Even after travelling myself I still can not describe the feeling of standing in the back of a safari Jeep watching a herd of elephants crossing the road ahead,Little babies hiding amongst their mothers legs and the males inquisitively looking over, wondering whether to come closer.
I’ve never been a fan of zoo’s or sea world style attractions, and after seeing black fish a few years ago I finally stopped altogether and then after seeing BBC’s Africa with David Attenborough I knew it had to be my next destination to see these majestic animals in their natural habitats.
Giving a whole new meaning to the term zebra crossing…
Having never been before it took me hours to decide on a National park to visit, all sort of factors need to be taken into account… Time of year, Animals most likely to been spotted and Landmarks there’s so much information to take into account. Even I found all the information over whelming with all the different parks and contradicting statements so I’ve put together to help my customers which I thought I’d share on the site.
I suppose the three biggest parks people have heard of would be the Masai Mara, The Serengeti and Tsavo. But there are a bunch of other choices where it is still possible to see the big 5 and are easily assessable from Mombasa, Nairobi or Arusha.
The term big five refers to lions, leopards, Rhinos, Elephants and Buffalo. It originated from big game hunters as these animals were the hardest to hunt on foot. The big five still remain the biggest draw to a Safari and most travel with the intention of seeing all on their trip, but please remember these are wild animals and wont be waiting, waving from the side of the road. I travelled on my Safari for 4 days and didn’t see a lion, or a Rhino and I still had an amazing time.
Masai Mara National Reserve – Kenya
Known to be the world’s most popular game reserve, the Masai Mara is said to have the highest concentration of wildlife on earth. Featured on the BBC’s Big Cat Diary there’s no questioning it’s high chances of seeing Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs, But the park also hosts the annual migration of Wildebeest and Zebra from July to September every year. With a a landscape of grassland the savannah is hugely popular for photographers to capture the beautiful scenery, But with plenty of greenery the chances of catching a glimpse of some of the other Big5 are high.
For Safaris in the Masai Mara the local airport would be Nairobi, Which is approx 2-2.5 hours drive away. However some companies can package together a beach stay in the Mombasa area and fly you direct onto one of the 6 airstrips within the Masai.
Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
The supposed setting for Disney’s The Lion King after creators were sent to eastern Africa to research and study the local wildlife there has always been speculation as to which park it may have been, although Olduvai Gorge, a 50km long, 90km deep, canyon, where in the film the wildebeest stampede and King Mufasa dies, does exist and is found it the Park. Most people will recognise the name of this Tanzanian National Park without reminder, and is one of the most popular parks for Big5 sightings and high population of predators. The migration of Wildebeest and Zebras is in the park for 9/10 months of the year from October to July.
For Safaris in the Serengeti the local airport would be Arusha and normally package together with Mt. Kilimanjaro. They will normally be a week in length and stay within Tanzania rather than try and fit in more, due to the vast size of the park.
Tsavo National Park – Kenya
A park so large its been designated into two parts; East and West and is one of the oldest parks in Kenya. The total park spans an area of 13747 Sq Kms which makes it one of the worlds largest national parks and covers a staggering 4% of Kenya’s total land area. Totally different from each other Tsavo east has sparse greenery and has endless views of the red dirt landscape. The east is patrolled by some of the largest elephant herds in Kenya and are regularly seen covering themselves in the red dirt to protect themselves from the strong African sun, a form of sunscreen if you like 😉 The park is also home to the Amboseli/Tsavo Lion population, where its known for the males no have no or little mane. The west has more greenery and is hugely popular for the spotting of Buffalo and Elephants. However there are a population of Cheetahs in the area which some lodges have regular sightings and within the park is an Rhino sanctuary and Mzima Springs where there is underwater Hippo viewing chambers.
Being the most local park to the Mombasa area combine your Safari with a beach stay and on one of the beautiful beaches in the Diani area. Only a 3-4 hour drive from the entrances into the parks it means there’s no extra flying needed but those travel sickness pills might be necessary.
Samburu and Shaba National Reserves – Kenya
Samburu National Reserve was one of the two areas in which conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness. Their story was made famous by the best-selling book and award-winning movie “Born Free”. Maybe you haven’t heard of Elsa, but the Samburu is a mixture of lush landscape including plains, deserts and savannah meaning there is a varied ecosystem and wildlife including some not found on the southern half of the Equator. What it lacks in size the park makes up for in high chances of sighting reticulated giraffes, Oryx, Crocodiles, Zebras and good chances of seeing the leopards. The park however small still has high populations of Elephants, giving you the chance to catch a sight of 1 of the Big5.
Located above the Equator and near Mt Kenya the Samburu and Shaba reserves are normally part of a longer tour of the Masai Mara and will be part of a Safari taking in a few National Parks & Game Reserves. The most local airport is Nairobi, a 4.5 hour drive away or using an internal flight to the local airstrip a 45 minute journey.
Lake Nakuru National Park – Kenya
Another lesser known park but Lake Nakuru is famous in its own rights for its population of Flamingos, where you can find thousands and sometimes millions of the pink silhouettes on the shore line as this is their breeding ground and migratory area. There is an array of bird life in the area, making it a great destination for something a little quieter than the other larger parks and for bird spotters. The park is also home to more than 100 black/white Rhinos making it one of the best parks for sightings and is also where back in 1977, a large number of the Rothschild Giraffe were relocated for safety reasons, meaning there’s high numbers in the park after years of breeding in the sanctuary of the park grounds. Also known to be spotted in the park are Eagles and Leopards.
Located almost midway between the Masai Mara and Samburu National Park, Lake Nakuru is a stop along the way on a longer length Safari. Popular with couples and avid bird watchers due to its array of different breeds the closest airport is Naishi airstrip inside the park, which you can pick up a local flight to from Nairobi or you can drive from Nairobi which is approx 1.5 hours drive away.
Aberdare National Park – Kenya
Aberdares is home to the Treetops Lodge which was made famous back in 1952 when Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne of the United Kingdom after the death of her father King George VI. The park contains a wide range of terrains due to its mountain ranges, meaning it attracts a wide range of wildlife. Now hugely popular with the tree house style lodges its a perfect destination for a Safari and different from the norm. As every lodge has a watering hole the game come to you, meaning you don’t even have to leave your room for wildlife spotting, watching from your balcony. Predators and plain grazers alike will make their way to these watering holes daily meaning there’s a high chance of seeing the Big5 without looking for it!
Located under Mt. Kenya the closest airport is Nairobi, with local flights to the local airstrips within the park or is a 3 hour drive. A hotel based destination rather than a full Safari as the animals truly do some to you, however there are vehicles owned and operated by the hoteliers. However some tour operators do have longer length Safaris that offer itineraries that pass through the park and offer overnight stays in the famous lodges.
Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania
The crater of the collapsed volcano created 2.5 millions years ago now is home to over 30,000 different animals thanks to the incredible ecosystem. Home to the traditional Masai tribes there is also a lot of culture to be found is this area with some Safaris taking in a stop at a local village where you can learn some of the traditions the tribes will still live by. The area is one of the best places to to find Rhinos in Tanzania and is home to a large pride of Lions, and the crater is considered to have one of the densest populations in Tanzania and other than Lake Nakuru in Kenya is the second place place for Flamingo watching.
Ngorongoro Crater is easily acessed by road from Arusha airport only 3 hours drive away, However there is an airstrip closer to the crater which can be flown into from Nairobi and Arusha. The crater normally forms part of an interary around the Tanzanian National Parks.
All in all I don’t think there is a ‘Better’ park or reserve, it is what is better suited to you. When I travelled I went with a staff offer through work and enjoyed a twin centre with time in Diani Beach and Tsavo East and West National Parks as they are driving distance from the area meaning I spent less time travelling to the parks and could enjoy the most out of my holiday. Avoiding the Heavy rains, there is no wrong or right time to travel to Kenya or Tanzania unless you are travelling out to see the Migrations of Wildebeest and Zebras then there’s no reason not to visit any time of the year! But as I mention on my Top Tips page the locals in Mombasa recommended December as the best month to travel to the local National Parks and Reserves. Any questions though please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to try and help!