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.

Amboseli National Park
Although the first impression when you take the inside road in the park can be of a bleak dust bowl, any doubts about the park are allayed by its magnificent elephant herds and high counts of other plains animals which converge to graze and drink at the park’s permanent swamps and lakes. The wildlife can be viewed against the strikingly beautiful backdrop of Kilimanjaro, towering behind and offering scenes that are instantly recognizable.

Safaris in Amboseli National Park
The Amboseli region has several lodges and safari camps and Ultimate Africa Expeditions has selected the most distinctive which are located in the park: Amboseli Serena lodge and Ol tukai lodge. Located outside are the Kibo safari camp, Amboseli Sentrim Camp, Amboseli Sopa lodge and Kilima Safari Camp. Adjacent is Satao Elerai camp in its own private conservancy close to the Tanzanian border and with dramatic views of Kilimanjaro; and Porini Amboseli Camp in the remote wilderness of Selenkay Conservancy, to the north of the park, where bush walks and uncrowded game-viewing are always on offer.

Fauna and flora of Amboseli National Park
The Amboseli wetlands are the dominant features of the park, with the Enkongo Narok swamp and its central feature, Lake Kioko, the main focus in the western part of the park and the Longinye Swamp the big wildlife magnet in the east. These permanent swamps are fed by meltwater from the peaks of Kilimanjaro, which soaks into the volcanic rock and springs up from the plains all year round. After the rains, a carpet of pasture fills the plains in between, but for much of the year the swamps with their sedges, water lilies and papyrus provide a brilliant contrast with the dry plains. Much of the park’s vegetation is low, but to the south of the wetland areas, towards Kilimanjaro, there’s more woodland, with yellow-barked acacia and several other species of trees providing browsing for hundreds of Maasai giraffe and cover for hunting lion and cheetah.

Although most of southern Kenya’s plains wildlife can be seen at Amboseli – including Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, buffalo, hartebeest, eland and waterbuck – the most numerous animals of the open plains are wildebeest and Burchell’s zebra.

Bird counts in Amboseli can be astonishing: there are reckoned to be as many as 400 species present in this small park, including native rarities like the Madagascar squacco heron and the Taveta golden weaver (relatively common at camps and lodges around the park) as well as Palearctic migrants such as the Caspian plover. The water birds are the highlights, and in many areas the park’s tracks follow close to the water’s edge, allowing you great sightings of specialties like the long-toed lapwing and rufous-bellied heron – if you can take your eyes of the elephants in the swamp.
The elephants of Amboseli have been the focus of a long research project run by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Founded in 1975 by Cynthia Moss, who had met elephant researcher Iain Douglas-Hamilton in Tanzania a few years earlier, the trust has become one of the most important elephant research centres in the world. It was here that elephants’ infrasonic communications (‘tummy rumbles’) were first recorded and studied and where the true complexity of their social structures and inter-personal relationships, and the sophistication of their cogntive abilities, were revealed.

Landmarks and divisions of the Amboseli ecosystem
Although the dominant presence of Kilimanjaro marks the southern horizon and seems to fill half the sky, the Amboseli ecosystem, the region has a number of other important landmarks and features that provide orientation and variety to game drives. The obvious place to start is the small kopje known as Observation Hill, just to the west of Lake Kioko. Parking at the bottom you’re allowed to walk to the top, from where you can gaze across the whole park and can often see past the fringing reeds to the resident hippos in the lake.

Looking northwest, the flat, dusty plain is ‘Lake Amboseli’ – a very occasionally rain-filled zone that occupies the northwest corner of the park. Some 5km to the east, the human ‘reserve’ of Ol Tukai, in the center of the park, is the fenced location of Amboseli’s park headquarters, the big Ol Tukai Lodge, and the currently mothballed Amboseli Lodge. If you’re in need of a comfort break, a cold drink or another leg stretch, drivers will often pause a game drive to take a break here.

The Amboseli region’s artificial divisions start with the Amboseli National Park itself. Bordering the park to the west is the Kitirua Game Conservancy, with the luxury Tortilis Camp. A fair way north of the park, commonly accessed by road transfer from Amboseli airstrip, lies the quite remote Selenkay Conservancy, location of Porini Amboseli Camp. On the southeast side of the park, closer to Kilimanjaro than anywhere else in the region, lies Elerai Conservancy and Satao Elerai Camp.