Kenya’s National Parks

Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves

Kenya's National Parks and Reserves

Makueni County

31. Chyulu Hills National Park

Chyulu Hills National Park in Makueni County

The 741 km2 Chyulu Hills National Park forms part of the Tsavo-Amboseli Arc of the thousands of square kilometres of virtually empty bushland that harbour the world’s largest assembly of elephants, estimated at over 30,000. It was the exotic description of a series of ash cones at Chyulu Hills as the Green Hills of Africa n the selfsame titled book published in 1935 by Ernest M. Hemingway – recounting his 1933 safari experience in Kenya – that thrust this area under the international limelight. These ash hills cones, which range from 50 to 1000 feet in height, are a conspicuous features of the landscape and are usually in linear groups having a northwest to southeast strike that trends parallel to that of the main range. In many respects, the scenic crest of the hills remain its focal point, yet, there is plenty of game in the woodland savanna on the lower slopes and a wild and out floral gamut. An important aspect linked to these woodlands are its watershed services which provide water to humans and wildlife. After the rains, the sunburned hill-scape of Chyulu is transformed to a verdant scene of rolling hillocks and far-out sweeping greens. Chyulu Hills National Park is also home to Kenya’s most extensive caves. It contains the Kisula Caves widely cited as the second longest lava caves in the world. To get to Chyulu Hills National Park, drive past the turnoff to Kibwezi for 9.3 kms to Maikui and turnoff to the parkway designated with signage. From here it’s about 9 Kms to Kithasyo Gate. It is possible to explore Chyulu from Tsavo West National Park via Chyulu Gate.

32. Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve

The scarcely cited 202 km2 Ngai-Ndeithia National Reserve – forming a finger-like blind-ended tube in the southern tip of Makueni between the Tsavos – has very little to distinguish it from its surrounding landscape, aside from it being an occasional migratory corridor for elephants and some plains game. Like the Malaba Sanctuary in Busia County which is cultivated from end to end, the Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve manifests itself more as a paper exercise. There is little to differentiate it as a national reserve. It was gazetted as a reserve in 1976.

Mandera County

33. Malka Mari National Park

Malka Mari National Park.

From Wajir there are two alternative routes to Mandera, with little to separate the challenges of the journey. The first, through Duse and Lafey, travels north easterly from Tarba following the international border to Mandera Town. The alternative route travels just east of north before turning northeast as it aims for Rhamu from where it heads east to Mandera. The latter travels 70 kms outside Malka Mari National Park en route Rhamu. From Mandera Town, through the road that runs west along Daua Valley roughly parallel to the Ethiopian border through Rhamu, it’s about 229 kms to Malka Mari National Park. That is to say, this is one of the remotest parks in Kenya and conceivably the least visited. The 1500 km2 park gazetted in 1989 is enigmatic even for the natives of Mandera.  Moreover, the few trippers who have accomplished a visit to Malka Mari have reservedly done so by air – rarely by road. The account of this inscrutable park is one of bewildering landscapes, teeming with wildlife and a handful of unique historic sites – notably of Malka Mari Fort. Its sure advantage are its knockout vistas of Awara Plains, River Daua Gorge and the undefined Mandera Triangle. At the moment, this park is undeveloped and trippers aiming to visit should be totally self-reliant. Malka Mari National Park is accessible via Mandera Airport.

Marsabit County

34. Losai National Reserve

Losai National Reserve in Marsabit County. Image Courtesy of Family in Africa

Losai National Reserve is situated 190 kms north of Isiolo Town along the A2 Nairobi-Isiolo-Moyale Road. The recently completed section of the A2 Road with a glorious two-lane strip of blacktop linking Archer’s Post and Moyale 500 kms away is a joy to drive on. As you cross the area between Nanyuki and Isiolo Towns the land quickly drops, the hillocks extending from Mount Kenya fast disappearing, and the out and out horizons of scrub and bushland associated with the arid Northern Region of Kenya marches on the surfeit of memorable landscapes. The stretch of road between Archer’s Post and Merille (104 kms) travels across the two protected areas of Namunyak Conservancy (west) and Sera Conservancy (east). Past Namunyak and Sera Conservancies, the A2 cuts through the 1,806 km2 Losai National Reserve between Merille and Laisamis. Gazetted in 1979 this has little to distinguish it from the surrounding landscape and it’s totally untamed. The little-known valley of patchy flora enveloped by a striking chain of hills is in the truest sense an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Losai National Reserve is one of the obscure National Reserves in Kenya and probably the most underdeveloped. The park can be accessed by 4X4 vehicles on a rocky, hard to navigate, 50 kms path from Marsabit Town which is mostly used by livestock. There is no accommodation in Losai National Reserve and trippers must be self reliant and self catering. Callers to area must inform KWS.

35. South Island National Park

South Island National Park. Image Courtesy of KWS

Originally known as ‘Hornel Island’, the 39 km2 island stretching about 12 kms rises abruptly to an average of 1,400 ft near the southern limit of Lake Turkana and easily sighted from Loiyangalani. South Island National Park is the largest and southernmost island of the three main islands alongside North and Central Islands and part of the Lake Turkana National Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an important flyway refuge and stopover for palaeartic migrant birds and is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International. Sibiloi National Park was gazetted as a national park in 1973 whereas South and Central Islands were gazetted in 1983 and 1985 respectively. South Islands can be reached from Loiyangalani or Kalokol Bay via the hop-on hop-off boat taxis.

36. Marsabit National Reserve and Park

Marsabit National Reserve and Park. Image Courtesy of Bountiful Safaris

Midway through the especial verdant green patch of Marsabit and following the signage to take a right turn is the entrance into Marsabit National Park within the Marsabit National Reserve. The road into the park travels across a heavily forested montane of Marsabit National Reserve and past the spell-binding Lake Paradise before arriving at the park offices. This misty montane mosaic lying uniquely between Kaisut and Chalbi Deserts and overlooking Mount Marsabit is wondrous, if not magical. “Rising gently out of a near desert environment, this great volcanic bump has a certain aura of romance about it.” The 1,554 km2 Marsabit National Park well known for its scenery and beautiful craters lakes is also home a sizeable population of elephants. On the slopes of Mount Marsabit, not too far from Lake Paradise, is Marsabit Lodge, operated and maintained by the Kenya Wildlife Service. Although not where it used to be and a tad bit grey, the lodge is of a modern design with running water and electricity. There are several campsites operated by KWS within Marsabit National Park. Marsabit National Reserve owes its almost cryptic fame to the chronicles of Ahmed the Elephant. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Ahmed was conceivably the most famous elephant in the world. The good-natured, almost tame crown-jewel of Marsabit National Park, was world-famous for its epic long tusks rumored to weigh 85 kgs each. Upon his death in 1974, a presidential decree was issued to have the remains of Ahmed mounted and preserved at the Nairobi National Museum in perpetuity for the future ages. Marsabit National Park is 565 kms from Nairobi.

37. Sibiloi National Park

Sibiloi National Park in Marsabit County. Image Courtesy of Safari254

The 1570 km2 Sibiloi National Park at the northeast shore of Lake Turkana is a hauntingly beautiful park marked by barren baked rocks trembled and quivered by mirage. Other than a few metres along the shore of the lake, Sibiloi National Park is an endless profusion of arid or near desert scrubland. It’s also along the shore where large populations of both species of zebra, topi, oryx and antelope freely roam, and where one of Kenya’s largest surviving busk of crocodiles also thrives. Perhaps more than any National Park in Kenya, it offers the element of challenge and is not an easy destination to reach. The roads about it are not well demarcated other than the parkway to its headquarters and to the famous base camp at Koobi Fora Museum. Still and all, for all the difficulty of getting there, Sibiloi National Park is a rewarding place to visit and offers a plethora of unique sights far different and diverse in comparison to other parks. Sibiloi National Park is world-famous for its fossil beds which gained international fame as the source of much information on man’s paleontological history. Then, there’s the volcanic formations including Mount Sibiloi, where the remains of a petrified forest can be seen – a once-great cedar forest which covered the Lake’s shores 7 million years ago. At Koobi Fora Museum, caller to the park can also see a well preserved elephant fossil that dates 1.7 million years back which is among the unique archaeological findings here. It’s found about 800 kms north of Nairobi.

Meru County

38. Meru National Park

Meru National Park in Meru County. Inage Courtesy of andBeyond

There are two gates into Meru National Park: Via A2 Nanyuki-Meru Road and C91 Meru-Nchiru-Maua Road – entering at Murera Gate – distance from Meru to Murera Gate 67 kms; Via B6 Embu-Meru Road and C92 Embu-Marimanti-Gatunga Road – entering at the Ura River Gate – distance from the B6 Embu-Meru Road to Ura River Gate 61 kms. Famous as where “Elsa the Lioness” was rehabilitated, in one of the prettiest national parks in Kenya, the 870 km2 Meru National Park is also a warm tribute to Peter Jenkins; the warden of that time who converted it from a devastated landscape to one of the best run in Kenya. The park itself is generally a hot low country but extremely well watered, with no less than 9 permanent rivers. One of the main rivers, the Rojewero, roughly divides the park into two contrasting zones. To its north, the country is an open acacia savannah grassland, and in parts combretum bush, under black cotton soil. “To the south of the Rojowero River the country is of the red sandy soil type, cut by innumerable sand luggas, and the vegetation is dense commiphora, wait-a-bit and thron shrub interpersed with baobab trees.” It commences at an altitude 2600 ft (north) at the foothills of Nyambene Range dropping down to 1200 ft (south) at Tana River where it links to Mwingi National Reserve and Kora National Park. It is contiguous with Bisanadi National Reserve along its eastern frontier. Unique to Meru National Park is that it lacks a focal point of a great spectacle. Instead, it manifests itself as a valuable ecological area where wildlife can be spotted in plenty. Moreover, the park is small enough with well laid out roads and there are fully-equipped lodges. It is a peaceful park that is well worth more than one visit. Having such diverese types of habitat wildlife, and the birds in particular, are second to none. There is excellent course fishing here in all its rivers, and a fishing permit can be obtained from the park’s office.

Mombasa County

39. Mombasa Marine National Reserve and Park

Mombasa Marine National Park

Covering 210 km2 between Mtwapa Creek to the north and Tudor Creek to the south, Mombasa Marine National Reserve is the most visited marine reserve in Kenya. The park covers 10 km2 while the reserve covers 200 kms. The enclosed parts of the lagoon, the reef with a vibrant underwater life and the varied water-sports are the main highlights here. MMNR covers the four principal beaches of Nyali, Kenyatta, Bamburi and Shanzu. Almost all of the highly-lauded middle-budget sun-lovers resorts set at North Coast are within the Marine Park. They include: Nyali Beach, Voyager Beach Resort, Bahari Beach Hotel, Pride-Inn Beach Resort, Reef Hotel, Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, Sai Rock Beach Resort, Whitesands Beach Resort, Travellers Resort, Flamingo Beach Hotel, Severin Resort, the Sun Africa Beach Resort, Serena Mombasa and Bahari Beach Hotel.

Nairobi County

40. Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park. Image courtesy of Traveller

At Nyayo Stadium Roundabout taking exit 1 onto Langata Road, passing Wilson Airport, sits the Nairobi National Park. It can also be reached via the Sourthern Bypass which links to Langata Road. The latter provides one of the surpassing roadside views of the park. Except for this stretch and for a few kilometres near Langata Road, to keep wildlife out the heavy traffic, the park is not fenced. The animals move freely in and out of the park across the unfenced boundary with the Athi-Kapiti Plains. The entrance to the National National Park, adjacent to which is also a unique animal orphanage, where animals are nurtured back to health, is located within the Kenya Wildlife Service Headquarter. The 117 km2 Park has over 60 kms of marked looping trails which unveil, around every bend, all that is great about wildest Africa; with the backdrop of Nairobi City’s skyline. The Nairobi National Park is never without a unique concentration of wildlife across its plains – zebra, wildebeest, kongoni, impala, grant’s gazelle, cheetahs, lions, warthogs among many more. Along the Athi River are herds of waterbuck and, in the river, there are hippos and crocodiles. The park has more than 100 species of animals, several quite rare like the Caracal. The best times for game viewing in the park are the early morning and early evening, when the sunset behind the Ngong Hills provides a wonderful background for photographers. Also of interest is the Ivory Burning Site. The first ivory burn happened in 1989 when 12 tonnes of ivory were incinerated. The most recent happened in 2016, when 100 tonnes of ivory were incinerated at the same burn site. “This is one the most important landmarks in the annals of conservation” – Lonely Planet.

Nakuru County

41. Mount Longonot National Park

Mount Longonot National Park. Image courtesy of Lonely Planet

The famous Rift Valley floor commencing in the Naivasha area forms part of the structurally and topographically diverse Great Rift Valley. Among the numerous volcanic cones and craters, scarps and studs, the highest tip is formed by Mount Longonot which rises abruptly to 9,107 ft (2776 ms) to exemplify the contrast of scenery and ecology. The fetching landscape of this bulky and pitted dome lying isolated in the spacey Rift Valley also doubles as the most exalted hiking-trails in Kenya. Longonot is derived from the Maasai idiom “Oloonong’ot” translating to “the mountain of many spurs or steep ridges”. All in all, 52 km2 around the Mount Longonot was gazetted, in 1993, as the Mount Longonot National Park. It offers the avid hiker a breathtaking experience culminating at its crater forest with unbridled views of Lake Naivasha, Njorowa Gorge and outwith. It takes on average 6 hours (round-trip) to scout Mount Longonot. Major wildlife sighting includes buffaloes, elands, bushbucks, zebra, giraffe and gazelles. A small cover charge (Citizens – 300, Residents – 600 and Non-Residents – USD 26) is paid to enter the park. It is found 90 kms from Nairobi via Mai Mahiu-Nairobi Road.

42. Crescent Island Game Sanctuary

Crescent Island Game Sanctuary

If you have never done this you will find it a totally different experience from game watching from a vehicle. To reach the Island, turn into Moi South Lake Road 5 kms east of Naivasha Town and after 5.2 kms turn right at the Sanctuary Farm. Once on the farm follow the signs for “Crescent Island” which is 2.8 kms from the main road.  It’s peninsular is accessible by boat from east or west, with many hotels including Naivasha Country Club, Hippo Safaris, Naivasha Resort, Sopa Lodge, Simba Lodge, Carnelleys, Elsamere and Fisherman Camp offering boating trip. There are many budget-friendly hop on hop off boat taxis that take to the island. A small entry fee to Crescent Island is charged on arrival (Citizens and Residents – Shs 800 and Non-Residents – USD 30. Child rate are half the rates). Crescent Island is in excellent surroundings and on the Island there are many varieties of game and over 300 species of birds. It has more animals per acre than any other game sanctuary in Kenya. Located on the eastern fringe of Lake Naivasha, it was separated by declining water-level, in the 1930’s, to form the partially submerged island. At low water levels it gets increasingly isolated.

43. Hell’s Gate National Park

Hell's Gate National Park in Nakuru County. Image Courtesy of Inspirock

Just 10 kms from the turnoff to Moi South Lake Road the first of two entrances to the favoured Hell’s Gate National Park is reached, along Gorge Road. The 68 km2 park, more proper the Njorowa Gorge, typified by sheer faces carved from sheets and plugs with steep and deeply incised stratified rock faces and steam-jets, is a most picturesque place. On arrival, Fischer’s Tower at the northern end of the Njorowa Gorge, from which Stone Age man hewed blocks for the making of his obsidian implements, offers a remarkable rock sight. Scenically, some of the most impressive features of the Njorowa Gorge are two lava plugs known as Fischer’s Tower and The Horse or El Barta (its original Maasai name). Fischer’s Tower is roughly conical, terminating in a point, while El Barta is cylindrical with a blunt rounded crest. Other notable geological features include: Hobley’s volcano and the dandy column cliffs at the northern edge of the Njorowa Gorge.

Most notable as the only park in Kenya where callers may opt to walk, ride, hike or drive, it offers quite a lot of thrilling activities. Most popular is trekking the alluring Njorowa Gorge that runs across the park. Here, the fine-textured gorge wall aiming for the south-end alters colour from purplish, maroon and reddish brown. The reddish colour is due to erosional oxidation hastened by the large surface areas of these porous rocks. Other interests include the Obsidian Caves, Central Tower, Hell’s Gate Viewpoint, Observatory Tower, Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide and wildlife viewing. There are three camping sites in the park: Endachata Campsite, Naiburta Campsite and Oldubai Campsite. The popular Ol Karia Geothermal Spa is located on the western end of the Hell’s Gate National Park at KenGen Olkaria Geothermal Plant II. It is easier to get here through the Olkaria Route located 20 kms from the turnoff to Moi South Lake Road, passing Fisherman’s Camp, the Elsamere Nature Reserve and the Oserian Flower Farm.

44. Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park. Image courtesy of Hansel Travel

Lake Nakuru National Park is on account of its beauty, diversity and popularity the upcountry counterpart of Nairobi National Park. At 188 km2 – enclosing the lake bed and the 60 km2 surrounding riparian – it’s a fairly small park but far important than its size suggests. The Lake itself, 45 km2 at 5,776 ft. lying in a graben bound by the Lion Hill and the Mau Escarpment, is one of the world’s great attraction for ornithologists. Its parkway runs through the lush woodland before emerging at the lakeshore marked by a shimmering pink band, about 20 yards wide. It is the epic line made by hundreds of thousands of flamingos. And these are by no means all. More than 300 other species have been classified in the park, all which combine to make a unique and gratifying birding experience.

Lake Nakuru is a shallow pan which never fills to a depth of more than a few feet. The lake is a little deeper at the “Hippo Pools” at the north-eastern corner allowing the precarious survival of a small hippo population. The water is saline in the extreme, due to the rapid evaporation of the shallow water body. In fact, “there have been prolonged periods in this century when it contained little if any water at all. The whole of the alkaline lake bed was exposed to the sun and formed a blindingly white expanse. Daily, for months on end, this was swept by strong southerly winds which picked up the dust and drove it as a dense white soda smog across Nakuru Town and right up the Rift towards Solai”. There are three useful observation points – Lion hill, Baboon cliff and Out of Africa hill – overlooking the lake. They offer lovely scenery and game viewing opportunities.

To enjoy its wide ranging beauty and ecological diversity – from its lake, forests, marshlands, open grassland, its cliffs and bush habitat, with over 70 mammal species and 300 bird species – trippers can choose to camp at one of thirteen camping sites operated by Kenya Wildlife Service, or, for a touch of class and luxury, stay at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge or at Lake Nakuru Lodge. The latter, located at the south-eastern corner of the lake offers accommodation for 120 in family rooms, cottages or suites. Park entry fees: Citizens – Sh. 800, Residents – Shs. 1030 and Non-Residents – USD 60. The most common route into the park is via the main gate, 4 km from Nakuru Town Centre. It is also possible to enter the park from the main Nairobi-Nakuru road via Lanet Gate. The Nderit Gate is used by trippers accessing the park from Masai Mara or L. Elementaita.

Nandi County

45. Bonjoge National Reserve

Bonjoge National Reserve atop the Nyando Escarpment in Nandi County

Although there is very little that separates the underdeveloped 21 km2 Bonjoge National Reserve from its rugged landscape, plans are underway to perk-up its infrastructure and revamp its wildlife. The Bonjogi National Reserve is situated atop Nandi Escarpment, 15 kms north of Kisumu City, and is more scenic than faunal, making for a pleasurable goal for a hike. “Bonjoge N. Reserve consists of millions of rocks and boulders that litter the landscape, rich birdlife and a wide array animal species including Olive baboons, Colobus monkeys, bush duikers, jackals, vervet and de-Brazza’s monkeys among many more” – Hidden Gems of Kenya.  The 5 kms ascent through the park, sometimes steep, takes adventure-makers to its summit, the famed Nandi Rock, with distant view of Lake Victoria and Kisumu City. What little wildlife there is to be seen here is made-up-for by the birds. A good pair of binoculars will better the Bonjoge experience ten-fold.