Kenya lies astride the equator on the eastern coast of Africa. It is a medium-sized country by continental standards, covering an area of about 586,600km sq. Inland water bodies cover some 10,700km sq, the bulk of this in Lakes Victoria and Lake Turkana.
Kenya is bordered by Somalia and the Indian Ocean to the east, Ethiopia to the north, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. The coastline, about 550km long, faces the Indian Ocean.
Kenya has tremendous topographical diversity, including glaciated mountains with snow-capped peaks, the Rift Valley with its scarps and volcanoes, ancient granitic hills, flat desert landscapes and coral reefs and islets.
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However, the basic configuration is simple. Coastal plains give way to and inland plateau that rises gradually to the central highlands, which are the result of the relatively recent volcanic activity associated with the formation of the rift valley.
To the west the land drops again to the Nyanza plateau that surrounds the Kenyan sector of Lake Victoria; and to the north, to the rugged low country around Lake Turkana.
The coastline is broken and composed of beaches, coral cliffs and reefs, creeks and numerous offshore coral islands. Inland, a mainly level but narrow coastal plain lies on sedimentary rocks, with some igneous intrusions such as Dzombo and Mrima. Beyond low rolling hills lies the so-called Nyika Plateau, mainly on sedimentary rocks.
This landscape covers almost the entire northeastern sector of the country, on very gradual slopes.
The Great Rift Valley, with its associated escarpments and mountains, is a major feature. It runs the length of the country from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Natron on the southern border with Tanzania.
The central portion of the rift is raised, with the Aberdare Mountains and Mt Kenya to the east and the Mau Escarpment and Cherangani Hills to the west. The northern and southernmost sectors of the rift are low-lying, arid and rugged, with spectacular volcanic landforms.
The region west of the central highlands is characterized by Precambrian metamorphic rocks and linear basement hills. Mt Elgon, an old, eroded volcano, intrudes through the ancient shield on the Uganda border. The lake Victoria basin generally has a gently sloping landscape and an eroded surface that exposes granitic outcrops.
Isolated hills and mountains, such as Mt Kulal, Mt Nyiro and Mt Marsabit, are scattered to the north and east of the central highlands. The Taita Hills, rising from the southeastern plateau, are ancient fault-block formation, the northernmost of a chain of isolated peaks (the ‘eastern arc’) that stretches south to Malawi through eastern and southern Tanzania.
They sit almost cheek-by-jowl with one of the region’s recent volcanic ranges, the Chyulu Hills.