Kakamega Forest National Reserve is the only tropical forest left in Kenya. The forest is home to a variety of primates, and it is one of Kenya’s birding hotspots. It marks the easternmost distribution of many sought-after West African species. Even non-birders will appreciate the jungle atmosphere of the forest. Walking with a knowledgeable guide is the best way to explore the forest.
Many creatures live in the forest, but most are small and not easy to spot. There are, however, a lot of primates. Some of the more conspicuous ones are black-and-white colobus monkey and red-tailed and blue monkey. Nocturnal species include potto and bushbaby. Other mammals, less easy to spot, include duiker, dik-dik, and scaly-tailed flying squirrels. Butterfly enthusiasts are well catered for with more than 400 species recorded.
Kakamega Forest NR harbors a rich tropical environment with immense biodiversity. Despite the heavy logging of the 1970s, there are still large tracts of ancient hardwood such as Elgon teak in the forest. Another flora to look out for is the numerous ferns, orchids, and flame lilies.
Kakamega Forest has a climate typical of tropical areas. Temperatures don’t rise or fall much throughout the year, and hot days are followed by cool nights. The area experiences a long Wet season (March to November), with most of the rain being dumped in April and May. It’s less damp during the comparatively brief Dry season (December to February), but it can still rain a lot in these months.
The periods when it rains less (December to February and June to July) are the best times to come to Kakamega. It’s breeding season for the local birds around the middle of the year, and in August a lot of colors are added by emerging butterflies. Hikes are a lot more enjoyable in the Dry season (December to February).
Although teeming with small animals, Kakamega Forest is not primarily a wildlife destination. There are seven primate species of which you could easily see black-and-white colobus, red-tailed and blue monkey. The very rare de Brazza’s monkey is more difficult to find. Giant forest squirrels share the canopy, while some small antelope like duiker and dik-dik might be seen scurrying off in the undergrowth.
Wildlife Highlights – Kakamega Forest National Reserve
The forest transforms after sundown. Night walks are conducted by a spotlight, and are more than worthwhile. Some of the nocturnal creatures you might encounter are bushpig, genet, and civet. Hammer-headed fruit bats can be seen in flight. Rare sightings of potto and tree pangolin have been recorded and a real Kakamega special is the giant otter shrew. There are lots of interesting insects as well, including the super-sized goliath beetle.
Kakamega Forest can be visited throughout the year, but heavy rains might interfere with hiking trips. The driest months are from December to February. The heaviest rain is in April and May, so these months are less ideal.
Kakamega Forest is an eastern extension of the great Congo Basin rainforest. It is one of Africa’s most famous birding forests, and it supports over 80 species on the eastern limit of their range from central and West Africa. Examples of this are the spectacular great blue turaco and the colorful blue-headed bee-eater. More than 350 bird species have been recorded, 36 of which are endemic to the forest and can only be found here.
Many birders find Kakamega Forest a bird-watchers paradise that is productive all year. Unusual forest species are often permanent inhabitants and can be seen at any time. Migratory birds swoop into the forest from November to April. There is a lot of rain throughout the year, but April and May are the wettest months, and travel at that time can be more challenging.
Kakamega Forest can be visited year-round. There is quite heavy rain throughout the year, but December to February is the driest months. June to August is an excellent time for bird watching, as many birds breed and display after the rains of April and May. August and September are the best months for butterflies. Migrant birds are present from November to April.
Kakamega Forest has a tropical, high-rainfall climate. Due to its proximity to the equator, temperatures are constant throughout the year. Average afternoon temperatures are around 28°C/82°F, but nighttime is cool at around 11°C/52°F. It rains throughout the year, but it peaks in April and May.
Drier season –December to February
December, January & February – These months are drier, but it can still rain a lot. The exact timing of the drier period is difficult to predict, but rain usually starts to pick up again mid-February. There are more hours of sunshine during these months.
Wet season –March to November
March – The rain usually increases sometime in March.
April & May – This coincides with the ‘long rains’ throughout the country. These are the wettest months. Many overcast days are typical, and it can rain all day. Road conditions may deteriorate.
June, July, August, September, October & November – Rain decreases a little in June, but it’s still relatively wet. Rainfall peaks in August during this period. It can sometimes rain for days, but there are days with sunshine as well.
Kakamega Forest is 420km/260mi northwest of Nairobi and 45km/27mi north of Kisumu. The drive from Nairobi takes about six hours. You can organize a pick-up, rent a car, or take a taxi from Kisumu International Airport (KIS), which is an hour’s drive away from Kakamega.
Most people flying from Europe or North America to Kenya arrive in Nairobi as this is the biggest transport hub, and there is a lot of choice for tickets. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA) situated 9km/6mi west of Mombasa.
Kakamega Forest, in our opinion, is a very safe destination. There are generally no crime issues in any of the developed parks or reserves in Kenya. You should, however, take extra precautions if you are traveling independently in Kenya. Please read ‘Cities and Other Urban Areas: Safety Precautions’ below, if you are stopping in cities and towns between parks.
A trip to Kenya will require pre-trip vaccinations in your home country. When traveling around Kenya, the biggest risk for most visitors is malaria. Antimalarials are recommended, along with other precautions such as covering up exposed skin at dusk and applying mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective). If your room doesn’t have a mosquito net, consider spraying it every evening before you go to bed.
There are very few dangerous animals in Kakamega Forest. There are snakes though, and it is important to stay on the trails. Incidents are very rare, use common sense, and listen to the instructions given by your guide.