The Best Safaris In Kenya

Safari In Tsavo East & West National Parks

Safari In Tsavo East & West National Parks
By Stuart Butler

Combined, Tsavo East and West National Parks cover an enormous swathe of Kenya.

Tsavo West alone (the bigger of the two parks) covers an area greater in size than Wales, or two and half times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

The two parks are separated from each other by the Nairobi-Mombasa highway and are easy to reach from either city.

Despite being directly adjacent, the two parks are radically different from one another with the green hills of Tsavo East a marked contrast to the red soil and volcanic landscapes of Tsavo West.

While the generally arid climate can't support the diversity of life of the Mara, Tsavo is still home to all the Big Five, including many prides of the Tsavo lion, whose males are known for their lack of manes and heightened aggression – in 1898, two maneless Tsavo lions, known as the Maneaters of Tsavo, killed more than 130 people.

Tsavo is home to many other safari staples such as hippos, impalas, dik-dik and hundreds of bird species. But this is primarily elephant country and Tsavo is renowned for the size of its tuskers (or rather, was renowned for them: sadly poachers have killed many of the more impressively tusked elephants).

Given the size of the parks, the game populations are much less compact and therefore harder to spot. But there is a more peaceful atmosphere to the Tsavo safari experience. Lodges in Tsavo generally offer transfers to and from the train stations at Voi and Mtito Andei as well as from the several airstrips in the parks.

Safari in Tsavo national parks

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Giraffe Tsavo East National Park Kenya

Giraffe standing tall in Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo National Parks wildlife

Tsavo has a diverse collection of wildlife, including some dry country species that you won’t see in the Masai Mara. However, because of the drier nature of the terrain and lower population density you’ll need to be patient.

Key species include elephants – some of which have reached huge sizes and many of which spend half their life coated in Tsavo’s fine red dust.

The parks are also renowned for their lions, and both leopard and cheetah are seen with some regularity.

If you’re really lucky you might see wild dogs or several cat species.Rhinos are present in the special rhino sanctuary but are also occasionally seen living elsewhere in the park.

Of the grazers, zebra and wildebeest are common and there are some unusual dry country species such as the gerenuk and oryx.

The birdlife is superb with some 500 species recorded.

Tsavo highlights

Aquatic life

At Mzima Springs, a beautiful green oasis with sky blue waters, the park authorities have constructed an underwater viewing chamber which allows you to peek in on hundreds of fish and – if you’re really lucky – one of the resident crocs or hippos.

Lava flows

The Shetani lava flows, just outside of Tsavo West, are a 50sqkm slab of petrified lava flow laid down just a few hundred years ago. This alien landscape offers startling views and you can hike up to the cinder cone.

Rhino spotting

A reserve within a reserve, the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary protects what remains of Tsavo’s once huge rhino population and a visit is a sure fire way of getting to see some of Kenya’s black rhino.

Kanderi swamp

One of the most idyllic places within this dusty, scrubby landscape, the Kanderi Swamp offers year round permanent water and grazing and as such attracts an impressive number of animals including plenty of lion and elephant.

Best time to visit the Tsavo National Parks

Any time between June and February is great for Tsavo (though it gets very hot by late February). The middle of the dry seasons (Sept-Oct and Jan-early March) sees wildlife congregating around water sources and consequently these are the best periods to be here. Park tracks can be washed away and many camps close during heavy March-June rains.

How to get to Tsavo National Parks

Tsavo is easy to fit into an overland journey along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway as the main gates lie right off this road. This makes Tsavo a good choice for independent travellers. As with the Masai Mara though most people fly with Air Kenya (www.airkenya.com) and Safari Link (www.flysafarilink.com) from Nairobi, the coast or Amboseli and Masai Mara parks.

Where to stay in Tsavo

Most of the accommodation is based inside the two parks although there are some cheaper options along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway.

In Tsavo West most of the accommodation is fairly expensive (unless you have your own camping gear in which case there are three spartan public campgrounds).

Finch Hatton’s (www.finchhattons.com) is the most exclusive accommodation within the park.

A more affordable and utterly delightful option is Kitani Safari Lodge (https://severin-travel.com/hotel-item/kitani-safari-lodge/), which offers simple self-catering cabins in a wilderness setting.

In Tsavo East there’s a more comprehensive range of accommodation including the spectacular Galdessa Camp (www.galdessa.com) and the more down to earth Satao Camp (www.sataocamp.com).

Safari In Tsavo East & West National Parks

Stuart Butler

Stuart is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China and the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. He also writes widely about East Africa and conservation issues.

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