Dazzling Sunsets, Vibrant Luo Festivals, and Placid Nature Retreats in Kisumu, Kenya
Visitors are captivated by glorious displays as the sun goes down over Lake Victoria. | Photo: Evans Dims

Dazzling Sunsets, Vibrant Luo Festivals, and Placid Nature Retreats in Kisumu, Kenya

Discover enchantment in the heart of Kenya’s western region against the stunning backdrop of the largest freshwater lake in Africa, Lake Victoria — from the beats of traditional music to graceful impalas to lively local markets. In this place that moves to the tempo of lakeside life, Kisumu offers down-to-earth charm. Pack your sense of adventure and embark on a responsible exploration of one of the country’s hidden gems. 

~ This guide is a collaboration between local expert Valery Opondo and frequent visitor Susan Onyango ~

Kisumu , Kenya

Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my city, I always recommend going straight to busy Dunga Beach because it embodies the community pride of Kisumu. It’s where locals come to enjoy the beauty of Lake Victoria as fishermen sail their traditional boats and the sound of laughter and socialising fills the air.

The best time to be here is during the annual Luo Festival, held in December. That’s when the rich cultural heritage of the Luo people, the largest ethnic group in Kisumu, is proudly showcased through traditional dances and music performances.

I tell first-time travellers to explore Kibuye Market with its wonderful atmosphere. But I also tell them they might want to avoid the market during peak hours, as it can get quite crowded (and be aware that on Sundays — Market Day — thousands descend on Kibuye).

People from here know better than to overlook the opportunity to visit Kit Mikayi, a magnificent rock formation sacred to the local Luo community and located just outside the city. In the Dholuo dialect, Kit Mikayi means “the stone of the first wife”. The rocky mound is said to be so named because long ago a first wife — the mikayi in Luo culture — went there to weep after her husband had taken in a second wife (the nyachira).

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this city is Kisumu Museum because by exploring the Luo artefacts and full-scale model village, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the community’s pride in their roots and the significant role the lake plays in their daily lives. 

Parents should take their kids to Kisumu Impala Sanctuary because it offers a unique opportunity to observe wildlife in a natural setting. The sanctuary hosts impalas, the rare Sitatunga antelope as well as big cats, buffalos, giraffes, cheetahs and several primate species. It also provides a safe and educational environment for children to learn about wildlife conservation. 

Food from the Heart

Among the foods my city is most proud of, ngege or tilapia fish is an absolute must. I like to go to Dunga Beach to enjoy it.

Many people here traditionally drink chang’aa, a local homebrew made from fermented grains like millet, maize or sorghum. It’s best avoided as a visitor though; not only is it unpredictably potent in the first place — on top of that, it’s often laced with toxic substances. It’s not entirely a coincidence that its name translates as “kill me quick”!

When I eat completely local, I will go to Mon Ami restaurant. I know the food here is authentically traditional, prepared with locally sourced ingredients and bursting with flavours that truly reflect the essence of Kisumu’s culinary heritage.

Another two classic, iconic restaurants include Kisumu Yacht Club with its lakeside location and stunning sunset views. Kimani’s Choma, on the other hand, specialises in nyama choma, Kenya’s famous grilled meat. It’s a favourite spot among locals and visitors alike for mouth-watering barbecued delicacies.

The part of town where locals come for traditional food is Nyamasaria. This bustling neighbourhood is known for its street food stalls and local eateries, where one can find a wide variety of truly Kenyan dishes.

Shopping Locally

My city is known for making hand-woven sisal baskets. A traditional local craft that has been passed down from generation to generation, it highlights the dedication to preserving our cultural heritage and uses readily available natural materials sustainably.

The best food market in Kisumu is Kibuye Market, one of the largest open-air markets in East Africa. With so many shoppers visiting and so many goods and services on offer here, it’s known as “the melting pot of Kisumu”.

For real, local souvenirs I always take visitors to Maasai Market Kisumu (not to be confused with the Maasai Market in Nairobi). The products are authentically Kenyan and the vibe is lively and genuine. Handmade crafts, beadwork, jewellery and traditional garments in an intense rainbow of colours are available. It’s a hub of creativity, revealing the talents of local artisans and craftsmen.

Getting Deeper Into Kisumu

A great book to learn more about my city is Kisumu: A Journey into the Heartland of Luo Culture by Margaret Akinyi Abira.

Most people know about Lake Victoria, but Kakamega Forest National Reserve, a tropical rainforest that houses diverse plant and animal species, should also be visited. See mammals including giant forest hedgehogs and colobus monkeys and be on the lookout for birds from the Blue Headed Bee Eater to the Black Billed Turaco. Apart from animal spotting and bird watching, hiking and rock climbing can be enjoyed here in this marvellous “forest that time forgot”.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of its pulsating rhythm that reverberates through its streets, with live music performances showcasing various genres like Benga and Ohangla. And not forgetting the cultural festivals that provide a platform for local artists to shine and artistic expressions to visitors.

To celebrate my city at its best, come during the Kisumu Street Carnival because it is a vibrant extravaganza that brings together people from all walks of life.

Most people think of my city as a place to relax and enjoy the serene beauty of Lake Victoria, but really this is a destination to engage with the local community and participate in cultural activities.

This is one of the best places in the world to experience the traditional Luo cuisine. Locals are proud of that because it reflects their strong connection to the land and culinary heritage. 

Getting Around Kisumu

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that matatus are the primary mode of public transportation. They are elaborately decorated mini-buses that ply various routes within the city and offer a real local experience.

The best way to travel in my city to have as little impact as possible is by using bicycles. 

Luckily this method of transportation also allows me to pedal my way to appreciating the beautiful scenery and natural attractions that Kisumu has to offer.

And we know to avoid Oginga Odinga Street because it can get congested with heavy traffic. Instead, we recommend exploring alternative routes to navigate the city smoothly and enjoy the attractions without any hassle.

Outside The City

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to explore Ruma National Park. It is the only terrestrial park in Kenya where you can spot the endangered roan antelope, making it a must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to visit Ndere Island National Park. The island is known for its scenic landscapes, pristine beaches, and abundant birdlife. It also holds cultural significance as a sacred site for the Luo community. 

Many people will head to the popular tourist destination of Maasai Mara, but locals know to go to Rusinga Island. Visitors can explore the island’s stunning beaches, engage with the local community, and learn about the traditions and customs of the Suba people.

I really enjoy the view of my city from Hippo Point. This elevated vantage point allows visitors to marvel at the vastness of the lake, witness stunning sunsets, and observe wildlife, including hippos and a variety of bird species.

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my city, I head to bustling Dunga Beach. Here, you can take a boat ride on the lake, savour freshly caught fish, and engage in watersports activities.

To hang out with my friends and go to a real insider spot, I go to Milimani Beach Resort where I can relax and unwind in a serene lakeside location.

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town (events) is ticketsasa. With its comprehensive listings and user-friendly interface, Ticketsasa provides a one-stop platform for discovering and booking a wide range of events in Kisumu. 

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I head to Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground. This public park offers open green spaces, jogging tracks, and recreational facilities where locals gather for outdoor activities and socialising.

Dunga Hill Camp is my first choice for music because it hosts live performances by local artists. And when I feel like dancing, I go to Club Signature for the ultimate nightlife experience with top DJs playing a mix of local and international music. 

Finding Solitude in Kisumu

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible city, I go to Hippo Point Nature Reserve. You can find a peaceful spot by the lakeside, enjoy a picnic, or simply sit and contemplate while being surrounded by the calming sounds of nature.

The place that makes me proudest of my city is the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary because it showcases our commitment to conservation and habitat preservation by serving as a refuge for impalas, other wildlife, and various bird species.

When the Seasons Change, This City Shines

The rainy season (March to May) is the best time to witness the stunning beauty of the Botanical Gardens. During this time, the gardens are in full bloom and visitors can stroll through the pathways, enjoy the fragrant flora, and admire the colourful natural displays.

I always recommend visitors explore Lake Victoria from June to August, the warmest months in Kisumu because the weather is ideal for water-based activities at this time. 

From September to November and December through February,  Kisumu is magical — especially when you attend the Luo Festival in December. The city is transformed into a hub of cultural celebration, making it a great time to visit and immerse yourself in the local traditions.

Susan Onyango

Local Expert

Susan Onyango is a young African woman hailing from Kenya. A travel enthusiast and a responsible tourism ambassador passionate about tourism in East Africa, Susan has an academic background in Mass Communication with a major in Public Relations. For over a year now, she has been working in the tourism industry in Kenya. Her most recent professional engagements have been with Ecotourism Kenya, Tierranjani Africa and Kenya Utalii College

Valery Opondo

Local Expert

Valery Opondo is a proud native of Kisumu, Kenya and has always been captivated by her hometown’s beauty and diversity. Her writing skillfully weaves vivid descriptions, historical context, and insights into the local way of life. Through her words, readers can almost smell the fish roasting by the shores of Lake Victoria and feel the rhythm of the traditional Luo music that echoes through the city's vibrant streets. In addition to her writing, Valery is a dedicated clinician working towards unlocking her fullest potential within the realm of healthcare. She firmly believes that responsible travel is not just a trend but a responsibility every traveller should uphold.

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