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Kisumu is the principal city of western Kenya, the capital of Nyanza Province and the headquarters of Kisumu District. Kisumu is situated at an altitude of 1131m with direct access to the Winam Gulf, which leads to the vast expanses of the rest of Lake Victoria, covering a total area of 68.000 km2 – making it the largest freshwater lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Kisumu is served by Kisumu Airport, with regular daily flights to Nairobi and elsewhere. It is the third busiest airport in Kenya and recently it was expanded into being an International airport in line with Entebbe and Mwanza airports.

Oginga Odinga Street in Kisumu
The main street in Kisumu, Oginga Odinga is about 2 km long and there are beautiful old colonial style houses on each side of the street. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Kisumu was formely called Port Florence and was a landing point on the British flying boat passenger and mail route from Southampton to Cape Town. Today Kisumu has a population about a half million people making it the third largest town in Kenya. Actually Kisumu was declared a city during its centenary celebrations in 2001. Untill 1977 the port was one of Kenyas busiest ports and Lake Victoria ferries have operated from the port linking the railway to Mwanza and Bukoba in Tanzania, and to Entebbe, Port Bell, and Jinja in Uganda. Due to the demise of the East African Community, the ferries between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania has been discontinued, exept the ferry between Kisumu and Mwanza which still runs regularly. It seems with increasing cooperation between the Comesa countries, there are hope to regain former prosperity as the port might become a major International shipment point of petroleum products.

Loading cement
Workers takes a break while loading cement into a truck in Kisumu. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

The proximity to Lake Victoria gives the town a special feel and it is fascinating to wander along the shoreline to explore the daily life of the people here. In the afternoon the wind will often pick up over the lake and a welcome breeze can be felt along the shores. Most of the year Kisumu experiences a sweltering heat but during the rainy seasons from March to May and from October to December the weather pattern is prone to strong shifts and sometimes storms occur on the lake and strong winds can cool down things considerably near the shores. Kisumu is the stronghold of the Luo tribe and Siaya District, not far from Kisumu, became the centre of attention as the American President Barack Obama was elected, as his father was a Luo and came from this part of Kenya. Sarah Hussein Obama, grandmother of U.S. President Barack Obama, now enjoys numerous visits to her house in the village of Kogelo, near the shores of Lake Victoria, and the inauguration of President Obama was celebrated all over Kenya.

Boda boda in Kisumu
Boda boda – a bicycle taxi is a cheap and noisefree way of transport. In 2008 Tuk-tuk motorized scooters for up to 3-4 passengers got introduced in Kisumu, raising the noice level in the town centre considerably. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Kisumu attractions

Kisumu is a quite pleasant city and there is a much more relaxed atmosphere with much less traffic than in Nairobi. During the past 20-30 years the population of Kisumu have more than doubled and where there were shambas (small fields) in the 1970s, there are now suburbs and huge supermarkets where one can buy almost anything that your heart desires.

Bougainvillea flowers with Nandi Hills in the background
Bougainvillea flowers with Nandi Hills in the background. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

A particular lively place is Car wash where private vehicles as well as huge busses and trucks, basically are driven into the lake to be washed by hand. At Car Wash you can also enjoy some of the local fish – the tilapia, cooked with tasty spices and served with either ughali – a maize porridge that is the stable food in most of Kenya, rice or chapatis.

Cars and trucks are being washed in Lake Victoria
Car wash is the place in Kisumu where cars, buses and trucks in Kisumu are being driven into Lake Victoria to be washed by hand while the owner can have a freshly cooked tilapia in the small stalls nearby. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Another great attraction is Kiboko Bay, a small tented camp and restaurant situated right on the lakeside with the option of dining as you watch the sunset over Lake Victoria and many people in Kisumu spend their Sundays relaxing at Kiboko Bay Resort.

Couple enjoying the sunset at Kiboko Bay
Kiboko Bay is a great place to enjoy the spectacular sunsets over Lake Victoria. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Kisumu Beach Resort on the opposite side of the bay is another nice place to spend the day and enjoy the perfect views to Kisumu city across the bay. The Kisumu Yacht Club is for members only but you can pay for a “one day membership” and at the club you can sometimes watch the hippos while enjoying the Yacht Club’s exellent food.

Sunday afternoon at Kiboko Bay
One of Kisumus newer attractions is Kiboko Bay where people come on Sunday afternoons to enjoy the wonderful vistas of Lake Victoria. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Another good place for spotting birds is the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary which is a small patch of forest right behind Sunset Hotel where you (as the name suggests) can see impalas and they also have some cages with a leopard, hyena, baboons and other wildlife. Also of interest is the Kisumu Museum which features a display of local traditional customs and crafts. Outside there is a traditional Luo homestead consisting of the husband’s mud and thatch home and separate houses for each wife. Kisumu is probably the best place to buy Kisii soapstone carvings and the Kibuye market, one of the largest and most animated in Kenya, provides a fascinating glimpse into the day to day existence of the peoples of Western Kenya. There are numerous small villages around Lake Victoria of interest to the traveller. Dunga Beach, a small fishing village that you will pass by on your way to Kiboko Bay Resort, is a wonderful place to experience the traditional lifestyle of the fishermen.

Impalas by Lake Victoria
Two impalas on a backdrop of Lake Victoria, Kisumu Impala Sanctuary. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Boat trips on Lake Victoria

Setting out in a canoe early in the morning is a great way to experience Lake Victoria and contrary to many other places in Kenya there are no park fees. The bird list exceeds 100 species and also there are monitor lizards and sometimes Giant Otters along the lakeshore so remember to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars.

At Kiboko Bay Resort as well as Kisumu Beach Resort you can hire motorized boats and they also arrange some exellent fishing trips on the lake or even trips to visit Ndere Island National Park. Another (and depending on negotiating skills, sometimes cheaper option) is to book boat trips through local villagers/fishermen in Kisumu, Hippo Point, Dunga or other places along the shores though one should be aware that they often use smaller boats.

In the morning the lake is usually very calm, but in the afternoons where the wind picks up, sailing on the lake is not without risk and fishermen drown every year because of lack of safety precautions on the lake! If you venture out onto the lake, always ensure that the boatman brings along safety vests for everyone onboard! Also it is a very good idea to bring some sunscreen and a hat because in a boat you will be relentlessly exposed to the sun (and its reflections in the surface) and there will be nowhere to find shade until you reach the shore again.

White egret taking off
White egret, lake Victoria. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Actually Lake Victoria is somewhat of a bird-watchers delight and about 8km from Kisumu city you will find Kisumu Heronry. Also there are many fascinating and idyllic islands in the lake such as Ndere Island, Rusinga Island, Mfangano Island and Takawire Island and on the Ugandan side tourism have picked up on the jungle clad Sese islands. Also Kisumu is the main hub for visiting other places in Western kenya such as Kakamega Forest, Mount Elgon, Saiwa Swamp, Kit Mikaye, Siaya, Kericho, Kisii and Uganda.

A few hundred meter from Dunga lies Kiboko Bay Resort, where you can stay in big luxury tents and have dinner while enjoying the beautiful views over Lake Victoria – famous not only for its size but also for the often quite spectacular sunsets. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

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