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Safari jeep in Samburu National Reserve.
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  More about parks
Park authority in Kenya
The Kenyan national parks are protected and managed by Kenya Wildlife Service, or KWS. Since it was founded in the early 1990's, KWS has almost stopped the intense poaching seen during the previous decades. KWS also works to support tourists and environmentally sound tourism.
Wildlife in the parks
Which animals you may see during a safari depends on which parks you visit, as all species are not present everywhere. For example, there are no elephants in Nairobi National Park. Masai Mara is a good place for the big cats, Lake Nakuru for rhinoceros, and Amboseli for elephants.
Park rules
The parks are protected areas, where special rules apply to visitors. The rules may vary somewhat between parks, but some typical rules for national parks, which have the strictest rules, are:
· The speed limit is 50 km/31 mi per hour. Driving off-road or at night is not allowed.
· Keep a distance to the animals. Don't disturb or follow them. Don't feed any animals.
· Don't go outside the vehicle, apart from in dedicated areas, such as picnic sites and observation points.
· Don't bring animals or plants into the park. Don't take animals, plants or any other natural objects out of the park.
· Don't litter. Make fires only in dedicated places
  More web sites
KWS – Kenya Wildlife Service
Safari Card
By KWS.
  Glossary
Safari glossary
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Kenya:
Parks in Kenya
The nature and wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania are protected by national parks, national reserves, game reserves, forest reserves and other types of nature protected areas. On this web site, we refer to all such protected areas as 'parks'. For simplicity, we also include some areas that are not protected, but still have a rich nature, such as bird lakes.

Safari regions
Kenya has more parks than neighbouring Tanzania, but most of them are also smaller. Apart from national parks, there are locally managed national reserves as well as private reserves.

Map of Africa Namibia Botswana South Africa Zambia Mozambique Malawi Rwanda Tanzania Kenya Uganda
Zebras in Masai Mara National Reserve.

Most safaris are focusing on central Kenya, within five to six hours by road from the capital Nairobi, which is also the starting point for most safaris.

Another popular safari region is south-eastern Kenya, which is closer to the Kenyan coast. Many visitors come here to combine game viewing and beach holidays.

Northern Kenya has few visitors. There are several parks offering nice safari experiences, but few packaged safaris go there; you may have to tailor a safari to see these parks.

Map of parks in Kenya
Kenya has a number of national parks, national reserves and other protected areas. The following map shows the most important parks.

Map of KenyaNamunyak WCMount NyiruMathews RangeChalbi DesertChalbi DesertShompoleNyeriKisumuKitaleEldoretNakuruIsioloLamuMokoweMokowe AirportMalindi Airport (MYD/HKML)MalindiVoiUgandaKenyaTanzaniaLake NatronNamangaJomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO/HKJK)Nairobi (Kenya)Mombasa (Kenya)Moi International (MNA/HKMO)ArushaArusha Airport (ARK/HTAR)Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO/HTKJ)Mwingi NRMwingi NRRahole NRBisanadi NRKora NPMeru NPLake Bogoria NRLake BaringoMaralal NSLosai NRMarsabit NR & NPMarsabit NR & NPMalka Mari NPSibiloi NPLake TurkanaCentral Island NPSouth Island NPSouth Turkana NRNasolot NRSaiwa Swamp NPMount Elgon NPKerio Valley/Kamnarok NRMauKakamega Forest NRNdere Island NPLake VictoriaRuma NPHell's Gate NPMount Longonot NPMwea NRFourteen FallsOl Doinyo Sapuk NPNairobi NPOlorgesailie NMLake MagadiChyulu Hills NPNgai Ndethya NRSouth Kitui NRTaita Hills GSShimba Hills NRKisite & Mpunguti MNPMombasa MNRArabuko Sokoke NP & Gede Ruins NMWatamu MNR & MNPMalindi MNR & MNPTana River Primate NRArawale NRDodori NRBoni NRKiunga MNR Tsavo East NPTsavo East NPSouth Kitui NRTaita Hills GSNgai Ndethya NRChyulu Hills NPTsavo West NPShimba Hills NRMalindi MNR & MNPWatamu MNR & MNPArabuko Sokoke NP & Gede Ruins NMTana River Primate NRArawale NRBoni NRDodori NRKiunga MNRAmboseli NRMount Longonot NPHell's Gate NPLake NaivashaLake Nakuru NPAberdare NPMount Kenya NPMasai Mara NRRuma NPNdere Island NPKakamega Forest NRMount Elgon NPSaiwa Swamp NPNasolot NRSouth Turkana NRSouth Island NPCentral Island NPSibiloi NPMalka Mari NPMarsabit NR & NPLosai NRLaikipia PlateauLake Bogoria NRKerio Valley/Kamnarok NRSamburu & Shaba NRMeru NPKora NPRahole NRBisanadi NRSerengeti NP (Tanzania)Ngorongoro CA (Tanzania)Lake Manyara NP (Tanzania)Tarangire NP (Tanzania)Arusha NP (Tanzania)Kilimanjaro NP (Tanzania)Mkomazi NP (Tanzania)

1
Kiunga
2 Boni
3 Dodori
4 Arawale
5 Tana River Primate
6 Arabuko Sokoke & Gede Ruins
7 Malindi
8 Watamu
9 Mombasa
10 Kisite/Mpunguti
11 Shimba Hills
12 Taita Hills
13 Tsavo West
14 Tsavo East
15 South Kitui
16 Ngai Ndethya
17 Chyulu Hills
18 Amboseli
19 Lake Magadi
20 Olorgesailie
21 Nairobi
22 Ol Doinyo Sapuk
23 Fourteen Falls
24 Mwea
25 Mt Kenya
26 Aberdare
27 Lake Nakuru
28 Lake Naivasha
29 Mt Longonot
30 Hell's gate
31 Masai Mara
32 Ruma
33 Lake Victoria
34 Ndere Island
35 Kakamega Forest
36 Mau
37 Kerio Valley/
Kamnarok
38 Mt Elgon
39 Saiwa Swamp
40 Nasolot
41 South Turkana
42 South Island
43 Central Island
44 Lake Turkana
45 Sibiloi
46 Malka Mari
47 Marsabit
48 Losai
49 Maralal
50 Lake Baringo
51 Lake Bogoria
52 Laikipia
53 Samburu, Shaba
& Buffalo Springs
54 Meru
55 Mwingi
56 Bisanadi
57 Kora
58 Rahole
59 Shompole
60 Namunyak
61 Mathews Range
62 Mount Nyiru
63 Chalbi Desert

Central Kenya
The parks in central Kenya offer a rich wildlife and a well-established infrastructure for tourism. Visiting this region is usually quite painless.

Main parks:
Masai Mara NR Cats, migrating herds, many species
Lake Nakuru NP Rhinos, leopards, flamingos
Samburu, Shaba & Buffalo Springs NR Northern species, reptiles
Aberdare NP Mountain forests, tree lodges
Mount Kenya NP Mountain climbing, mountain forests
Nairobi NP Close to central Nairobi
Lake Naivasha Hippos, birds
More parks in central Kenya

Map of central Kenya.Lake NaivashaAberdare National ParkSamburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National ReserveMount Kenya National ParkLake Nakuru National ParkMasai Mara National ReserveSerengeti  National Park (Tanzania)Hells's Gate National ParkMount Longonot National ParkLake Bogoria National ReserveLake BaringoLake MagadiNairobi National ParkOl Doinyo Sapuk National ParkMwea National ReserveMeru National ParkLaikipia National ReserveThe Laikipia PlateauLake VictoriaKakamega Forest National ReserveMasai Mara National ReserveLake Nakuru National ParkSamburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National ReserveMount Kenya National ParkJomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO/HKJK)
Click the map for more information about parks in central Kenya.

Masai Mara
Masai Mara is the most popular safari destination in Kenya. Mara has a rich wildlife and many cats. The migration spends August to October in the park, adding some 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras to the resident animals. This is the prime time for a visit.

Lake Nakuru, Aberdare, Mount Kenya and the Samburu area
Masai Mara is often combined with other parks, for example Lake Nakuru, Aberdare/Mount Kenya and/or Samburu/Shaba/Buffalo Springs. Lake Nakuru is the best main park in Kenya to see rhinos, while the Samburu area is dry and has some species rarely seen further south. Aberdare and Mount Kenya are forested mountain parks, where game viewing is often done from the lodges, not by game driving.

Nairobi NP
Nairobi National Park is situated just outside Nairobi and is perfect for a day-tour. It is not good enough to be considered a main attraction on a safari, but has many popular mammals, such as lions and cheetahs. There are no elephants, though.

Safaris start in Nairobi
Most safaris in this region start from Nairobi, which is accessible by international flights from different parts of the world, and by domestic flights from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast.

Scenery in Samburu National Reserve.

South-eastern Kenya
The south-eastern safari region may be visited from the coast while staying in for example Mombasa or Malindi, or from Nairobi.

Main parks:
Amboseli NR Elephants, views of Kilimanjaro
Tsavo NP Kenya's largest park, close to the coast
Shimba Hills NR Sable antelope, close to the coast
More parks in south-east Kenya

Map of south-east Kenya.Mida CreekMkomazi National Park (Tanzania) Shimba Hills National Reserve Tsavo East & West National Park Amboseli National Reserve Amboseli National ReserveChyulu Hills National ParkNgai Ndethya National ReserveSouth Kitui National ReserveTsavo East & West National ParkTaita Hills Game SanctuaryShimba Hills National ReserveMombasa Marine ReserveMalindi & Watamu Biosphere ReserveArabuko Sokoke National ParkKilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania)Lamu IslandBoni, Dodori & Kiunga Marine National ReserveArawale National ReserveTana River Primate National ReserveMoi International Airport (MBA/HKMO) Click the map for more information about parks in south-east Kenya.

Amboseli, Tsavo and Shimba Hills
Amboseli is well known for its many elephants and its generally good wildlife, and has Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania for a backdrop. (This park is sometimes combined with Masai Mara, but such an itinerary is not optimal, as you will have to spend very long hours on the roads.) Some five or six parks make up Kenya's largest park system, Tsavo, where all kinds of African animals can be found, as well as several different biotopes. Tsavo can be accessed from either Nairobi or the coast. Shimba Hills is a small but pretty park close to the coast south of Mombasa. It has a good number of elephants, and has Kenya's only population of the beautiful sable antelope.

Western Kenya
Western Kenya has a mixed landscape of forests, mountain ranges and rolling hills. Much of the region is at some altitude. The country's second highest mountain, Mount Elgon, borders Uganda to the west. Here is also Africa's largest lake, Lake Victoria, which Kenya shares with Uganda and Tanzania.

Some, although not many, packaged tours visit this part of Kenya. Such tours may not be focused mainly on the African mammal wildlife, as these are not prime safari areas. Many bird watchers visit Kakamega Forest, which is the only remaining tropical rainforest in the country.

More parks in western Kenya

Northern Kenya
Northern Kenya is drier than the southern regions, and offers a partly different fauna and flora, although there isn't as much wildlife in the parks here as in many of the southern parks. Few packaged safaris venture further north than Samburu, Buffalo Springs or Shaba, on the boundary between south and north, so going there takes tailored or private arrangements.

More parks in northern Kenya

Flamingos in Lake Nakuru.

More about parks
Park sizes
The parks vary in size, ranging from huge Selous in Tanzania (55,000 km2/21,200 sq mi, which is the same size as New York State, or quite a bit larger than the Netherlands) down to little Saiwa Swamp in Kenya (3 km2/1.2 sq mi protecting the small local population of sitatunga antelopes). The Tanzanian parks are generally larger than the Kenyan, while there are more parks in Kenya.

Park fees
All park visitors pay an entrance fee. You usually don't have to worry about this, though, as the park fees should be included in your tour price and handled by your driver guide or tour leader.

Park fees range from USD 10 to 100 (depending on which park you visit). There are lower fees for children and for local residents. There is also a separate fee for the vehicle. A special electronic card called Safari Card (see More web sites) is used for paying the fees.

The fees usually last for 24 hours from the time of entry. Fees for consecutive days can be paid all at once.

Facilities in parks
Some East African parks are major tourist attractions, but not very much has been done to adapt them to tourism. This makes sense, as the fundamental idea of the parks is to conserve nature. There are bush roads criss-crossing the parks, lodges or tented camps for the tourist to stay and the odd picnic site with basic toilet facilities.

Some parks have camping sites where you may pitch a tent, and some have bandas, which are basic cottages or huts that you may rent.

A handful of parks, for example Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, are fenced. Fencing is usually a precaution to keep poachers out or to prevent the animals from approaching densely populated areas.

Park protection
Most parks are protected by rangers, but the level of protection varies a lot. Major national parks, where a lot of visitors come, are usually quite well funded and have resources to patrol the park and protect both wildlife and visitors. In less visited parks in remote areas, there may be little funding, and park protection may be poor. The same goes for developing and maintaining park infrastructure, such as roads; parks in remote areas may have less funding and fewer resources.

Waterfall on the Laikipia Plateau.

Different kinds of parks
National parks
National parks are usually well protected, and have the strictest park rules. Most of them may only be visited in vehicles during daytime, i.e. walking safaris and night safaris are not allowed. Some safari tours to national parks do include bush walks, but these are not done inside the park, but outside the park border.

Walking is allowed in some less visited national parks, for example Saiwa Swamp in western Kenya.

The only humans allowed into the parks are tourists, researchers and park staff. Farming, grazing cattle, logging or collecting wood etc is not allowed.

National parks are governed by the state through national authorities.

National reserves
National reserves are governed by local authorities. Many have less strict park rules compared to those of national parks.

The most well known national reserve in Kenya is Masai Mara, situated in the south-western part of the country.

Private reserves and sanctuaries
Some large and privately owned ranches in Kenya have been transformed into reserves, in some cases called sanctuaries. These reserves may be fenced, and may have a healthy wildlife following decades of conservation work by keen owners. An example of such a reserve is Solio Game Sanctuary in central Kenya.

Other parks
There are also other types of parks, such as forest reserves, conservancies etc. They have less strict park rules, and usually don't have wildlife rich enough to be of interest for safari tours. Kenya also has a number of national monuments, which are mainly historical sites, such as Gede Ruins on the Kenyan coast. But also an elephant bull that lived in Marsabit NP until the mid 1970's, was declared a national monument. This elephant, called Ahmed, had unusually large tusks and was seen as a symbol of wildlife conservation.

Pride of lions in Masai Mara National Reserve.

Animals in the parks
The animals in the parks are wild. They live their lives without human interference, such as farming, pasturing and deforestation. They are not fed, even when starving, and sick or injured animals receive no help from veterinaries.

There are a few exceptions, where park authorities do interfere with the wildlife. Elephants have been relocated from some parks to other areas when the local elephant population has grown too large. If there are too many elephants in an area, nature can't keep up with the elephant's feeding habits, and may be impoverished or even destroyed.

Another exception is re-introduction of endangered species, such as rhinoceros or African wild dogs.

Used to vehicles, not humans
In the parks that receive most visitors, the animals may be used to safari vehicles, and mainly ignore them. The animals are not accustomed to humans, though. Should you walk out of the vehicle, most animals would shy away.

Some parks are not open even to tourism, and some only allow a small number of visitors every day.

Which animals live in the parks?
Most classic safari animals can be seen in both Kenya and Tanzania, for example lions, elephants, hippos and giraffes. All may not be found in every park, though.

Some major parks, for example Masai Mara, have a wide range of species, and large numbers of individuals within these species. Such parks are of course popular with safari-goers.

Other parks may be more or less specialized in protecting certain species. Lake Nakuru in Kenya, for example, has a varied wildlife, but also has a special role as a rhino conservancy.

You should be aware that it isn't possible to predict exactly where to find the animals within a park, as they move to find food and water. Sometimes they even move out of the park. The huge herds of wildebeest and zebras known as the migration move between two parks, and spend part of the year in Serengeti, part in Masai Mara.

More about safari mammals

Combining parks
You will probably get the best safari if you go to a few different parks, as this allows for seeing a wider range of animal species.

 
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Page updated 29 January 2010