Ask most Africa travel enthusiasts, and they’ll easily tell you that Kenya is the real home of the African safari. To this day, the country’s diverse wildlife and magnificent landscapes continue to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. This is despite the rising competition from countries like Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia.
Of course wildlife safaris are Kenya’s biggest attraction, which is why in today’s post, I write about what, in my opinion, are the five of the top national parks and game reserves in Kenya.
1. Masai Mara Game Reserve
Certainly, no other Kenyan game reserve or national park can rival the Maasai Mara in terms of fame and popularity. I can attribute a huge chunk of this fame to the annual wildebeest migration between the Mara and the neighboring Serengeti national park in Tanzania. This great migration takes place between June and September, and remains the top draw for tourists into the Mara.
But that does not mean the migration is all that the Mara has to offer. In fact, you can travel to the reserve almost anytime of the year, and still have a great safari experience. The reserve has a great concentration of animals including all the big five. It may sometimes be hard to spot rhinos and leopards in the Mara, but you can be sure you will see plenty of elephants, lions, and buffaloes all year round.
When is a trip to the Mara not for you?
If you do not like tourist crowds, you may not enjoy the Mara during the wildebeest migration season. Usually, there is little regulation on the numbers of people allowed in the reserve at any time. The only limiting factor is the available accommodation and bed space in the Masai Mara lodges. While on game drives during the migration, you will often have to share the best game watching spots with scores of other tour vans. Unfortunately, the migration season is also the best season for wildlife spotting.
2. Amboseli National Reserve
For a long time, Amboseli national reserve has remained the second most popular national park in Kenya, after the Masai Mara. The ever present backdrop of Mt Kilimanjaro in the background makes Amboseli the ideal destination for wildlife photography. All the big five are present in the reserve. However, the large herds of huge roaming elephants are what define Amboseli most.
In the year 2009, Amboseli experienced one of its worst droughts. Many animals died in the process, especially the herbivores, greatly affecting the balance between predators and their prey. So much that the Kenya wildlife service had to translocate some zebras and wildebeest from other parks in an attempt to correct the imbalance.
3. Lake Nakuru National Park
As its name suggests, this national park is centered around the Lake Nakuru in the Rift valley. The lake hosts hundreds of bird species, the most popular being the flamingos. These water birds cover the surface of the lake, giving it a pink-carpet like appearance when viewed from a distance. If there is a birdwatchers’ paradise in Kenya, then it is Lake Nakuru national park.
In addition to being a haven for birdwatching, Lake Nakuru national park is also a sanctuary for the endangered black and white rhinos. At Lake Nakuru, you also stand your best chance of spotting leopards, which are usually very elusive animals. Other animals you are guaranteed to see include several gazelle species, hyrax, lions, warthogs, monkeys and babboons among others.
4. Samburu Game Reserve
Samburu game reserve and the adjoining Buffalo springs and Shaba game reserves are most renowned for unique animals that you will not find in any other Kenyan game park. These include the grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffes, kudu, somali ostriches, and the gerenuk. This is in addition to the many lions, elephants, beisa oryx, cheetahs, and leopards.
If you want to enjoy exclusive calmness while on a Kenya safari, Samburu game reserve is a good choice. Perhaps because of its dramatic arid terrain, Samburu does not have as many visitors as the Mara, Amboseli, and Lake Nakuru. Yet it is a true wildlife and birdwatching haven. Occasionally, the game reserve remains closed to tourists because of insecurity in the neighboring regions. Most recently, tourists had to be evacuated from the lodges in Samburu game reserve because of floods. But all in all, Samburu remains an ideal destination especially if you want to avoid crowds.
5. Tsavo National Park
I have included Tsavo in this list because, first, it is the biggest national park in Kenya, and second, it is the best destination when you when you want to enjoy a brief wildlife safari while on a beach holiday at the Kenyan coast. Because of its size, Tsavo is divided into two units: Tsavo East and Tsavo West.Tsavo is perhaps most popular for its fierce maneless lions, those of the “Man eaters of tsavo” fame. Tsavo is also home to large red-skinned elephant herds, black rhinos, leopards, giraffes, hippos and hundreds of other animal species.
Sometime back, the population of elephants and black rhinos in Tsavo was highly threatened by poachers. The Kenyan government however fought back through the Kenya wildlife service, and today, the poaching threat is not as bad as it was in the 1980s.
Choosing the best safari in Kenya
There are several reputable tour companies and tour operators in Kenya providing safaris to all the destinations I have mentioned. If you are interested in going on safari in Kenya, the Africa guide website has a number of great Kenya safari packages. Click here for safaris in Kenya from the Active African Vacations.