THE UNEXPLORED WESTERN CIRCUIT TOURISM The sleeping giant

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By Alfrique Otieno Takawiri island

For many years the tourism sector in Kenya has focused around the coastal
and Maasai Mara circuit. But now the western circuit that has been a sleeping giant for years is booming and offering alternative destinations for both local and international tourists. The creation of county governments
opened up tourist destinations in various towns within the western
circuit.

The western circuit offers alternatives to the beaches and bushes tourism. With incidents of insecurity in the coastal towns, Lake Victoria has become an alternative beach with a coastal feeling for tourists to enjoy diverse, original, and authentic products without straining.

Residents of counties in the Lake Region and Rift valley economic blocks can now earn a living from tourism. Islands in Lake Victoria are no longer only occupied by fish mongers but also by investors in tourism activities. In addition, fishing in Lake Victoria is no longer just for food but is a tourist activity as well.

Rusinga and Takawiri islands in Lake Victoria, now have white sandy beaches full of palm trees and magnificent hotels, reminiscent of the coastal strip. The long beach stretch, boat rides in superior boats, snorkeling , and other water sporting activities make Takawiri island not only a destination for vacation but also for sports tourism.

Rusinga and Takawiri islands in Lake Victoria, now have white sandy beaches full of palm trees and magnificent hotels, reminiscent of the coastal strip. The long beach stretch, boat rides in superior boats, snorkeling , and other water sporting activities make Takawiri island not only a destination for vacation but also for sports tourism.

Other than the aquatic life of Rusinga Island, there is a special stone called KIT YESU. (According to folklore, footprints there are believed to be those of Jesus Christ. The story there, is that Jesus ascended to heaven from that point). Besides, the salty homa hot springs, (a replica of Baringo hot springs) is said to have health benefits and can cook an egg in fifteen minutes.

Kakamega County is famous for the crying stone and dense forest; it reminds you of the dense Congo equatorial forest, and is a magnificent place for bird watching, and home to various animal species. On the Northeast side of Lake Victoria, is a secluded splendor that stretches beyond
the Kenya Uganda border. Mount Elgon National Park, is home to the big five and other animals. Caves, waterfalls, gorges, hot springs are other touristic sites not fully exploited yet with high potential of growing the region’s economy.

The hills of Iten are a marvelous place for sports tourism; the home of champions as it is known, is a beehive of activity with athletes from different parts of the world flocking to train in the high altitude. These activities have increased investment in the hotel industry and boosted the economy of the area. Iten is a good breeding ground for sports biking. The high altitude and hilly terrain make the area superb for training.

Kisumu city, a cosmopolitan town on the shores of Lake Victoria is known for its tasty fish, cooked and served right at the shore. A tour of Kisumu city will take you to the Impala sanctuary 3 kilometres from the city centre, the hippo point, museum, Dunga beach and the Kogello home of Barrack Obama’s grandmother. Enjoy boat rides and fishing in dhows and modern speed boats; you can also tour different islands using the modern water
bus, enjoy comfort, speed and safety.

According to Dennis Ochieng a tourism expert, only 40% of the western
circuit has been explored and this he attributes to poor marketing of the
circuit. He also says there is need for infrastructure and value addition. There are not enough good hotels, lodges and camps to attract international tourists and county governments need to work on adding new products to the existing ones.

Compared to other parts of the country, Dennis says the western circuit
is still a virgin and most of its natural resources are intact and original. He
feels that, over time, natural resources in the common tourist attractions sites have been depleted, and therefore, the western circuit offers a better and natural alternative.

The uniqueness of parks within the western circuit lies in its flora and fauna. Every park has species that can only survive in that park. Mount Elgon National Park, has elephants that can only survive in that ecosystem. A tour of the park gives you an opportunity to view the peak of Mount Elgon, the largest volcanic mountain in East Africa similar to the Amboseli National Park.

Kakamega forest is a home to primates and various birds’ species unique only to the forest. The climatic conditions within the rain forest make it conducive for primate families to thrive. Tourism pundits say the dense forest is conducive for gorillas’ families which can be a good foreign currency earner for the county and country. Thousands of tourists flock
Uganda and Rwanda parks for gorilla treks; a venture that Kenya can borrow to add more value to the forest and make it more marketable locally and internationally.

According to the CEC Minister for Trade, Industrialization and Tourism in
Kakamega County Kassim Were, plans are underway to fence off kakamega forest and develop an animal orphanage as a precursor to bringing gorilla families to the forest. He says this move will greatly boost tourism in the western circuit.

Tourism stakeholders within the western circuit say the region also has
great potential in conference tourism. TRAVEL Lake Victoria Bull fighting Cock fighting

Tourism stakeholders within the western circuit say the region also has
great potential in conference tourism.
TRAVEL Lake Victoria Bull fighting Cock fighting

Lake Victoria Tourism Association LVTA, chairman Dedan Olawo says
Kisumu hosts more regional meetings compared to Nairobi and the Coastal
towns of Mombasa and Malindi. He says marketing of the western circuit, as a conference destination will open the region to the world of conferencing.

Ordinarily, a drive from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara takes over six hours while a drive from Kisumu to the Mara would only take three to four hours. Olawo says if Kisumu airport can be opened to the world thus allowing regional and international flights to land in Kisumu, animal lovers travelling to the Maasai Mara would enjoy shorter rides to the park as compared to long trips from Nairobi to the Mara. He further states that the western region is endowed with thousands of bird species good for bad watchers.

The mushrooming of hotels and lodges in different parts of the region is
a sign that tourism in the western circuit is slowly picking up and residents are preparing themselves for busy days ahead. Residents have equally, adopted homestay plans and opened up their homes to accommodate guests on vacation as well as volunteers, and in exchange get some much needed cash.

Cultural tourism
Cultural tourism is the leading product in this circuit and majorly explored
by domestic tourists, leading to the development of cultural centres in every community. Counties within the western circuit have many tribes and sub tribes with diverse cultures and cultural practices. Development of cultural centres in various parts, help to nurture and maintain these cultures for generations.

Cultural culinary, music, dances, and cultural regalia are good tourist
attractions mostly enjoyed by domestic tourists and if marketed internationally, can be a good source of income to many locals. Maragoli cultural festival, bull fighting, cock fighting and wrestling, are some of the cultural social activities that would promote cultural tourism.

Other than the famous crying stone which has a rich history, different cultural heritage sites have been identified within Kakamega County; Mawe Tatu, Misango hills, Kaambili hills, and Nabongo shrine. Kassim says these are important sites to the Luhya community. The Kit Mikai stones of Seme, Gor Mahia shrine in Homabay, and the Lwanda Magere stone are some of the Luo historic sites that reveal the origin of the Luo community. The Kalenjin community and its sub tribes, Luhya sub tribes each have cultural
centres that uniquely talk about origins of the tribes and traditions.

Food is an essential part of culture. Communities within the western circuit
prepare food in different ways that depict their culture. Each community has its own staple food; in some instances the foods are the same but the cooking is different. Different foods served to people in the olden days, said a lot about your status in the community or family. Visitors were and are still accorded much respect and this is usually shown through the foods
served to them.

A visit to Kisumu County takes you to the lake along Dunga beach or Lwang’ni beach to enjoy a meal of fish with ugali or rice. In the land of mulembe (luhya community) chicken is preferred accompanied with ugali or rice. A meal among the Kalenjin community must be accompanied by a glass of ‘Mursik’ fermented milk. Kisii is the land of bananas. A visit to Kisii without a meal of bananas, either boiled, fried or stewed accompanied by chicken, beef, beans etc…is not complete.

Medical Tourism
This is an additional product to be launched within the western circuit.
Kakamega County CEC says expert doctors will be trained by the county to
handle most critical illnesses that cost Kenyans millions to seek treatment
outside Kenya. These doctors will be complimented by foreign expert doctors thus reducing costs of treatment outside Kenya and at the same time boost local tourism. Kassim says this will not only improve medical standards but also the hospitality sector. Kenyans spend millions seeking treatment for terminal diseases outside Kenya. Medical pundits say approximately 10,000 Kenyans travel to India for treatment annually.

“Tourism in not in towns but in the villages,” says Dedan Olawo.

otienoalfy@gmail.com

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