Kenya is most famous for its wildlife, particularly the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) found in game reserves and national parks all over the country. The Kenyan highlands are also popular, offering visitors spectacular views of the Great Rift Valley.
All safaris begin in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. The name Nairobi comes from the Masai words enkare nyarobe meaning “place of sweet water”, for this was originally a watering hole for the Masai’s cattle. Nairobi began life only in 1896 as a railway camp during the building of the railway line from the coast to the highlands. It grew steadily and by 1907 had become a town sufficient in size to take over from Mombasa as the colonial capital of East Africa. Modern Nairobi is a lively, cosmopolitan and bustling city, with modern, well organised and efficient services.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport connects Nairobi to regional hubs and to major cities worldwide, while Wilson Airport services flights to many of the national parks and game reserves.
To capture the true spirit of East Africa, there is nothing quite like the experience of a safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Indisputably the richest game sanctuary in Kenya, the great expanse of plains set against distant hills, provide a unique backdrop from which to enjoy the magnificent wildlife. Almost every animal you can think of in relation to East Africa live on the well watered plains in this remote part of the country. One of the most memorable and spectacular sights is the migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra as they move north from the neighbouring Serengeti Plains in June, arriving in the Masai Mara by about July-August, when the dry weather sets in. They begin to return south in October.
Masai Mara is easily accessible by road, the Sekenani Gate being 260 km (4 hours) from Nairobi. The drive is very scenic, with views of Mt. Longonot en-route. The park is also accessible by air, with several daily flights from Nairobi which take 45 minutes. If taking a circuit safari, the approach from Lake Nakuru is 230 km (3 ½ hours), and the drive through the floor of the Great Rift Valley takes you through the “breadbasket” of Kenya, covered with acres of wheat and barley.
This is the largest national park in Kenya at around 21,000 sq. km. For administrative purposes has been split into two sections, Tsavo East (11,000 sq. km) and Tsavo West (8,000 sq. km). One of the many wonders in this harsh countryside include the Mzima Springs, where crystal clear water gushes daily from the underground streams of Mt. Klimanjaro. Another fascinating feature is the “red elephant”, so called because of the red dust prevalent in the area. Other wildlife you are likely to see include lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, various antelope, hippo and crocodile.
The drive from Nairobi to the Mtito Andei Gate is around 245 km (4 hours) along the Nairobi-Mombasa road. From here, the drive to the other side of the park, the Voi Gate, is another 100 km (1 ½ hours). There are also daily flights from Nairobi to several airstrips in Tsavo which take about 45 minutes.
Located just 217 km from Nairobi, and one of only four private game reserves in Kenya, Ol Pejeta Conservancy excels in the provision of privileged seclusion and private game viewing. Thanks to its private status it also allows such unforgettable pleasures as night game drives, guided bush walks and both horse or camel riding across its game-teeming plains. Sweetwaters includes the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), plus an exciting catalogue of giraffe, zebra, oryx, waterbuck, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, cheetah, silver-backed jackal, hartebeest and baboon. The reserve also boasts several hundred bird species.
Set in stark country in the hot and arid fringes of Kenya’s vast northern region along the Uaso Nyiro River, these three parks are home to the majestic Reticulated giraffe, Grevy zebra, gerenuk, Beisa oryx and Somali ostrich, which are unique to these northern areas. The river’s permanent waters abound with crocodile and hippo. The densely forested areas on the river banks are home to leopard, while the savannah grassland and acacia woodland are home to lion, huge herds of elephant and various antelope. Shaba National Reserve is one of the most scenically beautiful parks in the world, and is known as “Born Free” country where conservationist Joy Adamson introduced her lioness, Elsa, to the wild.
The three parks lie north of the equator and are around 350 km from Nairobi, with a driving time of 5-5 ½ hours. The drive north, through the Mt. Kenya highlands, offers amazing views of Mt. Kenya to the east, and the Aberdare Mountain Range to the west. There are also daily flights from Nairobi to Samburu, which take about an hour. If taking a circuit safari, the drive from Shaba, Samburu and Buffalo Springs to Lake Nakuru, around the Aberdare Mountains and through the Great Rift Valley, offers scenery unsurpassed anywhere else in Kenya, crossing the equator three times.
Situated in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru is one of Kenya’s most famous soda lakes. A major feature of this park is the birdlife, particularly the thousands of flamingoes which create a shimmering pink hue over the lake. At just 220 sq. km. it is one of Kenya’s smaller parks, and has been made a sanctuary for the greatly endangered black rhino. The upper forested areas are home to tree climbing lions and the elusive leopard, while black rhino, white rhino, Rothschild’s giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, buffalo and various antelope roam the savannah.
Lake Nakuru is accessed by road at 160 km (2 hours) from Nairobi. The drive offers you spectacular views of the Great Rift Valley’s lakes and escarpments. View points en-route give travellers a chance to stop for photos and souvenir shopping.
Amboseli is in a semi-arid part of the country and is usually hot and dry. The vegetation is typical of savannah, covered with the beautiful acacias which are so much a feature of East Africa. The snow-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 5895m (19,340 ft) provides a magnificent backdrop for the spectacular wildlife pageant including the Big Five – Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Buffalo, making Amboseli a photographer’s paradise.
Amboseli National Park is 240 km (4 hours) from Nairobi by road. There are also daily flights from Nairobi to Amboseli which take 45 minutes.
The jagged snow-capped peaks of Africa’s second highest mountain at 5199m (17,058 ft) dominate the horizon of this park, which lies on the equator. In the lower forest and bamboo zones, giant forest hog, tree hyrax, white tailed mongoose, elephant and leopard roam. Further up in the moor lands, there are hyrax, duiker and mouse shrews. The highest altitudes are home to the fairly common mole rat and the very rare golden cat.
Mt. Kenya is about 200 km (3 hours) drive from Nairobi.