Green. Tropical. Lush.Wet. Muddy. Not words that a Westerner would typically associate with Africa. Acacia trees, lions and a browny-reddish bush landscape better fit the tourist mind’s eye, but it’s simply not so with mighty lakes, impressive mountain ranges, sugar cane, rice, tea and flower plantations covering the landscape of Africa. But one of the greenest, lushest, wettest and muddiest parts of East Africa is found in our little corner of Western Kenya – Kakamega: the glorious last remaining pocket of the pristine Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent.
Kakamega is a mere hop and skip from Kisumu town. The 50 kilometre journey should take little over 45 minutes under normal circumstances but of course Western standards of ‘normal’ do not apply to Kenya and the awful, pot holed road to Kakamega from Kisumu is frankly an embarrassment to the government. It is in the process of being improved but the early improvements to the first 5km out of Kisumu only serve to accentuate the potholes for the next 45…. However, once strapped in and braced against the swerves and sharp braking, the 90 minute journey to the park is actually a very pleasant one, winding up through the hills north of Kisumu and passing through a number of industrious market and farming villages whose produce and wares line the road.
Kakamega Rainforest is split into two parks – the North Park, run by the Kenya Wildlife Service and the South Park, run by the Forest Commission. There is little between the parks in terms of the stunning scenery, glorious array of wildlife or park management – with both offering professional guiding along evident, if unworn trails (creating enough of an off-the-beaten track impression to discourage non-guided rambles!). However, with the North slightly more expensive and another 30 minutes of journey time, the south is a more natural day trip from Kisumu, made even easier by a professional Kisumu tour company (take ourselves for example…) having done the guide and entry-fee negotiation to avoid any, shall we say, ‘subjective’, pricing policies that may or may not be enforced on your chosen day of visit.
Once in the park, relax and let yourself be guided by the knowledgeable local guide who will point out all the various different plant, bird and animal life on display. Within seconds of entering the forest from the visitor centre clearing you are in the midst of pristine jungle – towering trees, huge gnarly buttresses, a tangle of dangling lianas and tropical flowers. Your morning jungle walk should not be a test of fitness or speed, quite the opposite, as the slower and quieter the better to enjoy the most of the bird and insect life. Pausing in silence will tune you in to the many jungle bird calls and the movement out of the corner of your eye of weird and wonderful creepy crawlies (just be careful not to brush against too many of the overhanging branches and to keep one eye on the ground to avoid the ant trails and the menacing, persistent safari ants that protect them…)
Kakamega Rainforest is famous amongst entomologists for the sheer volume and variety of more than 400 butterfly species andmorning is the best time of the day to see them at their most active. The jungle literally flutters around you as you pass by – flashes of colour amidst dappled sunshine from the canopy above. And the monkeys… well, no silence required to spot them! They crash about in the canopy oblivious to your presence, calling to each other and swinging around from branch to branch. Most common are the vervets and white and black Colobus monkeys but the Red Tailed Monkey and larger, beautiful Blue Monkey are also common with the rarer De Brazza – with his distinctive white beard occasionally spotted . And for the bird enthusiasts, Kakamega is yet more proof, (if more were needed), of why Western Kenya is a once in a lifetime holiday destination – with over 350 species recorded including rare snake eaters, the weird but wonderful Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill, the Great Blue Turaco and the Emerald Cuckoo.
There is a choice of afternoon options available. For the more energetic, these include a hike up Lirhanda Hill, the highest point in the forest for gorgeous panoramic views across the jungle canopy or another nature walk out to see the crashing rapids of the Yala river. But for the less energetic, or indeed, if Kakamega is living up to its ‘Rain’ forest definition (as it tends to mid-afternoon, particularly during the rainy seasons in March-May and November-December), there’s the exclusive Integritour community-tour option to go and visit a local butterfly farmer at his village home on the edge of the national park – where you’ll receive a fascinating insight into daily village life, plus a walk-through the processes and stages of butterfly breeding.
And that’s normally more than enough for the exhausted, if exhilarated Integritour day-tour guests but for those that prefer a more leisurely experience, or to indulge specific interests – perhaps in the bird or butterfly life – there are a number of different accommodation options that we can arrange in various different price brackets – from local simple ‘banda’ accommodation through to the luxurious and relaxing retreat at Rondo. We can also discuss volunteering opportunities in Kakamega for those looking to get involved in any local conservation work.
Kakamega Jungle is the definition of an eco-tour and thankfully, this little corner of tropical African tranquillity had been designated ‘protected’ providing a sanctuary for its wonderful flora, fauna and wildlife. And yet, it is, as of now, quiet, unspoilt and hardly visited – so for travellers, a true ‘find’ and gem of an experience. Integritour pledges to work with the local communities to ensure that any influx of visitors not only benefits the ongoing conservation efforts by the two park authorities but also supports the struggling local population many of whom currently live below the poverty line. Ecotourism is about ecology, conversation and social-fairness and your once-in-a-lifetime visit will not only support the delicate ecology, but also the precarious economy. So… don’t just tour. Integritour.
Read more about our Kakamega Day Trip