Kenya: Wildlife Destinations
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli's star species: African elephant • Spotted hyena • Hippopotamus • Grey crowned crane
Amboseli’s 1,500 elephants (studied by Cynthia Moss and her team since 1972) are the highlight of this iconic park. Matriarchal herds and lone ‘big tusker’ bulls roam its typically dry plains where dust-devils swirl against the hazy backdrop of Mt Kilimanjaro. Far outnumbering lions, spotted hyenas are the dominant hunters in Amboseli. Climb Observation Hill for panoramic views across Amboseli Lake where closer inspection (by vehicle) reveals hippo, mud-wallowing buffalo and elephant, plus numerous waterbirds, including flamingo, spoonbill, goliath heron, black-winged stilt, ibis, blacksmith plover, jacana and yellow-billed stork.
Getting there 265km southeast of Nairobi; road access and airstrip.
Getting around Well defined circuits; no off-road driving allowed.
When to go Dry seasons tend to concentrate game around the lake.
Things to do Game drives, birdwatching.
Places to stay Lodges in and around park, plus two campgrounds.
Further information Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Masai Mara National Reserve
Masai Mara's star species: Wildebeest • Lion • Cheetah • Plains zebra • African elephant • Buffalo • Topi
Time your trip right and your arrival in the Masai Mara may coincide with the Great Migration when legions of wildebeest and zebra arrive from the Serengeti in search of fresh pasture. Even without the migration, however, the Mara offers superb game viewing, excellent accommodation and a chance to learn about Maasai culture. Proud custodians of the Greater Mara area, which encompasses not only the national reserve but a patchwork of neighbouring conservancies, the Maasai are your best guides to this beautiful, big-sky country of rolling savannah, woodland-fringed river courses and rocky escarpments.
The Masai Mara is famous for its big cats – the BBC’s Big Cat Diary was filmed here – and you would be unlucky not to see lion and cheetah. Leopard and spotted hyena are also common, while chance encounters with serval and caracal are not unheard of.
Out on the plains, topi stand sentinel on termite mounds, surrounded by mixed herds of Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, wildebeest, zebra, impala and eland. Warthog snuffle out roots and tubers; buffalo, elephant and giraffe browse areas of patchy woodland, and troops of baboon fan out across the savannah, picking at morsels of food and keeping a wary lookout for predators like the martial eagle.
The Mara has around 540 bird species, ranging from the plains-strutting ostrich, secretary bird and ground hornbill to smaller grassland specialists like cisticolas, francolins, larks and widowbirds. Among the 57 different raptors are six species of vulture.
Getting there 270km southwest of Nairobi; road access and airstrips.
Getting around 4WD vehicles are recommended. In the National Reserve you must keep to designated tracks; conservancies provide more freedom, but care must be taken to avoid habitat damage.
When to go For migration timings, see blog. Lion and cheetah cubs are often born during the April-June wet season.
Things to do Game drives, hot-air ballooning, walking safaris (in Mara conservancies), Maasai village visits.
Places to stay Wide range of operators, including Asilia, Basecamp Explorer, Fig Tree Camp, Governor’s Camp, Kicheche Camps, Mara Bushtops, Mara Plains Camp, Sanctuary Retreats, Serena and Sopa Lodges.
Tsavo East & West National Parks
Tsavo's star species: African elephant • Gerenuk • Black rhino • Kirk’s dik-dik • Sandgrouse
An arid wilderness the size of Wales, Tsavo supports at least 6,000 elephant. Stake out a waterhole and you will see an almost endless procession of red-dust-coated herds arriving to drink. Lion thrive in the reserve and there are also two black rhino sanctuaries. Drought-tolerant species include gerenuk and oryx.
Getting there 300km southeast of Nairobi, 200km northwest of Mombasa. Year round access, even for 2WD vehicles.
Getting around Rough roads; off-road driving not permitted.
When to go Stake out waterholes during dry seasons for best wildlife.
Things to do Game drives; walking at Mzima Springs.
Places to stay Several lodges and camps, including Tsavo East’s Satao Camp and Tsavo West’s Severin Safari Camp.
Nairobi National Park
If a cheetah sprinted north from Nairobi National Park, it would take barely four minutes – traffic permitting – to reach the city centre. Just 7km from the matatu-mayhem of downtown Nairobi, this tenacious reserve is also home to lion, leopard, hyena, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hippo and the world’s highest concentration of black rhino. Only elephant is missing from the Big Five. You can visit the park on a guided tour or take the Kenya Wildlife Service bus from Nairobi city centre on Sundays. A taxi or matatu will get you to the main gates where the Nairobi Safari Walk weaves through wetland, forest and savannah. A rescue and rehabilitation centre for orphaned elephants and rhinos, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is located in the southwest corner of the park and can be visited between 11:00 and noon when nursery inmates are due their daily mudbath.
At Langata Giraffe Centre, 18km from Nairobi city centre, you can hand-feed endangered Rothschild giraffe and get on the receiving end of a big sloppy, blue-tongued kiss. Out in the suburb of Karen, Butterfly Africa has hundreds of winged wonders fluttering inside a tropical hothouse, while Karura Forest (the largest of Nairobi’s three suburban forests) is home to Syke’s monkey and other secretive forest species such as bushbuck, dik dik, duiker, bush pig, genet and civet. Attractions in the 1,063-ha forest include waterfalls, bamboo forest and caves once used as Mau Mau hideouts during Kenya’s struggle for Independence.
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wildlife travel essentials: Kenya
Dozens of Nairobi-based operators offer safaris. One of the best is Gamewatchers Safaris (porini.com) which also runs camps in community-owned conservancies.
WHEN TO GO
Kenya has two rainy seasons (from March to May and November to December). Temperatures average around 20C in the Central Highlands and Rift Valley – hotter and more humid at the coast.
WHERE TO STAY
Wide range of excellent camps and lodges, as well as resorts and hotels on the coast.