The EA guide to Kenya safaris
Kenya safaris are truly something special. Kenya is the original safari destination: even the word safari – meaning ‘journey’ – is from the local language, Swahili.
This East African nation is home to the Masai Mara, where the Great Wildebeest Migration moves through from July to October. Widely renowned as the greatest wildlife show on Earth, sightings are sensational as the plains become riddled with moving wildebeest and zebra. There’s plenty of resident wildlife too, including the Big Five and ample big cats. A Kenya safari could also take you north to explore the endless vistas of the Samburu and Matthews Range on a walking safari, on camel or horseback, or on a fly-camping trip.
Lake Nakuru National Park is another favourite stop. It’s home to one of the greatest bird spectacles on the planet, thanks to the millions of flamingos that are attracted to its shoreline. The lake’s small size makes it an ideal day trip en route between destinations.
The iconic Amboseli National Park is one of Kenya’s oldest and most frequented national parks – and with good reason. Famously towered over by Mount Kilimanjaro, the park boasts endless panoramic views, flat grasslands, plains and emerald-green swamps that are the playgrounds for impressive elephant herds.
Amboseli National Park is also – along with Tsavo National Park – one of the places to go for a chance to see the last of Africa’s extraordinary big-tusk elephants.
In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi National Park offers its own unique experience. This is the oldest protected area in the country, and the only place in the world where large animals such as lions, rhinos, giraffe and zebra roam wild within the boundaries of a major city.
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The best time to go on a Kenya safari
Kenya gets very busy due to its popularity, so it’s wise to know about the seasons and look for opportunities to escape the crowds and higher price tags.
Dry season, running from July to October, is the high season. During this time wildlife congregates around water sources (making it easier to see them), and the migration moves into the Masai Mara from the Serengeti. This is also the time that Europeans are on their summer vacation.
October and November are outstanding months in our opinion – this is the time just before the short rains begin, and you can avoid the massive crowds as there are fewer people around.
Another top time to go on safari in Kenya is January and February, just before the long rains start in March. The days are spectacularly clear, the weather is warm and predator sightings are exceptional.
Wildlife in Kenya
Kenya has a decent diversity of habitats, which in turn attracts an impressive array of wildlife species both on land and in the coastal tropical waters.
The Masai Mara hosts the annual migration, but it’s not only wildebeest and zebra that abound – predators do, too. You can see all of the big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah galore. Wild dogs are extremely rare here, but there are plenty of hyena.
Amboseli and Tsavo are home to the last of Africa’s mighty big-tusk elephants, and you’ll find white and black rhino in certain areas.
The waterways are full of hippo, while plains game is abundant with giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, warthog and much more.
For bird lovers, Kenya has 1,134 confirmed species (as of August 2019) with at least six of these endemic.
If you seek a marine safari as a finale to your holiday, the Kenyan coastline provides some wonderful reef diving where you can get close to turtles, tropical fish, dolphins and whales.
The famous Masai Mara
This is where it all happens: the world-renowned annual migration that sees half a million wildebeest crossing the Mara River each year, making their way from Tanzania’s Serengeti safari region into Kenya’s Masai Mara.
A core component of the Serengeti ecosystem, the Masi Mara’s rolling grasslands, meandering rivers and towering escarpments offer some of the best wildlife experiences in Africa.
You can also expect big cat action here, with a healthy population of cheetahs and lions. Elephant and buffalo herds are big and wild, and fat pods of hippo wallow in the mud-brown rivers.
Safari game drives are the primary activity while on safari in the Masai Mara.
Amboseli – the country’s most beloved national park
Amboseli is one of the oldest national parks in Kenya. It’s also one of the most-visited – and for good reason. You can expect endless panoramic vistas with Mount Kilimanjaro as the backdrop and emerald green swamps that support large herds of elephants. Permanent marshlands also attract hippo, buffalo and abundant birdlife.
The highlight of a safari in Amboseli has to be the predator action – you’ll hopefully see lion, cheetah, leopard and hyena in good numbers. A walk with local Maasai guides is another brilliant experience if you’re keen to get their perspective on wilderness, wildlife and everything in between.
Next door is Chyulu Hills, another little oasis dominated by volcanoes and bubbling hot springs. Wildlife here is more skittish and the safari pace is really relaxed, so it combines well with a safari in Amboseli.
The Great Rift Valley lakes
You’ve probably seen images of Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes – they’re instantly recognisable from numerous nature documentaries, and feature shimmering masses of thousands of pink flamingos.
One of our favourites is Lake Bogoria, a World Heritage Site with more than 200 individual hot springs and geysers that boil up through the earth’s crust.
The most popular is Lake Nakuru, famous for its phenomenal birdlife and white rhino, which wander among impressive fever trees.
The vast and permanent waters of Lake Naivasha attract visitors interested in an easygoing start or end to their safari, with boating, game drives and walking safaris on offer.
The spectacular Samburu
Wild and rugged, the lesser-known Samburu National Reserve is, naturally, also less visited (we like it that way).
It’s a special safari experience, not least for its diverse landscapes. And with a river running through the middle, there’s a ready water supply for wildlife. It certainly attracts attention from elephants, buffaloes and zebras. There are also lions and leopards to find, as well as Samburu’s own ‘Special Five’, some of which are found nowhere else in Africa: Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, long-necked gerenuk and Beisa oryx.
The secret of Tsavo
Divided into two separate parks, Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park, this vast landscape of red soil, acacias, rolling hills and epic plains covers a huge 21,000 square kilometres. It’s a true escape – there are very few lodges in this lesser-explored wilderness, so you’ll avoid the crowds you get in the Masai Mara.
Tsavo East is home to a diversity of breathtaking landscapes including Yatta Plateau, Lugard Falls and Mudanda Rock – it’s a truly rewarding destination for wildlife and landscape photography.
Tsavo is home to an impressive population of big cats with cheetah, leopard and lion. Another massive bonus is Tsavo’s close proximity to the southern Kenya beaches. And, if you’re really lucky, you might get to see one of Africa’s last big-tusk elephants.