Lying only 45km (28 miles) north of Kisumu, the little-visited Kakamega Forest boasts as the only natural tropical rainforest left in Kenya – once a contiguous part of the Guineo-Congolian forest ecosystem which stretched from West Africa. It occupies an area along the northeastern edge of the Lake Victoria basin. Along its eastern edge rises the partially forested Nandi Escarpment, which runs along the western edge of the Rift Valley. The northern part of the forest is a small protected area (Kakamega Forest National Reserve), with its main entrance some 15km (9 1/4 miles) from Kakamega town.
With a unique biodiversity that consists of thick foliage, towering trees, and a light-filtering canopy to create a wet and dense habitat, Kakamega Forest supports all kinds of rare and endangered birds and animals. It has been for long valued for it’s timber with commercial tree-felling going on until the late 1980s – native trees such as the Elgon teak, Elgon olive, and African satinwood have been heavily exploited. The discovery of gold in the area in 1923 also set off a brief mining frenzy that, mercifully, quickly came to naught.
Conservation efforts continue to be hampered by illegal tree-felling, and the local community that depend on the forest for firewood. As a self-sustaining ecosystem, the rainforest is especially fragile – even the removal of organic matter from the ground poses a threat to soil fertility and the very existence of the forest. The forest’s steady decline predict that its disappearance is inevitable, making a visit to this sodden paradise not only an attractive off-the-beaten-track adventure, but an urgent detour.
Kakamega forest has over 360 species of birds, 380 species of plants, 400 species of butterflies, 7 species of primates. Among the forest plants, 80% are of highly medicinal value that traditionally local people use them to cure Malaria, prostate cancer, common cold and many others.
Around 10% to 20% of all the mammals, reptiles, and birds found in Kakamega are found nowhere else in the country. Among the 330 species of bird here, those you don’t want to miss include the great blue turaco (often seen trotting around in a most ungainly manner in groups of up to 12), the black-and-white casqued hornbill (surely the noisiest creature in the forest), and the gray parrot, which is under severe threat here.
Animals easily spotted include the bushbucks, read and blue duikers, colobus monkeys, bush pigs, porcupines and the clawless otters. A search a little harder will make you find more elusive creatures, such as tree pangolins, rare De Brazza’s monkeys (also known as swamp monkeys, of which there are a mere 30 or so left in Kakamega – found exclusively in the isolated Kisere Forest Reserve), or the unusual potto(a large-eyed nocturnal primate said to be the world’s slowest-moving mammal). If you’re sufficiently quiet and keen-eyed, you’ll also catch a glimpse of dik-diks.
When the flowers bloom in October, butterflies fill the air (there are more than 400 species here), while at night the scaly tailed flying squirrels (No, they don’t fly as much as birds!) and hammer headed fruit bats take to the air.
The forest also harbors quite a rich snake population – 27 species, including the arboreal Gold’s cobra -but apparently no one has been bitten here since the park first opened. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend a pair of closed shoes, as much for the potentially slushy, muddy ground as for any creepy-crawlies. And always have something on standby to fight off the rain – the heavens open virtually every day of the year, and the downpour can be relentless.
Guided tours in Kakamega forest enable you at first hand to enjoy all these. A professional tour guide can be requested for at the forest station. The guide will explain or interpret tropical rainforest biodiversity and lead you through the best routes. However, feel free to venture on your own.
PS: Ask your guide to point out the popular local aphrodisiac plant, mkombero. And ask what it benefits are.
WHERE TO STAY
There is Accommodation and Camping sites where you can stay few days as you enjoy Kakamega forest. These include:
- The very basic KEEP-managed Isecheno Forest rest house, Isecheno Bandas and the Isecheno Camping site.
- There are also KWS managed guest houses and camping sites. All are self-catered!
- Rondo Retreat
Originally, Rondo was owned by a sawmiller who, in 1948, built a house at his wife’s request at the base of what was thought to be the biggest tree in the Forest, an Elgon Olive, the stump of which still stands today. The sawmiller left Kenya in 1961, leaving the property to the Christian Council of Kenya. Rondo officially came into the hands of the Trinity Fellowship in 1966 which was headed by the Reverend and Mrs. Cuthbert (Cubby) and Mathilde (Thilde) Dawkins. The Trinity Fellowship first used Rondo as a youth centre and orphanage. It was also the setting for the filming of “The Kitchen Toto”.
Today this peaceful place has been “opened to the public” and is run by the Reverend and Mrs. Godfrey and Elisabeth Dawkins. Rondo retreat is a peaceful place. However, it is not advisable for all of you who will indulge in ‘Not-so Godly’ behavior. They even do not allow members of the opposite sex to sleep in the same Banda, unless you prove you are married.
For more information check Rondo Retreat.
Alternatively, you can stay outside the Forest. A good place to consider is the Kakamega Golf Hotel just outside Kakamega town.
HOW TO GET THERE
- By road
The shortest route from Nairobi (418 km) is via Nakuru and Kapsabet. Take the A104 road as far as Timboroa and continue for another 4 km until you see left turn which takes you to the C36 road to Kapsabet from there take the C39 road until it joins the Kisumu – Kakamega road. From Eldoret the shortest route is via the C39 road to Kapsabet.
From Kakamega town, you can drive (or take a Taxi or Motorbikes) through Shinyalu to Isecheno Forest station. Or if you are coming from Kisumu, drive to (or take matatu) to Khayega market on your way to Kakamega town, then From Khayega proceed to Kakamega Isecheno Forest Station.
You can also access the forest through the Buyangu gate, 600 metres from main road. On public transport, visitors alight at Kambiri junction. Local ‘boda boda’ cyclists operate from the junction to park. Watch for signpost after 15 km from Kakamega town
- By air – There are now scheduled flights to Kakamega and visitors can also fly to Kisumu or Eldoret and travel by road to Kakamega.
Park Entry Fee
|Kakamega Forest National Reserve||Citizen||Resident||Non – Resident|
Telelephone: 020 2418419 or 020 2654658
Website: Kakamega Forest