Kenya Parks & Reserves
Kenya has 48 national parks and reserves, including marine parks, as well as numerous private sanctuaries and game ranches. There is something for everyone in Kenya, which is about the size of Texas. Its stunning coastline is about 300 miles from north to south. Kenya offers a wide array of locales to visit – picking which ones to go to is not easy.
Again, here are some of our favorites and why:
Amboseli National Park: Some of our best elephant encounters have taken place in this park, which borders Tanzania. Even though Mount Kilimanjaro is physically in Tanzania, Amboseli provides the best views of the esteemed mountain. No matter where you are in the park, Mount Kilimanjaro is in plain view – weather permitting. Amboseli is the site of one of the longest and most extensive elephant studies. We would urge you to read Cynthia Moss’ book “Elephant Memories” and subsequent follow-up books before you embark on a visit to Amboseli. Giraffe, lion, cheetah, buffalo and numerous birds can be found in Amboseli, but the highlight is its elephants. How can one describe what it is like to have a herd of 25 or so elephants walk within 20 feet of your vehicle? Just thinking about it is enough to make us want to return to Amboseli time and time again.
Lake Nakuru National Park: Known for its frequent visits of as many as a million greater and lesser flamingoes, Lake Nakuru National Park is named for the alkaline lake of the same name. Lake Nakuru National Park is often described as a paradise for ornithologists. While its bird population is phenomenal, the park is also home to lion, leopard, giraffe and has been declared a black rhino sanctuary.
Masai Mara National Park: What can we say about the Magnificent Mara? That it the place safari dreams are made of? That is has permeated our souls? The Mara is one of those places that when you go, you become awestruck and tongue-tied. It is no wonder the Mara is frequently called the best wildlife park in Kenya. All the big game (lion, cheetah, leopard, buffalo, elephant and even a small amount of black rhino) are here, as well as over 400 different bird species. The Mara is a blend of wide savannah, rolling hills and river forests with the Great Escarpment serving as a dramatic backdrop. At 590 square miles, the Mara is small by African standards. But as the old adage goes, “Good things come in small packages.” The Mara and Talek rivers are an invaluable water source for the wildlife and provide dramatic moments during the Great Migration. In our opinion, this park should not be missed. It always manages to offer us spectacular moments and the best of memories. A criticism of the Mara is it is just “too crowded.” While some areas can be prone to more safari-goers, there are wonderful areas around/adjacent to the park that are private and void of mini-buses full of tourists. These private concessions are doing their utmost to preserve the park’s wildlife, and we applaud those measures. These concessions are able to offer night game drives, guided walks and other activities that are simply not allowed inside the park itself. “Crowded” – maybe, but we know the secret and private areas.
Meru National Park: One can’t help but wonder when you see a lion in this park if it is a descendant of the famed lioness Elsa, who was reintroduced to the wild and released in Meru after being hand-reared by George and Joy Adamson. Elsa’s story was a best-selling book and a movie of the same name, “Born Free.” Once a hot bed for poaching and banditry, the Kenyan government and the Kenya Wildlife Service, appear to have gained the upper hand. Meru is now experiencing a renewed interest by tourists. It’s not a new park, but it is being touted as Kenya’s newest wildlife attraction. Meru will make you work to see its animals. It is comprised of tall grasses, swamp, forest and brush – all of which provide shelter for both predators and herbivores. Understandably, the animals are a bit more skittish, but we can guarantee that you will be hard-pressed to see another safari vehicle while exploring the park. As it is now, Meru is an unspoiled paradise, where one can’t help but hum the haunting theme song, “Born Free, as free as the grass grows. As free as the wind blows, Born Free to follow your heart. Stay free…”
Tsavo National Park: Kenya’s largest park, at about 8,000 square miles, Tsavo is actually divided into two areas: Tsavo East and Tsavo West. The most developed is Tsavo West, where the landscape is made up of volcanic hills and semi-arid plains. Mzima Springs, an underwater viewing platform, is located in this part of the park. Tsavo East is definitely more remote and life revolves around the Galana River. Again, you will have to work to see the wildlife here, but the landscape and terrain make it worth the effort. Famous for its man-eating lions, Tsavo is a fantastic park. If you decide that Tsavo is a place to visit, then we would urge you to read Philip Caputo’s book, “Ghosts of Tsavo.” It is about four scientists who try to unlock the secrets of the fierce man-eating lions of Tsavo, who killed an estimated 135 people in the late 1800s.
Other locations that should be considered visiting include: Shaba, Nairobi National Park, Mt. Elgon National Park, Lake Victoria, Aberdare National Park, Mt. Kenya National Park (Kenya’s highest mountain) for hiking, Lake Magadi region, Lake Naivasha, Lake Baringo, the Laikipia region (where many private ranches and reserves are located), Samburu National Reserve, Malindi-Watamu Marine National Reserve and the island of Lamu.