National Parks and Nature Reserves/Conservancies of Kenya
Kenya has more than 49 national parks and nature reserves, as well as a number of additional conservancies, not including 6 marine parks and reserves.
Dream Wild Safaris and Photography will be pleased to take you to any of them you choose – by ground and/or air.
Some of the parks and reserves are more popular than others because of location and/or the amount of game that can be seen in the park or reserve.
Here is some useful, accurate and current information on the more popular destinations to help you design your safari of a lifetime.
Amboseli National Park
The park lies 260km/160 miles from Nairobi. Amboseli is one of the most visited of all of Kenya’s national parks and nature reserves, but does not feel at all crowded.
There are a number of reasons for Amboseli’s popularity.
Amboseli lies at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and is famous for its elephants and birds. Close to 1,500 elephants range freely within the park. This number reflects the fact that underground runoff from the mountain creates a large, permanent lush green bog comprised of several related swamps in the center of the park. Depending on rainfall, the elephants can not only drink but also submerge themselves up to their heads to avoid daytime heat.
You’ll see elephants in many of the Kenyan parks. What you may not be ready for is that throughout Kenya some of the elephants will appear red, others brown, some orange, and others even the usual grey.
In Amboseli, many will also appear black when sufficient water allows them to sink up to their heads in the swamp bog and soak for hours.
Amboseli’s bog/swamp is also home to a diverse array of water birds.
Among them are pelicans, flamingo, egrets, and herons. A number of photos of birds in our Birds of East Africa section were taken at Amboseli.
Amboseli is also home to many grey crowned cranes, large (1 meter), strikingly colorful birds that amble slowly across the plain looking for insects. The grey crowned crane is the national bird of Uganda. Far smaller but equally colorful, the lilac-breasted roller is the national bird of Kenya and can be seen in much of the country.
There are eagles throughout Kenya. In Amboseli, however, you can often see fish eagles eating their prey on the ground because of an absence of any trees near the swamp/bog area.
Much of the rest of Amboseli is an open arid plain on which live many of East Africa’s herd animals. Wildebeest, gazelles, zebra, buffalo, and Maasai ostriches graze endlessly across its dusty expanse with nothing to obstruct your view of them.
Cheetahs come into the park from time to time to take advantage of their speed when hunting on the open plain.
Trees are not wholly absent in Amboseli.
Runs of tall doum palms growing away from the central swamp are the favorite lounging location of the several prides of lions that inhabit the park. Park camps themselves rest nestled in growths of acacia trees that provide shade for humans and wildlife alike, especially baboons, and zebra attracted by the lush green grass growing around the acacias.
Observation Hill at the head of the deepest swamp area away from the camps provides a miniature counterpoint to Mt. Kilimanjaro rising behind the camps area. Park visitors are allowed out of their safari vehicles at the Hill for an easy five-minute climb up steps to the view it offers over all of Amboseli. Lodges and camps regularly hold "sundowners" on the hill as well, providing drinks and snacks to celebrate Amboseli’s magnificent sunsets.
No matter what length of safari you choose, we recommend that you include Amboseli in your itinerary.
Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West, (169 miles/272 km southwest of Nairobi, 113 miles/182 km northwest of Mombasa) is a different world from Amboseli. Tsavo West is a place of hills and mountains. But the park is also a land of savanna bush and semi-arid desert scrub, acacia woodland, palm thickets, and rivers.
Tsavo West National Park is just a few degrees south of the equator. The park covers more than 2,700 square miles with altitudes ranging from 650 to 3,300+ feet (200-1,000 meters) above sea level. Temperatures remain the same throughout the year at 27-31°C (81-88°F) during the day and 22-24°C (72-75°F) during the night.
Tsavo West is a very restful park.
Although quite large, the most rewarding game drives and scenery are in the northern 1/7 of the park, between the Tsavo River and the Mombasa Highway that separates the two Tsavo parks.
Game is scarce in the large southern part of Tsavo West, most of which is a great arid plain with little surface water until you arrive far to the south at Lake Jipe on the border with Tanzania.
With wildlife and scenery so concentrated, it’s quite easy to have very productive early morning and late afternoon game drives in this relatively small area, returning to your lodge or camp, physically never really far away, to rest during the mid-day heat.
Lions can be found with only a little effort. Tiny dik diks scramble under the scrub growth along many of the northern trails. Secretary Birds stroll along the trails in more open savannah. Leopards hide on lower limbs of trees in wooded northern areas. Large numbers of giraffe and zebra graze open areas, while Oryx with their elongated horns wait silently among them.
Tsavo West is home to elephants, hartebeest, gazelles, impala, kudu, eland, warthogs, and wild dogs as well.
Whether wildlife is present are not, you’re often in view of one of the extinct volcanic cones that interrupt the landscape in the park and continue outside Tsavo to the west. They are striking reminders that you are very far away from your home, traveling through a land very old in places while in other parts only recently created. Experts estimate that portions of what you’ll see are the result of eruptions as recent as 200 years ago.
Water from beneath lava ridges that make up the Chyulu Hills to the northwest runs into Tsavo and forms several natural pools fringed with palm trees at Mzima Springs, creating another entirely different eco-zone. It’s possible to leave the safari vehicle here and descend to the pools with a park ranger (the water attracts predators, too).
Towards one end of the Springs, the Kenyan Wildlife Service has built an underwater viewing room. At first, it was used to view hippos underwater. The hippos caught on and don’t go near it as often as before. The fish visible from the viewing room have an interest of their own. At this end of the Springs, you’ll also have your best view of the hippos since this is the deeper end that they prefer.
Vervets and baboons stay very close to the walkways. And there’s the likelihood of Nile crocodile in the water as well.
Tsavo West also attracts about 425 species of birds.
Poacher’s Lookout, a high hill in the central northern part, offers a shaded place for a picnic lunch and a superb view to the north and west.
If you travel between Tsavo West and Amboseli, a 2.5 hour drive (32miles/51km), you’ll have the opportunity to alight from your vehicle and explore one of the area’s great lava flows. The drive also offers magnificent panoramas of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Tsavo West is a first rate destination on your itinerary. Together, Tsavo West and Amboseli make an enormously rewarding short safari. Give them each two days if you can. Any time spent in either of both of these parks is sure to be rewarding.
Tsavo East National Park
Just a few degrees south of the Equator, Tsavo East National Park is approximately 205 miles/330 km southeast of Nairobi and 107 miles/173 km northwest from Mombasa.
Tsavo East is one of the oldest (established 1948) and largest (more than 4,500 sq. miles/11,700+ km2). Not all of the park, however, is open to the public. Consequently, safaris occur in the southern part of the park, along and below the Galana River.
Because of its closeness to Mombasa, Tsavo East is the destination of most one-day safaris from the beach city.
Not as diverse typographically as Tsavo West and apparently offering fewer concentration points for wildlife, Tsavo East is sometimes excluded from safari itineraries.
Tsavo East deserves much better.
Changes here are subtler than in Tsavo West. A great plain of bush offers a poetic view of purple/blue mountains seeming to rise individually towards the coast. Tracks in the park rise up hills littered with huge fallen stones to local landmarks such as Lugard Falls – you can leave your vehicle to climb over the massive accumulation of rock fallen into the river – and Mudanda Rock on the park’s western border.
Wildlife includes elephants in large numbers, impala, gazelle, kudu (both Lesser and Greater), dik diks, hippo, zebra, waterbuck, ostrich, buffalo, baboons, vervets, and lions.
Gerenuks, an unusual antelope with an elongated neck that makes it resemble a cross between an impala and a giraffe, are found throughout the park. Tsavo East is the southern edge of their range in Kenya and your only chance to see this fairy-like animal outside some of the northern parks.
Birds are best during the migratory season (October-January). More than 500 species have been recorded in the park.
Tsavo East easily repays a full day’s exploration, often surprising guests with the number of photographs they take on a day’s visit.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru, 95 miles/156 km NW of Nairobi, is one of Africa’s famous "1,000s of flamingoes" lakes. The park also offers an excellent opportunity to see rhino.
There is considerable other wildlife in the park, including buffalo, elands, impala, Rothschild giraffes, warthog and waterbuck. The lake also has a population of hippos. Lion and leopard are also present in the park. Lake Nakuru’s bird population exceeds 400 species.
Wildlife at Lake Nakuru tends to be more easily seen than in some other areas because of concentration due to the size of the park, 69.5 sq. miles/180 km2. The intimate size of the park in conjunction with its use by the Kenya Wildlife Service as a protected haven for rhino contribute to seeing quite a number of them even on a brief visit.
From Baboon Cliff you’ll enjoy a truly fantastic view of the entire lake and its extraordinary water birds.
Lake Nakuru National Park is a small, easily managed delight on any safari itinerary.
Samburu Nature Reserve
Samburu Nature Reserve, 217 miles/349km from Nairobi, at the southern edge of the great northern Kenya desert. Located on the southern edge of Kenya’s northern desert, Samburu is semi-arid, savannah grassland.
The days at Samburu are hot and the nights are cool (20°C/68°F). Moderate humidity with maximum temperature around 30°C/85°F is the rule year-round.
During the drive up to Samburu, you’ll cross The Equator.
It’s clearly marked and you can stop for a photo op. For a small tip, a local will show you the change in the earth’s magnetic field (the Coriolis effect) from one side of the Equator to the other.
The days at Samburu are hot and the nights are cool (20°C/68°F). Moderate humidity with maximum temperature around 30°C/85°F is the rule year-round.
A relative small park, Samburu is 104 km2/65 sq. miles in size making game viewing ideal.
Samburu is your best opportunity to see cheetah outside of the Maasai Mara.
The game reserve is renowned for its rare species of animals such as the long-necked gerenuk antelope, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and Beisa oryx.
There are lion and leopards present as well as buffalo, elephant, gazelle, dik dik, hippos, and the Nile crocodile in the Uaso Nyiro River ("brown river" in the local dialect) that cuts through the reserve.
The 350 species of birds present include the blue-shanked Somali ostrich and colorful Bateleur eagle.
Don’t dismiss Kenya’s birds. They are spectacular in Samburu, including a number of species of vultures, eagles and other raptors, including the Secretary Bird, a large, largely terrestrial raptor given to long walk-abouts on which it hunts small mammals and reptiles, including adders and cobras, that it kills by beating them against the ground with its powerful talons and legs.
Samburu Nature Reserve is a unique stop among the most visited Kenyan parks and reserves and should not be missed.
Laikipia Plateau (Ol Pejeta Conservancy)
Laikipia is a vast area (8,000 km2/3,000+ sq. miles) that occupies much of Kenya between Samburu to the north and the far more water-rich central highlands to the south. Laikipia enjoys the second greatest concentration of wildlife in Kenya outside the Maasai Mara.
There are no national parks or reserves in Laikipia. All conservation areas are private or done voluntarily by tribal groups and local governments. As a result, Laikipia boasts scores of separate conservancies, many of which are former cattle ranches now turned back to Kenyan wildlife.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is one of the best.
Ol Pejeta is a 90,000 acre (364 km2/140 sq. miles) private wildlife conservancy located between the foothills of the Aberdares and the majestic Mt. Kenya with its cap of snow. Only a 3-hour drive from Nairobi, Ol Pejeta is the closest place to the city to see The Big 5 (rhino – both the endangered black and white, leopard, elephant, buffalo and lion).
Other wildlife includes Grevy’s zebra, Jackson’s hartebeest, cheetah, giraffe, Thomson’s gazelle, black-back jackals, ostrich, Grant’s gazelle, baboons, waterbuck, oryx, eland and several hundred species of birds.
Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary inside the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered and remarkably intelligent species can be seen. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary opened in 1993 in a negotiated agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute.
Sweetwaters Game Reserve offers guests the possibility of game drives at night. Night game drives are not allowed in government-run national parks and nature reserves.
During the drives, the tracker uses a powerful spotlight searching for the nocturnal animals. Expect to see a wide variety of animals not normally seen during the day, including aardvarks, bat-eared fox, porcupines, bush babies, bushbucks, mongoose, genet cats and a number of nocturnal birds.
The Laikipia Plateau is a wonderful stop for your safari itinerary between destinations to the north and south.
Maasai Mara Nature Reserve
Located in The Great Rift Valley roughly 150 miles/241km southeast of Nairobi, the Maasai Mara is famous for its cats, especially the lion, including those with black manes. The Mara has the greatest concentration of lions in Africa.
Maasai Mara is also the home of the Kenyan portion of The Great Migration of a million-plus wildebeest and large numbers of zebra, followed closely by the predators that prey upon them. An annual event, The Migration usually begins in mid- to late June and is most often finished by the beginning of September.
In addition to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant), the 938 sq. mile/ 1,500km2 park is home to cheetah, serval, Maasai giraffes, common giraffes, jackals, hyenas, and various antelope among which are impala, Oribis, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, hartebeest, the rare Topi and the beautiful roan.
Other wildlife in the Mara includes bat-eared foxes, warthogs, hyenas, hippos and the Nile crocodile in the Mara River. Some wildebeest and zebra live year-round in the Mara as well.
Not only does wildlife abound, more than 400 species of birds also inhabit the park.
All these factors make the Maasai Mara the most famous and most visited destination for safaris in Kenya.
Traditionally, the Mara is hot and dry throughout the year with the exception of the Short Rains of April and May and the Long Rains of October and November.
The majority of photos that appear on our East African Wildlife link were taken in the Maasai Mara.
The Maasai Mara Nature Reserve is truly the jewel in the crown of Kenya’s wildlife areas.
Nairobi National Park
The park is a smallish gem at the edge of Nairobi, only 7 miles/11 km from the city center that’s all too often overlooked on safaris by visitors to Kenya.
117km2 (44 sq. miles) in area, the park features a diversity of eco-systems: plains, forests, steep gorges and lush vegetation along the banks of the Embakasi River. It has a high-altitude, savannah landscape with acacia trees scattered across the open plains.
The park is home to all of the Big Five with the exception of the elephant. The park isn’t large enough to sustain the feeding of this social herd animal.
The park is a special conservation area for the endangered black rhino and offers you an excellent opportunity to see one or more of these reclusive animals.
Other wildlife in Nairobi Park includes giraffes, elands, zebras, hartebeest, and wildebeest. Hippos and crocodiles also live along the Embakasi River.
Bird watching is also popular in the park with over 400 species recorded.
Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s first, makes an ideal beginning or end to your safari if you are flying in or out of Nairobi.
Meru National Park
Guests wanting a more extensive or exclusive northern safari should include Meru National Park on their itinerary.
Internationally, the park is known for Elsa, the lioness raised here by Joy Adamson and commemorated in the film "Born Free."
348 km/216 miles from Nairobi, Meru offers a wide variety of habitats in its 870 km2/335 sq. miles made possible by the 13 rivers in the park. In elevation, Meru varies from 1,000 to 3,400 feet above sea level with vegetation running from open plains to wooded areas on the slopes of the Nyambeni Mountain Range. Doum palms flank a number of Meru’s rivers.
Meru wildlife includes lions, buffalo, elephant, leopards, cheetahs, duiker antelope, dik diks, Nile crocodile and hippos.
Meru is home to over 300 species of birds.
An added attraction is the spectacular views of Mt. Kenya from the park.
Lake Bogoria National Reserve
Located in the north of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Bogoria is a small area of 107 km2/41 sq. miles) that is famous for its natural beauty as well as geysers and hot springs that are accessible on foot near the lake.
Birds are Lake Bogoria’s other attraction with more than 135 species recorded.
Bogoria is an alkaline lake and host a large population of flamingo similar to Lake Nakuru. Some believe that its flamingo population may be even larger than the more famous park to the south.
Wildlife present in the Reserve includes Greater Kudu, buffalo, zebra, caracal, spotted hyena, cheetah, and warthog.
Lake Bogoria also contains a number of geysers and hot springs. You may cook eggs in the latter if you wish.
We have selected these photos of Lake Begoria to give you some idea of East Africa’s rainy seasons.
Most individuals think of Africa as the hot and dry environment that it is much of the year. Water is everything to Africa, however, all life — human, animal, and bird — depend yearlong on two short rainy seasons, spring and fall.
Rain can create some very special moments on safari. Some of ours are . . .
- A majestic male Kudu ruling his kingdom like a great, ancient spirit frozen in the fog and mist.
- A tree of Bateleur and Tawny eagles to the left of the road, a double rainbow to the right.
- Unexpectedly coming round a bend in the road to see from the perspective that only a veterinarian specializing in proctology might reasonably expect to have a rhino drinking from puddles accumulating on the gravel surface. Blind turns on many park roads can produce excitement surpassing even the best moments on the open plains of the Maasai Mara.
- The night’s horizon filled with lightning while the distance to camp overflowed with thunder as if Africa as far as you could see were being created again.
Rain, of course, won’t stop you from boiling an egg in a Lake Bogoria hot springs if you want, just as several individuals in the background of the photo had done a few minutes before it was taken.