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National Parks & Reserves in Kenya

National Parks & Reserves in Kenya include: Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu among the best places to visit in Kenya

Lake Nakuru National Park

There are the millions of flamingos seeking their food in the salty deep-green waters of Lake Nakuru. The protected area is primarily for birds, of which 400 to 500 species can be found here including cormorants and pelicans. However, visitors to Lake Nakuru may also catch a glimpse of Thomson gazelles, Grant gazelles, impalas, waterbucks, giraffes, buffaloes, and leopards. This park, one of the National Parks & Reserves in Kenya, has become Kenya’s premier Rhino sanctuary and is now home to both Black and White Rhinos, totaling to over 80 in number and could be one of the greatest attractions in Nakuru with its fantastic agglomeration of lesser flamingoes estimated to number between one and two million and make the lakeshore seem pink, while species of other water birds have been recorded. The national park covers 52 Sq. Kms in the area. Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge, Lake Nakuru Lodge, and Sarova Lion Hill Lodge are among the best places one can find accommodation inside the park while Flamingo hill tented camp is the newest property though located outside the park along the park fence and from the tent you can see wildlife grazing along the fence that include rhinos, buffalo, gazelles, zebras among others. Lake Nakuru serves as a connecting point to other destinations, however, it’s also a weekend-must visit destination with this 2 days safari being the best for a weekend outing.  Read more:   

Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara National Reserve offers an absolutely unique variety of animals. The reason is that this hilly region is both humid and fertile, and is crossed by the rivers Mara and Telek, full of crocodiles and hippos, and which carry water the whole year-round. The banks of the rivers are covered in thick forest, which gradually makes way for bush and grassland.

The abundance of water and excellent availability of food are the reasons why the Masai Mara, which in fact is a continuance of the Tanzanian Serengeti National Park, has the greatest population of wild animals in the whole of Africa. There is a particularly dramatic “spectacle” from July to November, the annual migration of huge herds of Gnus and Zebras. Predators such as Hyenas, Jackals, Leopards, and Lions of course, closely follow these herds. There is no place where more of this latter may be seen than in Masai Mara. Gigantic herds of over 200 buffaloes can also be observed. Plenty of food is available for elephants, giraffes, and the many species of antelopes and gazelles all of which can be observed in their natural habitat.

Masai Mara Game Reserve itself covers about 1,510 Sq. Kms (575 Sq. Miles) and because it’s such an outstanding place for game viewing. It is one of the best National Parks & Reserves in Kenya, It has several lodges and tented camps like Keekorok Lodge, Mara Serena, Mara Sopa, KichwaTembo, Governors Camp, Fig Tree Camp, Mara River Camp, Mara Cottar’s Camp, Mara Buffalo Camp among many new beautiful eco-camps and lodges.

Samburu National Reserve/ Shaba Reserve

Samburu-Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserve include in their boundaries all the flora and fauna to be found in the north of Kenya. The dry grasslands interspersed with acacias are interrupted from time to time by rich green vegetation, whenever enough water is present, e.g. the banks of the UasoNyiro River (with its huge Nile crocodiles) or in marsh regions. This countryside, dotted with volcanic peaks, offers a sanctuary to a wide variety of animals. These are baboons, reticulated giraffes, elephants, waterbucks, gerenuks, and Grevy zebras. Lions and cheetahs are not quite so common, but plenty of leopards can be sighted. There are no longer any rhinos. Samburu Game Reserve covering 165 Sq. Km in the area is situated near Isiolo in the north. It is the countryside of fairly dense bush equally thick with the game. As well as Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Grevy’s Zebra, and reticulated Giraffe, you can see Leopard, Cheetah, Lesser Kudu, Eland, Oryx, Gerenuk, Dikdik, Impala, Gazelle, and Waterbuck. Among the myriad birds are the Pygmy Falcons, Goshawks, and Sparrow weavers. One can find superb accommodation at the Samburu Game Lodge, the Samburu River Lodge among other tented camps and lodges in Samburu.

Tsavo East/West National Park

The both Tsavo National Parks are roughly kidney-shaped and 7,930 Sq. Miles (20,812 Sq. Kms) is bisected in the middle by the Mombasa road. For administrative convenience, the part north-east of the road is called Tsavo East with headquarters near Voi and measures 11,747 Sq. Kms and the part southwest of the road are Tsavo West with wardens’ offices near MtitoAndei and measures 9,065 Sq. Km. Overall, this famous park covers a vast section of the 200 miles of thorn scrub, spiked with bulbous trunks of baobab trees, that separate the tropical vegetation of the Coast from the great central plateau of the African continent.

It was the endless thorn scrub here that kept the peoples of the interior remote from western civilization for so many centuries. Try walking through it as the early missionaries did and you will soon understand. It has various names – the Nyika, which means thorn country, the Nyiri Desert, and the Taru desert. Much of the year, it’s burnt dry and dusty by the sun. Then overnight the rains transform it into a paradise of convolvulus flowers that burst out white and purple, the grass seed germinates and the bushes are suddenly green. Explorers hated it for the very reason that makes it an attraction today – the game. ‘Full of wild beasts, such as Rhinoceros, Buffaloes, and Elephants,’ the German missionary Rebmann, noted in his diary on May 11, 1848. Indeed it is full, though overgrazing has depleted the vegetation in parts and the Elephant population is now only an estimated 15,000 to 20,000. They are fairly accustomed to cars now, but if you meet one on the road, drive cautiously.

Tsavo’s lions also described as “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo” due to how they obstructed the building of the railway in the 1900s by the simple expedient of eating the linesmen.

In Tsavo West, which is rather hillier, the volcanic area where the Mzima Springs and other waters rise attracts most species of game. The springs, 40 km (25 miles) from MtitoAndei, form a series of clear pools. An observation tank in the top pool enables you to watch Hippo and Crocodile from underwater. Other major viewing places are at the Kangethwa Dam, the Kilaguni waterhole, and an artificial spring right in front of the Kilaguni Lodge. Other camps and lodges found in Tsavo West are Ngulia Lodge, Taita Hills Lodge, Kitani Lodge, Tsavo Safari Camp, and Salt Lick Lodge. More on Tsavo West

Tsavo East is less hilly with the exception of the dramatic line of the Yatta Plateau which rises almost parallel to the Mombasa road. Beyond this escarpment, to the east, is a seemingly endless expanse of low lying semi-desert, spiked with thorn bushes, most of which you can only visit by special permission of the Park Warden. All roads north of the Galana River, which cuts across Tsavo East, are closed to the public. Lugard Falls and Crocodile Point on the river are worth a visit, though the best places to see animals are unquestionably Aruba. The former is a great hump of rusty-colored rock overlooking a huge waterhole making a natural amphitheater. At the end of an exciting day, you can always relax at the Voi Safari Lodge, the Tsavo Safari Lodge, Ashnil Aruba Lodge, Voi Wildlife Lodge, and the famous Crocodile Camp. More about Tsavo East

Both National Parks are managed separately, but together they form the largest reserve in East Africa. The Northern part of Tsavo east may not, however, be visited by tourists. Nevertheless, the Tsavo National park, founded in 1947, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Kenya. In spite of its arid countryside and savannah vegetation, about 60 species of mammals and 400 different species of birds are to be found here. The Tsavo is particularly famous because of the “red elephants” which owe their color to the dust prevalent in this area. As well as lions and cheetahs, there are many antelopes (Oryx, kudus, and Grant’s gazelles and giraffe gazelles), zebras, Masai giraffe, baboons, and vervet monkeys. Of the birds, the most impressive is the Masai ostrich. Where there is water, such as Mzima springs, crocodiles and hippos can be seen.

Amboseli National Park

The combination of scenery, people, and animals are what makes the Amboseli National Park so fascinating. Beautifully situated at the foot of the towering Mt. Kilimanjaro, it the home of the brightly painted Masai Tribe. Here you can see lions, cheetahs, hyenas as well as Gnus, buffaloes, zebras, and herds of elephants. All these animals come to drink at water holes consisting of small lakes or muddy ponds kept filled up by water from the melting snows of Kilimanjaro. The northern Lake Amboseli contains water only after rain 

Amboseli National Park is situated just over 150 km from Nairobi. This is a 392 Sq. Kms (149 Sq. Miles) of swamps and plains country inside a 3,260 sq km reserve all dominated by the snowcapped peak of Kilimanjaro. It is about 3,500 ft above sea level.

Before the 1,235 sq miles of the Amboseli Game Reserve had their most vital 149 sq miles designated as a National Park, the Masai shared the area with the game which they seldom kill for meat, being preoccupied with their cattle. But there wasn’t enough pasture for both and under an agreement with the government, the Masai moved after a pipeline had been constructed to bring them water outside the park. Lake Amboseli though blue on maps, is a dry bed of soda most of the year and even produces mirages like a desert. A road cuts across it but the Loginya and other swamps remain wet, attracting large herds of Elephant and Buffalo who migrate to them during the dry season. Amboseli protects herds of Kongoni, Eland, Oryx, Wildebeest, Gazelle, and Zebra. Of the cat family are the Caracal, cheetah, Civet Cat, Leopard, Lion, and Serval Cat though sometimes hard to spot them. The Rhino, formerly famous, have been all but poached almost to extinction. Accommodation is available at Amboseli Serena Lodge, Amboseli Lodge, Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, Kilimanjaro Buffalo Lodge among other newest lodges and eco-tented camps. Read more

Aberdare National Park

The foothill of the Aberdare National Park is covered with huge trees, which, the higher you go; gradually give way to Bamboo forests. From about 3,000 meters upwards the landscape consists primarily of alpine moorland. Still higher is an area of grassland with, from time to time, giant lobelias presenting an attractive contrast. The rich vegetation of this park is blessed with crystal clear streams, waterfalls, and lakes teeming with fish. This means an ideal habitat for a wide variety of mammals and birds, although the wildlife here is still very shy, and the lodges often have to put out salt licks to attract the animals. With a bit of luck, it is possible to see the “BIG FIVE” whereas it may be somewhat more difficult to sight the local black varieties of Leopards and Servals. Aberdare National Park covers an area of approximately 765.7 Sq. Kms and is the highest game park in the world and boasts of having two very spectacular waterfalls; Karura, dropping 894 ft in three stages. Especially near the water, there is fantastic growth of moss and giant vegetation peculiar to the East African Mountains. Groundsel and Lobelias, small plants in Europe, reach 15 ft high here. In good weather, the park road leads to superb views of the Rift Valley as it descends on the other side of the Aberdares to the Kinangop Plateau and Naivasha. Aberdare National Park is 17 Kms from Nyeri town which is about 2hrs drive from Nairobi. Read more

Nairobi National Park For the live entertainment that most people come to see, the 117 Sq. Kms (44 Sq. Miles) Nairobi National Park ranks the first and is so close to the city one could call it a suburb inhabited by animals. The main gate brings you into the wooded Langata corner, where you are quite likely to find Lions strolling along the road though more often they are lying up in the shade of a thorn tree, or among some rocks. The early evening is the time to see them when they are waking up from their afternoon siesta. Other wildlife includes Zebra, Kongoni, Gazelle, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Impala, an occasional Rhino, Baboons, Crocodile, and Hippos in the river pools, Leopard, Cheetah, Hyena, Eland, Warthog, and Ostrich. Remember not to get out of your car except at the signposted picnic places and that this is still at your own risk. The park is open all year. Read more

Kisite Marine Park and Mpunguti Marine Reserve located on the south coast off Shimoni and south of Wasini Island in Kwale District. The complex covers a marine area with four small islands surrounded by coral-reef. Kisite park covers 11 Sq Kms. while the Mpunguti reserve covers 28. Kisite Island is mainly grass-covered and an important breeding ground for sea birds while Mpunguti Islands have a dense coastal equatorial forest. Surrounding waters have well-developed coral gardens and fishes.

Kisite Marine Park can be approached easily by motorboat or traditional dhow from Shimoni. 45 varieties of coral have so far been identified with over 250 fish species recorded. One of the attractions is Dolphin watching. At Shimoni, which literally means a “hole” in Swahili, one is able to see caves used by slave traders to hide slaves during the slave trade era from the liberators of the slave trade. Kisite Marine Park is an ideal place for diving. Diving gear is easily available from tour agents around Shimoni. Both Kisite Marine Park and Mpunguti Marine Reserve are located on the south coast off Shimoni and south of Wasini Island in Kwale District. The complex covers a marine area with four small islands surrounded by coral-reef. It is an ideal place for diving and diving gear is easily available from tour agents around Shimoni. Read more

Shimba Hills National Reserve The 320 Sq Kms reserve is located 56 km south of Mombasa and is within easy reach of coastal resorts. Shimba Hills Reserve offers beautiful, lush scenery, good for those wishing to take a break from the beach to view terrestrial wildlife. The reserve comprises a unique and botanically rich coastal rain forest and open glades. Two of Kenya’s most beautiful orchids occur in Shimba Hills. Besides the locally endemic sable antelope, are buffalo, elephant, giraffe, leopard, and several species of primates. The reserve also hosts Palaearctic birds during late March-early April. The reserve has 19 tree species, 13 forest birds, and 7 mammalian species under threat. The best places to see the game are on the flat grasslands near the spectacular Shedrick’s fall and on Lango Plains near Giriama Point with a tremendous view over rolling parkland to the escarpment, from where one can look out to the Indian Ocean with a view of some hotels on along the beach. The reserve’s main access is via Diani. Inside the reserve are a 153 km road network and one airstrip. Accommodation is at Shimba Hills Lodge, KWS Bandas, and 2 campsites. Read more

Hell’s Gate National Park which covers an area of 68.25 sq km is situated in the environs of Lake Naivasha about 90 km from Nairobi. The park is situated 14 km after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway. The park is characterized by diverse topography and geological scenery. It is famous for its natural geysers, eagle and vulture breeding grounds.

Scenic locations include Fisher’s Tower, the Central Tower, and the Njorowa gorge. Two extinct volcanoes: Olkaria and Hobley’s are located here. Natural steam vents rise from fissures in the volcanic rock. Obsidian, a striking black glassy rock formed from cooled molten lava is a feature of this landscape.

The flora is mainly grasslands and shrublands with the latter being dominated by LeIeshwa and several species of acacia. Large mammals found in the park include buffalo, eland, plains zebra, Grants and Thompson’s gazelles, reedbuck, impala, Coke’s hartebeest Masai giraffe, lion, leopard, cheetah, and spotted hyena. The gorge and cliffs are breeding sites for several species of raptors and swifts. 103 species of birds have been recorded in the park. The Olkaria Geothermal Station is located inside the park. Read more

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest stretch of coastal forest remaining in Eastern Africa. Together with the adjoining Mida Creek, the forest comprises an ecosystem of great diversity, containing many rare species of birds, butterflies, amphibians, and plants. It is also more than a superb area for wildlife: in addition, it provides local communities with firewood, building poles, timber, carving wood, medicines, water, and the resource for community butterfly farming. All these benefits will only be sustainable by effectively conserving and maintaining the integrity of the forest without further degradation or loss of land area.

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