Like an oasis in the dry savannah with its emerald-green, perennial swamps beneath towering Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park is the best place in Africa to see elephants in dense concentrations. Amboseli became a wildlife sanctuary in the 1940s and was declared a national park by Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta in 1974.
The Kenyan coast feels like a different world from the savannahs of safari country. Low-lying and sandy, indented by mangrove-lined creeks, and shaded by coconut palms, the coast blends the bright light and colours of the tropics with the sparkling azure-blue of the Indian Ocean, where you squint through the afternoon sunlight to watch traditional lateen-rigged dhows sailing out beyond the coral reef.
To the north-east of the Great Rift Valley, and north-west of snow-capped Mount Kenya. Between Mount Kenya and the northern deserts, these high rangelands spread out between north-flowing streams and rivers, which flow throughout most of the year into the Ewaso Nyiro, northern Kenya’s greatest river.
Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake in Kenya which North West of Nairobi. It is part of the Great Rift Valley. The name derives from the local Maasai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water” because of the sudden storms which can arise.
Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes at an elevation of 1754 m above sea level. It lies to the south of Nakuru, in the rift valley of Kenya and is protected by Lake Nakuru National Park. The lake’s abundance of algae attracts the vast quantity of flamingos that famously line the shore. Other birds also flourish in the area, as do warthogs, baboons and other large mammals. Black and white rhinos have also been introduced.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Land of Big Cat Diary and Disney’s African Cats, the Maasai Mara is at the top of most people’s Kenyan safari wish lists. The location of the ’Great Migration’ – one of the natural wonders of the world – is a gloriously beautiful, wildlife-rich savannah landscape, once described by the eminent biologist Julian Huxley as ‘the only easily accessible and readily studied remaining portion of the world’s pre-human climax community at its tropical richest.’ It’s also a region where traditionally dressed Maasai still herd their cattle and goats in a lifestyle that in some aspect hasn’t changed much since they first arrived here 350 years ago.
Meru National Park
Meru National Park, where George and Joy Adamson released their most famous lioness, Elsa, back into the wild (a story immortalised in the book and film Born Free), is increasingly re-appearing on safari itineraries. After it was founded in 1966, the park, run by one of Kenya’s most energetic wardens, Peter Jenkins, was a popular destination for safaris. Then, championed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with the support of the EU, the park became a KWS cause célèbre and was comprehensively restored, with newly cut earth roads, a dedicated force of rangers led by a new warden (Peter Jenkins’ son Mark Jenkins), and a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate which is home to both white and black rhinos.
Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian (5,199 metres (17,057 ft)), Nelion (5,188 metres (17,021 ft)) and Point Lenana (4,985 metres (16,355 ft)). Mount Kenya is located in central Kenya, about 16.5 kilometres (10.3 mi) south of the equator, around 150 kilometres (93 mi) north-northeast of the capital Nairobi. Mount Kenya is the source of the name of the Republic of Kenya.
In Nairobi, there are some great international hotels and restaurants, and the shopping opportunities – in malls or outdoor curio markets (so-called ‘Maasai markets’) – can be very good. More importantly, Nairobi has some creditable must-sees of its own, of which the standout attraction is the remarkable Nairobi National Park.
Samburu National Reserve
North of Laikipia is Kenya’s vast traditional homeland of the Samburu people, who were drawn to this region by the reliability of the Ewaso Nyiro, northern Kenya’s biggest and least seasonal river, for watering their herds. The wildlife is plentiful here for the same reason – dozens of species of plains grazers and browsers gathering in the thick acacia and doum palm forest along the river banks to drink and seek shade.
Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East National Park is by far the biggest of Kenya’s parks. At more than 13,700km². Most famous for its huge herds of dust-red elephants, more than 10,000 of them bulldoze their way around this vast park.
Tsavo West National Park
Although Tsavo West and Tsavo East were once a single mega-park, they were separated decades ago, along a line coinciding with the Mombasa highway – and they feel like quite distinct national parks with different eco-systems: the open, flat-to-undulating plains and scattered bush of Tsavo East National Park and the much more wooded, hilly landscapes, dotted with volcanic cones and dramatic, black lava flows, that characterise Tsavo West National Park.