When you think about Africa you think about Kenya. Kenya is by far one of the best countries for wild life safari tours. The variety of landscapes is unbelivable. Discover the vast plains of the national parks where the animals roam freely. Visit the lakes were you can observe birds and fish in their natural habitat. Climb mountains and scale gorges. No wonder that Kenyas national parks served as inspiration when making The Lion King.
Prepare the Kenya Safari
Before heading out to book a safari tour you need to do some research. The offers and possibilities for safaris in Kenya can be quite overwhelming at first. However if you deep dive into the topic for some days, things will be much clearer.
First thing to do is brainstorm what activities you would like to do. The classical gameviewing tour is a multiple day journey through the national parks. You travel in a mini van with a removalble roof. Depending on the price you either have the van to yourself or you share it with fellow travellers (up 10 people depending on the agency). Your acency assigns the groups so there is little you can do to impact their choice.
Next to the classic safari you can also do safari by bike, boat or walking at some spots. This can be a welcome change since sitting in the van is quite tiring. Kenya offers also a variety of other activities such as mountain trekking, beaches and even some diving spots.
Please note, Kenya is a big country and roads are not as good at times. If you decide to book parks further apart from each other you spend more time in the van. Also this has an effect on the price as you obviously need more fuel and the ranger works longer hours driving you around. For orientation: it takes 4 hours to drive between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara (with favorable traffic conditions). Have a look on our blog post describing the way to find the perfect Kenya safari tour operator.
Best national parks for gameviewing
Your decision which nationals parks to visit is subject to what activities you are looking for. To help you out a bit we collected 5 highest ranked national parks in Kenya below.
1. The Maasai Mara
Propably THE most famous national park in Kenya for safari. Locally known simply as The Mara it is a large national game reserve continuing in Tanzania as the Serengeti National Park. The Mara is the best place to watch the Great Migration. During July the wildebeest and zebras are migrating from Tanzania cross the Mara river into Kenya. The Great Migration is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and one of the ten Wonders of the World.
2. Amboseli National Park
Definitely our favorite on the list. In contrast to The Mara the Amboseli National Park is not that big but features an unique backdrop: Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain intself is located in Tanzania but you are very close to it from the Kenyan side of the border. Watch Elephants migrate in front of the Kili and look out for flamingos in the swamps. This park is a must do!
3. Lake Nakuru
On the floor of the Great Rift Rift Valley lies the beautiful Lake Nakuru National Park. The Great Rift Valley is what scientists believe today is the birthplace of humankind. Enjoy the wide ecological diversity and varied habitats from Lake Nakuru itself to the surrounding escarpment. Lake Nakuru National Park is ideal for bird watching. You can observe large flamingo floks, pelicans and sea eagles.
4. Lake Naivasha
Lake Naivasha also sits on the Great Rift Valley. The name derives from the local Maasai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water”. Lake Naivasha features two unique sites: the Cresent Island and Hell’s Gate. Cresent Island is perfect for a walking safari and you can get really close to the animals. Hell’s Gate is a small national park featuring a narrow break in the cliffs. It was once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. The cliff was the main setting of the 1994 film, The Lion King. Several lead crew members spent time here to study and gain an appreciation of the environment for the film. As a result the Pride Rock, where Rafki presents Simba to Pride Landers, is heavily modeled after Hell’s Gate. No doubt a must see!
5. Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East National Park is one of the oldest and the largest parks in Kenya and perfect for any kind of safari. It holds vast amounts of diverse wildlife, including the famous ‘big five’ consisting of lion, black rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard. The park is also known for the Tsavo Man-Eaters. Those were a pair of man-eating male lions in the region. They killed a number of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda-Railway in 1898. The significance of this lion pair was their unusual behavior of killing men and the manner of their attacks. Today the pair constantly appears in films, video games or books. Stock up your holiday lecture before leaving for the safari!
Our Kenya Safari Diary
Touchdown in Nairobi – the buzzling capital of Kenya and also the business and finance hot spot of East Africa. Nairobi started out as a rail depot for the Ugandan Railway in 1899 but became capital of Kenya already in 1907 replacing Mombasa. Today the city books African fourth-largest turnover, handling a volume with an average of 10 million per day – what a spectacular career!
Day 1: Hit the road
Early in the morning your ranger will pick you up at the hotel to start your Kenya Safari. After all the paperwork is sorted out you hit the road for the 4 hour drive to Masai Mara, the crown jewel in Kenya for safari. The streets are quite bumpy so we recommend you get friendly with the van soon as you will spent a lot of time in it during the next days. On the way to Masai Maria catch a glance at the countryside of Kenya, with authentic villages passing by your van window.
After checking in into your lodge you start your first journey through the mighty Masai Mara. Your ranger will remove the roof of your van so you can stand and witness the presence of the animals vividly.
Enjoy the numerous highlights of the first day: giraffes walking into the sunset on their wobbly legs. Elephants migrating slowly with no evident target in mind. Hundreds of different herbivorous animals you never ever heart of checking you out from a safe distance. Besides the best thing is – this is just the first day!
Day 2: Mighty Masai Mara
Game viewing starts early in the morning since you do not want to miss out on all the hunting activities happening shortly after dawn. The second day is reserved for meeting all the cute little fluffy fellas which you do not want to encounter in the open field without the protection of your van.
Lions, cheetahs, hyenas and even leopards – there are all here! The moment of witnessing a gang of five cheetahs circling a bunch of zebras ready for the kill will make you shiver and hope for the zebra to have a chance to escape.
Back in the lodge treat yourself with a sundowner at the pool or terrace and listen to the music of the jungle with the night slowly crawling in.
Day 3: Colorful Lake Naivasha
Lake Naivasha sits within the Great Rift Valley. Here the Arabic and African continental plates are constantly pulling away from each other. While you sit on your boat you almost directly witness where the world is coming apart slowley.
Highly recommended is a walking tour through the Crescent Island Game Sanctuary. Walking will be a nice change after spending endless hours in the van on Kenyan overland roads. The island hosting the sanctuary was initially used as set for the movie “Out of Africa” in 1985. The island was populated with animals from the Masai Mara for filming reasons. After the work conducted the animals remained on the island. Today it is the best spot for walking safaris being able to come quite close to the animals.
Unfortunately when we arrived at Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate was closed due to heavy rains coming down the days before. We were really sad not to be able to visit the Lion King cliff.
Day 4: Amboseli National Park
Just when you thought you have seen it all you find yourself stunned by the Amboseli National Park. Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, the Amboseli National Park gives you the most exciting set for game viewing and photography ever. The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close.
When the sun starts to set you will be a humble witness of hundreds of elephants migrating to their resting point for the nigh with the sunset and Mount Kilimanjaro as backdrop for this migration. This scene is by far the most breathtaking and unforgettable moment of the journey and brings back all the childhood feelings we associate with wildlife in Africa.
Day 5: End of your Kenya Safari
Return back to Nairobi with your ranger or depending on your further travelling plans arrange to be dropped of at your next destination. For our onward journey to Tanzania we decided to say goodbye to our dearest friend Francis at the Namanga border crossing point. Namanga is approximately 70 km away from Amboseli main gate with a very exciting road connecting this two spots. Francis earned all of our respect by navigating through this rollercoaster road safe and fast while our stomachs where challenged in the most unpleasant ways.
Cross the Kenyan / Tanzanian boarder by foot and have your yellow fever documentation ready. On the other side take one of the long-distance busses (there are no official schedules but you can find your way by asking around) or agree to take a ride in one of the many Daladalas waiting at the border. We decided to go for the last option. Luckily we did not regret it. The mini-van was very comfortable and we paid only 10 USD per person for the 110 km road to Arusha. Obviously you should negotiate the price prior to boarding the vehicle. Don’t get overwhelmed by the many drivers approaching you with their offers. Take your time and decide for the driver you feel most comfortable with.