For authentic African experiences, Kenya is one of a kind safari destination that shouldn’t miss out in your bucket list. Not only does this magical country feature the most vibrant savanna grasslands but also the most stunning protected areas for you to explore while on safari in Africa. For absolute bush experiences, Kenya is undoubtedly the most excellent place for you to spot out most of the big game in Africa, variety of birdlife, incredible landscapes and others that make it a true magical destination. Interestingly, over eight (8) percent of Kenya’s land is largely occupied by either national parks or national reserves and makes this spectacular country one of the wilderness paradises in East Africa. Kenya is one of the rarest safari destinations in Africa where visitors can realize a true representation of tourist attractions as they are widely distributed. And the most interesting part of it is that most of Kenya’s regions are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and others. For breathtaking wildlife experiences of lifetime in Kenya, the following national parks should be a must to include in your bucket list.
Situated in southwestern Kenya just at the border with Serengeti in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is undeniably Africa’s wilderness paradise. This national reserve was first founded in 1948 as a wildlife sanctuary and then changed to Game Reserve around 1961. It covers an area of about 1500 square kilometers and it largely features savanna grassland with thin grass and dotted acacia species of trees. About 3 (three) Rivers drain the Maasai Mara area and it is from these Rivers that most popular images of the Great Migration are spotted. Maasai Mara National Reserve isn’t only popular for its big five game in Africa (Leopards, Buffaloes, Black Rhinos, Lions and Elephants) but it is also credited for its intense herds of wildebeests and zebras. Other incredible wildlife species to spot out in the reserve include topi, elands, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, cheetah, jackal, fox, impalas, hyenas as well as over 500 distinct species of birds 57% of which are mainly raptors. For keen bird enthusiasts, you will spot out birds like the Kori bustard, Rufous bellied heron, Sooty chat, Usambiro barbet, Secretary bird, Abdim’s stork, African fin foot, African wood owl, Cinnamon breasted bunting, Denham’s bustard, Giant kingfisher, Red throated tit, Ross’s Turaco, Ostriches, Ayres’s hawk eagle, Grey penduline tit and many others.
The exciting tourist activities to participate in the Maasai Mara National Reserve include wildlife viewing, nature walks, camel rides, horseback rides, birding, canoeing, village walks and others.
Amboseli National Park is situated southeast of Nairobi approximately 240 kilometers and features as the second most famous protected area after the Maasai Mara National Park. The park was established in 1968 and designated as a national park in 1974. This protected area covers an area of about 400 square kilometers and refuges mostly swamps where most of the park’s wildlife species can be spotted as well as bird species. It offers refuge to 2 of the 5 major swamps and covers the dried up Pleistocene Lake and semi arid vegetation.
Amboseli National Park offers refuge to wildlife species like cape buffaloes, elephants, spotted hyenas, lions, cheetahs, Maasai giraffes, plain zebras, impalas, blue wildebeests, hippos as well as over 400 bird species, 47 of which are raptors. The notable bird species to spot out in the park include pelicans, Egyptian goose, crakes, Hammerkops, yellow crowned and Zanzibar bishop, white bellied and black bustard, fire fronted, fishers sparrow lark, pink breasted, fawn colored lesser kestrel, chestnut bellied and black faced sang rouse, lesser flamingos, Madagascar pond heron, kingfishers and others.
The park is accessible by road from Nairobi through Namanga approximately 240 kilometers off Nairobi-Arusha route, via Meshanani gate. By air, there is one airstrip where light aircrafts land around Empusel gate and others are in Kilimanjaro buffalo lodge and Namanga town.
For visitor stays, the prime accommodation facilities in Amboseli National Park include Chui cottages, Simba cottages, Kilimanjaro Guesthouse and campsites like Amboseli campsite. The notable lodges include Amboseli Serena lodge, Tortilis Tented Lodge, Oltukai Lodge and others.
This park is best described as the majestic moorland for many reasons. It offers refuge to Aberdare Mountain ranges-the famous 3rd highest massifs in Kenya where the park also derived its name and these mountain ranges feature most of the magical peaks, deep valleys, stunning waterfalls, volcanic outcrops and others. Aberdare National Park was founded in 1950 and it covers an area of about 766 square kilometers. The park refuges wildlife species such as black rhinos, buffaloes, warthogs, leopards, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, elephants, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, African wild cat, serval cat, golden cat, African civet cat, blue duikers, giant forest hogs, bongo and others. The park also offers refuge to more than 250 bird species most of which include the sparrow hawks, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds, plovers, Jackson’s francolin and others. Travelers on safari to this protected area have opportunity to engage in picnicking safaris, camping, trout fishing.
Aberdare National Park can be reached by road using a 4wheel safari car from Nairobi or fly and land to Nanyuki and connect by road to Nyeri approximately 180 kilometers off Nairobi or alternatively to Naru Moru up to the park’s entrances in the east. The notable airfields include the Nyeri and Mweiga.
For travelers stay at the park, the prime accommodation facilities include the Aberdare Country Club, Ark tree lodge and many others.
A few birders paradises exist on earth and just at the floor of the mighty Rift Valley, bordered by most of the wooded and bushy grasslands, sprawls a magnificent Lake Nakuru National Park. If you are interested in exploring variety of distinct ecological species and different habitats which stretch from Lake Nakuru to the adjacent escarpments and stunning ridges then Lake Nakuru National Park is a place for you to realize your dreams. This 188 square kilometer protected area is a perfect site for birding, wildlife viewing, hiking and picnicking tours. Despite its size, the park offers refuge to variety of attractions most of which include waterfalls, majestic cliffs, shallow Soda Lake and countless pearl white pelicans as well as pink flamingos. About 400 bird species thrive within the park and besides the notable pelicans and flamingos; the others include cormorants, ducks, white winged black terns, black winged stilts, avocets and several migrant waders that flock to the area during European winter. You will also have a chance to sight rhinos, leopards, buffaloes, African wild dog, zebra, eland, lions, baboons, colobus monkeys and many more.
Lake Nakuru National Park is situated 164 kilometers northwest of Nairobi and you can access it through Nairobi-Nakuru route. The prime lodging facilities around the park include Lake Nakuru Lodge, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge, Naishi Guesthouse and campsites especially the Reedbuck campsite, Chui campsite, baboon cliff, pelican picnic site, acacia picnic site, soysambu campsite, Kambi Nyati campsite and others
For city dwellers, Nairobi National Park is the perfect destination that you should consider for your weekend getaway. The park is situated near the city center and covers an area of about 117 square kilometers. It largely features savanna grassland with vast grassland plains and dotted acacia bush. On the western part, there is a highland of dry forest and a permanent River with a Riverine forest in the south. Nairobi National Park is also known for the big 5 game that include Lions, buffaloes, black rhinos, leopards, elephants as well as cheetah, hyenas, zebra, wildebeests, elands and more than 400 bird species. Other areas of interest for visitors include the walking trails at hippo pools, Nairobi safari walks, animal orphanage, picnic sites, wildlife viewing, ivory burning site monument and many more. The notable accommodation facilities for you to spend a night at Nairobi National Park include Ole Sereni Hotel, African Heritage House, Eka Hotel and many others.
Central Island National Park is situated along Lake Turkana shores about 800 kilometers off Nairobi. This park is famous as the Crocodile Island and it also features as the volcanic Island which straddles within Lake Turkana-the most popular permanent and enormous desert Lake on earth. The park features about 3 (three) incredible Crater Lakes that include the Crocodile Lake, Tilapia Lake and Flamingo Lake which offer breeding grounds most of the Nile crocodiles in the world and other reptiles like the puff adders, cobra, Egyptian saw scaled viper as well as hippos. Besides, there are also other wildlife species for you to spot out especially the lesser kudus, stripped hyena and gravy zebra, Grant’s gazelle, Oryx, caracal, Dik-Dik, olive baboons and others.
The most sought after tourist activities at Central Island National Park include wildlife spotting, crocodile watching, bird watching, launch cruise, hiking/nature walks and others.
Tsavo East and West National Parks
Tsavo East and West National Parks feature as Kenya’s biggest conservation area. If you are interested in wilderness and authentic African experiences then consider these parks in your travel plan. They mainly feature the big five game (elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, lions, leopards). Tsavo East National Park can easily be reached compared to Tsavo West and it offers refuge to most of the hippos, crocodiles, red elephants, waterbucks, lesser kudus, gerenuk, and over 500 distinct bird species. Both protected areas can be perfectly explored from May to October. The Tsavo West National Park which is also famous as the Land of Lava, springs and man eaters inhabits the most stunning savanna eco system that includes the vast grasslands, acacia woodland, scrublands, belts of Riverine and rugged ridges. Besides the big five game, Tsavo West National Park offers refuge to the threatened corncrake and Basra reed warbler.
Tsavo National Park is situated in the Coast Province of Kenya, between Nairobi and Mombasa. Tsavo west national park is accessible from Amboseli national park 52 kilometers to Chyulu gate and by air; the excellent airfields for chartered flights in Kenya include the Mtito Andei, Jipe, Maktau, Tsavo and Chyulu gate.
This park derived its name from an immense geothermal activity that took place at the border area. It features splendid sceneries which comprise of the towering cliffs, stark rock towers, scrub clad volcanoes and water gouged gorges, belching plumes of geothermal steam and others.
Hell’s Gate National Park is the best site for visitors who are interested in day trips especially for wildlife viewing, birding, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, exploring the geothermal power stations, visits to the Maasai cultural center and excursions to Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island Game Park.
The park covers an area of about 68 square kilometers and lies around Lake Naivasha approximately 90 kilometers’ drive off Nairobi, 14 kilometers after the old Nairobi-Naivasha route.
For adventure lovers and other visitors who are planning for their weekend getaway, Mount Longonot National Park is ideally the best place for you to explore while on safari in Kenya. The park covers an area of about 52 square kilometers and offers refuge to Mount Longonot an extinct volcano where the park derived its name from. This volcano also has a dense forest at the crater which offers incredible scenic views beyond the stunning rift valley to Lake Naivasha. It was established in 1984 to offer refuge to most of its lions, leopards, elands, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, Grant’s gazelles, bushbucks and about 100 bird species. The main activities to be enjoyed at the park include walking, hiking, picnicking, rock climbing, biking, wildlife spotting and others. For visitor stay at Mount Longonot National Park, the prime accommodation facilities include Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge, Enashipai Lodge and campsites.
Chyulu Hills National Park derived its name from Chyulu Hills which are located about 200 kilometers Southeast of Nairobi and 30 kilometers southwest of Kibwezi. The hills feature ash cones and craters with no permanent surface water though rainfall that flows into its porus rock feeds most of the permanent fresh water sources that are in and around the plains, especially the Mzima springs and the Tsavo and Galana Rivers. These hills aren’t disturbed and they offer refuge to the park’s distinct vegetation and wildlife. Chyulu Hills National Park consists of the Eastern flanks of the hills plus over half of the forest area. Its boundary stretches up to the central part of the hills on the line of the peaks. The western half forms part of the western Chyulu Protected Area that is owned by the Maasai group ranches. The main tourist attractions at this protected area comprise of the splendid views of Chyulu hills, cave exploration, wildlife especially reptiles such as puff adder, rock python, Geko, black mamba, tortoise, lizards as well as mammal species like buffaloes, elephants, elands, leopards, reed buck, bushbuck and others. Chyulu Hills National Park is a perfect site for you go for horse back riding, game drives, mountain climbing, cave exploration, scenic views Mount Kilimanjaro, birding, camping and others.
The notable accommodation facilities in Chyulu Hills National Park include the Spirit of Ol Donyo Lodge and due to its proximity to Tsavo protected areas, visitors can also book the nearby lodges like the Tsavo West Kilaguni Lodge, Taita Hills Lodge, Serena Lodge, Tsavo West Ngulia Safari Lodge, Tsavo West Salt Lick Lodge and others.
Mount Kenya National Park
Mount Kenya Protected Area is located east of the mighty Rift Valley approximately 175 kilometers Northeast of Nairobi. It was founded around 1949 mainly to offer refuge to Mount Kenya, wildlife and its adjacent sites that offer refuge to most of the park’s wildlife species. Mount Kenya stretches up to 5199 meters making it the second highest peak in Africa and it acts as one of the main water catchment areas in Kenya. The park covers an area of 2800 square kilometers, offering refuge to most of the stunning mountain Rivers, forests, moorland rock and ice.
The notable wildlife species to spot out in this protected area include the white tailed mongoose, tree hyrax, elephants, black fronted duiker, mole rat, bushbucks, elands, waterbucks and leopards, giant forest hogs as well as rhinos are uncommonly sighted at the park. There are over 130 species of birds for you to sight. The most sought after tourist activities in Mount Kenya National Park include mountain climbing, wildlife viewing, camping and cave exploration.
The park can be accessed via Nanyuki Isiolo route through Sirimon track or through Nyeri to Nanyuki route around Naro-Moru.
For visitor stay, the notable accommodation facilities include Sirimon Cottage, Batian Guesthouse as well as campsites like Kinondoni campsite, Hoad head, Met Station campsite, Narumoru gate campsite, solo campsite and others.
Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park lies in the south coast between Shimon and south of Wasini Island in Kwale town, south of Kenyan coast next to Tanzanian border area. For visitors who are interested in marine life, this is right place for you. The park largely comprises of the marine sites with 4 (four) tiny Islands that are bordered by coral reefs. Kisite Island features as a small waterless coral island and it is situated eight kilometers along the shoreline of the park. The 3 additional coral islets in the protected area include Mpunguti Ya Juu, Liwe La Jahazi and Mpunguti Ya Chini and these are next to the enormous Wasini Island. The park stretches up to 39 square kilometers and its main tourist attraction comprise of the dolphin-Bottlenose and Humpback dolphins, sea turtles-Green turtle and hawksbill, coral fish species, sea birds and most of the humpback whales are always spotted around the shallow waters of this protected area.
The prime tourist activities to participate while on safari to Kisite National Park include birding, scenic viewing, snorkeling, camping, diving and others. For your stay over at the park, the best options for you include Shimoni cottages, Mpunguti campsite and Chlobus campsite.
Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is situated 470 kilometers northwest of Nairobi just at the border between Kenya and Uganda. You can drive for about 11 kilometers off Kitale to reach this protected area and if you are around the Saiwa Swamp National Park, you can easily connect to Mount Elgon National Park. Alternatively, you can fly and land in Eldoret Airport which is close to the park.
The park extends up to 169 square kilometers and offers refuge to Mount Elgon that features as the second largest mountain in the heart of Kenya. This mountain comes with vast areas natural forests and large Elgon teak and cedar tree species which stretch about 24 meters above the forest floor. This mountain is also famous for its remarkable tube caves which offer refuge to most of the resident elephants. Mount Elgon National Park on Kenya side offers refuge to more than 400 elephants, buffaloes, leopards, blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, hogs, antelope families and many more and these can easily be spotted while you are on a 4wheel drive safari car as there are numerous walking trails that take visitors through the park. About 3 nature trails are available and all of them take visitors up to the caves and elephants bluff. Over 240 bird species call Mount Elgon National Park their home and most of them include the hartlaub’s Turacos, red headed parrot, cinnamon chested bee eater and others.
Visitors on safari to Mount Elgon National Park mainly participate in mountaineering or hiking, wildlife viewing, birding and camping. The prime areas for visitor stay include Kapkuro cottages, Rongai public campsite, Chorlim campsite, Nyati campsite and others. Mount Elgon National Park is the perfect site for visitors who are interested in untapped wilderness experiences.
Meru National Park
Unlike other protected areas, Meru National Park is credited for its absolute wilderness experiences. The park lies at the Equator and bisected by 13 Rivers and several mountain fed streams making it one of Kenya’s magnificent protected areas. Its varied scenery ranges from woodlands which stand at 1036 meters on the slopes of Nyambeni Mountain range, northeast of Mount Elgon to vast plains with meandering Riverbanks that come with scattered doum palms.
The notable wildlife species to catch a glimpse at this park include leopards, cheetahs, elephants, black rhinos, zebras, Oryx, gazelle, antelope families, lesser kudu and duiker as well as Dik-Dik. Its Rivers offer refuge to most of the hippos and crocodiles as well as fish species like barbus and catfish. About 300 bird species thrive within the park and they include the brown backed woodpecker, sunbirds peter’s fin foot, red necked falcon, Heuglins courser, Pel’s fishing Owl, kingfishers, rollers, bee eaters, weavers, starling and many more. It is also very popular as the setting for Joy Adamson’s book ‘Born Free,’ a tale of Adamson’s life and research on lions and cheetah.
Meru National Park has one lodge with over 132 beds and 2 (two) tented camps as well as eight stunning campsites that you have to book in advance, one public camp site, Elsa Camp, Kenya Wildlife Services self help bandas and Leopard Rock Lodge.
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
Ol Donyo National Park features an intense forested mountain and there is one road that takes visitors to its top that provides splendid panoramas views of the River Athi, Pineapple fields of Thika and the snow capped peaks of Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro. The park is 85 kilometers’ drive off Nairobi and from Thika town; you take off for 22 kilometers through the main Garissa route to Makutano junction.
Ol Donyo National Park offers refuge to over 45 bird species most of which include the grey headed sparrow weaver, African pied wagtail, white browed sparrow weaver, African hawk eagle, purple breasted sunbird, augur buzzard and others. The notable wildlife species for you to spot in this protected area include the buffaloes, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, Sykes monkeys, colobus monkeys, aardvarks, reed buck, tree and ground squirrel, Kirk’s dik-dik, bush pig, leopards, porcupines, mongoose, pythons, motor lizard, bush bucks and others.
For visitor stay, there is Sabuk Guesthouse and campsites like Turaco public campsite, Rock hyrax and Summit campsite.
If you are looking for excellent sites to explore more about evolution of man, then Sibiloi National Park has got all the answers for you. Not only does it straddle in the wild and rugged Lake Turkana shoreline but offers refuge to the archaeological sites which include the Koobi Fora. If you are archeologist or anthropologist, this is the perfect site in Africa for you to expand your understating about human evolution on earth. While on safari, never miss to explore more than the 100 unique archaeological sites that are found within the park. The park features most of the semi desert habitat and vast plains that are surrounded by volcanic features some of which include Mount Sibiloi a place petrified forest that welcomes most of migrant waterfowl and acts as an ideal breeding site for most of the Nile crocodiles. The notable terrestrial species in the park include lions, leopards, zebras, grant gazelles, stripped hyenas, cheetahs and greater kudu, Beisa Oryx, northern topi and many more. Approximately 350 water and terrestrial avian species thrive in Lake Turkana. Sibiloi National Park is bordered by the Gabra, Turkana and Dassanach communities which come with authentic cultures for visitors to explore.
To reach to Sibiloi National Park, visitors can fly and land in one of the 2 (two) airstrips at the park and other airfields like Marsabit, Kalokol, North Horr, Lodwar and others. By road, you can embark on a 3 day drive from Nairobi through Marsabit and North Horr or Maralal and south Horr.
The accommodation facilities in the park include Oasis Lodge, Lobolo tented camp, Sunset strip camp, Turkana campsite and others.
Malka Mari National Park
Situated around River Daua, north east along Kenya Ethiopian border, Malka Mari National Park is undeniably one of the remotest protected areas that Kenya offers to its world travelers. It features arid climate and there is no permanent settlement around this region. It covers an area of 1500 square kilometers and mainly features semi arid bush land and scrubby grassland with riparian woodland and palms that thrive around River Daua. Malka Mari Park is surrounded by Gurreh nomadic herders but they are few and scattered allover. The park is best accessed from Mandera Airstrip. This protected area was established in 1989 mainly to offer refuge to most of wildlife species.
The major tourist attractions to explore in this conservation area include the Malka Mari Fort, hills, valleys, giraffes, spotted hyenas and Nile crocodiles. Malka Mari National Park also features as the best spot for plant endemism.
Marsabit National Park
Marsabit National Park is undeniably the perfect place for you to strike your eyes with enormous tusked bull elephants, variety of birdlife and reptiles as well as amazing geological features. The park is credited as an oasis of green and its forest features diverse wildlife species like greater kudu antelope, zebra, giraffes, lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffaloes. About 500 bird species thrive within the park with over 52 distinct prey bird species including the unique lammergeyer. Around the park’s Crater Lakes, you will spot out most of waders. Other notable bird species include Africa fish eagle, emerald spotted wood dove, Heuglin’s bustard, hartlaub’s Turaco, Somalia bee eater, Somalia courser, Somalia ostrich, Somalia crow, vulturine guinea fowl and others. Around 1970s, the park became popular as a home to several elephants with longest tusks in Africa. Visitors on safari to this park can engage in birding, wildlife viewing, camel safaris, hiking and others.
This park is located about 560 kilometers off Nairobi capital city and it can be accessed through Nanyuki and Isiolo. The route is tarmacked to Merille. For visitor stay, the park has campsites for you to camp.
Arabuko Sokoke Forest National Park is situated in the north, Mombasa district of Kilifi. The park extends up to 6 square kilometers making it one of the smallest protected areas in Kenya. The most notable tourist attractions in the park include the mammals-Sokoke bushy tailed mongoose, ader’s duiker, golden rumped elephants shrew, waterbuck, civet, blotched genet and numerous primate species; amphibians, butterflies, over 600 bird species most of which include Sokoke pipit, Clarke’s weaver, Sokoke scops owl, fishers’ Turaco, golden wood pecker and others; snakes and reptiles like day geullo, rock python, green mamba, forest cobra, sand lizards and others; tree and plant species.
The park is accessible from Mombasa about 75 kilometer drive via Malindi. There are also charter flights from Mombasa Airport and then you connect by road. For visitor stay at the park, there is Marsabit Lodge.
Other spectacular national parks for you to explore while on safari in Kenya include the Saiwa Swamp National Park which is famous for its sitatunga antelopes, Ruma National Park-the most popular spot for roan antelopes, Mombasa Marine Park, Watamu Marine National Park, Malindi Marine National Park,
In conclusion, Kenya is truly a wilderness paradise that shouldn’t miss out in your bucket list. If you are planning to have your next vacation to Kenya, never forget to include any of the above listed national parks and you will certainly be filled with breathtaking experiences of lifetime.