There’s a lot more to Kenya than the Maasai Mara – but it’s not a bad place to start. No amount of David Attenborough-narrated documentaries can prepare you for the incredible majesty of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and its wide open plains. If you want to spot the Big Five, you’ve come to the right place: this is the birthplace of safari, after all. The Reserve is most famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration: the annual pilgrimage of 1.5-million wildebeest and zebra from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara’s emerald pastures. If you’re here between July and October, get a bird’s-eye view of the migration from the comfort of a hot-air balloon. At any time of year, however, you can expect to see lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, hippos and so much more.
Second only to the Maasai Mara National Reserve is the spectacular Amboseli National Park, in Kenya’s Kajiado County. Amboseli’s landscapes are full of vivid contrasts, from Lake Amboseli’s dried-up bed to savannahs, woodlands and wetlands with wildlife-rich swamps. The park offers incredible game-viewing (you’re likely to spot herds of elephants here) and its 400-plus bird species include pelicans, kingfishers, water birds, hammerkops, crakes and 47 types of raptors. The park is crowned by majestic Mount Kilimanjaro – so don’t forget your camera!
Fans of The Crown may remember that Aberdare National Park in central Kenya – and its royally luxurious Treetops Lodge – is where Princess Elizabeth learned that she had become the Queen of England. In addition to its historic credentials, Aberdare is famous for its vivid green moorland, its forested ravines and abundant wildlife. Sightings of rare animals are common: keep your eyes peeled for giant forest hogs, bongos, wild cats (golden, serval, civet and co.) and the blue duiker antelope.
Kenya’s cinematic lakes include Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Lake Elementeita. Lake Nakuru National Park was traditionally famous for its candyfloss-pink flamingos, which gathered in large numbers – effectively making the lake blush. More recently, the flamingoes have moved north to Lake Bogoria and Boringo, making way for other, plentiful bird life. Expect to spot pelicans and cormorants, grebes, white-winged black ferns, stilts, avocets and ducks. The Park doesn’t skimp on four-legged lures, either: set off in search of rhinos, buffalo, impalas, hyenas, lions and co. on a wildlife safari drive. Leopards and the rare Rothschild’s giraffe can also be admired here; don’t miss the hippo pool, where you can pause for a peaceful picnic and admire the hefty bathing locals.
If you’d like to tick off two national parks in one go, visit Tsavo in Kenya’s Coast Province, which spans Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park. Kenya’s largest national park measures in at 22,000 square kilometres – making it one of the biggest parks in the world. Tsavo East is dry while its Western counterpart is more mountainous and wet, with swamps, Lake Jipe and the Mzima Springs. It’s known for bird life and for its large mammals: black rhino, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, hippo and lion, for example.
Fancy admiring giraffes, rhinos, lions, hyenas and more, with cloud-poking skyscrapers and the occasional plane touching down or taking off in the background? You can do exactly that in Nairobi National Park: the only national park in the world whose borders are this close to a capital city. The park is just a short drive from Nairobi’s Central Business District, making it easily accessible to visitors and locals alike. There are one-hundred mammal species to tick off here, plus 400 bird species. Stay in Nairobi for the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Nursery, where rescued baby elephants are reared, rehabilitated and eventually returned to the wild.