduous seasonal forests occur, and much of the lower regions are outgrown with thickets and savanna type vegetation which eventually merges with the Lambwe Valley, immediately south and south east. The outer extent of the Gwasi Hills are typified by steep, deeply gullied stack ridges of volcanic rocks called Kisingiri with high points at Gembe (6,230 feet), Sumba (6,034 feet), Gwasi (6,384 feet) and the Usengere, also known as Kwirathia (7,454 feet). The Gwasi’s form a magnificent backdrop at Mfangano, Rusinga, Takawiri and Kimamboni Islands – south of these hills – and at the Ruma National Park, which sits east of these hills. Locally known as the Gonsi or Usengere Hills, meaning ‘the revered and sacred shrine’, the steep-sloped Gwasi Hills are endowed with a pleasant diversity of biota and scenery.
8. Merti Plateau
Merti Plateau in the far northeast frontier of Isiolo County forms an important potential source of ground water for the water-scarce region from Habaswein up to the Kenya-Somalia border. Not far from Merti Town, ground water of top tier quality has been run-down and which can be acquired from many aquifers pinpointed by experts within the Merti Plateau via boreholes drilled to deeps of 110-150 metres. Merti Plateau, extending 160 kms west of Habaswein, offers a one-of-its-kind scenery composed of a featureless plain of grey silt interspersed by a badland of red granitic rocks stretching as far the eye can see, giving it the illusion of an unending desert. It’s best seen along the B9 Isiolo-Mandera Road from Garba Tula onto Habaswein or at the edge of Merti Town in Isiolo County.
9. Ngong Hills
Topologically Ngong Hills are remnants of an old volcanic cone thought to have had an original diameter of 11 kms prior to being cut by the Rift Escarpment. In 1885, Joseph Thomson, who passed through Ngong Hills on his route from Ol Doinyo Orok to Ngong, described these as “a hallmark of Kenya’s beauty”. Over the years, Ngong Hills have received lots of high-praise for their rare beauty, to include the exotic descriptions given by Karen Blixen in her book Out of Africa. A joyride over the four-peaked Ngong Hills, hundreds of feet above the plain of the Rift Valley, offers a memorable drive over one of the knockout landscape in Kenya. The scenic jaunt over Ngong Hills also beholds great views of the Kapiti Plains where one can catch a glimpse of prolific plains-game freely roaming the lowlands. The paucity of wildlife, depending on the season, is compensated for by the beauty of the area. The drive is best approached from the southeast. That is to say, you drive out on Magadi Road through Kiserian and over Ngong Hills.
10. Mount Suswa
Sometimes known as ‘Ol Doinyo Nyukie’, the dormant volcanic dome of Mount Suswa, popular for its 12 kms long double crater, rises to near 8,000 feet at the summit. 16 kms to the north sits Mount Longonot, another volcanic dome with an breathtaking 9 kms wide caldera set at 9,000 feet. Mount Suswa’s vegetation is, generally speaking, semi-arid, composed of stunted thorn bushes (whistling thorns and Acacia) and patches of grass; but, river and stream beds are often marked by lines of trees and seasonal rivers such as the South Ewaso Nyiro, Siyabei and Kedong, which have thicker vegetation along their banks. On the central island block and in the annular trench, the vegetation consists of more evergreen smoggy woodlands. Suswa is shared mainly by Narok, Nakuru and Kajiado Counties. A small part of the eastern side falls within Kiambu County.
11. Ol Doinyo Orok
Quite unmistakable a stone’s throw away from the Kenya-Tanzania boundary at Namanga, is the eminence of Ol Doinyo Orok which rises to 2548 ms and 1190 ms above the surrounding flat country. Also dubbed as the Namanga Hill, this conspicuous triangular range trends northerly from Namanga into the interior of Kenya akin to a harbinger pointing north to Kenya. From Namanga, 57 kms from Kajiado Town, holiday-makers aiming for Amboseli National Park take a sharp turn left, easterly heading to the park. Ol Doinyo Orok is much-liked as a hiking destination visited by hundred of hikers each year. The hiking trail itself goes past a montane forest, patches of exotic flora, rivers, caves, viewing ledges and Maasai bomas before reaching the summit. The Enkamuka Peak, its second highest, on the eastern side, is the most favoured landing. It takes on average 7 hours (round-trip) to complete the 9 kms hike up and down. Native guides are available at Maili Tisa lying 13 kms before Namanga and 150 kms from Nairobi.
12. Chyulu Hills
These are best seen along the 125 kms stretch of C102 Emali-Loitoktok Road. It travels parallel to A104 Kitengela-Namanga Road lying 42 kms away from it due west, and it terminates at Ilasit Border Point with Tanzania just 2 kms from Oloitoktok Town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The Chyulu Hills National Park, epitomized by the epic crest of the hillscape, plenty of game in its wooded savanna and variegated flora gamut that covers the peripheral region between Amboseli National Park and Tsavo East National Park. The park itself mainly occurs on the eastern flanks of these hills, in Makueni County, and is operated by Kenya Wildlife Service. The western flanks of the Chyulu Hills, in Kajiado County, are occupied by sizable conservancies and Massai Group Ranches. The lower parts, on both side, are typified by expansive grassland while the higher reaches are dominated by woody thickets. “The western frontier of Chyulu Hills is part of the wildlife conservation region that includes luxury lodges owned by several Maasai Group Ranches with the money raised from tourism helping to maintain the environment and the rich Maasai traditions.” – Africa Geographic
13. Tinderet Mountain
Uniquely lying between the main Mau Massif (south) and Nandi Hills (north), Tinderet Mountain is widely sighted between Kipkelion and Fort Ternan to the north, and as you approach Muhoroni to the far east. Rising to 2,468 ms (8,100 ft) from the plain on the north and northeast area of Kericho County, the peaks of the Tinderet Mountain Complex are hidden away by its thick forested reserve that abounds with plenty of wildlife. On both sides of the volcanic complex (in Kericho and Nandi Counties) the 246 km2 Tinderet Forest Reserve is bordered by belts of tea plantations, annexed in 1986 as a means to conserve the forest by enclosing it with tea farms to acts as a buffer territory between the farmlands and the forest. Likewise, Tinderet Forest Reserve, which marches with Nyando Escarpment far south to Mau Summit and Londiani, is widely recognized as a vital faunal and floral biodiversity hotspot as well as an important water tower.
14. Great Rift Valley
About 2 kms beyond the turnoff into Limuru Town, round the bend, one of the most magnificent sights of Kenya unfolds. It is the astounding view of the Great Rift Valley. At Limuru Viewpoint, for hundreds of feet below, the unswerving tenacity of the flattened valley, only interspersed by few and far between extinct volcanoes, stretches away as far as the eye can see. Even the most cynical and skeptic of travellers become awestruck by the radiance of the Great Rift Valley. Indeed, every hour of day and each passing season transforms the Rift Valley to a unique sight, and a new experience infallibly. Simply enjoying the view is the star experience at the Limuru Viewpoint – an activity that could take an hour. This wondrous valley is the gateway to the Rift Valley Region and the universal welcome to Nakuru County. From here, the road drops to the floor of the Rift Valley, through Lakes Naivasha and Elementaita before arriving at Nakuru. It is located 35 kms from Nairobi (nearby Limuru), and 19 kms before Kinale Forest.
15. Kit Mikayi
The much-acclaimed and stupefying rock formation of Kit-Mikayi is located 16 kms from Kisian, past Pau Akuche and Holo Market. Unmissable and towering over the surrounding landscape, the outlandish arrangement of its seven jumbo stacked rocks reaching 120 ms is breathtaking. It is also impressive for the old-wives-tales that answer to the epithet of its existence. As it goes, Kit Mikayi – a contraction of two Luo idioms “Kit” which means “rock” and “Mikayi” which means “first wife” – was a cherished lair for a Luo ancestor who settled and lived in proximity to this colossus. The elderly man, with many wives, loved to spend his time around the rocks, enjoying the morning sunshine, succumb to the afternoon siesta here and return again in the evenings to unwind. So much so, he decided to give them a name. After consulting his wives, they granted in accord to name the rocks (Kit) as his first wife (Mikayi). And thus, Kit-Mikayi, the rock of the first wife came to being. These holds huge cultural-sway on the communities living around them as a landmark and shrine, and members of the Legio-Maria meet here to pray. Kit Mikayi is located nearby Kit Mikayi Primary.
16. Nzambani Rock
8 kms south of Kitui Town along B7 Kitui-Ikutha-Kibwezi Road one reaches the turnoff to the C96 Kitui-Zombe-Ikoo-Mwingi Road, along which in 2 kms the distinguishable Nzambani Rock is reached. Kitui is famous for its plenitude of prodigious decomposed granite rocks and rock formations, and perhaps none is as impressive as the Nzambani Rock, which can be easily sighted from 50 kms out. With the help of a steel staircase built on the side of the rock, trippers to the much-liked destination can nimbly ascend to its 100 ms high crest that is a beyond-money viewing deck. From here, it is easy to appreciate the ecological gamut of Kitui County which features out and out sweeps of grassland, buffs of scrubland, forests, and farmland. Nzambani Rock, or Ivia ya Nzambani as it is locally known, is thought to be among the tallest rock formations seen in Kenya.
17. Ikoo Valley
Faulting has influenced the physiography in the north-western region of Kitui, and has produced a line of weakness transverse to the grain of the Kitui Hills, and along which the Ikoo has incised a deep gorge. The V-shaped yawning and narrowed Ikoo Valley, extending 20 kms, represents a major dislocation in the rock system of African Mozambique Belt. Seen from varied viewpoints, the 300 ms wide valley which is oriented in a WNW-ESE strike offers an ever-changing and dramatic scenery of vast proportions. “The view is breathtaking. The Ikoo Valley almost surrounds you. You can spot Ikoo River and watch it disappear in the deep valley. It is a place of unbelievable beauty and one of the magnificent landscapes in Kitui County.” Overlooking Kea Region to the south and Mutito and Zombe Hills to the east, this also forms the origin of Ikoo River which runs eastwards into the sunken Mui Basin. Some of the best viewpoints of the Ikoo Valley include at Kazaa, Ulamaba and Bazaa – all which have numerous stem-winding trails that take to the hair-raising descent to the bottom of the valley. Ikoo Valley is located 48 kms east and north from Kitui Town through Zombe along C96 Kitui-Zombe-Ikoo-Mwingi Road; and 30 kms south of Mwingi Town.
18. Yatta Plateau
Rising 150 ms over the surrounding landscape and spanning 210 kms from near Ol Doinyo Sabuk National Park, in Machakos County, marching south along the western bounds of Tsavo East National Park, Yatta Plateau is best-known as the world’s longest lava flow. It is marked by a narrowed flat to gently undulating bush-covered ridge with a maximum altitude 450 ms above sea level. Along the A109 Mombasa-Nairobi Road, shortly after the turnoff to Kibwezi, the striking upland of Yatta Plateau can be easily sighted: to the left if heading to Mombasa and to the right if heading to Nairobi – first appearing as a perfectly sketched line in the distance and as a wooded range as you near Voi. Athi River skirts the western side of the Yatta Plateau while River Tiva flows on its eastern side. The plateau is rarely inspected at close quarters mainly because it occurs in the less developed northern area of Tsavo East that is less accessible but can be toured by crossing Galana River on a causeway at the Lugard’s Falls where the routes extends via Mopea Gap north to Tiva River near Wathoni, and east of Lali Hills.
19. Laikipia Plateau
From Nyahururu Town, the footridges (and terrain) generally slope downwards to the north and east, and merges into the Laikipia Plateau close to Rumuruti Town. From here, the Laikipia Plateau, bordered west by the Great Rift Valley, extends as a near levelled grassland, covering much of the eastern and southern parts of Laikipia County. It was built up from several large sheets of lava flows extending westwards, over a distance of 9,000 km2, to as far as the foothills of Mount Kenya. “The Plateau is a rather featureless nearly level to gently sloping or undulating expanse of grassy-bushland plains at elevations of 1,700 to 1,800 metres, with acacia-thicket covered hills from the Rift Valley up to the slopes of Mount Kenya”. Sometimes dubbed as Laikipia Plains, this distinguished plain is partially occupied by the lofty patchwork of privately owned conservancies. The conservancies are all administered under the mutually agreed Laikipia Wildlife Forum, whose overarching mission and goal is to conserve Laikipia’s wildlife, the ecosystems and to improve the lives of the communities in Laikipia County. Laikipia Plateau has abundant wildlife and is a refuge for the rare Black Rhinos.
20. Nzaui Range
Most on leaving Makongo Valley opt for the (C99) through Nziu and Kalamba to the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road at Emali. This stretch of road cuts through Kitondu and Kitende Hills on one side and Nzaui Range on the other, that rise to an altitude of 1675-1830 ms (5500-6000 ft). On the eastern side along this route rises the 13 kms long Nzaui Range which is a fine example of the ancient granite masses containing rafts or roof pendants in Makueni County. The Nzaui itself is fashionable for the well-defined shelf (sharp nose or rock face) marking an abrupt change of topography on its southern edge. The summit is covered with pine forest and several large outcrops which double as viewing ledges. For touring, the range is a lighthouse hiking destination at Kalamba Village. The landscape around Nzaui is managed by Kenya Forest Service who also operate a guesthouse and campsite. Hikers and walkers to Nzaui Range are advised to report to Kenya Forest Service office before embarking on the hike and from where they can get assistance of expert guides. The 12 kms round trip with the Mituluni Center as a usual starting-point takes on average 6 hours (round-trip).