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Kenya Parks & Reserves
Kenya’s parks and reserves are diverse and cover 35 000 sq km, endless wilderness areas of savannah plains, acacia woodlands, rolling hills, plunging valleys and snow-capped mountain peaks.
From the classic safari destinations of the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru and Samburu, to the unique Marine National Parks, Mount Kenya and quirky Nairobi National Park, Kenya is ideal for an overland safari adventure.
Everyone knows the Masai Mara: a wildlife heaven, home to the wildebeest migration and an incredible array of prowling predators. It’s also the most popular reserve in the whole of Africa and the setting for many of our Kenya overland tours.
Located on the border of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, it allows for the free crossing of animals from one park to the other; animals simply do not take any notice of the borders drawn on paper!
At times and in certain places it can get a little overrun with tourist minibuses, but there is something so special about it that it tempts seasoned safari travellers, documentary filmmakers and researchers back time and time again.
When Karen Blixen crossed the Masai Mara in an ox-wagon, she said of the experience, “The air of the African Highlands went into my head like wine. I was all the time slightly drunk with it and the joy of these months was indescribable.”
It’s simply 1510sq km of rolling plains, rocky outcrops and deep green winding rivers full of hippos and crocs, while the savannah is choc-a-block with all of the Big 5 and of course, thousands upon thousands of plains game, wildebeest and zebra in particular.
From July to October 1 million wildebeest and 200 000 zebra cross the croc-filled Grumeti River from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara to find new pastures. Scowling and fat-bellied predators follow in their wake: lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and vultures - making this the best time to go to the Mara.
Explore this amazing park with a hot air balloon ride over the plains - a truly spectacular sight.
Found right on the border of neighbouring Tanzania, Amboseli National Park is a fairly small but well-established national park of around 392 sq km.
Best known for its iconic safari photographs of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro with elephants strolling in the foreground, its popular with overland adventure safaris and offers great all-year round game-viewing.
Amboseli, meaning ‘salty dust’ in the Masai language, was once covered with volcanic ash when Kili erupted some thousand years ago, but today, it’s a landscape of open plains home to over 900 elephant. Reputed to have the biggest tusks in Kenya, these elephants can be spotted a mile away.
Overlanders can enjoy great views from the windows of their overland safari vehicles; elevated views makes it ideal when spotting lion, leopard and cheetah. Amboseli is one of Kenya’s most popular parks; it has great road networks, excellent views from Observation Hill and is a ideal for any overland safari tour group trekking through East Africa.
Massive Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro, is also known as Kere Nyaga - ‘Mountain of Brightness’. When flying into Nairobi from Europe, you’ll most likely see her glittery snow-covered peaks.
Fewer people go trekking on Mount Kenya than Kilimanjaro, but those who do rate the experience far higher than climbing Africa’s highest mountain. The easiest route, and one that’s open to all trekkers is to Point Lenana at 4 985 meters, commonly dubbed the ‘Tourist Peak’.
Although the scenery on the mountain is quite beautiful, only experienced climbers can climb to the summit; it involves the use of ropes, ice-axes, crampons and other specialised climbing gear. From dry forest to bamboo belts and high altitude moss, this spectacular mountain’s vegetation finally changes into the permanent ice sheets of the glacier lakes from 4500m up.
If you’re overlanding in East Africa and want to organise a climb, make sure you chat to your overland tour operator before arriving, most overland tours don’t include Mount Kenya in their itineraries, so you might have to organise it on your own.
Most overland tours that pass through Kenya will stop over at spectacular Lake Nakuru, one of many shallow soda lakes that litter the floor of the Great Rift Valley.
Its algae-soaked waters attract thousands of pink flamingos and pelicans, while its banks are frequented by a very healthy population of black and white rhino. Nakuru was declared a sanctuary for the protection of these endangered animals in 1987 - you’ll literally trip over rhino in Nakuru!
Other game in this 188 sq km park include several lion prides, colobus monkeys, hippo, numerous antelope, buffalo and the rare Rothschild’s giraffe. Most overland safaris are richly rewarded in Lake Nakuru - game viewing is simply very easy and rewarding.
The flamingo population can vary from several thousand to a few hundred, depending on the level of the water and their frequent migration between the other lakes in the rift valley. But their presence together with the pink-hued water, makes for a rather spectacular sight.
Just 4km from the town of Nakuru, the Lake is ideally located for overland adventure tours - game-viewing and a bustling market centre within minutes!
Beautiful Lake Naivasha is considered one of Kenya’s most stunning Rift Valley freshwater lakes, because of its diverse surrounding vegetation. Feathery papyrus, marshy lagoons and grassy shores are the home to hippos, and an amazing birdlife that include pelicans and fish eagles.
Many Kenyan overland tours will take the time to visit nearby Elsamere, the former home of George and Joy Adamson which is now a commemorative museum about the life of the couple and their lioness Elsa, of the book ‘Born Free’.
The Lake was named Nai’posha by the Maasai, meaning rough water, but the British later misspelled it as Naivasha, and so it remained. It’s about 13km across but the waters are shallow, making a boat trip a great way of experiencing the lake.
Make sure you take a trip to Crescent Island - a protected reserve in the centre of Lake Naivasha.
Although not usually visited on Kenya overlanding tours, the Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba reserves are still wildlife havens for some of northern Kenya’s most elusive and rare game.
Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, long-necked gerenuk and the Beisa oryx are all only found north of the equator and only in the Samburu. Elephant, cheetah and vervet monkeys are also regularly seen, but this northern park provides a fairly challenging overland safari.
Camels are often spotted along the dry riverbeds, while the Ewaso Nyiro River, which provides most of the water to the region is the only place where lush green vegetation dares to grow.
Buffalo Springs is south of the river from the Samburu, while Shaba National Reserve, the largest and most inaccessible (for 4x4 vehicles only), has an unfortunate bloody history: it was here that Joy Adamson was murdered in 1980 while attempting to rehabilitate a leopard into the reserve.
If you’re keen on an overland trip through this area, think carefully about when to go. Daytime temperatures regularly reach 40°C between January-October, even when it rains.
Seven marine national parks are found dotted along Kenya’s coast, and are home to a long-fringing coral reef that has been protected from over-fishing by Marine Park laws. Any overland tours that trek to the Kenyan coast are sure to embark on some fun in the sun, with a beach holiday in bustling Mombasa and spectacular diving off the coast.
The reefs attract a myriad of fish, sea turtles and dolphins, as well as amazing 150 year old giant clams and the rare dugong. If you keen your eyes open, you might just spot one! Giant loggerhead and leatherback turtles are a gem in the Marine Parks crown, so if you see one, consider yourself very lucky.
Its a fabulous destination for world-class diving, with spectacular coral gardens and drop offs. Alternatively, there are glass-bottomed boats offering non-swimmers the opportunity to search for the marine life above water.
Nairobi National Park:
A skyscraper and a rhino in one photo? Believe it! Nairobi National Park is THAT close to the capital city, and covers 117 sq km.
It’s also the oldest national park in Kenya, with most of its fences bordering Nairobi’s suburbs. Animals include many plains game and all the Big Five except for elephant, for which the park is too small.
Most overlanders who visit Nairobi, are likely to enjoy a day’s safari in the park or visit Daphne Shelderick’s Elephant Orphanage. It’s a great park for a quick Kenyan safari if your tour doesn’t have much time, or if you’re still clamouring after game-viewing experiences after the Masai Mara.