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Kakamega Forest: The Enchanted rainforest
This western region which is around 52 km north of Kisumu City that is mostly acclaimed for its natural beauty, especially its wonderful bird-life and nature. Its forestry provides the ideal ambiance for self-guided nature walks and up close game watching. The rainforests’ aria is set in lush tranquility punctuated by the melodies of warbling birds and chattering of monkeys in a leafy backdrop of rustling trees. Where dandy butterflies beat their wings softly against the thoracic croaks of the frogs in the gurgling streams nearby. This is truly a place that’s worth its gold in every sense of the word.
Speaking of gold, though Kakamega was once the scene of the Kakamega gold rush in the early 1930s. A frenzy that was purportedly fueled partly by the reports of the celebrated British geologist Albert Ernest Kitson. It is actually still undermined as one of the most populous counties in the country. The people here,who are mostly of the outspoken Luhya tribe, enjoy a more rural life working steadfastly as farmers and fishermen.
It is also cited that Kakamega was so named because the word “kakamega” which translates roughly to “pinch” in Kiluhyah. It was most likely used to describe how the European colonists would eat the staple food, ugali, in contrast to the traditional method of eating it. Ugali is still a popular maize dish that is a favorite in the local cuisine, which is usually rolled into a lump or a ball and dipped into the preferred sauce or stew.
The Kakamega Forest Reserve was established to protect the only a residue of a really unique forest ecosystem. As the main tourist destination in the area is one of western Kenya’s star attractions worth going far out of your way to see if you are an enthusiastic nature lover. The 45 km2 Kakamega National Reserve forest lies in the Lake Victoria basin and west of the Nandi Escarpment that forms the edge of the central highlands. It is an area of mostly indigenous vegetation which offers unique wildlife and scenic beauty, located about 15km from Kakamega town.
Some 400 years ago, Kakamega Forest would have been at the eastern end of a broad expanse of forest stretching west, clear across the continent all the way to the Atlantic ocean. Three centuries later, following the human population explosion and wide scale cultivation of the forested areas, it was reduced to an island which is cut off from the rest of the original rainforest.
At an average elevation of 1,535 m, the forest is elevated between 1500 m and 1600 m above sea level. It is the only tropical rainforest in Kenya and likely vestige of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once transversed the continent. In the past millenia, the dense rain forest stretched from West Africa across Central Africa and into the highland areas on the west and eastern walls of the Great Rift Valley.
It is now a small patch of detached equatorial jungle which is famous among zoologists and botanists world over who marvel at how this isolated environment has survived severed from its larger body. The national reserve comprises of both Kisere and Buyangu Reserves. There is actually a big difference between the primary and secondary forest sections in the park because the real rainforest feeling with the giant trees is only found in the original primary forest sections of the park.
Until this day, this mid altitude tropical rainforest which stands distinguished from its Zaire and West Africa affinities, still boasts attractions found nowhere else in the country. This is attributed to the fact that the forest has remained a protected area after its vital role in the eco-system was first recognized. The reserve was initially gazetted as a trust forest in 1933 before the two small reserves, Yala and lsecheno, were later established within it in 1967. It was later awarded national forest reserve status in 1985 when nearly 4,400 hectares of the forest together with the adjacent Kisere Forest were gazetted as the Kakamega Forest National Reserve.
Throughout the forest undulated terrain are a series of grassy glades that range in size from about 1 to 50 hectares interposed with a few larger clearings. These may have originated from past human activities such as cattle rearing or may be the result of grazing and movements by large mammals such as buffalo and elephants which were both expunged from the region. The origins of the glades are however still uncertain since others predate recent records though some are clearly contemporary.
Kakamega area receives a very high amounts of annual precipitation recording rainfalls of about 2,000 mm yearly which contributes to its vital role as a water catchment area. This is also attributed to a number of streams and small creeks which cascade through the reserve in addition to the presence of the lsiukhu and Yala Rivers which also flow through it. The larger creeks are usually bordered by a couple of meters of forest on either side that divide the glades, while the smallest creeks flow through open grasslands which create diminutive marshy patches.
The Kakamega Forest itself is naturally very wet, with an average of 200 mm – 700 mm of rain per year. Most of it falls between April and November with a short dry season from December to March. Rain falls mostly in the afternoon or early evening and is often accompanied by heavy thunderstorms. Temperature is fairly constant throughout the year with averages ranging between 15-30°C.
The glades in turn, vary a great deal in composition, some being open grass while others have a considerable number of trees or shrubs.The sheer size and grandeur of these rainforest trees with over 350 varieties of trees and counting, some over a hundred years old, is impressive to say the least.
Its canopy of trees has grown into a thin mesh of interlocking top branches that block most sunlight from reaching the ground below, resulting in less vegetation at the ground level. With few bushes along the darkened forest floor, the only real obstacles here are the ancient fallen tree trunks barring the paths between the towering trees.
Although the area has always been under strict protection there is a German funded project, BIOTA East, has been conducting its research exclusively the forest since 2001. Documentations of all sorts of life forms within this environment are still been performed with the aim of finding strategies for a sustainable use of the forest. As a result of these conservation efforts, the forest has still retained its mostly indigenous vegetation. A tree nursery was introduced to demonstrate basic tree-planting techniques, alongside information on waste recycling and efficient use of firewood.
The forest includes some of Africa’s greatest hard and soft woods like the precious Elgon teak, much prized for its hard wood, red and white stink woods and several varieties of Croton and Aniageria Altisima. There are also notorious stranglers (ficus thoningii) which grow from other trees and eventually strangle the hosts to death. The potent mkombero tree, a popular aphrodisiac, also grows here. This grand age-old trees are in still plenty although they are found mostly in the Kisere Forest as a result of early efforts in conservation.
There are also many species of splendid orchids, with a handful being endemic, which sit among the branches of the larger trees. Walking beneath the lush shade of the forest canopy the is bejeweled by exotic blooms scented with dainty flowers, wood and moss. The best time for most botanical excursions is during the rainy season when the flowers are at their most beautiful. Flora found in the park include over fifty species of ferns and 170 other species of flowering plants.
The massive size of the rainforest trees creates an ideal habitat for the birds, insects, butterflies and wildlife which are plentiful in the area. The park currently supports seven primate species like the endangered DeBrazza monkey that is mostly found at the isolated Kisere Forest Reserve. Many other rare species of primate that are common here are such as the Blue monkey, frequently seen near the Ishiuku Falls, the Olive baboon and the Red Tailed monkey. Other mammals in the area include the Clawless Otter, Mongoose, Giant Water Shrew, flying-squirrels, Bush bucks, Aardvarks, Porcupine, Giant Forest Hog and many more. The Leopard has also been spotted on very rare occasions with the last official sighting being back sometime in the early 1990s.
It is home to an estimated 300 bird species making it a place of choice for many bird and butterfly watchers. The Reserve supports a myriad of bird species since it is such a food rich environment. The endangered Turner’s eremomela, Charpins flycatcher and the voice mimicking African grey parrot are also found here including some rare snake-eating birds. Insects are in addition abundant with some very spectacular favorites like the Goliath beetles and Flower Mantis. Other particularly well represented groups are ants and orthopterans. Gastropods, millipedes and spider alike are very common too. In addition, a butterfly farm has been set up for these colorful lepidopterans are comprised of over 400 species of butterflies, about 45% of all recorded butterflies in Kenya. The aim is to breed local butterflies which are framed and sold as souvenirs to generate income for the local community. Other sustainable projects in the pipeline include bee keeping and snake farming for antivenins.
Snakes that are normally found in West Africa are present in the area alongside nearly thirty other species of snakes. The region is also home to Africa’s largest and most aggressive cobra known as the Kakamega forest cobra. It has a reputation of spending a lot of time in the trees and stories abound of notorious attacks on unsuspecting passers-by. Well informed visitors however shouldn’t be overly concerned about meeting them round every corner. Other big snakes found in the area include the forest adder, black mamba and the green mamba. Its smaller reptiles include chameleons, skinks and lizards.
Explore Kakamega Forest
Kakamega Forest National Reserve is an engaging walk through 7km of hiking trail. You can go for excursions and village visits with a team of ranger guides who escort visitors through the forest. The official guides, trained by the Kakamega Biodiversity Conservation and Tour Operators Association, are well definitely worth the money. Not only do they prevent you from getting lost since many of the trail signs are missing, and many are excellent naturalists who can recognize birds by their calls alone and provide information about a variety of other animals.
The reserve is about twice the size of Nairobi National Park where you can while your time away whether with a tour guide or a self guided nature walks. You can also take a night walk, after you have had chance to sight some birds not to mention the butterflies. Primate watching is just as rewarding and camping is still an option is you want more than a picnic in this beautiful haven.
Walking beneath the green forest canopy through the indigenous trees lining the trails, one will see colorful flowers while appreciating exotic bird-calls and the fragrant scents of the fresh wood and flowers. Bird watching is most ideal in the morning hours between 6:30am- 8:30am or in the evening from 4:30pm- 6:30pm. The falls along the Isiukhu river and the riverine atmosphere along the river trail add a relaxing freshness to the hike.
The walk to Buyangu Hill, the highest point in the forest at the north which will give you a quick bird eye-view of the forest canopy, is a must for visitors. It offers a great view over the forest especially in the early morning hours when the forest is still covered by the rising mist. At the picnic site you can recline and repose under the grass-thatched rest house while watching water birds at the watering point.
The Southern part of Kakamega forest, Isecheno Forest, is run by the Kenya Forest Service is also accessible to tourists. The reserve offers excellent primate viewing opportunities where the Black and White Colobus monkey are plentiful and the De Brazza monkey, can be found in the adjacent Kisere forest area. Another sight worth seeing is the well known Mama Mtere tree, a historic tree and the most photographed tree in Kakamega forest.
There are various options for guided tours available as it is always recommended to use one of the local guides. The Kakamega Forest National Reserve charges are Ksh 1500/ person for up to 6hrs. You can also go with the Kakamega Forest Guide Association which charges about Ksh 400/ person. Another option is the Kakamega Rainforest Tour Guides Ksh 500-800/ person. The guides can also arrange the tour to visit weeping stone of the Crying stone at Ilesi, one of Kakamega tourists attraction or Kisere forest to see the primates in the North of Kakamega forest.
Short forest walks go for ksh500 for at least 2hours, long walks are at ksh800. Sunrise and sunset walks go for about ksh 1000 ksh night walk 1200ksh while full day walks are about ksh2500 per person.The Kakamega Environmental Education Programme, or KEEP, was set up by the guides at Forest Guest House to combine visits to the forest for local schoolchildren with their school lessons. They hope that by educating the children of the importance of the forest, the message will spread further into the community. The guides will take care of all interests from educational groups, family groups or individuals who want to enjoy the biodiversity of the rainforest. The income generated from these guided tours is then partly used to finance conservation and education projects among the communities surrounding the park.
Other Attractions around Kakamega Forest
Kakamega still serves as the headquarters of Kenya’s largest sugar producing firm, Mumias Sugar, which is located in the village of Mumias. The latest addition in the region is Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology is a new institution of higher learning created by an act of parliament in December 2006. It is in the heart of Kakamega town on the Kakamega-Webuye road. Its introduction is expected to spur growth in this otherwise reserved area and create more opportunites for the locals.
Guides can also make arrangements in Shibuye or Khayega for curious visitors who like to witness some bull fighting. Bookings must however be made in advance. In the evenings tourists are entertained to the popular Isukuti dance and narrations about their life in the forest. There are still some special tribal practices such as circumcision rituals are still practiced in the forest.
Another attraction is the Crying Stone of Ilesi located along the highway towards Kisumu. It is a 40 metres high rock dome resembling a human figure whose “eyes” drop water. There are two legends regarding the reason why the formation looks like a solemn head resting on weary shoulders, down which tears flow. The first is that the stone is that of a girl who continues to cry after she fell in love with a man her father didn’t approve of and, as punishment, the father turned her to stone. The second is that the stones weep for the state of humanity in general.
Nandi Hills is one of the most beautiful highlands to visit in Kenya that has a cool and wet climate especially around the two rain seasons during the equinoxes.
The lush green region sits on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley and is home to some of the finest tea growing areas in the world. Companies like the Eastern Produce Kenya which has been Rainforest Alliance Certified since 2007, has been growing tea in Kenya since 1945. In the Nandi Hills, there are about a dozen tea estates and seven tea factories that employ between 5,000 and 9,000 people.
Tea is grown on around 12,000 acres of land and surrounded by over 6,400 acres of native forest which forms a vital link in Kenya’s forest ecosystem and the economy of the area mainly relies on the tea estates.
In a recent biodiversity survey it was discovered that the Nandi Hills forests and wetlands provide a vital habitat for more than 247 species of birds, about 15 % of Kenya’s most endangered butterfly population plus an array of dragonflies and amphibians.
According to history, this land was once battleground against the Luo and Luhya communities. Nandi hills has over time turned out to be a very significant area of Rift Valley region and the Kalenjin community. On top of Nandi Hills sits Samoei with its red earth, which is the burial site of the renowned Nandi seer Koitalel Arap Samoei, who was buried under a symbolic tree. When Koitalel was killed by British officer Richard Meinertzhagen, some belief, the ground turned red on the spot of his death.
This area is now home to many world renowned athletes like Kipchoge Keino, Augustine Choge, Jepkosgei, Henry Rono and many others. The town is popularly known as ‘cradle land of Kenyan running’ owing to its cool attractive climate and high altitudes where the athletes train oftenly for the championships.
The transport system in Nandi Hills is mainly land-based via tarmac. The road network connects to all the great cities in Kenya i.e. Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldored, Nakuru, Kericho and other major towns. You can only visit the tea farms and also watch athletes training in the area as they run up and down the tea farms.
Practical Travel information
This marvelous rainforest being home to a huge variety of birds and animals has become particularly popular with independent travellers. It is fairly easy to get to here from Kisumu or if you are in the Mount Elgon region, from Webuye along a scenically forested stretch of the main highway. Kakamega is accessible all year round but best time to visit it is during the rainy season, April to July.
If you want to visit the Northern and Southern parts of the park, you would have to pay entrance fees at both sides. This is because the Northern part is under the Kenya Wildlife Society while the Southern part is under the management of Kenya Forest Service. The division in management has also had an impact on how the surrounding communities can use the park. In the Northern part in the Buyangu area the regulations are very strict and communities are not allowed to collect anything like firewood or medicinal plants whereas the southern part permits some activities.
Entry is by cash only and cash receipts can be bought at the Kakamega Forest National Reserve main gate or the cash office at the KWS Headquarters in Nairobi . Proof of identification will however be required before full admission is granted. Citizens should present a valid Passport or National ID while Residents will require a valid Passport and re-entry pass.
The KWS entry point is at the North in the Buyangu Area. It is a walking distance to the KWS office which is approx. 2 km from the main road. The Kenya Forestry Service entry gate is in the South in the Isecheno Area. The entry fee per person at southern part of Kakamega forest Park is Ksh600 for non-residents, ksh400 for residents and ksh200 for citizens.You can get there from Kakamega by matatu to Shinyalu and then take a Boda Boda to Isecheno.
Drinking water, picnic items and camping equipment if you intend to stay overnight. Also useful are a pair of binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and up-to-date guidebooks. Water proof tenting can be hired for ksh800 per group per night.
How to get there
By Road: The more preferable access is through the Buyangu gate, 600 m from main road. Visitors commuting by public means can alight at Kambiri junction and use the local ‘boda boda’ cyclists who operate from the junction to park. Only make sure you watch out for the signpost after 15 km from Kakamega.
Where to stay
The forest reserve offers a serene atmosphere for both campers and lodgers. The accommodation that is available within the Reserve consists of one guest house that was recently opened to visitors, self-help bandas and two campsites. Other nearby hotel facilities are also available within a favorable distance from the forest.
There are no refreshment facilities, shops or restaurants in the Northern Part of the Park. You have to bring any food and drinks from Kakamega town. The accomodation in the Northern part of the Kakamega Forest National Reserve under KWS, includes;
Udo’s Bandas & Campsite
They are located in Kakamega forest national reserve in the northern part of Kakamega rain forest. The capacity Udo’s bandas can accommodate 16 people and there is bedding with mosquito nets. In the same compound We have Udo’s Camping site where visitors can camp over night. They also offer round the clock security to all their guests.
Isukuti Guest House
The Isukuti guest house is a simple self contained lodging with the capacity to accommodate 8 people with 4 rooms, fridge and kitchen.
The Mago Guesthouse
The Mago Guesthouse is an income generating project of the Mago Youth Polytechnic School. It is located south of Kakamega Forest on the road that leads from Chevakali to Kapsabet just before you reach Kiamosi. It is about 40km from Kisumu via Chavakali and 30 km from Kakamega.
Golf Hotel Kakamega
A three star hotel in Kakamega. Golf Hotel is located in a plush area of Kakamega town next to Golf Course, and it is just a short distance from Kakamega Forest. The Golf Hotel Kakamega has a lot to offer. If one of your ambitions is to experience the enchanting mystery of the jungle, the melody of singing birds, the breeze of whispering trees, the croaking frogs, the rasp of butterflies as they fly by, the cheeky monkeys as they sing from branch to branch, then Kakamega forest, situated less than 5km from the hotel is the place for you.
Kenya Forestry Service accomodation in the Southern part Kakamega Forest Reserve includes;
Rondo Retreat Centre
Rondo Retreat Centre is a Christian Centre set in the Kakamega rainforest that offers Boarding and Catering services for visitors.
Kakamega Isecheno forest rest house
Isecheno rest house is located in the Isecheno forest station. The capacity of Isecheno Forest rest house can accommodate 8 people and there is bedding and mosquito nets. They provide also provide a shower and a kitchen. The Isecheno camping site,is also found in the same compound but visitors should come with their own tents. The Forest rest House Accommodation fee is Ksh500 per person per night.
For Further information
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