UNESCO World Heritage Sites Kenya.

A heritage site can be termed as an official location identified where pieces of political, military, social or cultural history have been preserved due to their cultural value. The sites are protected under the laws of the host nation. But the status is awarded by a team from UNESCO with suitable sites submitted by party states annually.

To make it to the UNESCO list, sites are evaluated on a 10-point criterion that looks at the cultural and natural uniqueness of the place. The site must exhibit unrivalled creativity, and portray a cultural practice. The buildings and landforms should show a stage in the history of man or earth.

Well, there are quite a number of UNESCO world heritage sites in Africa but I would like to narrow down on my focus which is Kenya. So far there are six marked heritage sites in Kenya. Though there is a long list of tentative properties that have been nominated to be considered.

There are three cultural sites and three natural sites listed in Kenya. The cultural sites include; Fort Jesus(2011), Lamu Old Town(2001) and the Mijikenda Kaya Forests(2008). The natural sites include; The Great Rift valley lake system(2011), Lake Turkana National Park(1997,2001) and Mount Kenya National Park(1997,2013).

Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus is located on Mombasa Island in the coastal region of Kenya. It was designed by Italian Giovanni Battista Cairati and built in the 16th century by order of King Philip l of Portugal to guard the Old Port of Mombasa.

This was the only fort that was maintained by the Portuguese on the Swahili coast. It is recognized as the first successful attempt by a Western power to establish influence over the Indian Ocean trade.

This has now become a tourist attraction standing high over Mombasa Harbor. It has an excellent museum showcasing a lot of old instruments used many centuries ago. You can also spend a day exploring the gun turrets, battlements and houses within the fort.

Lamu Old Town

This is a small town on Lamu Island situated 341 kilometres (212 mi) by road northeast of Mombasa. It is Kenya’s oldest inhabited town and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa founded in 1370. The town has had many visitors since the 14th century including Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders and the Omani Arabs.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa

Lamu has narrow streets that have remained unchanged. Life in the markets and around the fort moves at the same pace as it always has since inception. There are no vehicles on the islands, the main mode of transport is the donkey and dhow cruises.

The people of Lamu have kept up to their traditions and customs built out of respect they have for their past. As a tourist destination, visitors spend their days in the town strolling along the waterfronts and narrow streets. Others relax on the beach as life here tends to slow down per the culture.

Mijikenda Kaya Forest

The Mijikenda Kaya Forest heritage sites consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200km along the coast. These forests contain the remains of numerous fortified villages known as Kayas of the Mijikenda community of Kenya.

The forests are regarded as sacred sites. Though most of the villages were abandoned by the 1940s, they are maintained by the Mijikenda council of elders and are preserved due to their rich cultural traditions.

The Great Rift Valley Lake System

The Kenya Lake System is found on the Great Rift Valley floor where major tectonic and volcanic events have shaped this distinctive landscape. This system comprises three interlinked alkaline lakes and their surrounding territories.

The three lakes include; Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Bogoria. They are hydro-geologically connected to each other through sub-surface seepage of water. The alkaline in these lakes supports algae formation that serves as food for the flamingos.

This is home to the highest bird diversities in the world with 13 globally threatened bird species found here. It is one of the most important sites for the lesser flamingos with a record of around 4 million moving between these lakes. It is also a nesting and breeding ground for the great white pelicans.

There is also a sizable number of wild animals including the black rhino, Rothschild giraffe, lion, cheetah, and wild dogs. Activities in these areas for visitors include hiking, trekking, game viewing, photography, bird watching, guided walks along the lakes and community service.

Lake Naivasha

Lake Turkana National Park

This heritage site comprises three national parks located around Lake Turkana. This lake is the largest desert lake in the world covering over 250 kilometres.

The park is used as a stopping ground for migratory birds. It also forms a good breeding ground for the Nile crocodile which grows to massive sizes. It is also a good breeding ground for hippopotamus and snakes.

There was recent fossil evidence unearthed at the Koobi Fora deposit hence adopting the name ‘The cradle of mankind’. The components of this park include; Sibiloi National Park, Lake Turkana and Central Island.

Mount Kenya National Park

Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa at 5,199m. It is an ancient extinct volcano with 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the u-shaped glacial valleys.

The park was established to protect Mount Kenya, its wildlife and the surrounding environment. This forms a habitat for wild animals and a water catchment area.

Mt Kenya Forest


If you happen to plan a safari to Kenya, you can opt to add any of the highlighted sites in your itinerary for a chance to learn about the Kenyan culture and as well as the preserved natural sites that have endless resources needed for the survival of different species and improve the livelihood of the surrounding communities.

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20 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    In spite of having visited many UNESCO sites myself, I never knew the criteria for achieving that status. I didn’t realize that there were so many of those sites in Kenya. I’ve never thought of going to Africa for a trip, but you’ve made it look interesting and my next vacation may not be to Europe. 🙂

    • Anita says:

      Glad i made you consider Africa as part of your travel destination. Yes there are many heritage sites here and it is always good to know how they achieved the status. Makes visiting with a purpose more exciting.

  2. abioye olalekan says:

    First of all, i must commend you on this writeup.

    I have been opportuned to visit kenya about two different times but i wasnt chanced enough to check on those sites listed in this topic.

    this writeup is a big eye opener for me and will push me to do the needful in my next travel tour.

    thanks for sharing this with us.

  3. Clement says:

    Thank you very much for this comprehensive post, you must have put in a lot of energy in compiling this and I really appreciate that. I will consider Africa from my next vacation and try to visit the popular mount Kenya which is adjourned to be the second largest in Africa. Please is Kenya safe for vacation?

  4. Marios Tofarides says:

    Hey Anita,

    I will agree with Laurie. I have visited many UNESCO Heritage Sites as well -my country, Cyprus, has quite a few-, but I didn’t know there are so many criteria in order for a site to get this accreditation. I also wasn’t aware of Kenya’s World Heritage Sites. I am glad to know about them I love strolling in old towns with narrow, cobbled streets and old houses, as well as visiting national parks with great wildlife. I will have these in mind for when I visit Kenya.

    Thanks for letting us know! 🙂


    • Anita says:

      Hello Marios, I would also like to know more about the heritage sites in Cyprus. I bet they are a wonder. Hope you get to visit Kenya one day and add to your list of heritage sites you have encountered.

  5. Luke says:

    Hello Anita, very interesting article about UNESCO world heritage sites in Africa. Actually I didn`t know there are so many criteries to get to this UNESCO list. All those locations in Kenya look very amazing and it would be definitely worth to visit them. My favourite from your list are The Mount Kenya National Park and The Great Rift Valley Lake System. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Anita says:

      Hey Luke, am happy you took the time to read my article. I hope that one day you will get an opportunity to tour and visit the places that have caught you eye. 

  6. Autofreak says:

    Mijikenda Kaya Forest got my attention the most, because I just imagined how they were able to preserve the old culture, building, market and their way of life. If I will ever visit kenya or have someone that wants to visit Kenya as tourists, I will actually encourage them to check out these heritage site. A place where cars are not allowed to move, where people don’t use bike, it is a fascinating environment to take a look at.

    • Anita says:

      Yes, the Kaya are very interesting place to visit and for someone who loves birds watching there are a number of unique bird species in this forests not found anywhere. Lamu town is a unique area with their narrow streets that can not fit cars, though motorcycles are starting to be introduced as a mode of transport for people while the donkeys carry luggage.

  7. Festus says:

    Funny enough, just few days ago, i met a guy and as we discussed he jokingly said i spoke like a Kenya, i smiled, knowing i have never been to KenyaAnd today, you’ve shown me a few things that can actually bring me to Kenya. I had learnt about the rift system in my high school days, i would love to actually see that some day. Another location that truly piqued my interest is the Fort Jesus, firstly because of the name Jesus, whom i truly love, secondly, because it’s a fort built from the ancient times.The other sites are great too, but for me, it’s these first two sites i would visit, others may come after.Thanks Anita for sharing this enlightening post. Hope to come around some other time.

    • Anita says:

      If you talk like a Kenya, it will make it easy for you to blend in. Make a plan to visit Kenya and go to Mombasa City for a tour of the Fort, there is a lot of history to learn there in regard to the East African Trade and how it started.

  8. Seun Afotanju says:

    Thanks for this informative review, I didn’t know The Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests in Kenya is another entry to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kenya. I made my research online also and figured that  It is composed of 11 forest sites that are located along the coast of fortified villages by the Mijikenda people. These villages are locally known as kayas 

  9. Stratos K says:

    I had no idea what it needs for a location to become an UNESCO heritage site and I am surprised that Kenya has so many sites. Unfortunately more poor countries like Kenya has so many nice locations that we don’t know because of no exposure that is a real shame. Thank you for informing us.

    • Anita says:

      For a site to be featured as a heritage site, it needs to have some historical features that have remained untouched for centuries. I wouldn’t call Kenya a poor country because it is not and there is a lot of exposure on what it offers, maybe you should research some more if interested.

  10. Judy says:

    This is a wonderful topic. I would simply love to go to Kenya and see those beautiful lakes with the flamingoes and all the other bird life. Lamu would also be an intriguing place to visit because they have maintained the old ways and kept the heritage feel of the villages. Mount Kenya will have to be a helicopter trip for me. I don’t think I could climb that high. 

    I loved your description of the various places to visit and it was really good to include the brief history too. Is it best to travel Kenya as part of a guided tour or is it OK to travel independently? 

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Anita says:

      Hello Judy, 

      Glad you found the article worth. Welcome to Kenya you will have a good time.

      A guided tour or travelling independently all depends on your individuality, both can work well in Kenya. Most people who love adventure and exploring will travel independently armed with a map of the specific places they want to visit after researching on cost and other people’s reviews.

      A helicopter ride for Mount Kenya is superb with landing on some of the glacier lakes around the mountain.

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