The region derives its name from the Bantu word nyanza that literally translates to a large mass of water. Nyanza is home to Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake. The region is located on the south-western part of Kenya, bordering Uganda with Kisumu City the third largest city in Kenya. The region has 6 counties in total, namely; Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii and Nyamira.

Kisumu County

Situated on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest inland lake and the world’s second largest freshwater lake after Lake Superior in the USA, Kisumu has breathtaking sunsets on the lake. It has remnants of fine colonial architecture close to the lake. Lake Victoria port was founded in 1901 as the main inland terminal for the Kenya-Uganda Railway.

On December 20 1901, Florence Preston nailed in the last nail sleeper of the Uganda Railway and the lakeside port was re-named Port Florence after the chief engineer’s wife. A year later, it reverted to Kisumu derived from the Luo language Dholuo word, “sumo” meaning ‘a place to barter or trade’. The city has a “Friendship” status with Cheltenham, UK and a “sister city” status with Roanoke, Virginia and Boulder, Colorado, USA.

Kisumu was identified by British explorers in early 1898 as a railway terminus and port for the Uganda railway, then under construction. It was to replace Port Victoria, near the mouth of Nzoia River, which was an important centre on the caravan trade route. It was strategically located on the cusp of Winam Gulf, at the end of the caravan trail from Pemba and Mombasa. It had the potential to connect the Lake region by steamer. In July 1899, the first skeleton plan for Kisumu was prepared. This included landing places and wharves along the northern lakeshore, near the present day Airport Road.

Attractions in Kisumu

Hippo point: Once a popular picnic site on the shores of Lake Victoria about 3km from town, it’s a nice place to see sunsets on the lake.

Dunga village: Close to Hippo Point with a fishing port.

Kisumu Impala Sanctuary: On the shores of Lake Victoria, is a meager but interesting one- square-kilometre wildlife sanctuary. It is home to the last herds of impala that were once around town and a white rhino and zebras. A few hippos frequent it at night including pythons and monitor lizards. There are several caged baboons and leopards rescued from human-wildlife conflict areas. Over 115 different species of birds have been recorded here. It is 3km from Kisumu city. What to look out for: White rhino, the threatened sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope that lives in the reeds, impala, caged animals like baboons, leopard, cheetah and lions.

Kit Mikayi a large rocky outcrop with three towering rocks. It is off the Kisumu-Bondo Road. Kit-mikayi means “Stones of the first wife” in Dholuo, the Luo language. It is believed that Mikayi (“the first wife”) went up the hill to the stones when her husband took a second wife. She has been weeping ever since.

Kisumu Museum has the largest exhibition of the UNESCO-sponsored ‘Ber-gi-dala’ or a Luo traditional homestead. The museum buildings are set to look like a Luo homestead replicating the culture of the area with the museums main gallery facing the entrance like a typical Luo household. It is a few kilometres from town.

Main attractions: cultural artifacts like weapons, hunting tools and utensils used traditionally by the Luo. There are stuffed mammals, snakes and birds, an aquarium and a snake park.

Ndere Island National Park is a 4.2 km2 park on the outskirts of Kisumu town off the northern shore of Lake Victoria, opened in November 1986. A five-minute motor-boat ride will get you to the island.

What to look out for:

Impalas, sitatunga, the migrant blue swallow

How to get there

Roads:

Access to the park can be by road or boat from Kisumu

Airstrips:

Kisumu Airport – 60 km away. There are neither park roads nor park gates.

Activities:

Hiking in the long savannah grass, picnicking, camping, game viewing, bird watching.

Ruma National Park is named by one of Kenya’s most powerful wizards, the much-feared Gor Mahia who lived near the park. The park was established as Lambwe Valley game reserve in 1966 to protect the endemic population of the rare roan antelope, whose population is now on the verge of extinction numbering approximately 40. The increasingly rare intra-African migrant, the blue swallow from South Africa is seen here. Black rhinos have also been recently translocated here.

Location: The Park lies on the shores of Africa’s largest inland lake, Lake Victoria. It is 140 km from Kisumu, 10 km east of Lake Victoria and South West of Homa Bay and 425 km west of Nairobi. The Park is 120 km2.

Major attractions

Roan antelope, black rhino, leopard, buffalo, hyena, Rothschild giraffe, oribi, Jackson and lelwel hartebeest, impala, Bohor reedbuck, serval cat, baboons, vervet monkey, honey badgers, bush pig and many more.

The park is an IBA with over 400 species of birds.

Activities: Game drive, bird watching, picnic, camping, team building, meditation, sightseeing.

Where to stay: There are two campsites – Nyati and Fig Tree

Outside Kisumu:

• Impala Eco-Lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria by Impala Park very upmarket

• Wildlife Clubs of Kenya near the lake – campsite, cottages and hostels for schools

• Sunset Hotel on Lake Victoria

• Nyanza Club

• Keisos House, Koru near Songhor prehistoric site– a beautiful homestay halfway between Nairobi and Kampala.

• Nandi Bears Club on the golf course near Nandi hills close to South Nandi forest.

• Mbita Point: Lake Victoria Safari Village

( village@safarikenya.net) has ensuite bandas and two rooms in

a lighthouse giving spectacular views of the lake and the

islands.   Bungoma County

Alego Nyangoma Kogelo village is the official birthplace of Barack Obama Snr, the father of the United States’ first black president, Barack Obama. The sleepy village in southeast Alego in Siaya County Council and Alego Constituency became famous overnight when Barack Obama vied for presidency for USA in 2006. Obama’s grandmother, Sarah Obama is a popular figure in the village. To visit her requires a clearance letter from either the police in Siaya town.

Got Ramogi Hill was the home of the great grandfather of the Luo community when the Luo first settled on the shore of lake Victoria.

Activities

• Visit the Got Ramogi historical hills for a view of the western Rift Valley, which includes lake Kanyaboli and the Yala swamp, one of the largest after the Okavango delta.

• An ancient tree called ‘omwonyo le’ meaning an axe swallower, is believed to have swallowed an axe when someone tried to cut it down. Many witch doctors come from other African countries such as the Congo, DRC, Tanzania and Uganda for its leaves to treat people.

• Jaramogi Oginga Odinga mausoleum is 60km from Kisumu town. It is the final resting place of the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice-president. The Luo Heroes’ Exhibition Centre on Jaramogi’s homestead in Bondo, Western Kenya holds a collection of cultural symbols and traditional artifacts and regalia of the African tribes.

Kanam Prehistoric site is on the shores of Lake Victoria on Homa peninsula near the Homa Mountain. Louis Leakey’s expedition in 1932 discovered a fossil human mandible and Pleistocene fauna including prehistoric stone tools. Recent finds are palaeontological bones dating between 1 and 6 million years ago.

Kanjera Prehistoric site and Kanjera hot springs (Bala Rawi).

These hot salty springs where eggs can be boiled is where Doctor Louis Leakey in 1932 found cranial and funeral fragments of hominids. These were estimated to be 500 years old. Local people collect salt from the evaporated salt water.

Luanda Magere Site and Grave is along Nyando river. Luanda was a warrior, believed to be made of stone. Nobody could kill him. When war broke out between the Luo and Kipsigis tribes, Luanda killed many Kipsigis. The Kipsigis came up with a strategy. Luanda was given a woman from the Kipsigis tribe to marry. The woman learned the secret of Luanda’s life when he fell sick and asked his wife to treat his shadow. When the fight broke out again between the two tribes, the woman told her people the secret of Luanda’s life. A warrior threw a spear into Luanda’s shadow, killing him. Luanda turned into a stone, which still lies on the spot. It is believed by hunters around this place that if you sharpen a spear on the rock, you can make a kill easily. This story is compared with the biblical story of Samson.

• Songhor Paleontology Site is situated in the sugarcane area of Nyando about half an hour’s drive from Luanda Magere Site towards Nandi hills. The Miocene site dates 19 million years. There is evidence of a large variety of animals that lived here. The fossil humanoids collected from this site range from small to big apes.

• Thimlich Ohinga litterally refers to a “frightening dense forest” in Dholuo language. Thimlich Ohinga is a unique architectural stone structure in Nyanza province, 181 km south of Kisumu in Migori district. Archaeological record of materials found within the site date 500 years ago. The site lies on a gentle sloping hill 46 km northwest of Migori town near Macalders’ Mines.

Tom Mboya Mausoleum near Kasawanga on Rusinga Island has mementos and a few of the many gifts that Mboya received in his lifetime though many have disappeared. It is near Mbita Point.