The magnificence and diversity of the wildlife and landscape in
Kenya is unsurpassed and you are guaranteed to tick off the full roster of the big five on
a safari: lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant.
The popular image of safari, especially in the west, is
inseparable from Kenya.
Earlier in the last century, gifted writers such as Ernest Hemingway (Green Hills of Africa)
and Karen Blixen (Out
of Africa) brought to life the vivid images and uplifting life experience that
constitutes a Kenyan safari.
It was at this time that leading celebrities of the day, such as Teddy
Game Trails) and Prince Edward, travelled to Kenya on safari. And so the safari gained
a certain snob appeal.
The famous went because it was expected of them. And those on the
make, because the safari was part of the certification they needed on the way up.
If you want to take a peek into the mood and character of the players
at that time, read Hemingway's intriguing short story The Short Happy Life of Francis
Macomber; where Hemingway's character, Francis, is too wimpy to face down a wounded lion,
let alone satisfy his wife in bed.
As always, Hemingway's characters speak of his own self-perceived
failures and fears. As often, Hemingway speaks for us all.
Hemingway on Hunting also chronicles Ernest Hemingway's lifelong zeal
for the hunting life, from the plains of Africa to the American West.
In our day however, a Kenya safari
is accessible to many more people.
Despite competition from other destinations, Kenya remains the heart
of the African safari experience. The magnificence and diversity of the wildlife and
landscape is unsurpassed.
You are guaranteed to tick off the full roster of the big five: lion,
buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant. Other less well-known but essential and chartered
members of the savannah ecosystem are also abundant.
The landscape kaleidoscope rolls out across the magnificent rift
valley, the central highlands, the savannah grasslands, snow capped Mount Kenya and the
desolate moonscape of the north. This is perhaps why the experts advise all those faithful
lovers of wildlife and nature that at least once in their lifetime, they must partake of a
Kenya has over 50 national parks and game reserves where wildlife
But, as you can imagine, on the average safari you wouldn't hope to
cover all of them. It is therefore wise to get the best value by visiting only a few of
the more famous national parks; unless you have a lot of time and can afford to get off
the beaten track.
The most popular national parks in Kenya, and from which those with
limited time and budget need to pick from, are Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru,
Aberdares, Samburu and Tsavo.
Top in the off-the-beaten track category, for either wildlife or back
to nature activities, are Kakamega Forest, Marsabit, Meru, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon and
Maasai Mara is the big one. This is where you must go even when
all the time you can spare is two nights.
This is mostly where all those wildlife videos on Kenya are filmed.
The Mara, as the Maasai Mara Game Reserve is commonly known, is part of the ecosystem that
includes the equally famous Serengeti of Tanzania. Covering 320 square kilometers, it is
nested in the southwestern corner of the country.
The Mara offers wildlife in such variety and abundance that it is
difficult to believe. On a two-night visit, I saw lions, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles,
giraffe, wildebeests, zebras, buffalo, warthogs, hyenas, jackals, wild dogs, buffalo,
leopard, nine kinds of antelopes and elephant. Birds can also be seen aplenty as secretary
birds, cranes, stork, vultures and ostriches all spread their wings in the park.
It is in the Mara that perhaps the most spectacular event of the
natural world takes place. I refer to the annual migration of millions of wildebeest and
zebra from the Serengeti in search of water and pasture. The timing of the phenomena,
conditional on the rains, occurs between June and August.
The reverse journey is usually taken in October.
With or without the migration the Mara has abundant numbers of
resident animals and you are sure to have a good wildlife viewing experience whatever time
of the year you visit.
If you have sufficient funds, consider taking a balloon trip over the
reserve. This popular and thoroughly memorable ride usually commences before dawn and
includes a champagne breakfast.
The Mara is 5 hours from Nairobi by road and 45 minutes by light
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park sits on the lower slopes of mighty
Kilimanjaro whose peak is across the border in Tanzania.
It is quite an experience to see the Kilimanjaro hovering above the
clouds in an early morning. As the keen photography enthusiast can already imagine, the
mountain gives a dramatic backdrop for animal pictures.
Amboseli is renowned for its huge elephant herds. You will also see
buffalo, black rhino, zebra, wildebeest and other plain animals. Lions and other cats can
be seen but are less plentiful here than in the Mara.
The park is 3 hours from Nairobi by road and can be approached through
Namanga, the border post between Kenya and Tanzania.
Lake Nakuru's claim to fame is anchored on its flamingos and the
over 400 species of birds found here. The lake itself is a soda lake on the floor of the
The sight of the (at times) millions of flamingos is quite spectacular
when, from a distance, the lake appears ringed in pink.
Lake Nakuru is also host to a sanctuary for the endangered black and
white rhino. Lions, Rothschild's giraffe, buffalo and baboons are all residents here.
The park is the most accessible of Kenya's bigger parks and is only
two hours from Nairobi by road.
Abderdares National Park
At the same distance from Nairobi as Lake Nakuru is the Aberdares
The park has a diverse topography that includes waterfalls, rain
forests and the rivers that supply water to Nairobi's millions.
The flora and fauna is quite unique and is not found elsewhere in the
country, expect on Mount Kenya: leopard, elephant, rhino and the rare bongo can all be
Although the dense vegetation and inclement weather often makes it
difficult to spot animals you are guaranteed to see elephants and buffalos at the floodlit
waterholes of the two famous tree hotels: The Ark and Treetops.
Students of the history of the British royal family will recall that
it was at the Treetops, in 1952, where the then Princess Elizabeth was staying on
honeymoon when her father, King George VI, died.
She descended from Treetops to assume the backbreaking role of
presiding over the far-flung dominions and colonies of the empire. If you stay at the
Treetops you are bound to meet with some of her fans.
Samburu National Park
Though not as famous as the Mara, Samburu National Park is another
wildlife haven with a dramatic semiarid landscape. Here you will spot lions, elephants,
cheetahs and the elusive leopard.
Some animals are unique to this northern park: Grevy's zebra,
reticulated giraffe, kudu and gerenuk.
On your trip to Samburu, you may also want to take in the nearby Shaba
and Buffalo Springs game reserves. In addition, this is the place to take a camel safari.
Samburu is three hours from Nairobi by road.
Tsavo is so huge, all of 20,000 sq km, that it is administered as
two units: Tsavo West and Tsavo East.
This is the park that is closest to Mombasa at the coast or three and
a half hours away from Nairobi by road.
You will find large herds of elephant, especially in Tsavo East. Tsavo
West is filled with crocodiles, vervet monkeys, antelope, baboons, giraffes and hippos.
It is in Tsavo that poachers were most successful in their bloody
racket and this saw a dramatic fall in elephant population. The good guys have, in recent
years, gained the upper hand and numbers are recovering.
But Kenyan authorities are still extremely wary of the future of the
elephant in Tsavo. The country is very active in seeking a permanent ban on the
international ivory trade.
I wish at this point to declare to all that I am a great fan of the
African elephant. I believe this to be the true king of the jungle and not that overrated
pretender, the lion.
You may recall in The Man-eaters of Tsavo how cowardly lions disrupted
the building of the railway in the Tsavo area by feeding on the workforce. Would true
royalty be involved in such a disgraceful affair?
Kenya is a year round safari destination. The rains come around
April-May and November-December.
This does not however, much affect the travelers' ability to get
around; except for the heavily forested Aberdares.
In the wet season the roads in the Aberdares are extremely slippery
and the park is at times actually closed down.
Best Time To Go On Safaris in Kenya
Generally, the best time to go on safari in Kenya is over the
drier months, when the grass is short and sighting animals is so much easier.
But in areas such as the Mara, the animals are so plentiful that you
are going to see lots of them regardless of the season.
The peak tourist season falls around January to February and July to
August. April to June is the low season and prices for accommodation in the lodges can be
as much as 40% lower than in the high season.
Accommodation On Safari
Accommodation on safari varies from basic camping to luxury lodges
and tented camps.
Out there in the bush, you will be pleasantly surprised that all the
trimmings of 5 star accommodations are available. But if you want to rough it out, you
will find campsites in almost all the game reserves and national parks.
Info on Kenya hotels,
lodges and resort accommodation options is available online.
Kenya Safari Tours
It is generally recommended to take an escorted Kenya safari tour
package that includes transport, park fees and accommodation.
The reason for this is that the tour guides are usually well versed
about the animals, where to find them, how to get there and other such useful local
Before you book your safari, be sure to look at the available offers
of various durations and budgets.
Do It Yourself Safaris
If you have a lot of time and prefer more freedom to travel
around, then hire a vehicle in either Nairobi or Mombasa.
car rental there is a choice between self-drive and chauffer driven vehicles.
What To Wear On Safari
On safari, it is generally advisaable to wear light cottons and
Warmer clothing is needed for the evenings and on your early morning
game drives. Some rainwear is advisable between March and June and October and December.
You should also bring along a decent pair of sunglasses as the glare
you experience in bright tropical light is a new and uncomfortable experience for most.
It is also a good idea to carry a pair of binoculars. They are very
useful for spotting animals and will earn you the envy of your less knowledgeable
Above all, bring your sense of adventure.
By Andrew Muigai.
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