Wildlife

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Wandering Nomads offers the opportunity to provide game drives to any National Park or Reserve in Kenya as an add-on to visiting the North. Many people go on safari in Kenya with a steely determination to see the Big Five (rhino, buffalo, elephants, leopards, and lions). The term originates from colonial-era hunters who deemed these to be the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot, so don’t let an obsession with seeing them all stop you from visiting national parks that don’t feature the full list – you’re sure to spot plenty of other equally fascinating creatures.

From spectacular scenery and geothermal springs to brilliantly colored birdlife and the indigenous communities that live in and around these areas, Kenya’s national parks are about more than wildlife, and you’ll be in for a treat whatever parks you choose to visit. These are the 12 best national parks in Kenya.

National parks and Kenya go hand in hand. It’s home to a whopping 23 of them, as well as four marine national parks. From the unforgettable scene of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara River during their migration to the sight of steaming geysers Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya certainly has no shortage of protected parks, reserves, marine parks, and privately owned conservancies.

Many people go on safari in Kenya with a steely determination to see the Big Five (rhino, buffalo, elephants, leopards, and lions). The term originates from colonial-era hunters who deemed these to be the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot, so don’t let an obsession with seeing them all stop you from visiting national parks that don’t feature the full list – you’re sure to spot plenty of other equally fascinating creatures.

EXPLORE KENYA

LAKE NAKURU

Within driving distance of Nairobi, Unesco-listed Lake Nakuru on the floor of the Great Rift Valley allows you to pack a game drive, birdwatching, a hike and a picnic into one day.

With around 450 bird species recorded, Lake Nakuru National Park is a particularly good place for spotting water birds because of high algae levels, although flamingo numbers have been dropping as issues around pollution and human encroachment have affected the lake. It still attracts many pelicans and other water birds. You’ll also see animals such as waterbuck and white rhinos. The park is known for its annual 50km (31 miles) Cycle With the Rhinos race, which raises funds for the endangered rhino.

The lake is surrounded by high ridges: head to the viewpoints of Lion Hill, Baboon Cliffs and the Out of Africa Lookpoint for some of the best vistas over the lake and valley. Many travelers combine this national park with a visit to the Menengai Crater, the caldera just outside Nakuru town, which has incredible views over the landscape. The crater is the site of a Mau Mau Cave, where guerrilla soldiers camped out during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising in resistance to British colonial rule.

HELLS GATE

A unique element of the Great Rift Valley is the dramatic landscape of Hell’s Gate National Park, one of the most atmospheric of Kenya’s national parks. Geothermal steam rises from the ground in an epic landscape of volcanoes, basalt columns, high cliffs and gorges. From a huge natural spa pool managed by KenGen (Kenya’s main electric power producer), you can enjoy the views over a hot soak.

While wildlife isn’t the prime reason for visiting Hell’s Gate, the park counts zebras, buffalos, antelopes, and baboons among its residents. Its 100 recorded bird species include vultures and Verreaux’s eagles. You’ll also sometimes spot raptors that have set up their nests in the cliffs. The park is particularly popular with walkers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and cyclists. If you’re a Lion King fan, you’ll be impressed that the rock formation at Hell’s Gate Gorge is what inspired Pride Rock.

Hell’s Gate National Park is a doable day trip from Nairobi, often combined with Lake Nakuru or smaller soda (alkaline) Lake Elmenteita, which has a population of flamingos.

LAKE BOGORIA

Lake Bogoria (formerly Lake Hannington) is a saline, alkaline lake that lies in a volcanic region in a half-graben basin south of Lake Baringo, Kenya, a little north of the equator. Lake Bogoria, like Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementeita, and Lake Magadi further south in the Rift Valley, and Lake Logipi to the north, is home at times to one of the world’s largest populations of lesser flamingos. The lake is a Ramsar site and Lake Bogoria National Reserve has been a protected National Reserve since November 29, 1973. Lake Bogoria is shallow (about 10 m depth), and is about 34 km long by 3.5 km wide, with a drainage basin of 700 km2. It is Located in Baringo County.

Local features include the Kesubo Swamp to the north and the Siracho Escarpment to the east, both within the National Reserve. The lake is also famous for geysers and hot springs along the bank of the lake and in the lake. In four locations around the lake can be observed at least 10 geysers, which erupt up to 5 m high. Geyser activity is affected by the fluctuations of lake level, which may inundate or expose some geysers.

BUFFALO SPRINGS

The Buffalo Springs National Reserve is south of the Samburu National Reserve, which lies on the other side of the Ewaso Ngiro river. It is named after an oasis of clear water at its western end. The reserve has an area of 131 square kilometres (51 sq mi), and is at an altitude of between 850 metres (2,790 ft) and 1,230 metres (4,040 ft) above sea level. It is a gently rolling lowland plain of old lava flows and volcanic soils of olivine basalt. The main feature is the Champagne Ride in the southeast, an ancient lava-terrace.[2] The climate is hot, dry and semi-arid.

Wildlife include Grant’s zebra and the endangered Grevy’s Zebra. Other species of mammal include reticulated giraffe, the African bush elephant, oryx, gerenuk, African buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena.

SAMBURU

Samburu, north of Laikipia, is a popular park on the northern safari circuit. It’s home to the “Special 5” – Grevy’s zebra, Somali (blue-necked) ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and beisa oryx (both types of antelope) – so-called because they’re not typically found in Kenya’s southern game reserves. The Samburu and Rendille people of this region are involved in protecting and monitoring Grevy’s zebras.
Named after the Samburu people, nomadic pastoralists, and a warrior people for whom this region is home, this national park is one of the best places to see leopards in Kenya, and it’s a prime spot for tuskers. You can also experience Samburu culture and go on camel-trekking safaris with Samburu guides.

Drought is an issue in Samburu. Far drier than the Mara, the Ewaso Nyiro River is a lifeline for the pastoral communities, wildlife and flora and fauna. When wildlife gathers on the river banks, it’s quite a sight, and a photographer’s dream. Samburu is one of the parks where George and Joy Adamson of Born Free-fame raised Elsa the lioness.

MOUNT KENYA

If you’re a hiker or a climber, Kenya’s second highest mountain, Mt Kenya, deserves a spot near the top of your best treks list for the trail to Point Lenana, the main peak for trekkers. Mt Kenya National Park has great camping, including wild camping along some of the lesser-used trails, and rock climbing on the lower peaks. The park also features a 10km (6.2-mile) hike up to the Met Station if you only have time for a day excursion.

This Unesco-listed park is pure joy to explore, with its ecosystem of lakes, glaciers, mineral springs and Afro-Alpine forest. You’re in for sweeping views of high ridges, deep valleys and dense forest gradually meeting glacial terrain as you go higher into the park.

Mt Kenya is home to elephant, mongoose, bushbuck, eland and colobus monkeys, but it’s the walking trails and scenery that are its biggest attraction. Mt Kenya lies within the Laikipia Plateau, a network of conservancies mostly managed by local communities, so it’s an excellent region for community-based tourism accommodation. The three-day drive from Nairobi to Mt Kenya National Park is also one of Kenya’s best road trips.

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