The Best Safaris In Kenya: An Essential Guide

Kenya Safari Off The Beaten Track

Kenya Safari Off The Beaten Track
By Stuart Butler

The parks and reserves covered above are only the best-known and most visited of Kenya’s many safari destinations.

For those who want to explore the natural history of this diverse nation in more detail the following parks and reserves are all well worth a visit.

But, even this list is far from complete and for every park listed here there are two or three other reserves, forest areas, parks or conservancies that all have something special to offer.

Chyulu Hills National Park

Bursting up above the hot red plains of Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks, the Chyulu Hills are a little visited, little known paradise of rolling green hills and forest.

The wildlife can be a bit hit and miss but there are still plenty of grazers around plus there are opportunities to mingle with Maasai herdsmen, walk across pretty landscapes and visit lava tubes.

Shimba Hills National Reserve

Just inland of the popular Diani Beach, Shimba Hills makes for a brilliant short safari from the coast. The densely vegetated park has a large and visible elephant population and is the only place in Kenya where the stately sable antelope can be seen.

There’s also plentiful warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, buffalo and some introduced giraffes. Half and full day safaris can be easily organised from most of the beach resorts south of Mombasa. It’s a good bet for a family safari.

Watamu Marine National Park

For a somewhat wetter ‘safari’ don’t miss the chance to don a snorkel and mask and peer down onto the underwater life of Kenya’s finest marine reserve. The vibrant coral reefs here teem with fish and a few turtles. At certain times of year whales and dolphins can be seen much further offshore. There is also a marine park in nearby Malindi and, south of Mombasa, there’s the Kisite Marine National Park.

Lake Bogoria National Reserve

Two hours drive north of the city of Nakuru, Lake Bogoria is another of Kenya’s Rift Valley soda lakes and as such when conditions are ideal it attracts tens of thousands of flamingos. Unfortunately, recent years have seen the lake waters rising and the flamingos are a less common sight than they once were.

Even so, this out of the way park is worth visiting just to see the hot springs that bubble up out of the ground around the lake. A little further north still is delightful Lake Baringo. It’s not officially protected but it’s a laid back spot to kick back and go on boat rides to see hippos, crocodiles and fish eagles.

Aberdare National Park

A world away from the African safari image of savannah grasses and drooling sunsets, the Aberdares consists of two different ecosystems. A high, cold and often bleak moorland and, below that, dense tangled montane jungle.

The wildlife here is a little different and a little harder to spot. But elephants are very common as are big grumpy buffalo. There are also montane species you won’t see anywhere else including bongo antelope, bush pigs and melanistic leopard and serval.

Unusually among Kenyan national parks, you can also get out of the vehicle here and enjoy long, lonely hikes over the moorlands.

The park also has some history. In 1952, a young English lady named Elizabeth was staying at the famed Treetops Lodge here (today’s version is actually a reconstruction of the original) when it was announced that her father had died. And so it was, that on a remote Kenyan mountain slope, that young lady became Queen Elizabeth II. Many years later her eldest grandson, and future king, proposed to Kate Middleton in a small wooden fishing cabin in a spot not so far away from where his grandmother became Queen.

Mt Kenya National Park

Africa’s second highest mountain, and one of the only places on Earth where ice can be seen permanently on the Equator (though with the speed at which the glaciers are melting it’s not certain for how much longer this will be the case), Mt Kenya (5199m) is a serious multi-day trekking challenge. The slopes of the mountain are home to some unusual plant and animal life.

Kakamega Forest Reserve

For something totally different head out to the far west of Kenya. The land here is wet, green and intensely cultivated with a mix of subsistence farming and large tea estates. In amongst all this though are a few pockets of the dense rainforests that once covered large parts of western Kenya.

The Kakamega Forest Reserve is a fine example of this kind of forest and interesting walking safaris here will reveal bird and primate life that has more in common with the forests of Uganda and the Congo than anything else you’ll have seen in Kenya. In our opinion, Kakamega is one of the most delightful places in Kenya, but yet hardly any tourists know of its existence.

Kenya Safari Off The Beaten Track

Stuart Butler

Stuart is an award-winning travel journalist covering safari 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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