Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara National Reserve is the most popular destination in Kenya. Sometimes spelled ‘Maasai Mara’, it is correctly spelt ‘Masai Mara’ as Maasai refers to the people and not the place. An extension of the ecosystem shared with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, many visitors often combine the two using the Migori/Tarime border.
Covering and area of 1,510 km² the Mara is best known for the Great Migration. Around 1.5 million zebra and wildebeest pass through into Kenya from Tanzania between July and October each year. The Mara is also home to the big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) and has about 95 mammal species and over 400 bird species. The Mara can be very busy, with many buses coming in through Nairobi for day trips. Some lodges are in more remote areas and are accessible by light aircraft flights. Guests cannot embark on walking safaris or night drives within the National Reserve boundary.
There are 15 wildlife Conservancies bordering the National Park. These are large areas that have been mapped out in an effort to increase community-based models of conservation. The conservancies safe-guard wildlife and habitats all the while providing an income for the Maasai people who live here. There are many camps in the various conservancies, all directly contributing to the local Maasai who own the land. These areas are as rich in wildlife as the main reserve and offer more activities. For example night drives and nature walks are allowed. The number of beds per conservancy is limited. Public access is also limited, therefore they are a more private and offer an exclusive option compared to accommodation within the Masai Mara.
Samburu National Reserve
Samburu National Reserve is less well-known than other parks but offers a unique ecosystem with an area that is much drier than southern regions. The animals within the reserve are more able to cope with a desert-lifestyle. Famous for the Samburu Special Five (Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and the beisa oryx) the area is also home to over 450 bird species and 75 mammal species. This is also where the Samburu tribes live. They are a semi-nomadic people who have a unique way of life that people can learn about during village visits. Other activities include walking safaris, day and night game drives, camel rides and quad biking.
Centrally located, the Laikipia Plateau stretches from Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley. The region is home to almost half of the country’s rhino population, which are protected in various private conservancies. Large numbers of elephants can be seen in this area as they use Laikipia as a pathway between Mount Kenya and Samburu. The region is often included on a wider Kenyan itinerary as it is rich with wildlife and many have the big five. It is also used as a base to explore the north and great lakes of Kenya. Access is mainly through light aircraft flights, although it’s a 5-hour bumpy road from Nairobi if budget is an issue.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is the second most popular National Park after the Masai Mara. Located southeast of Nairobi, it is best known for its large elephant herds and views out over Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The National Park is 392 km² in size, although it is part of a much larger 8,000 km² ecosystem that spreads into Tanzania. The park has around 400 species of birds and over 50 mammal species including lions and cheetahs.
Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks
The two Tsavo National Parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West, are named after the Tsavo River. Split by the main highway which connects Nairobi and Mombasa, they are very different in terms of their geography. Tsavo West is very mountainous and greener than its Tsavo East due to more rainfall. Tsavo East is predominantly dry with vast open flat plains. Combined Tsavo East and West cover an area of 22,000 km². Tsavo East is larger covering an areas 13,747 km², nine times larger than the Masai Mara. The parks are best known for their large herds of elephants, many of which are ‘big tuskers’. Tsavo West is dotted with volcanic hills and has hilly wooded landscapes, and there is a black rhino sanctuary where guests can visit.
Rift Valley Lakes
The Great Rift Valley that runs through Eastern Africa spans from Ethiopia in the north to Malawi in the south. Some of the world’s oldest, largest and deepest lakes can be found here and Kenya has eight of them. The main lakes in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley include Lake Mgadi, Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha. The latter lakes are both within National Parks which means they are home to a variety of wildlife. Lake Nakuru is home to a good population of endangered black rhinos. It is also here you will find huge flocks of flamingos due to the alkalinity of the water. Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake with a surface area of just under 70,000 km² however only 6% of the lake is within Kenya.