Guide To Kakamega Forest
About Kakamega Forest
The Kakamega Forest previously stretched all the way from Kenya to the Congo rain forest. The forest is located in Western Kenya and covers two counties Kakamega County at a place called Shinyalu and another county called Nandi County. It is divided into two areas, the southern part and the northern part. This guide is going to mainly focus on the southern side of the forest as this is where we did our hiking tours and stayed for two nights.
The forest has over 380 plant species and this includes 150 tree species, 60 fern species, 60 orchid species and 170 flower species. The forest is thick with lush tall trees, springs, waterfalls with lots of flora and fauna to admire.
The forest is also full of various monkey species such as the colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey, De Brazza monkey, blue monkey, the olive baboon, and white-nosed monkey.
Facts About Kakamega Forest
- The forest sits at an altitude of 1,500 to 1,700 meters above sea level
- It covers an area of 240 square kilometres
- It is 420km from Nairobi the capital city of Kenya
- It was gazetted as a forest national reserve in 1985
- Annual rainfall is over 2,000mm per year. The rains fall between April and November with a dry season between December and March. The rainy season is often accompanied by heavy thunderstorms. Temperatures range between 150-270 degree centigrade.
- There are beautiful natural glades, rich and unusual in its composition which makes it a unique forest.
- The local people found here are the Luhya community
The Northern side Kakamega Forest
The northern side is near Webuye and about 40 km from the southern side. It takes more than an hour to get there if you are on the southern side. This area of the forest is run by Kenya Wildlife Service. In the northern part of the forest, you will find parts of River Yala flowing through and the Isikhu Falls.
The southern side of Kakamega Forest
The southern side of Kakamega Forest is manned by Kenya Forestry Service. This is where The Rondo Retreat is located. The southern part is the most toured part of the forest.
How to get to Kakamega Forest
There are several modes of transport you can choose from. For us, we had a hired vehicle that brought us from Kisumu through Khayega Market into the Forest. We were staying at the Rondo Retreat Lodge. For car hire, it depends on the negotiations that you do with the company. Car hire is one way to get to the forest.
You can also use a motorbike or taxi. A motorbike costs Ksh. 200 per person. A taxi costs Ksh. 1500 or 2000 depending on the time. The earlier hours of the day are normally cheaper, it gets more expensive towards the evening times.
For all the modes of transport, you will drive through Shinyalu market to Isecheno. Isecheno is the Kakamega Forest station that is managed by Kenya Forest Service. The distance from Kakamega town to the Kakamega forest is 18km.
You can get to Kakamega Forest from Kisumu and Eldoret. From Eldoret you can go via Kisumu through Kapsabet then to Chapsonoi Police station. Here there is about a 10km rough road to the Isecheno Forest Station.
From Eldoret town, take matatu that goes to Kisumu through Kapsabet then Chapsonoi.
Ask the driver to drop you at Chapsonoi Police station, where there is a rough road on your right that you can use the motorbike from there to Isecheno forest station, it is about 10 km.
There are flights available from Eldoret, Kisumu and Kakamega and then from here, you can drive straight to the forest.
Entrance fee to the southern part of the forest that is manned by Kenya Forestry Service is Ksh. 400 for residents and 600 Ksh. For non-residents. At the northern part of the forest which is manned by Kenya Wildlife Service, the entry is fee is Ksh. 300 for Kenya citizens, ksh. 600 for residents and ksh. 2,200 for non-residents.
Best Time To Visit
Kakamega Forest is great to visit throughout the year. The weather remains constant for the most part and that is, it is always raining.
The forest is open daily from 6 am to 7 pm including public holidays
Things To Do At Kakamega Forest
There are various walking tours you can take to explore the beauty and wonder within the forest. Each circuit begins at designated corners within the Rondo Retreat that are tucked in the middle of the southern part of Kakamega Forest.
While staying at Rondo Retreat I had the opportunity of taking short walks around the forest. I did a 1-hour walking tour and a 30-minute hike up the Liranda Hill. During these walks, I had the great opportunity to see the red-tailed monkey, butterflies and bird species. I also saw many beautiful flowers scattered about the forest trails.
The Liranda Hill is the highest point of the Kakamega Forest and from here I was able to see scenic views of the entire forest including the Nandi escarpment, view grasslands across the horizon. We did this hike in the evening and it was an adventurous experience as it was chilly and the rains were just about to pour. Luckily for us, we got to the car just in time.
There are also long walks for up to 4 hours. These walks have to have a special arrangement with a guide. There are also walks that can be done during the sunrise and those that can be done during sunset. In the northern part of the forest, you can go up to Isikhu falls and the south the Yala River.
Rondo Retreat has local guides who are well conversant with the forest trails. The offer walking guided tours.
Guided walks per person
Short morning walk, Hill view – Ksh. 500
Long morning/ Afternoon walk to Yala River- Ksh. 800
Sunset/ Sunrise walk – Hill Walk – Ksh. 1,000
Kakamega Forest is one of the most important bird areas in Kenya with 488 bird species recorded here. From the cottage I was staying at Rondo Retreat Lodge, there was a weaver bird nest and every morning I would see an eagle flying in and out of one of the tallest trees in the neighbourhood.
The best time to view birds is in the morning or late in the evening. During the day you will see species such as the eagle.
Among the mammals found in this forest include; bush pig, bushbuck, clawless otter, mongoose, giant water shrew, squirrels, tree pangolin, bats and primates.
Encounter with snakes
There are 36 species of snakes that live in the forest. Am I lucky that I did not encounter any of these? These snakes include; the forest cobra, the gold’s cobra, the forest night adder, the black-lipped cobra, Jameson’s mamba, bush viper, rhinoceros-horned viper and the Gaboon viper.
See Lizards and other animals
The most common lizard you will stumble upon is Jackson’s Lacerta. Other lizards include Agama, Peters long-tailed skink and Nile monitor lizard. There are interesting amphibians, molluscs and over 487 butterfly species and insects.
All nine African butterfly families can be found here. The species diversity is high with 487 species recorded. The best time to see butterflies is in August and September when the rains are over.
The Luhya tribe live around the southern part of the forest in Shinyalu constituency. We had a cultural experience of the Luhya from a team of dancers who came to entertain us with the Isukuti dance that involved dancers dancing to the traditional musical tunes while singing at the Rondo Retreat Lodge.
What To Expect
Luhya Culture: The forest is located at the heart of western Kenya where a majority of the people living here are the Luhya subtribe.
Expect to see large mosquitoes which to my surprise do not transmit malaria. Carry mosquito repellent to prevent mosquitoes and other flying insects
You will experience cool and rainy weather. It rains for most of the year.
What To Pack
When packing for this trip remember to add a raincoat to your packing list, a torch for night tours and pack warm clothes as the place tends to get chilly. Also add gumboots or hiking boots, if you are planning on going for one of the longer trails. The area is muddy, wet with uneven trails.
Also, remember to pack camping gear if you intend to stay overnight. You will also find a camera, and a hat important.
Expect to see a lot of bird species, butterflies and different primates. Carry binoculars to see wildlife and birds hidden among the tall trees. Carry water and pack light for longer hikes.
The Forest Experience
We drove from Kisumu city to Kakamega which took about an hour from Kisumu’s Vittoria Suites. The weather was chilly and there was some drizzle. We arrived at the Rondo Retreat Lodge that is a popular destination for elderly travellers who love peace, quiet and serenity. This does not mean that it is not ideal for people of other ages. However, I noticed that most of the visitors here were elderly.
The Rondo Retreat is tucked in the middle of the southern side of Kakamega Forest a beautiful place with walking paths and trails that lead to the forest. There are different trails where some are long trails and some are short trails.
You will get enough sightseeing out of a two-day tour from either side of the forest. Our days were packed with activity and by the end of the day, I had seen enough flora, fauna and bird species. The night tours can be adventurous although our tour was interrupted by rain.
Where To Stay
At the southern part of the forest, is the Rondo Retreat Lodge that is run by the Trinity Fellowship. On the northern part of the forest, Kenya Wildlife Service has self-catering bandas
The Udo Bandas
These are 4 chalets constructed in the Isukha community tradition style. They offer cosy accommodation and provides room for a maximum of 10 people. The bandas are ideal for the family. One of the bandas has 4 beds while the rest have 2 beds each.
Isukuti Guest House
This guest house is located 2km from the main gate and it has 2 guest houses with 4 units. Each unit has a master bedroom, a fully equipped kitchen and dining area.
Rondo Retreat Lodge
We stayed at the Rondo retreat lodge located 18km from Kakamega town and on the southern part of the forest. I will share my stay at the Rondo Retreat Lodge.
If you are an adventurous traveller and love camping then there are options at the northern part of the forest that is managed by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). You are offered guaranteed security. There are also campsites at Udo and in addition, a number of campsites are also located in the park. For more information make your booking through the KWS headquarters.
2 Day Itinerary to Southern Side Of Kakamega Forest
Short hikes around the Rondo retreat lodge located inside the forest:
Rondo Retreat Lodge is located at the heart of the southern part of Kakamega Forest and in it are short circuit tours of the forest where you have lots of opportunities to see bird species, butterflies, mini-waterfalls and different types of tree species.
Watch Isukuti dancers:
Isikuti dance is a famous Luhya dance and anytime you are in the western province take the opportunity to get entertainment from the locals on the Isukuti dance
Tour The Crying Stone of Kakamega:
There is one other popular attraction that is close to the forest and this is the Crying Stone of Kakamega. Previously the two rocks that look like a human body with a torso and a head used to emit water from in between the two rocks hence the reason why it was named the Crying Stone of Kakamega.
The water has since dried up, it could be due to climate change. Some locals speculate that it dried up because people started paying to view it. Legend folk tales say that long ago many Nandi warriors tried to remove the upper rock with no success and that many died in the process of trying.
Take a walking tour to Lirandah Hill and Isukhu waterfalls.
Rondo Retreat Tour this tour includes the tour around the cottages and a chance to see the interior design and learn history about the place.
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