The Central Highlands are located north of Nairobi. Bound in the east by the Thika-Meru road and in the west by the Siracho escarpment, they finish just beyond the town of Maralal. From the point of view of safari, the main areas of interest are the Laikipia plateau, the Aberdares and Mt Kenya.
Intensively farmed, the land immediately north of Nairobi goes from gum tree and pineapple plantations to coffee until – after Nyeri – it is increasingly characterised by a mix of small holdings, ranches, and by the Aberdare uplands and the foothills of Mt Kenya. As altitudes increase, so the land is less cultivated, with rain and bamboo forests dominating, before giving way to moorland. Altitudes go from 1,500m to just under 4000m. Average rainfall levels range from Nairobi’s 790mm to 2000mm in the Aberdares and low lying regions of Mt Kenya. Between Nairobi and Nyeri, average annual temperatures are fairly constant, ranging from 16°C and 19°C.* Beyond here, the northern half of the Central Highlands – collectively known as the Laikipia – becomes an enormous interconnected and increasingly arid patchwork of ranches. Average annual rainfall levels decrease the further one travels north, with Kisima receiving 440mm, and temperatures increase to an average of around 22°C.
The range of climates in the Central Highlands makes for a fascinating range of flora and fauna. While known more for its flora – and its importance as a natural water tower – the Aberdares is home to 40 species of animal, with low numbers of lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard present. Mountainous forest specialists include the melanistic black leopard and the eastern bongo, a forest antelope usually found between 3000 and 4000m. As with much of the rest of the country, January to March and late June through to October is when it is dry, and animals tend to congregate around permanent water sources. However, given the altitudinal range of the Aberdares, and the more permanent cover available, wildlife here is less easy to spot than it is in the plains. During the wet season (March through to May and from October to December), the animals disperse across the area, are very difficult to see, and wildlife viewing – at this time in the Aberdares – becomes much more the preserve of scientists than of travellers. Night time temperatures can drop below 10°C.
The Laikipia is an altogether different proposition. Moving north from a vegetation characterised by moorlands and rainforest through an area of cultivation and into savannah and acacia, it falls gradually – from an altitude of 2000m to 1,700m – and becomes increasingly dry, with an average annual rainfall range of between 700mm and 450mm. In terms of surface water, its only permanent source is the Ewaso Ngiro River, which flows north before curving east into Samburu. Very dry between January to March and late June through to October, wildlife congregates in the riverine habitats along Ewaso Ngiro, and around the waterholes found throughout the Laikipia. A valuable and – conservation-wise – important fauna and flora resource, the Laikipia is vulnerable to pressure from burgeoning human settlements, an early indication of which was had in 2009, when over-irrigation in its upper reaches caused a drought affected Ewaso Ngiro to run dry.
*Please be advised that these figures do not include Mt Kenya proper.