Kenya is the original home of the safari and it’s still one of the finest safari destinations on the continent.

I've been travelling to Kenya for decades, as a travel journalist and guidebook author writing about safari, conservation and life among the Maasai tribes.

The main thing I've learned: there's so much more to Kenya than the mainstream safari industry of luxury camps, the Masai Mara, and the famed 'Big Five' beasts (so named because they were the prize targets of early-20th century hunters). Beyond the glossy brochures, Kenya’s natural heritage spans grassland plains stomped by the feet of a million wildebeest to dense forests, glacial mountain peaks and rich coastal coral reefs.

The country proudly boasts of an impressive network of protected spaces made up of 65 national parks and reserves as well as dozens of private and community conservancies. Together these cover a huge proportion of Kenya’s diverse landscapes and habitats and provide a home for animals as large as an elephant and as tiny as an elephant shrew.

Some parks, such as the Masai Mara and Amboseli, are rightly world famous. Other parks, such as Meru National Park or Kakamega Forest Reserve, barely make a blip on the safari circuit but are every bit as rewarding (and much quieter!) then the big name parks and reserves.

Kenya has a world class safari tourism industry with excellent safari operators catering to all budgets and a diverse portfolio of safari lodges and camps. All you need to decide is when and where to go – and that's where my guide comes in.

Dig in and Safari njema! – (Have a nice trip!)

Kenya's best safari parks

Our expert's top picks

Stuart Butler
By Stuart Butler

In a standard two week safari it’s perfectly possible — in fact I'd highly recommend — to explore three or four different protected areas. Ideally with each one offering a totally different habitat and set of wildlife inhabitants. If I had to pick a favourite, I'd probably vote for Meru National Park, but any of the following could feature on a Kenya safari.

Kenya_Msaramara Kilimanjaro Wildebeest

Safari game drive with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance, Masai Mara Reserve

Planning a Kenya safari

Everything you wish you'd known before you booked

National parks vs private conservancies

National parks, reserves and conservancies are mentioned a lot in this guide, but just what is the difference and why does it matter?

A national park or reserve is a government or local council run protected area. Most of the best-known protected areas in Kenya fall into this category.

These areas are run solely for the benefit of wildlife and tourism, sometimes at the expense of local people. Tourism in these areas creates jobs, but locals are often forbidden from entering these protected areas other than for work reasons and communities were often (but not always) removed from their land when the parks and reserves were created. Corruption can be a problem with the money generated by these parks not always going where it should.

A conservancy is a different affair. A conservancy is normally located on either communal land owned by the community as a whole or on private ranch land and has no official government status. On a community conservancy the tourism stakeholders (i.e. the safari camps) lease the land from the local communities on the condition that the land is managed in a manner that is of benefit to both people and animals. The (normally very high) fees you pay to stay in a conservancy go toward paying the land leasing fees as well as various community and environmental projects.

Other conservancies may be located on private ranchland, in which case they have to make enough money for the landowner to financially justify turning his land over to wildlife conservation over cattle ranching.

In other words, a conservancy is run for the benefit of both wildlife conservation, tourism and the needs of local communities (in many cases local people are allowed to continue to graze their cattle on a conservancy but in a controlled and sustainable manner).

All of this means that staying in a conservancy is not just a great safari experience but it’s also very good news for conservation!

Conservation volunteering

If you’ve ever wondered what the hide of a rhino feels like, wanted to experience a safari at night or dreamed of running (or riding) in the wild, open air of a safari reserve, head to Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The conservancy is 45 minutes outside of Nanyuki town at the foothills of Mount Kenya. The sanctuary is the largest in East Africa to host black rhino and two of the world’s last remaining white rhino. Ol Pejeta is also the only place in Kenya you can see chimpanzees. Conservation is at its core, with several experiences available for intrepid safari-goers who want to do more than just watch the animals.

Those looking to get their hands dirty can join one of the one or two-week volunteer programmes and learn wildlife research and tracking, veterinary care and more of what goes on behind the scenes. People of all ages can join in the fun as well, with the junior ranger day pack for 4-12 years olds introducing younger conservationists to the world of a park ranger. The conservancy has several accommodation options from simple cottages to basic campsites and luxury tented eco-camps.

When to go

Aside from the height of wet season in April, you can have a good safari in Kenya pretty much year-round. The overall best time to go is probably September to October, but there are pros and cons to other months, too.

Kenya beyond the safari camps

Many visitors to Kenya devote their entire trip to going on safari.

But what first time safari goers often don’t realise is just how exhausting a safari can be. Hours and hours spent in a vehicle on bumpy dirt tracks and lots of early mornings can all quickly lead to safari overkill.

So it’s strongly advised to mix your safari up with some other sights and activities. And fortunately Kenya has no shortage of non-safari activities. Here's a rundown on things to do in Kenya other than go on safari.


You can expect to pay anything from $150 to $1,000 per person per day: There are almost as many different ways of doing a safari as there are stripes on a zebra and how, when and where you safari makes a huge difference to what you pay.

Kenya safari FAQs

Your questions, our expert answers


Would you recommend staying in Samburu Reserve such as Elephant Bedroom Camp, or Sarara in the Far North?

Asked by Rick

There's not a huge difference in habitat or wildlife between Elephant Bedroom within Samburu reserve or Sarara camp in the neighbouring conservancy. The quantity and ease of seeing wildlife within the reserve is definitely better than within the Namyunak conservancy (where Sarara is located) and Elephant Bedroom is a fabulous, small camp. You will see a lot of elephants while staying there and the owners are some of the worlds foremost elephant experts.

Sarara though is one of the most exclusive - yet low-key - camps in Kenya. Again there's a lot of wildlife present but not as much as the reserve (wildlife is drawn to the river running through the reserve). But, it's very close to the reserve and safaris from Sarara often also take place within the reserve.

The bonus with Sarara is exclusivity. You and the other camp guests will have the entire place to yourself meaning no crowding around animals (though that's always pretty minimal in Samburu area anyway).

Unlike in the reserve itself you can also walk in the conservancy and there will be more interaction with local people. The final plus is that by staying at Sarara on a conservancy you will be actively helping to fund private/community conservation initiatives which isn't always the case when staying only in the reserve which is county council run.

Overall then, I would opt for Sarara Camp, but I suspect it does cost more, so it might come down to budget!

Stuart Butler
Answered by Stuart Butler

We are travelling with a large group of 5 families with 3-4 kids per family. What are the best budget friendly safaris in Kenya in July?

Asked by Assumpta

If most of the children in your group are very young your options are fairly limited as the reality is that a longer, multi-day safari can be a bit much with very young kids. I first did a safari with my kids when they were 5 and 2 years old and although it was good I probably wouldn't have done it again! Beyond the age of about 8 or 9 is much easier for a safari as children will tolerate sitting in a jeep on a bumpy road for longer.

Do be aware that some safari camps don't accept children below the age of 12. These are normally the unfenced camps and it's done for safety reasons.

You will also need to keep in mind that you will either need several safari jeeps and to travel in convoy or a bus (and these aren't always allowed in some parks). Because you will be travelling with so many children I would suggest small safari camps which you can book out for your group alone. Some of these are more child friendly than others. Some possibiltles that I believe might work well for your group are: Maji Moto Eco Camp, Loita Hills Basecamp, and if you are interested in a Maasai homestay style experience then I'd suggest Semadep Camp, who can arrange homestays around the Masai Mara.

As for specific parks and reserves the Masai Mara area is good because there's a lot of animals to see everywhere you look which keeps children interested. Also good are Nairobi and Narok national parks because of easy access and good roads. Lake Naivasha is good for families too.

It would be easy to combine all these places into a 10 day safari and then you could maybe finish up on the beach (Lamu and Watamu are both superb for families).

Stuart Butler
Answered by Stuart Butler

In this guide:

About the author

Safari in Kenya

Stuart Butler

Stuart is an award-winning travel journalist covering safari, trekking and conservation in Africa for the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, BBC, Bradt Travel Guides, amongst many others. He is the author of Walking With The Maasai, a journey through some of Kenya's lesser-visited Maasai lands.

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