The Best National Parks in Kenya
With 24 national parks, 15 national reserves, 6 marine parks, and private conservancies on top of that, the choice can be overwhelming when it comes to visiting Kenya’s national parks. To help you decide between north, south, east, and west, between hot and dry or luscious and green, and between mountainous or flat, here’s a quick hit list of some of the best national parks in Kenya.
Sitting at the edge of Kenya’s capital city is Nairobi National Park. Kenya’s first national park is home to a huge range of wildlife, including buffalo, rhino, zebra, and lions. You can drive on your own around the park, or book a game drive with the Kenya Wildlife Service in advance. The best times to view the animals are at dawn or dusk; while away some of the time in between by heading to Ololo Lodge for lunch and a swim, or stay the night at Nairobi Tented Camp. Helping fund the park with tourism is more important now than ever: It is under pressure from developers, and there have been a number of incidents involving wildlife straying into nearby farmland, due to the encroachment of humans on the animals’ habitats in recent years.
Loitoktok District, Rift Valley, Kenya
Positioned in the south of Kenya on the border with Tanzania, Amboselli National Park has spectacular views of the snow-capped, craggy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa’s tallest mountain. Renowned as being the best place in Africa to get close to the large population of elephants living in the park, here golden grasslands sit next to swampy, hippo filled springs, and in the skies above the wildlife it’s nothing but lilac, dusky horizons for as far as the eye can see. The elephants aren’t all you’ll see here though – Amboselli is also home to leopard, cheetah, giraffe, lions and more.
In what is considered one of the earth’s greatest spectacles, over a million wildebeest make their way from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya in search of lusher grasslands. The great migration is a very good reason to visit the diamond in Kenya’s crown of national parks, the Masai Mara. The most dramatic scenes take place at the river crossings, where the wildebeest slip and crash down the steep embankments of the Mara River into crocodile- and hippo-infested waters and, if they get through that, still have to gallop past the Mara’s high density of lions awaiting them on the other side. The best time to see the migration here is between the months of July and September. Porini Lion Camp is an excellent accommodation choice, with knowledgeable guides and a responsible approach to protecting the delicate Mara ecosystem.
Situated in northern Kenya on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro river, Samburu National Reserve is a beautiful and arid ecosystem that’s lesser visited than its cousins in the south of the country due to its more remote location. The big draws in Samburu are the different types of wildlife on offer in comparison to other parks. The Grevy’s zebra, for instance, is an elegant creature not found in the south – its stripes are thinner than that of the common zebra, and its frame more tall and horse-like. Samburu is a popular option for those looking to escape the large crowds drawn to famous parks like the Masai Mara.
For something a little different, try the Aberdare National Park situated next to the Great Rift Valley. Here, luscious, vibrant forests give way to open expansive moorland, towering mountains and steep gorges. The Aberdares are famed for their population of black rhino, as well as the giant forest hog, elephants and a range of antelope and gazelle. It’s here that the Treetops Hotel is situated – which made headlines as the location where Princess Elizabeth of the UK acceded the throne when her father died in 1952.
Tsavo East National Park was created in 1948, making it one of the oldest National Parks in Kenya. Situated in the east of Kenya, halfway between Nairobi and the coast, this is a beautiful, wild and hot place (the heat rises as you lose altitude coming from Nairobi) that retains a lot of its original splendour. One of the most special reasons to visit Tsavo East is for sights of the soil-covered, rusty-red elephants playing in the shady Galana River waters. Some of these were once orphans at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and have now been released back into the wild.
Tsavo gained a reputation as home of the “man eating lions” when, in the late 1800s, several construction workers were killed by hungry lions as they built the railway from Mombasa to Uganda. Today, it’s known for less frightening reasons, like the spectacle that is Mzima Springs: icy clear water flowing rapidly from under a lava rock, as well as the Shetani Lava Flows. Like Tsavo East, this is a fiercely beautiful region - wild and untamed in places, open grassland in others, and the wildlife viewing here rivals any of Kenya’s best parks. Expect to see the ‘Big 5' as well as a huge range of bird and plant species. Aside of enjoying the views and wildlife on offer, the park is also well-renowned for its adventurous rock climbing opportunities.