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.
The parks in central Kenya offer a rich wildlife and a well-established infrastructure
for tourism. Visiting this region is usually quite painless.
Click the map for more information about parks in central Kenya.
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
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
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.
The south-eastern safari region may be visited from the coast while staying in for example
Mombasa or Malindi, or from Nairobi.
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 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 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
More parks in northern Kenya
More about parks
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
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.
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
Different kinds of 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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.