Kenya presents the Africa of your dreams. It gave birth to the concept of safaris and its picturesque savannahs and national parks are among the best places to fall in love with the jungle. Presenting the ultimate bush vibe, Kenya’s national parks not only ensure that you get to see the fabled Big 5, but also let you check out hundreds of species of birds and animals in their natural habitats. Watching predators in a zoo is one thing, but seeing them in their own backyard, where they act as judge, jury and executioner is another. Add the picturesque surroundings and beautiful East African culture into the mix, and nothing can stop you from taking a trip into the wild, dressed in khakis and armed with nothing but a camera (and your guide).
Maasai Mara National Reserve (above image)
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is arguably the most popular wildlife destination on the planet. This is where the concept of safaris came into existence, and its lands are where you get to see millions of gazelle, zebras and wildebeest make their annual pilgrimage to Tanzania, giving births to thousands of calves en-route. The Mara has often been called the most prolific wildlife destination on the planet. It is where you get to see endless expanses of savannah, untamed wilderness, vast plains and some of the most exotic animals that man has ever seen. The best time to explore the Serengeti is between July to October.
Mount Kilimanjaro has always been one of the top attractions of Africa, and the Ambolesi National Park offers some of the best views of this majestic mountain. In addition to presenting Mt. Kilimanjaro at its beautiful best, Ambolesi brings you closer to some of the largest tuskers you will ever see. Watching gigantic elephants against the backdrop of the Kilimanjaro is one of the most popular images of Africa, and this is the best place to capture its beauty in your camera. The best time to visit Ambolesi is between the months of June to October.
Lake Nakuru may be compact in its size, but its picturesque surroundings never fail to attract tourists from all over the world. The park’s biggest highlight is its shallow soda lake and the thousands of pearl-white pelicans and pink flamingos that it attracts. The stunning greenery, scintillating waterfalls and majestic cliffs also add to the overall atmosphere. Other animal sightings at Lake Nakuru include baboons, rhinos, colobus monkeys, lions and leopards. Lake Nakuru promises year-round explorations and feels equally exotic during the off-season.
This tiny game reserve combines the top highlights of an African safari with the beautiful Samburu culture. The Samburu Game Reserve is located to the north of Ewaso Ng’iro. Its game drives present hundreds of elephants, lions, buffalo’s and leopards against a backdrop of murky brown waters and semi-deserts. You might not see the Big 5, but you can always see Samburu’s own ‘Special Five’, the beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, gerenuk and reticulated giraffe. Most lodges in the park offer camel safaris, an adventure that is too good to miss out on.
Tsavo West and East
Tsavo West and East National Parks join hands to become the largest protected area in Kenya. Considered to be a fascinating wilderness area, Tsavo features untouched wilderness and authentic African safaris without forcing you to share the view with other tourists. This is one of the few national parks in Kenya where you get to see the Big 5 in a single day and its man-eating lions and humongous elephant populations made it famous around the globe. Tsavo East is much more accessible, but Tsavo West is home to that underwater glass tank which provides a unique vantage point to get closer to hippos and crocodiles basking in its lazy waters. Every safari to the Tsavo is rich in history, culture and nature, and each experience feels incredibly unique, private and authentic. The best time to visit both parks is between the months of May to October.
Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Buffalo Springs hardly gets any attention from tourists visiting Kenya, and that hardly seems fair, given its spectacular beauty and majestic wildlife. The reserve is located bang opposite the Samburu Game Reserve, and in many ways, it is almost identical to the Samburu. All animals found in the north can be seen here and the bird-viewing opportunities at Buffalo Springs are spectacular. Elephant sightings are very common and the park also feels more remote and private than Samburu.
Aberdara National Park
Aberdare National Park is one of those few wildlife destinations in Africa that makes you forget all about its wildlife, at least for the first few hours. The surrounding scenery is so spectacular that you tend to lose yourself in those lovely waterfalls, alpine moorlands and dense rainforests. And once you realize that the entire reason you’re visiting the park is for its wildlife, you can treat your eyes to rare sightings of black leopards, rhinos and bongo antelopes. The park is perfect for hikers as the temperature tends to be cooler than many other places in Africa, also making Aberdara the best destination for those searching for authentic experiences in the wild. The best time to visit Aberdara is between the months of May to October.
Meru National Park
Meru might not be able to boast of basking in the shadows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it has its own charm, Mt. Kenya, the next best mountain in Africa. Meru National Park is among the least-visited parks in the continent, and its verdant hills, palm trees and exotic forests feel like they’ve been transported out of Hemmingway’s tales of Africa. If you’re searching for a national park where you don’t have to share your safari with others, Meru is where you need to be.
Its proximity to Nairobi makes this park one of the easiest African parks to visit. The park loses out on some of its vibe, but its safaris aren’t any less entertaining. Think of Nairobi National Park as a modern-day wildlife destination, for very few destinations promise sightings of rhinos, giraffes and buffalo’s against a backdrop of skyscrapers and everyday city life. The main attractions of Nairobi National Park is its 400 species of birds and those walking trails which try and present a bush vibe within a stone’s throw from one of the most bustling cities of Africa.
Most tourists tend to concentrate their energies on The Mara and its dramatic scenes, but like Tanzania, Kenya has so much more to offer. Big game destinations such as Tsavo and Ambolesi are easily accessible and some national parks also present hidden white-sand beaches. And what could be better than a destination which provides a spectacular beach as well as a magnificent safari!
Don’t forget to check our Top 10 Best National Parks in Tanzania – Overview of some the premier national safari parks in Tanzania suiting individual preferences and comfort levels.