Cultural experiences in Kenya
Kenya offers a rich variety of cultural experiences with plenty of involvement with local villages. Travellers often get the opportunity to learn about Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, Swahili and other communities and take part in activities. It's often possible to visit schools, do a village visit on market day or walk with the herds when going out to pasture in the morning.
Occasionally it's even possible to take part in traditional ceremonies. While nomadic lifestyles are circumscribed these days by the conventions of modern life, these communities are still rooted in traditions very different from those most visitors are used to.
There are more than forty different language groups or tribes in Kenya, of which three communities, the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana, have held onto traditional clothing and lifestyles in much of their range.
- The Maasai are traditionally semi-nomadic and entirely dependent on their livestock. These days they tend to be fairly sedentary, occupying small settlements of 8-15 houses protected by thorn bushes or fencing. Livestock, including goats and sheep but especially cattle, are the primary source of income for the Maasai - when they can be persuaded to sell that is.
- The Samburu are closely related to the Maasai. Both arrived in Kenya from the upper Nile region in present-day South Sudan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they speak a common language - Maa. The traditional Samburu diet consists of milk and blood extracted from their cows. Meat is only served on special occasions. Dancing plays a significant role in Samburu culture and is similar to that of the Maasai people with men dancing in a circle and jumping high from a standing position.
- The Turkana are an important pastoral community in northern Kenya. Like other herders, they traditionally lived a nomadic life, always moving from one place to another depending on the availability of pasture and water for their animals. Although trading and employment are increasingly important (many Turkana men work in the security services or as guards and night watchmen), the old cattle culture is still vitally important. Fishing is also a major source of food for those living close to Lake Turkana.
Our favourite 7 places for cultural experiences in Kenya
Basecamp Maasai MaraAt Basecamp, school visits are on the agenda, and can be very worthwhile. The 2-hour walks to the Talek community area include guidance on the local economy. A group of women make craft souvenirs for guests to purchase, and the proceeds of these go back into their community. More about Basecamp Maasai Mara
Desert RoseSamburu dancing is often included at Desert Rose, and the lodge is so well integrated with the local community that, whenever possible, participants in local celebrations or festivities that visitors can be involved in will invite the owner-manager Emma Hedges and her guests. More about Desert Rose
Leleshwa|90% (2 reviews)Leleshwa has very good contacts with the local community and engages guests with a variety of cultural activities, including school visits, walking with the herders and their cattle, and market visits. It is also possible to organise Maasai blessing ceremonies for couples. More about Leleshwa
Porini Amboseli CampMost guests will visit a local Maasai village during their stay; here they can interact with people and learn something about the Maasai way of life. With no fees charged and nothing sold, this isn’t a typical experience but provides genuine brief insights into Maasai culture. More about Porini Amboseli Camp
Sarara|100% (1 review)A 20-minute drive from Sarara, Samburu warriors assemble in the dry season to form human chains, collecting water from deep wells for their livestock. Singing as they go, their tunes are rhythmic and create a hypnotic scene known as ‘the singing wells’. More about Sarara
Tamarind VillageTamarind Village is a good base from which to explore the fascinating Swahili history, mosques and architecture of Mombasa. The old town, and the museum-monument of Fort Jesus are only a 15-minute drive away, and transport to these can be easily arranged. More about Tamarind Village
Tassia Lodge|100% (2 reviews)Tassia operates as a partnership between the local Maasai community and the managers – and so there is great involvement with the local villages. Guests have the opportunity to visit, learn and get involved in as much as they like, in this exceptionally well-integrated lodge. More about Tassia Lodge