Kenya is one of the world’s favorite safari destinations and it has a number of national parks that are well worth a visit. They cover a range of diverse environments, each one unique in its own way and all are teeming with wildlife. You won’t have time to visit them all, here we are going to give you a little advantage and let you know which ones are the best Kenya safari parks.
The best time to visit the parks and catch a sight of the big five is between July and September or December to April which is during the dry season. But if you come later in the year, and are lucky, you get to see the wildebeest migration.
Mount Kenya National Park is based in the central-Kenyan highlands about 3-hours out of Nairobi. You can get there via a short internal flight to Nanyuki or by car. The park is great for hiking around, fly fishing, game viewing, and bird watching. You can camp inside the park, rent a self-catering cottage or go for a more luxurious cabin.
Inside the park is Mount Kenya, an old volcano that has not been active for millions of years. Today it is the second-highest mountain in Africa and is home to stunning features, landscapes, views and an abundance of wildlife. It was also where Prince William proposed to Kate.
The best way to see the park is by walking. You can organize professional guides for single or multiple day treks around the mountain that will show you all the different flora and fauna. As you climb the mountain, you’ll also notice how the vegetation changes with altitude. You’ll start in the forest, then move into bamboo and then up into the heather at the top.
The park is home to elephants, buffalo, zebra, eland, leopards, the odd lion, the endangered bongo and hundreds of species of birds. While trekking around you may be lucky enough to come into close encounters with these amazing creatures.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is one of the most popular parks in Kenya and is found near the Tanzanian border. It has some great options for accommodation from self-catering cottages to beautiful tented camps and is an easy 3-hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The best time to visit Amboseli National Park is in the dry season between July and October and December to April.
The park is famous for its views of Mt Kilimanjaro and its abundance of elephants. It’s a stunning park to drive around and there is very little cover for the animals to hide behind making them easy to spot. Seeing a herd of elephants wander down a dusty track with Kilimanjaro in the background is something you won’t forget and is one of the most iconic safari images you could experience.
The park is home to some quite special elephants that have a positive relationship with humans. The Amboseli Elephant Research Project has been working there for decades and the herds of elephants have come to trust vehicles and people. This means that you can have some really close encounters with family groups, babies and some of the biggest bull elephants in Kenya. Having an elephant just sitting relaxed a few feet away from you is spine-tingling and a lovely thing to experience.
The park is also home to lions, leopards, cheetah, buffalo, giraffe and hundreds of species of birds. It’s definitely worth a visit and is well located to connect a safari across multiple parks as it sits between Tsavo West and the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Hells Gate National Park is just next to Lake Naivasha and is about a 2.5-hour drive out of Nairobi. It’s one of the smallest national parks in Kenya and is famous for the geothermal hot springs and the activities inside it. If you’re planning to visit the best place to stay is on the shore of Lake Naivasha and then it’s a thirty-minute drive to the park from there.
The best thing about the park is that you don’t need a guide or a car to go around it. You can hire a bicycle or hike inside the park which gives you a chance to get up close and personal with the wildlife. This may worry some of you but don’t stress, the park has barely any predators inside it which is why you can go unguided on foot. Imagine cycling past herds of antelope and giraffe and being on the same ground, not hidden inside a car. It gives you a chance to truly feel on the same level and is a far more immersive experience. The most common animals you’ll see are giraffes, African buffalo, zebra, eland, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, and baboons. There are also hundreds of species of birds that call the park home.
When you’re there you can also hike through the Hells Gate Gorge. It’s about a 2-hour hike full of rock features, formations, and red cliffs. It ends with an amazing view across the plains. There is also rock climbing available with many routes in the gorge or at the two volcanic plugs known as fischers and central tower. At Fischers Tower there will be a guide waiting with all the equipment you need. He will strap you in and belay you up the tower. There are 6 routes up suitable for all climbing abilities and the 360-degree views at the top are amazing.
While you’re there, you have to stop off at the natural hot springs and take a soak. There is not a better way to end the day than with a cold beer and a warm soak, especially if you have been biking around and climbing rocks.
The Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara is one of the most well-known national parks in Kenya and the world and one hell of a game reserve. It’s about a 4-hour drive from Nairobi and you can also book an internal flight that takes under an hour. There are a lot of accommodation options both inside and outside the park, from camping to luxury, you’ll find what you are looking for.
It’s a beautiful park and is famous largely due to the great wildebeest migration that occurs between late July and early September every year. Thousands of animals migrate from the Serengeti to the Mara and one of the most iconic moments is when they cross the Mara River. The wildebeest take a leap of faith and try to cross the river without being eaten by lurking crocodiles and other predators.
Outside of the migration, the Mara is one of the best places in the world to see big cats and wild dogs. And because it is such a well-maintained game reserve, it is also home to elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, rhino, all kinds of antelope and hundreds of species of birds.
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary
The Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary is halfway between Mombasa and Nairobi. It was designed as a wildlife corridor to protect the elephant migration that moves between the Shimba Hills, Tsavo East and Tsavo West. It is about a 4-hour drive from Nairobi and 3-hours from Mombasa. There are some lovely lodges to stay in as well as some camping options.
One of the best things about the park is that it’s quiet. It’s not as well known and there are not as many tourists driving through as there would be in the more famous parks. This means you can have a safari in peace and enjoy Africa as it’s meant to be enjoyed, with the feeling of being in the wild, in the middle of nowhere.
The park is full of rocky features, amazing views that can stretch to Tanzania, tanned savannah and thick brush. It’s home to zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, elephant, eland, waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, vervet monkey, lion, cheetah, wild dog, leopard, jackal, and prolific birdlife. One of the secrets is to be there in June. This is not the best time to see animals but you will witness all the wildflowers in bloom, the savannah turns into a multicolored almost Alice in wonderland dimension.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is just near the foothills of Mt Kenya and an excellent place to go to before or after visiting the mountain. It’s around a 5-hour drive from Nairobi and has some great accommodation options. The conservancy started off as a cattle ranch and then became a black rhino sanctuary and a non-profit wildlife conservancy. Lewa takes conservation seriously tackle the issues from all angles, from anti-poaching to community collaboration and education.
The park itself is beautiful, full of forest and savannah with views that just seem to go on and on. It has 150 critically endangered black rhinos and the world’s largest population of the endangered Grevy’s zebra. The work they are doing to protect these species and simply by visiting, you are contributing. The park is also home to white rhino, wild dogs, lion, leopard, cheetah, 400 species of birds and many an antelope.
While you’re there you can do horseback safaris, camel safaris as well as a normal 4×4 safari.
Tsavo East is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Kenya. It is very close to the coast and is only 1-2 hour drive from Malindi or a 2-3 hour drive from Nairobi. There are some great lodges both inside and outside the park and it’s a great place to safari before or after head to the beach for some relaxation.
The habitats in the park are mainly savannah, grasslands and the Galana River. One of the most famous things about Tsavo is its deep red soils which also make the sunsets a burning red sometimes. The elephants in the park often dust themselves with it and become red, which is both odd and amusing.
The park is huge and when you’re there, you truly feel like you’re exploring a big expanse of Africa. It gives you a chance to get off the beaten track and feel alone on safari like a true explorer might. It is renowned as one of the world’s biodiversity strongholds and is home to a hugely diverse amount of species. You can most like get to tick off your big five catching sight of lions, hippos, crocodiles, black rhinos, buffalos, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, and a lot more.
If you have never seen a huge flock of flamingos calmly standing in the middle of a lake, then Lake Nakuru in Kenya is a great chance to tick this off your bucket list. Located in the rift valley at 1,754 m (5,755 ft), this park is an absolute dream for bird lovers. With over 450 species calling this area their home, along with both greater and lesser flamingos, you are kind of spoiled for choice when it comes to birds!
And even if bird watching is not on your agenda, there is still a chance to see four of the big five while you are here. Of course, it is not always about cats, while doing on a Kenyan safari, but game viewing is always a priority for me. Lake Nakuru is also home to white rhinos, black rhinos, hippos, lions, leopards, and the somewhat endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. So, you will certainly spot some big game while you are here.
The nature and surroundings are also quite impressive, even when you are not looking at this quite unique soda lake. It is surrounded by rocky escarpments and Acacia forest, so even just being here is a worthwhile experience.
Nairobi National Park
You wouldn’t believe it, but just 10km outside of Nairobi is a great opportunity to do a game drive and see some of the wildest animals in Africa in the Nairobi National Park. From hyenas, buffaloes, and giraffes to black rhino, lions, leopards and cheetahs, all these animals are found just a short drive outside of the nation’s capital.
And just in case you thought this might be some kind of zoo, think again. The park is over 117 square km in size, which is certainly nothing to laugh at. It gives the animals more than enough space to roam, and you will be hard-pressed to see the boundaries at any given moment.
There are also hundreds of bird species to be seen, like almost everywhere else in Kenya. And they allow both camping and picnicking, if you are game to sleep where there are lions!
There is so much to see in Kenya and you’ll want to do it all. My best advice is to take two weeks and spend 8 days on safari and 5 days at the beach. While on your safari, hit two or three national parks. There are some great tour operators that will link it all together for you and get you to your beachside hotel.