Let’s face it, if you’re thinking of going to Kenya you want to see wildlife. And not just any wildlife, you want to see the Big 5 – lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalo.
Seeing animals in the wild can be tough. You have to keep your eyes peeled and look into and through the trees. A good guide is paramount – they will spot wildlife way off in the distance, will have the contacts to ensure you get a heads up on great spottings around the park and will know animal movements and habits intimately giving them the foresight to sense where an animal might be hiding out.
We’ve been lucky enough to do a few safaris through Africa and on each occasion we’ve been blown away by the wildlife sightings we’ve experienced – from being chased by a rhino to sitting quietly for an hour (inside a van of course) amidst a pride of playful lions with not one, but two male adults.
Each time we’re overcome with the honour of the experience. There really is something magical in seeing animals in their own environment, being able to glimpse their world and watch them interact with each other in nature.
But as with most things in life, not all parks are created equal, some offer better viewing, some are better for a particular animal and some offer a better experience.
Which are our picks? We’re glad you asked!
The Masai Mara is the best known of the national parks in Kenya – it is the big one, after all. It borders with the Serengeti in Tanzania. You’ll know it for the great wildebeest migration and it’s definitely a must see on any trip to Kenya. Try and time your visit to coincide with the wildebeest crossing and watch in awe as the zebras ‘guide’ the wildebeest through the plains and across the rivers, keeping an eye out for crocodiles and other dangers lurking on the riverbeds.
The Masai Mara is best for viewing all of the Big 5, we sat immersed with a lion pride for over an hour – with no one else around – watching them play, feed, fight and have sex. We also got to see a standoff between a lion and an elephant and a cheetah take down an impala to feed her three cubs. Oh and we had our best leopard sighting ever, not one but two leopards – a mother and son – together.
You’ll also feel like your in the Lion King as you amble through the grounds – keep an eye out for Pride Rock…
Who doesn’t love elephants? And if you really want a great sighting head to Amboseli. We saw a mother and her two babies before we even got inside the grounds of this park. The open plains make spotting the elephants easier than some other parks and you’ll generally get up closer than you can in other reserves. The elephants walk between the vans, seemingly unperturbed by the visitors in their path. While you’re here you really should check out the views of Mt Kilimanjaro too. As the highest mountain in Africa it’s worth a look.
We’re cheating a little here because there are actually quite a few parks in this area – Sweetwaters, Il Ngwesi, Borana and Lewa This area is all about ecotourism. We had some of our best rhino sightings at Sweetwaters. At one point one of the rhinos, seemingly unhappy with the constant clicking of Ade’s camera, made like it was about to charge us to scare us off. Luckily our driver was quick with his foot on the accelerator and we kept a slightly greater distance after that.
The parks here also tend to have fewer tourists, you can experience amazing sightings without seeing another van all day. Oh, and if you do stay at Sweetwaters, make sure you check out the chimpanzee sanctuary where you can do your bit for wildlife and adopt a chimp for the year.
If you want jaw-droppingly beautiful views, head over to Il Ngwesi. There’s a reason Prince William and Kate Middleton stayed here. As well as helping train the local community in tourism and hospitality the lodge sits on the edge of a hill and has amazing views over the Il Ngwesi conservancy below.
One of my favourite animals is the giraffe and while it’s not one of the big five it’s worth coming to Lake Nakaru to see the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. You’ll also get great sightings of rhino here. We saw two rhinos having sex in this park – yes, we never thought we’d see rhino porn either. We also saw baby rhino and families of rhinos.
The real beauty of Lake Nakaru though has to be the ribbon of pink flamingos lining the shores of the Lake. The contrast between the elegance of the flamingos and the rugged prehistoric brutish force of the rhinos is stark. It provides an experience unlike any other national park.
Lake Nakaru is also meant to be a great place to see leopards, unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to see any in Lake Nakaru, not one (but that’s part of the challenge of wildlife viewing).
This is one of the best locations for big cat viewing, including leopards. You can also see elephants and many other interesting wildlife in Samburu. The landscape is slightly different to that in the other parks – it’s more scrubland and arid less open plains which can make wildlife viewing more difficult but it is great to see the different kinds of landscape scattered throughout Kenya.
We saw our first leopard here, so it has a special place in our hearts…
Been to Kenya? Which parks are your favourite for wildlife viewing?