There are many amazing places worth visiting across Africa, but Kenya’s wealth of natural beauty makes it especially enticing as a destination where visitors can explore the origin of the Swahili word “safari” and the renowned Wildebeest migration. The diversity of what to see and do, coupled with the spirit of adventure, makes for some unforgettable memories in Kenya. The abundance of wildlife in various secluded game reserves and parks tops the list of things to see in Kenya. The Great Migration involves more than a million Wildebeest, a phenomenon that occurs annually (July-September) in Masai Mara.
As is the case along the tropics, Kenya’s landscape comprises rich tropical forests, savannah grassland, and sun-soaked arid lands, not to forget the pristine Indian Ocean coastline. Both the Maasai and the Samburu tribes have so much to offer the landscape with their cultures of preservation. Kenya perhaps is the only place on Earth where you can come face-to-face with a lion in Amboseli or witness a cache of million-plus flamingos in Lake Nakuru, all coexisting harmoniously with nature.
Aside from the world-class safari parks, Kenya is home to a trove of treasures lined along its Indian Ocean coast. Snorkel in the fish-rich coral reefs along its pristine beaches Pearly while learning of the Swahili culture and sample the region’s best cuisine. The country’s varying topography is also stunning, with the Great Rift Valley cutting right across the country from the Northern end through to Tanzania to the South. Nairobi is the country’s administrative backbone and a gateway to the following exciting and evocative destinations.
Learn how to choose a sustainable safari, read about the impact of clean water for women in Kenya, and explore more of Kenya’s diverse landscapes in this photographer’s reflections after spending three months in Kenya.
1. Masai Mara National Reserve
Top on the list of premier tourist parks in Kenya is Masai Mara. The sheer number and variety of wildlife residing within the sanctuary is a marvel. The Mara Reserve borders Tanzania to the far-flung extension of Serengeti, another game reserve lying along the northern corridor. “Serengeti” is a name derived from a red-cloak garb worn by the Maasai tribe who for centuries have coexisted closely with the wild animals. Amazingly, the Maasai graze their herds in and outside the park with little to no human to animal conflict. Even the fierce big cats hardly dare to attack a Maasai or his herds. In their local dialect “Mara” means “Mottled,” a reference to how the light reflects maze-like patterns on the ground as it twinkles through the shadowy acacia trees.
In the course of the Great Migration, the Wildebeest move from Kenya to the Serengeti Park in Tanzania in search of greener pastures. The sight of so many leaping and hopping across the crocodile-infested Mara River is enthralling. You can even see large predators such as the hippos and crocs feasting on the ones that fail to surmount the river crossing. The park also boasts of a large population of big cats like leopards, lions, and cheetahs.
2. Amboseli National Reserve
The Amboseli Game Reserve is another one of the tourist parks in Kenya famed for large herds of African elephants. It’s home to the big cats and other animals including the giraffe, Thomson’s gazelles, waterbuck, impala, and many more. Over 600 different bird species have made their home here, thanks to its favorable woodland, savannah, and wetland habitats. Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, towers over the park along the western corridor.
3. Tsavo National Park
Tsavo National Park is the largest of the parks in Kenya, although it doesn’t enjoy the limelight that Maasai Mara does. Tsavo is split administratively to comprise Tsavo East and West with a combined area that’s close to 4% of Kenya’s entire surface area. Further to hosting a plethora of impressive wildlife, Tsavo comprises diverse terrain that includes a rocky plateau, volcanic hills, savannah, and waterfalls. Tsavo East is particularly famous for elephant sightings which you can photograph as they swim and roll in dusty red soil. Other lesser-known features like Lugard Falls are all photo-worthy. It’s here that you’ll find beautiful rapid cascades emptying its contents into the crocodile-infested ponds.
Tsavo West offers wet and diverse topographic scenery. Notable highlights here include Mzima Springs steeped amid an array of natural springs. The Tsavo West habitat is heavily populated by massive hippos and crocodiles, not to mention a flock of preying birds that perch on Chaimu Crater. There’s a beautiful but obscure Ngulia Rhino sanctuary tucked inside the park. Here, you can spot all the elusive rhinos within the much denser thicket.
4. Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba National Reserves
The Shaba, Buffalo Springs, and Samburu national reserves are all tucked in amongst Kenya’s remote northern region. Along the banks of Ewaso Nyiro River, these three parks rely on Ewaso Nyiros’s waters to sustain their wild game and habitats. The animal species found here have adapted uniquely to the harsh climatic conditions. Species such as gerenuk, Somali Ostriches, antelopes, and Grevy’s zebras thrive well in these parks. It’s fascinating to spot (and of course, snap) a long-necked antelope standing upright on its hind legs. Top offerings at Samburu National Park include local water holes called Sarara Singing Wells where Samburu tribes people draw water for their camels. You might be lucky enough to spot big cats as well.
5. Lake Nakuru National Park
The flamingo-glad Lake Nakuru Park is another popular destination on the floor of the Great Rift Valley. Nakuru town where the park is located is a two-hour drive from Nairobi. One-third of the park is occupied by the flamingo-filled lake. Since its establishment in 1961, Lake Nakuru Game Reserve has recorded over 450 bird species. Millions of flamingos dominate the lake waters amid a rich variety of wildlife around it. You’ll also find leopards, lions, pythons, warthogs and numerous friendly primates. The park hosts Africa’s largest forest of euphorbia candelabrum. Cheeky hyraxes rule the cliffs surrounding the park, so try your best to capture on video the amazing speed with which they traverse the rocks.
6. Nairobi Park
Away from Nairobi’s dazzling clamor you can spot graceful giraffes or pride of lions snoozing lazily at Nairobi Game Park. The park is just a 15 minute drive from the city. And although the park isn’t as big as the others mentioned above, it surely makes a rewarding tour for the day if you plan to stick around the city. The sanctuary that hosts the most endangered rhino species is also tucked inside the park. Secured footpaths or designated “Safari Walks” allow you to be in close proximity to various animals such as the zebra, dik dik, leopards, hippos, elephants, cheetahs and others. Over 400 bird species, including the cute crowned crane inhabit this park.