- On December 19, 2020
- In Kenya Travel
Most Popular National Parks in Kenya
Kenya’s national park and game reserves rate among the best in Africa. Obviously the tremendous variety of birds and mammals is the main attraction, and the more popular parks such as Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Amboseli national park see huge numbers of visitors from the budget camper to the hundreds of dollars a day Hilton hoppers.
In the peak season (from January to February) on a game drive, you can observe at close quarters the daily habits of the prolific Nissan Urban. Other smaller parks, such as Saiwa Swamp National Park, near Kitale in the country’s western highlands, would be lucky to see a handful of visitors a day at any time of year.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli is the next most popular park after Masai Mara, mainly because of the spectacular backdrop of Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, which broods on the southern boundary of the park. At 392 sq km, Amboseli is not a large park, and it certainly doesn't 't have the profusion of the game which you find in Masai Mara but the game here is easy to spot. The western section of the park is the dry bed of Lake Amboseli, and although it is occasionally flooded in the wet season, for the majority of the time it is a dry, dusty, shimmering expanse. Probably the best reason for visiting Amboseli is that you stand the best chance of spotting a black rhino.
Amboseli also has huge herds of elephant, and to see a herd of them making their way sedately across the grassy plains, with Kilimanjaro in the background, maybe a real African cliché but is an experience which leaves a lasting impression. Other animals which you are likely to see here include buffaloes, lions, gazelle, cheetahs, wildebeest, hyenas, jackals, warthogs, Masai giraffes, zebras and baboons. Amboseli more than any other park has suffered greatly from the number of minibuses which drive through each day. It has a much drier climate than Masai Mara and so for much of the year is a real dust bowl. If you are driving through the park, stick to the defined tracks, and hopefully, others will follow suit. Outside the town, there are a couple of shops selling Maasai crafts. The first prices asked are totally ridiculous, so bargain fiercely. Most visitors approach Amboseli through Namanga, the main border post between Kenya and Tanzania.
Masai Mara Game Reserve
Masai Mara is the most popular game park in Kenya. Virtually every person who visits Kenya goes to Masai Mara, and with good reason as this is the Kenyan section of the wildly evocative Serengeti Plains and the wildlife abounds. This is also traditionally the land of the Maasai, but these people have been displaced in favour of the animals. The Mara (as it's often abbreviated to) is a 320-sq-km slab of open grassland dotted with the distinctive flat-topped acacia trees tucked away in the south-west comer of the country. It is watered by the tree-lined Mara River and its tributary the Talek River.
The western border of the park is the spectacular Oloololo Escarpment and it's at this edge of the park that the concentrations of game are the highest. It must also be said that it's the most difficult area of the park to get around in as the swampy ground becomes impassable after heavy rain. Conversely, the concentrations of tourist and minibuses are highest at the eastern end of the park around the Oloolaimutia gate and Talek Gate as it is these areas which are the most accessible by road from Nairobi. Wherever you go in the Mara, however, the one certain thing is that you will see an astonishing amount of game, often in the one place at the one time. Of the big cats, lions are found in the large pride everywhere and it is not at all uncommon to see them hunting. Cheetahs and leopards are harder to spot but are still fairly common. Elephants, buffaloes, zebras and hippos also exist in large numbers within the reserve.
Of the antelope, the black-striped Thomson's gazelle and the larger Grant's gazelle are found in huge numbers, while the Impala, topi and Coke's hartebeest and of course the wildebeest are also profuse. Rhinos do exist in the park but are rarely seen. Other common animals include Masai giraffes, baboons (especially around the lodges), warthogs, spotted hyenas and grey (or side-striped) jackals. The highlight of the Mara is no doubt the annual wildebeest migration when literally millions of these ungainly beasts move north from the Serengeti in July and August in search of the lush grass, before turning south again around October.
It is truly a staggering experience to be in the reserve at that time and one which is likely to have a profound effect on your own feeling of insignificance. Masai Mara doesn't have national park status. The fundamental difference between a national park and a game reserve is that in a game reserve people (in this case the Maasai) can graze their animals. In a national park, however, the entire area is set aside exclusively for the wildlife and the natural environment.
Tsavo National Park
At just over 20,000 sq km, Tsavo is the largest national park in Kenya, and for administrative purposes, it has been split into Tsavo West National Park, with an area of 8500 sq km, and Tsavo East National Park, which covers 11,000 sq km. The northern area of Tsavo West, west of the Nairobi to Mombasa road, is the most developed and has some excellent scenery. Tsavo East is much less visited and consists of vast rolling plains with scrubby vegetation.
Tsavo West National Park
The focus here is the watering holes by the Kilaguni Serena lodge. The Tsavo west national park attracts huge varieties of animals and birds, particularly during the dry season when water may be scarce elsewhere. The Mzima Springs is one of the attraction you can find in the park and the pools here are favourite haunts of both hippos and crocodiles. The much vaunted underwater viewing chamber was designed to give you a view of the hippos' submarine activities, but the hippos have retreated to the far end of the pool. There are, however, plenty of fish to be observed. The springs are the source of the bulk of Mombasa's fresh water and there is a direct pipeline from here to the coast.
Also in the area of the lodges is the spectacular Shetani lava flow and caves. Both are worth investigating, though for the caves you'll need to exercise caution and carry a torch (flashlight). The Chaimu Crater just south of Kilaguni Lodge can also be climbed. It's worth remembering while walking on any of these nature trails that the park animals are far from tame, and while there's little danger, you do need to keep your eyes on what's happening around you. These nature trails are also the only places where you are permitted to get out of the vehicle. There is an information centre at the Kilaguni Lodge and if it's open it may be worth checking to see where the most recent animal sightings have been.
Tsavo East National Park
The southern third of this park is open to the public and the rolling scrub-covered hills are home to large herds of elephants, usually covered in red dust. The Kanderi Swamp, not far into the park from the main Voi Gate and park headquarters, is home to a profusion of wildlife and there's a campsite here. Further, into the park, 30 km from the gate, is the main attraction in this part of the park, the Aruba Dam built across the Voi River. Here too you'll encounter a wide variety of game without the usual hordes of tourists — very few people visit Tsavo East.
In addition to the protection of wildlife, some parks have been created to preserve the landscape itself, and these too can be exciting and rewarding places to visit, places such as Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, Hell’s Gate, Mt Longonot and Kakamega forest are all worth a visit.
Marine life is also in abundance and the marine national parks of Malindi and Watamu off the central coast both offer excellent diving possibilities. Shimoni and Wasini island in the extreme south offer even better opportunities but are much less accessible by tourist.