The pristine wild terrain and incredible diversity of wildlife of the national parks and reserves in Kenya are unparalleled on the African continent. In additional to traditional vehicle-based safaris, in many of Kenya’s parks, you can also explore boat, bike, foot, or even horseback. And some Kenyan safaris can be had for cheaper than elsewhere, without sacrificing quality. With this in mind, check out these top-rated national parks and reserves in Kenya.
This article originally appeared in AFKInsider.com.
Masai Mara National Reserve
Masai Mara is the most popular wildlife park in Kenya, and for good reason. Each fall (July to October), you can see the amazing migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, as well as large families of elephants, buffalo, lions, and more. The Mara River, home to hippos and crocodiles, runs north-south through the entire reserve. Maasai tribesman offer cultural tours -a unique addition to the wildlife experience. The downside to Masai Mara is just the numbers of tourists. It’s not uncommon to see several Jeeps watching a single lion devour its prey, but the views make it worth it.
Amboseli National Reserve
Amboseli is considered the second most popular park after Masai Mara, due in part to the breathtaking views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. The Big Five can all be seen here, but it’s the enormous herds of roaming elephants that set this park apart. Amboseli suffered a debilitating drought in 2009 that killed off many of its animals and forced the Kenya wildlife services to relocate some zebras and wildebeest from other parks to correct the predator-prey imbalance. Luckily, it seems to be back on track and is as beautiful as ever.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Flamingoes, flamingoes, flamingoes! Lake Nakuru is famous for its huge flocks of flamingos that gather in the shallow soda lake (a lake with high alkalinity) in the Rift Valley. The flamingos, along with hundreds of other bird species, blanket the surface of the lake giving the impression that you’ve just entered a real-life Candyland. Lake Nakuru also serves as a sanctuary for endangered black and white rhinos, and offers a good shot at spotting baboons, lions, gazelles, and the elusive leopard, among others.
Meru National Park
A Cinderella story, Meru was nearly destroyed by poachers, but has been restored to the beautiful reserve it is today. An excellent place to spot the Big Five (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) as well as plains species and rarer animals, Meru offers more solitude than many of the other parks. During its restoration, it was off limits to developers, keeping the natural beauty of the land intact. It also draws fewer visitors than other parks.
Aberdare National Park
An excellent park for hiking, Aberdare receives more rainfall than most to keep its grounds beautifully green and temperate. There are waterfalls throughout the area. In the lower altitudes of the park, one can even find bamboo and rain forests — not something you would expect on an African safari. Aberdare is home to rare species of rhino, black leopard, and antelope.
Samburu Game Reserve
Head over to Samburu, a reserve known for its zebras, giraffes, kudu, ostriches, and gazelles, for a more unique wildlife experience. While the Big Five and others (such as cheetahs, leopards, antelope) still have a presence, it is best known as a wildlife and bird watching haven for those hoping to see a wide variety of species. Samburu also receives fewer visitors than some of the other parks, allowing more opportunities to get up close and personal.
Mount Kenya National Park
Mount Kenya, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Africa’s second highest peak, looms over the park and offers more than just a pretty landscape. The mountain provides water for about 50 percent of Kenya’s population, produces 70 percent of the hydroelectric power for the country, and is thought to be the seat of the Kikuyu God, Ngai. Although its not known for a vast array of wildlife (most people visit the park to hike the mountain and explore the surrounding region), it is home to several species of monkey, as well as Cape Buffalo.
One of the only parks in Kenya that allows visitors to walk or bike through it, Hell’s Gate offers an (extremely!) up-close-and-personal experience with the wild. You can hike down into Hell’s Gate Gorge, which sits atop a geothermal spring, and see steaming sandstone pools hot enough to boil an egg. It’s not surprising the park is referred to as a gate to Hell. When whiling away the night in your tent, you can see hippos wandering about, although it’s highly recommended you keep some distance – they’re not known for being too friendly.
Tsavo National Park
The biggest national park in Kenya, Tsavo is situated on the Kenyan coast, offering the best location for a wildlife safari/beach holiday. Visitors come to the park to see its famed maneless lions, red-skinned elephants, black rhinos and others. They can also spend time loafing on the beach and unwinding. Not too shabby.