Kenya's National Parks and Reserves
Kenya is home to a high number of great safari and wilderness destinations. The National Parks and Reserves exist with the aim of protecting Kenya’s flora, fauna and ecosystems, as well as the diverse wildlife and birdlife. With 23 National Parks, 4 National Marine Parks, 28 National Reserves, 6 National Marine Reserves, and 4 National Sanctuaries, there is a wealth of protected areas for travelers to explore in Kenya.
Each destination has its own highlights and attractions. Below we list a few of Kenya’s most popular and most unique parks and reserves.
Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara National Reserve is one of Kenya’s most well-known, most established, and most visited wildlife destinations. Bordering Tanzania’s Serenegeti National Park, Masai Mara is a year round safari spot that is home to big game including big cats, plains game, and plentiful vegetation, wildlife and birdlife. The National Reserve hosts a portion of the Great Migration; from July to November, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest move from the Serengeti across the border into the Masai Mara. Owing to its proximity to Nairobi and popularity, Masai Mara can become busy, especially during the Dry Season when game viewing is at its most opportune.
Amboseli National Park
Located on the border of Tanzania with Mt Kilimanjaro as a backdrop, Amboseli National Park is a picturesque safari destination. It is well-known for the large herds of elephants which amble across the scrub-covered flat plains. Amboseli offers visitors great scenery and quality game viewing with a diverse range of wildlife and birdlife present. As the second most popular park in Kenya, Amboseli can become quite busy. It is relatively close to Nairobi and great to combine with visits to parks nearby.
Samburu National Reserve
This lesser-known, remote park in Northern Kenya is teeming with wildlife. Samburu's dramatic landscape is intersected by the Ewaso Ngiro River which helps keen the resident wildlife sustained. This is one of Kenya’s smaller parks, and the location means it sees fewer visitors than more popular parks such as Amboseli or the Masai Mara reserve. This could be a draw card for travelers looking for a quieter safari experience. Samburu is home to the Samburu Special Five: Grevy’s zebra, ostrich, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, and the gerenuk.
Mt Kenya National Park
Mt Kenya National Park was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is one East Africa’s most impressive landscapes. While the mountain (which is actually an ancient extinct volcano) is the focal point, the park is made up of diverse habitats including lakes, glaciers, springs, forests and grasslands. Game viewing takes place across the lower slopes and grasslands while hiking and climbing takes place higher up. This area of breathtaking natural beauty is a quieter safari getaway.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Although the name may seem quite foreboding, Hell’s Gate National Park is a great Safari destination. Made up of cliffs, gorges, volcanoes, rock towers, and geothermal steam, the diverse geography of Hell’s Gate National Park is enough to wow visitors. The park was named after a gate-like narrow break in the cliffs and is a year round destination that is also great for walking safaris and camping. The park is smaller and relatively close to Nairobi making for a great day trip.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Flocks of pink flamingoes are the resident celebrities at Lake Nakuru National Park. Located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, the park is dominated by the shallow alkaline Lake Nakuru which is home to vast flocks of flamingo. A haven for birds and birding-enthusiasts, Lake Nakuru National Park is scenic and ecologically diverse. The varied habitats are also bustling with game animals and the national park has become a sanctuary for endangered black and white rhino.
Nairobi National Park
As one of the world’s only National Parks to be found right next to a capital city, Nairobi National Park is definitely unique. Skyscrapers are the backdrop to one of Africa’s smallest parks. Only a short drive from the center of the city, the park is incredibly accessible to visitors to Nairobi. A variety of wildlife wonders across the acacia dotted plains including elusive black rhino. Nairobi National Park offers walking trails, picnic sites as well as camping sites.
Meru National Park
Meru National Park is described as being a 'complete wilderness'. Located in central Kenya, Meru was the setting for the well-known book by Joy Adamson “Born Free”. The small park is rugged and made up of savannah, jungle, rivers, huge termite mounds, swamps, grasslands and is bisected by a number of rivers. The diverse landscapes are home to a rich diversity of wildlife and the views of Mt Kenya are unforgettable.
Tsavo East and West National Parks
Combined, Tsavo East and Tsavo West make up the biggest area of protected land in Kenya. Visitors to Tsavo can look forward to dramatic scenery,including Mzima Springs and Lugard Falls, and exciting game viewing. Tsavo East is well –known for its large herds of elephants covered in layers of red dust as well as its resident buffalo. The remote areas in the east are home to a wealth of wildlife which gather along the rivers. The west is notable for rugged landscapes and lush vegetation. Tsavo National Park is located near to Kenya's coastal region making it a great addition to a Kenya beach holiday (alternatively a visit to the coast is a great addition to a visit to the park).