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Top five festivals in Kenya

by Martha Hales

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Kenya is fascinating from a cultural perspective as it is home to more than 20 different ethic groups subdivided into more than 40 separate tribes. Different areas have completely different traditions and rituals, making the cultural landscape unusually complex but thoroughly rewarding. As you might expect with such a patchwork of ethnicities and tribal heritage, the Kenyan festival calendar is packed with events and celebrations, each showcasing a particular aspect of Kenyan life. We’ve picked five of our favourite festivals to inspire you to get that trip to Kenya booked - our local experts can tailor your trip to your preferences so if you wish to include a festival or two in your itinerary, they can make it happen.

1. Lamu Cultural Festival

Three days long | Annual | Takes place in November

The impressive and enchanting island of Lamu is a stunning location to while away a few days enjoying the festival atmosphere in November every year. This convivial event is designed to bring together the people of Lamu and beyond to celebrate Swahili culture and heritage in this most emblematic and enigmatic of Swahili towns.

Lamu Old Town waterfront, Kenya

The festival sprawls throughout the historic, UNESCO listed ‘old town’ of labyrinthine alleys, seafront lanes and shady squares, offering the opportunity to experience various aspects of local Swahili traditions such as dance, craft workshops, henna art, typical Swahili dishes, poetry readings, handicraft exhibitions, historic Bao (ancient board game) tournaments, and also the excitement of the dhow races out at sea and the donkey races on land.   

Donkeys on Lamu Beach, Kenya

2. Lake Turkana Festival

Three days long | Annual | Takes place in May or June

This is one of Kenya’s most appealing festivals for its colour, splendid displays of cultural diversity and its general spirit of happiness and goodwill. The festival was established in a spirit of collaboration and community harmony - the idea was to celebrate the cultures of the various tribal communities that live in the Lake Turkana region and to break the history of hostility between the eight pastoral tribal groups who frequently squabbled over territory. The festival was set up to promote cross cultural cooperation, and peace. The spectacular location of the celebrations on the southeast shores of Lake Turkana makes a suitable backdrop for the incredible cultural spectacle of the festival, where each tribe showcases their unique customs, home life, arts and crafts, costumes, music and dance. The costumed parades and dance performances are incredible on their own, but mix it in with the carnival spirit and palpable excitement of the participants and you have a truly special event worth the journey to Loyangalani town.

View from road to Lake Turkana

3. Rift Valley Music Festival

Two days long | Annual | Takes place in late August

Lake Naivasha is one of the Rift Valley’s many lakes, surrounded by large scale food and flower farms thanks to the abundant supply of fresh water, fertile soil and the suitable climate. Fisherman’s Camp, lying on the shores of the lake, makes an excellent venue for Kenya’s most modern, multinational musical event, the Rift Valley Music Festival. The festival was inaugurated in 2010, and it is now an annual fixture in late August, attracting an eclectic mix of artists mainly from Kenya and other East African nations, plus the occasional international band or artist. You can camp onsite to be closer to the action, or stay nearby. The festival features food and drink stalls, craft market and kids activities as well as the music.

Music festival Kenya

4. Maralal Camel Derby

Three days long | Annual | Takes place in mid-August

The Kenyan Tourist authorities are trying to promote cultural tourism as an alternative to longstanding mainstays of the Kenyan offer such as safari and beach holidays. They are involved in expanding and promoting events like the Maralal Camel Derby to encourage tourist income to filter into more rural areas. The location for the Camel Derby is among hills and valleys in the northern Samburu area, which makes a beautiful backdrop for the exciting races and contests that take place here, with riders coming from all over the world to participate and enjoy the cultural demonstrations and spirit of reconciliation which tether this festival to the region. 

Camels in Maralal, Samburu, Kenya

5. Maulidi Festival

Four days long | Annual | Takes place in the third month of the Muslim calendar

Marked all along the Muslim majority coastal region, Maulidi is a week long celebration of the prophet Mohammed’s birth. One of the best places to experience this joyful remembrance festival is on Lamu, where thousands of Muslims descend on the island to pay their respects and enjoy the faithful yet convivial atmosphere. There are throngs of pilgrims from near and far who all come to experience the processions, dances and prayers, and have many blessings bestowed upon them. It has been said that two pilgrimages to Lamu are equal to a single trip to Mecca for followers of Islam. Alongside devotional activities there are plenty of cultural diversions such as Swahili music and dance to keep you busy.

Muslim man in Kenya

Make it happen

The cultural landscape of Kenya is thrillingly diverse, and attending these events and festivals offers some real insight into the Kenyan way of life, whether through traditional, modern or sporting celebrations. Including a festival in your itinerary couldn’t be easier when you have our Kenya experts ready and waiting to tailor your itinerary to your requirements. You can contact them via our enquiry form, or to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.

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