Perhaps no one country in Africa offers travelers the truest sense of the continent as a whole as does Kenya. When one’s mind pictures the typical African bush scenes—herds of wildebeests charging through the savannas, lions, zebras, and elephants doing their thing, all set against the backdrop of Africa’s immense and beautiful landscape—one surely must be imagining Kenya.

Ernest Hemingway didn’t discover Kenya, but he likely is as responsible as any Westerner for rekindling the modern world’s imagination of it by penning numerous stories and novels during his long stays there. In fact, on more than one occasion, the writer nearly lost his life there. Suffice to say, such titles as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and The Green Hills of Africa renewed the public’s interest in this strange land. However the imagination can’t compare to the real thing!

Like all of Africa, Kenya has a checkered past, owing to its time as a colonial holding by several different powers from roughly 1500 to 1963, when Kenya held its first free elections. Today, Kenya is one of Africa’s most modern countries, boasting protected parks, concern for its environment, and two modern and functional cities in Mombassa and Nairobi. Nairobi, in particular, is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city, which features the country’s financial infrastructure, and is the third largest city in Africa. Nairobi is, however a fairly dangerous city, and crime is a concern in certain areas.

For nature lovers, or anyone interested in anthropology, natural history, photography or just witnessing such sheer diversity in wildlife and fauna which the Discovery Channel can’t begin to do justice, then Kenya is the place of dreams. For this, one must visit the Masai Mara National Reserve. This reserve, belonging to the well-known Masai people, features over 1500 km of grasslands, gorgeous blue skies, and depending on the time of year, either hundreds of thousands or millions of the main animals that Africa is known for: lions, rinos, elephants, gazelle, giraffe, impala, leopards, gazelle, and many more. Although just glimpsing any of these animals is worth the trip, planning for a July-August visit is recommended. Although the park can be overrun with minibuses and tourists during this period, it is for good reason—this is the time of the year for the wildebeest migration, when almost endless numbers of these strange creatures enter the park.

Certainly visitors should spend some time meeting the keepers of this reserve, the Masai themselves. These semi-nomadic people are known for their beautiful, bright clothes, and their colorful jewelry, but are a troubled people. Struggling to remain true to their heritage the government, for years, has been trying to assimilate them into modern Kenya. So far, they have managed to remain firm against the encroachment of the modern world, but their way of life is continually under threat.

Another much smaller, yet uniquely intimate park, is Hell’s Gate National Park. Located just 90 km from Nairobi, this 68 sq km park offers tourists and those with a need to feel the earth beneath their feet, a chance to do just that. With a 22 km trail that is perfect for hiking or biking, visitors to Hell’s Gate will have the chance to come face to face with zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and more. Don’t let the tough name fool you, the park is a beautiful and idyllic place, featuring plenty of adventure activities.

Kenya is one of Africa’s most developed countries, and certainly one of its most tourist-friendly. From safaris to shopping in Nairobi, travelers will fulfill their dreams, and take the memories of the sights, sounds, and people with them for the rest of their lives.