Discover National Museums of Kenya
18. Desert Museum, Loiyangalani
Located a top a moderate hill backdropped by the picturesque Lake Turkana, this museum that opened in June 2008 is also known as Loiyangalani Museum owing to proximity to the small town. The Desert Museum was established to promote, preserve and celebrate the diversity of cultures found in this region. Loiyangalani, which in the local Samburu means ‘the place of many trees’, grew from the presence of freshwater springs and which can be termed as an oasis in the desert has been a meeting-place for about fourteen tribes for many decades.
19. Koobi Fora Museum
Kenya as a Cradle of Mankind in Africa owes a large chunk of this fame to Koobi Fora Museum, which earned its enigmatic repute for valorous efforts to answer one of the most fundamental question about the evolution of man. In the recent two centuries of studies, people have tried to define the biological origin of man and his path of evolution. Notable about Koobi Fora Museum, set in a country rich in landscape and culture, is that it greatly contributes to the understanding of the origin of man as a species over the last million years. Research at Koobi Fora, on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, began in 1968, led by Dr. Richard Leakey and, by 1994, over 200 hominid and animal fossils had been found here; more than any collection the world had ever produced in 60+ years. Unique to Koobi Fora Museum is that it plainly sets-down when the 2 sub-families of old world monkeys (colobinae and cercopithecinae) started to morphologically and ecologically diversify as documented in its formations. It holds over 10000 man and animal fossils. Koobi Fora holds the world’s plentiful record of human pre-history. The longest and most complete chronicle of human ancestry spanning over 27 million years and a rich fossil heritage stretching back over 100 million years into the dinosaur age. This is the largest and passably well-documented collection of human related fossils that exists. It is unmatched anywhere in the world, with most of its relics kept at National Museums of Kenya Headquarters.
20. Meru Museum
The circular trip around Mount Kenya reaches Meru Town about 16 kms north of Nkubu on a fascinating drive through the hitcher of thither of the 6th largest urban centre in Kenya. It has no less that thirty well established tourist grade hotels in and around the town and all the indispensable logistics one may need, including banking. For many years Meru Town has had one of the most enliven nightlife scenes in Central Kenya and a flourishing food and hotel industry. For many travellers to the region it’s more of a necessary milestone. Nevertheless it has a few stopovers to interest the visitor. Meru Museum is situated between Barclays Bank Meru and Meru County Hotel within the township and along the B6 Embu-Meru Road. Built in 1917 as a seven-rooms residence for the District Commissioner and the first stone building in Meru Town, it was reestablished in 1974 as the Meru Museum. It expositions cultural artefacts and historical mementos associated with the Ameru Community. A compound of traditional huts has been constructed on the grounds, with a miniature animal orphanage and snake pit. A faded statue of Mugwe, the God-chosen man believed to be the divine leader of the Ameru Community lends credence to the set of beliefs in the region. Occasionally you can catch a group of dancers and musical stagings.
21. Njuri Ncheke Headquarters at Nchiru
The Njuri-Ncheke Headquarters at Nchiru is one the most important historical and cultural pillars of the Meru Community. For many years their headquarters building, donated in 1985 to the National Museum of Kenya to be held in trust on behalf of the people of Kenya, has served as a great attraction. Njuri Ncheke, or the panel of clan judges, is the indigenous institution of governance in Meru County and which still holds merit in the modern-day Ameru prerogatives. This oval-shaped brick holding with a domed roof built in the 1960’s and referred to as “Nyomba ya Njuri” or the House of Njuru Ncheke offers a rare glimpse of the well-guarded process and sagacity of the supreme governing council of elders and apex of the Meru traditional judicial system. “It’s here that the elders meet to discuss serious matters that involve their community as well as settle serious strife involving the Meru people” – David Muchui. After independence, Njuri Ncheke experienced a lull that saw the shrine abandoned, leading to vandalism and theft of rare hardwood used in its roofing. It is important to note that each of the Meru sub-tribes have their own unique Njuri-Ncheke Shrine. Another easily accessible shrines is Rwerea Shrine located in Mikinduri about 1 km from Mikinduri Center along Mikinduri-Mlango Road, the court of Tigania sub-tribe.
22. Thimlich Ohinga
Located 46 kms northwest of Migori Town, Thimlich Ohinga thought to be built in 16th Century is arguably the largest and best preserved traditional enclosures depicting early settlements typical of the first pastoral communities in the Lake Victoria Basin. The most obvious features are the dry-stone wall of interlocking brick configuration that encircles the landscape in a fort-like formation, and the low entrances which ensured maximum security. Up until now, its surrounding landscape has retained its jungle-like atmosphere. Formerly known as the Liare Valley or the “frightening dense forest”, this area presented unique challenges not least of impending predatory wildlife, tribal hostilities and brutal raiders. Inside the larger stone wall are shorter walls that demarcate the property into different areas, for livestock and occupation. Further, the areas for occupation have been clearly demarcated in accordance to the traditional system of living still seen widely in the region. It provides an invaluable yardstick to reference the spatial planning and early settlement patterns around Lake Victoria basin. Thimlich Ohinga Landscape was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2018, “as a stellar testimony of settlement patterns and spatial community relations in Lake Victoria area, which documents the successive occupation by different people from various linguistic origins during an important episode in the settlement between the 16th and 17th centuries. It is located 10 kms north of Macalder Site, and reached via Migori-Muhuru Road or Migori-Nyarongi Road.
“There’s a lot of pointing. A festival of pointing and at very close range to other people’s eyes, given the width of the space. Also detracting from the exhibit’s salient potential tranquility is the display cabinet of pinned specimens along one wall. I found this disturbing from the start. You don’t see a whole lot of stuffed polar bears in the polar bear exhibit at the zoo, for instance. And the butterflies have phenomenal vision so it’s not like they can’t see the mass crucifixion in their midst. I was offended on behalf of the butterflies and thus pleased with my offense. So let the empathizing begin! This volunteering thing was working already. I am a good person, hear me give!” – Sloane Crosley
23. Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, as one of the most outstanding and well preserved examples of 16th Century Portuguese military fortification and a landmark in the history of this type of construction. During the 16th Century the Swahili towns remained generally independent of Portugal’s control and under the government of their traditional Shirazi ruling families. However, due to Portugal’s disruptive commercial policy, the 16th Century was a period of decline. During the second half of the century a new oceanic power, Turkey, made two brief appearances on the Swahili Coast and succeeded in inciting local revolts against the Portuguese. After defeating the Turks, the Portuguese decided to consolidate their power in East Africa by keeping a permanent garrison in order to ensure continued control on their dominions. The construction of Fort Jesus of Mombasa began in 1593 to the designs of Jao Batista Cairato, an Italian architect in the employ of Portugal in India. It is a heavily fortified building with elaborate outworks, moats and salients to counter the effectiveness and accuracy of the new projectiles. The salients were so arranged that any bastion could come to the aid of the other by means of crossfire. Its plan consists of a central court, with bastions at corners. Gunports and turrets were placed to control entering ships, and the main street.
24. Karen Blixen Museum
Many on leaving the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage double-back along Magadi Road turn left on Bogani East Road and drive to its end to join Karen Road for a drop-in on the Karen Blixen Museum – the former residence of the exceptional penman of Out of Africa. Born Karen Christenze Dinesen on April 17th, 1885, in Denmark, Karen arrived in Kenya during WW1 in 1913, where she spend her next 17 years at this house – the centre piece of a 4500-acres farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills – before returning to Denmark in 1931. She would later rivet and tantalize many a reader with her exotic descriptions of Kenya’s beautiful landscapes in the bestseller Out of Africa, released in 1937 soon after returning to Denmark. Still and all, Karen Blixen would go on to become the most rhapsodized about aristocratic settler in pre-independent Kenya. Her residence, which displays her atypical and punctilious styling, was converted to a museum in 1986 soon after the adaptation into screenplay of Out of Africa in 1985. It’s open daily from 8:30 am to 6 pm and found 2 kms from Karen Center.
25. Judiciary Museum, Nairobi
Nairobi City is home to more than one monumental and recognizable building that easily gives away its past association with British Empire (from the colossal Kenya Railway Headquarters to the Supreme Court; abutting with KICC) which have long been an integral part of the cityscape in additions to newer ones like Times Tower, UAP Old Mutual Tower, and Britam Towers. Many of the former house antiquities of the history of the British Empire in museum and galleries. Established in 2016 within the Supreme Court Building in collaboration with the Kenya National Museums, Judiciary Museum (sometimes known as Sheria Musuem) expositions important documents, numerous objects of great judicial value to include carvings of the eight previous Chief Justices who have served in Kenya, and a photographic gallery showcasing the broad history of Kenya’s Law and Judicial System. The only of its kind in Kenya, Judiciary Museum lifts the veil of skepticism often associated with rule of law. It was inspired by the need to open up the Judiciary System to the public, as an approach to bring about a general appreciation and understanding of the changes in Judicial Institutions.
26. Railway Museum
Rather underwhelming when considered by itself, it is, in the context of what it represents, one of the most significant historic landmarks in Kenya. Since 1971, the Museum has given nostalgic pleasure to both train lovers and history buffs. It records, protects, and displays a telling memorabilia of the famous “Lunatic Express” that began service in 1896. It was a huge triumph for the British East Africa Company and an expensive one, costing some £5.5m, or almost £650m in today’s money. The 970 kms Kenya-Uganda Railways, connecting Mombasa and Kampala, through an unpeopled hinterland lurking more dangers than one can shake a stick at, was the most substantial and seminal projects undertaken by the British East Africa Company. It took 36,811 workers 8-years (1895-1903) to complete the line. 2,493 workers died during the construction of the railway. As a pay-off, the Kenya-Uganda Railway opened the hinterland more rapidly than ever before, leaving in its wake a snowballing number of towns; including Nairobi. It gained its legendary status as the Lunatic Express, in part, because of a pair of man-eating lions that grind its construction to a halt. It is worth mentioning that it was the policy of Great Britain to allow her merchants to establish commercial relations with the natives by opening trade relations, but not until the trade becomes profitable and private enterprise have established the value of trade did she raise her flag and claim them as British possessions and exercise governmental control. In Kenya, the British East Africa Company was chartered to spearhead the development and growth of East Africa Region.
27. Nairobi National Museum
Ground in 1929 as the Coryndon Museum, it was reestablished in 1963 as the Nairobi National Museum. “At his unexpected death in 1927, Lady Coryndon established the Coryndon Memorial Fund to build a better museum for the society in memory of her husband. The government offered matching funds for public donations and in 1928 construction began”. The National Museum of Kenya aims to collect, preserve, study, document and exposition Kenya’s rich past and present. It houses a tremendous array of artefacts, sculptures, historic mementos and pictographic galleries. In addition to the museum, visitors are treated to a variety of shopping and dining facilities as well as its botanical gardens that offer a serene outdoor space for walking. It is open daily and year round from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. It’s found at Museum Hill along Waiyaki Way.
28. Kariandusi Museum
Nakuru is rich in the remains of prehistoric man, and Kariandusi Museum, 7 kms beyond Gilgil and passing Kekopey Centre, is one of the most important in Kenya. It was first excavated in 1928 under the guidance of Dr. L.S.B Leakey yielding numerous links in the chain of human evolution, with abundant fossil remains dating back 700,000 to 1 million years. Kariandusi is plausibly the first Acheulian Site to have been found in Situ in East Africa. Thereafter, excavation progressed almost continuously for two decades, and it is possible to visit these sites and stand where these discoveries, so important to the history of mankind, were made. Key interest for visitors include the museum exhibition hall, field archaeological site, nature trail to the gorge and Church of Goodwill. Kariandusi also lies just east of Lake Elementaita and is flanked by Menengai Crater on the north and Eburru Mountains found on the south. It is located just 2 kms off the Gilgil-Nakuru Road and can be explored in combination with Lake Elementaita.
29. Hyrax Hill Museum
North of Lake Nakuru National Park, shortly before arriving at Nakuru Town nearby Shree Jalaram Aradhana Temple, sits the Hyrax Hill Museum, a former farm house containing an interesting display of stone age utensils and tools. It is named after the hyraxes living in cracks within its hill. It was established, in 1943, to depict the lifestyle of seasonal settlement by prehistoric people at least 3,000 years old. The compact museum exhibits the artefacts excavated from the Hyrax Hill archaeological site and from other sites in the Central Rift Valley. For nature lovers, a day at the Hyrax Hill overlooking Lake Nakuru is one of the finest viewpoints provided the weather is good. Other areas of interest include the Sirikwa Holes, the nature trail and picnic site, and camping ground. Hyrax Hill Museum is located 4 kms from Nakuru Town along Nakuru-Nairobi Road.
30. Koitalel Arap Samoei Museum
This Museum, in Nandi Hills Town, honours the legendary leader Koitalel Arap Samoei who led one of the most famous resistance against the ‘British Rule’ in Kenya – dubbed as Nandi Resistance – at the height of colonial occupation in Kenya. On October 19, 1905, on the grounds of what is now Nandi Bears Club, Koitalel Arap Samoei was asked to meet Col Richard Meinertzhagen for a truce. Instead, Meinertzhagen killed Koitalel and his entourage in cold blood. Sosten Saina, a grand-nephew of one of Arap Samoei’s bodyguards notes: “There were about 22 of them who went for a meeting with the “mzungu” that day. Koitalel Arap Samoei had been advised not to shake hands because if he did, that would give him away as the leader. But, he extended his hand, and was shot at point-blank range. At the Koitalel Arap Samoei Museum there are two huge symbolic fig trees; one believed to mark the actual patch where his body was buried. The Koitalel Museum expositions memorabilia and relics of the venerated leader, as well as, diversified artefacts which depict the cultures of the Nandi Community.
31. Narok Museum
One of the highly-recommended stopovers within Narok Town is at the rather modest, yet, highly informational Narok Museum. The pocket-sized museum located along the B3 Mai Mahiu-Narok-Mara-Kaplong Road at the entrance of Narok Town is appreciably easy to reach. It exhibits a photographic gallery and artefacts that aims to preserve the beauty and strength of the rich traditional heritage of the Maasai, and other speakers of the Maa language. Of particular interest at Narok Museum are the 24 reproductions of Joy Adamson’s artworks that depicts the traditional-life of the Maasai, also known as Masai or Maa. The collection is selected from her vast highly-praised ethnographical art collection featuring almost 6,000 pieces. “The Maasai are noble, aristocratic people with an impressive physical appearance and a technology appropriate to the harsh environmental conditions of their tropical savannah habitat” National Museum.
32. Nyeri Museum
The establishment of Nyeri Fort in 1902 emboldened colonial penetration at a huge cost to the socio-economic system of the natives, interrupting and forever changing the outlook of Nyeri. Foremost on the agenda was the appropriation of native land and labour, in most cases with a general application of force and esoteric pre-capitalist modes of production to obtain both. To make commercial headway, the colonial government employed natives to build roads, bridges and forts. And for convenience, the laborers were forced to settle in Nyeri Township demarcated on basis of class and race – the newcomer settlers living in the Ring Road area, the Asians at Asian Quarter and natives in insufficient and informal native areas. Thus the Town grew. To maintain and reinforce law and order, the Native Law Courts – part of which houses Nyeri Museum – was established in 1924. “Its main objective was to deal with customary law cases, previously dealt by clan elders in the villages.” It would later become popular for sentencing of captured Mau Mau fighters. The nearby Ruringu Police Station was then used to detain the Mau Mau prisoner. Both these sites are also National Monuments.
33. Paxtu House
Set in the lovely grounds of Outspan Hotel, this modest two bedroom cottage-style house with views of Mount Kenya was a residence for Baden Powell, best-known as the founder of Scout Movement and author of the best-seller Aids to Scouting. Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell spent his grey years of life here between 1938 to 1941. It was no coincidence that he stayed at Outspan. “After graduating in 1908, Sherbrooke Walker was associated with the Scouting Movement, and was a personal secretary to Robert Baden-Powell. He was one of its two first Scout inspectors, overseeing Wales and the South of England. He was also present at Baden-Powell’s initial Scout camp in Humshaugh in 1908, and toured Canada with sixteen Scouts in 1910 to demonstrate Scouting”. Since his death on January 8th, 1941, this abode has been a bucket-list site for many a scout. Inside Paxtu House there are innumerable tributes and memorabilia left behind by scouts from almost every country. The Golden Book, an autograph by visiting scouts, is particularly engaging. In accordance to their family’s wishes, Baden-Powell and Lady Olive Baden-Powell were buried at the Nyeri Cemetery.
34. Kenyatta House, Maralal
“It is at Kenyatta House, in what is eke-named the Runda of Maralal, the leafy suburbs of Samburu, that Independence was negotiated.” On top of that, “Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was confined here for one-and-a-half years after his arrest in Kapenguria. He lived here with his young family when the negotiations for Independence from the British rulers were being made. Mzee authored his book while facing Mount Kenya through one window there, hence the book title.” – S. Murumba. Originally built as a residence for a senior British officer working in Samburu, the 3-bedrooms bungalow set-up on 28 acres nearby Maralal became the unconditional residence for Kenya’s first president – then a detainee of the colonial forces – between April 1960 and August 1961; after his transfer from Lodwar House in Marsabit for alleged involvement with Mau Mau. In any case, the winds of change were signaling a new dawn for independent Kenya and not long after his brief stay here Kenyatta would go on to take the helm as President of Kenya, relocating to a stately mansion built at his hometown of Gatindu by the Colonial Government. It was also at Kenyatta House that Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s 4th president, was conceived. This is located 1 km from Maralal Town.
Trans Nzoia County
35. Kitale Museum
Kitale, the largest town in Trans Nzoia and its capital, sits roughly at the center of the county and it is not only a useful logistic but also a cultural and business hub. Kitale stands at the centre of a system of main roads, and with great roads radiating out of it to other major towns, it connects the Counties of Kakamega, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu and Bungoma. Kitale dominates the area, being one of the seven larger towns of Kenya. It is basically a market town from which the agricultural and dairy produce are distributed. Its impetus for growth were the fertile plains in the western half of the area and the arrival of the Kitale branch of the Kenya-Uganda Railway. As a result of its good location, fertile soils and favourable climate, Kitale attracted many settler farmers and Asian traders. First opened to the public in 1924 as Stoneham Museum, Kitale Museum became the first regional museum in Kenya. It found its name from the famous naturalist Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Stoneham who first operated it as his private collection of insects, animals and books. In 1974, Stoneham was reestablished as the Museum of Western Kenya. Consequently, it was revamped with a motley collection of ethnographic material relating to communities living in Trans Nzoia and renamed as the Kitale Museum. It’s found 1 km from Kitale.
36. Wajir Museum
In 1940, during the Italian invasions, Wajir Town was momentarily evacuated. Both parties (Italy and Britain) were fervent on owning the land rights of Wajir because of its treasured Orahey Wells which are the only permanent source of water north of the Ewaso Nyiro – at Habaswein 106 kms south. The British had officially occupied Wajir in 1912 to prevent Boranas and other tribes from being driven away from these wells. “In 1921 the military took over the administration of the district until September 1925, and then reverted to civil administration in 1928, the border being shifted north of Modo Gashe to the line of Ewaso Nyiro and Lake Dera. Until 1917, Wajir was a sub-district of Bulsesa. In 1918, Wajir became a district of its own”. Contained at one of the oldest buildings in Wajir Town, Wajir Museum caches the eccentric history of Wajir County and that of the Somali Clans. The Museum was officially open on April 19th, 2011, with an objective to offer a glimpse of the rich cultural, historical and natural heritage of Northern Kenya and its interaction with the world. It houses a gripping display that reflects on the history, traditions, and customs of the Somali clans of Wajir.
West Pokot County
37. Kapenguria Museum
Despite the fact that a reasonable number of locals were tried and sentenced at Kapenguria ‘African Court’, it is the trial of the Kapenguria Six (Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei and Achieng Oneko) that shed light upon it. The Kapenguria Six had been arrested on the night of October 21st, 1952, side by side with dozens of other perceived Mau Mau and KAU veterans; in an operation dubbed Jock Scott. The intention was never to give the six a fair trial, but more to keep them away from the escalating social unrest taking roots countrywide. On that account, the trials dragged-on for as long as possible, before they were sentenced to seven years with hard labour. The next stop for the Kapenguria Six was Kapenguria Cells, which would later be refurbished as Kapenguria Museum. Situated within Kapenguria Town, the Museum was opened to the public in 1993 and displays a memorial library in honour of all heroes who participated in the struggle for independence known as Uhuru Memorial Library. Then, there’s the Pokot ethnographic gallery which houses artefacts and a photographic collections on the Pokot Tribe, the Pokot Cultural Homestead, and the Cherangany-Sengwer Gallery. Although all the Kapenguria Six have all passed on their legacies are perpetuated at Kapenguria.