Kenya is famous for many things, and among them are its national parks. There are 24 national parks in the country, the highest number in Africa. Parks such as Nairobi National Park and Maasai Mara National Park are ideal spots for viewing the Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, and buffalo). Aside from wildlife viewing, tourists also engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and bird watching in the parks. Continue reading for the lowdown of the best national parks in Kenya.
1. Nairobi National Park
Who said you have to travel far away from Nairobi city to enjoy wildlife? Drop by Nairobi National Park and you won’t regret it. The park measuring 117 sq. km (45.17 sq. mi) is 15.6 km (9.69 mi) from Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD). Also, it’s about 14.4 km (8.95 mi) from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The tourist spot is characterized by vast open grass plains and a backdrop of Nairobi’s skyscrapers. Nairobi National Park is open daily, from 6 am to 6 pm.
Best time to visit: All year round. January – March is hot and dry, April – June is hot and wet, and July – October is warm and wet.
Activities: Game drives, video and film production, and team building sessions.
Wildlife: Nairobi National Park has over 100 mammal species, including the endangered black rhinos, giraffes, lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs. Plus, there are over 400 bird species.
Ivory Burning Site Monument is a must-visit destination in the park. To top it all off, there are picnic sites and campsites in the establishment.
2. Maasai Mara National Park (Masai Mara)
‘Mara,’ as some people call Maasai Mara National Park, is in Narok County and neighboring Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. It’s the most sought-after national park in Kenya, where the Great Wildebeest Migration takes place annually.
Best time to visit: July to October. Although there’s no set schedule for wildebeest migration, you have a high chance of witnessing the phenomenon between July and October.
Activities: Witness the wild beast migration, hot air balloon ride, jungle safari, cultural tour in the Maasai villages, guided walking tours
Wildlife: Aside from the wildebeest, Maasai Mara has lions, zebras, cheetahs, elephants, and hippos roaming around its grassy plains.
Major Attractions: Mara Triangle, Mara River, Olare Orok Conservancy
Accessing the park: It is about 250 km (155.34 mi) from Nairobi’s Central Business District. Via road, from the capital, it’ll take approximately five hours. A flight takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes. There are 11 active airstrips in Maasai Mara.
3. Amboseli National Park
“Amboseli” is a Maasai word meaning a salty, dusty spot. This national park was founded in 1974 and is an ideal place to see large herds of elephants. Gear up for magnificent views of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and fun cultural tours in the surrounding Maasai communities.
Best time to visit: All year round. The park is open daily, including public holidays, from 6 am to 6 pm.
Activities: Photography, bird watching, camping, game viewing
Wildlife: Blue wildebeests, leopards, wild dogs, zebras, lesser kudus, lions, crocodiles, and porcupines, among others. There are also over 600 bird species.
Accessing the park: Via Nairobi – Namanga road, through Meshanani Gate. Also, via Emali (on the Nairobi – Mombasa road), through Kimana Gate. There are four gates leading to the national park, all accessed by both flights and roads.
Tourists also opt for direct flights to the park from Wilson Airport.
4. Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East National Park is the first wildlife park in Kenya. Measuring 13,747 sq. km (5307.75 sq. mi), it’s also the largest park in the country. It’s a semi-arid area with a rugged volcanic landscape.
Best time to visit: All year round. The park is open daily, including public holidays, from 6 am to 7 pm.
Activities: Game drives, bird-watching, camping, and trekking.
Wildlife: Dust–red elephants, rhinos, waterbucks, lions, lesser kudus, and crocodiles, among others. It boasts prolific birdlife, featuring over 500 bird species.
Accessing the park: Via Mtito Andei gate (on the main Nairobi – Mombasa highway), 233 km (144.78 mi) south of Nairobi and 250 km (155.34 mi) northeast of Mombasa. From Malindi, the park is accessed via Sala gate on the C103 road.
There is an airstrip for light planes inside the park, as well.
Sister park — Tsavo West National Park, also boasts its fair share of tourists. It’s home to Shetani Lava Flow and Mzima Springs.
5. Meru National Park
Become one with Mother Nature at Meru National Park, measuring 870 sq. km (335.91 sq. mi). It features tall grass and lush swamps and is a wonderful place to camp in the bush. It’s a birders’ paradise too, with 427 recorded bird species.
Best time to visit: During wet seasons, April to June and November to December, when wild animals come out to the roadside because the grass is wet.
Parts of the park are semi-arid zone and receive irregular rainfalls.
Activities: Camping, game viewing
Wildlife: Grevy’s Zebras, elephants, waterbucks, reticulated giraffes, buffalos, hippopotami, cobras, and many others.
Accessing the park: Via road, 289 km (179.58 mi) on Embu – Nairobi Highway.
There’s also a small airstrip in the park.
Attractions: Views of Mt. Kenya, Adamson’s falls, riverine habitats, rivers (including Tana River)
Cottages, campsites, guest houses, and lodges are some accommodation options available.
6. Aberdare National Park
Are you looking to explore the Aberdare mountain range’s majestic peaks, moorlands, and waterfalls? Visit Aberdare National Park in central Kenya. It’s open every day, from 6 am to 6 pm. Here, expect scenic hiking trails and keep your eyes out for endangered species of mountain bongos.
Best time to visit: January and February, June to September
Activities: Picnics, fishing, camping, bird-watching, photography
Wildlife: Elephants, warthogs, black rhinos, spotted hyenas, Black-and-white colobuses, and buffalos, among others.
There are more than 250 species of birds, including northern goshawk and plovers, in the park.
Accessing the park: Via tarmac road from Nyeri town, 47.6 km (29.58 mi) away. The Park is 153 km (95.07 mi) from Nairobi.
By air, via Mweiga Airstrip that’s along Nyeri – Nyahururu road.
7. Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the leading national parks at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. It spreads over 188 sq. km (72.59 sq. mi) and features a soda lake, bushy grassland, and picturesque ridges. The park is famous for its pink flamingos and visiting the park’s lake for its algae. Its viewpoints help tourists take in views of the picturesque landscape.
Best time to visit: June to March. There’s little rain then.
Activities: Bird watching, hiking, picnics, camping, game drives
Wildlife: The park is home to over 56 mammal species, including white rhinos, hippopotami, baboons, waterbucks, buffaloes, and leopards.
Aside from flamingos (lesser and greater species), Lake Nakuru National Park also has guinea fowls, grey-crowned cranes, and sooty falcons.
Don’t forget to visit Makalia Waterfalls while in this park.
Accessing the park: By road, through its main gate, 4 km (2.49 mi) from Nakuru city. The park is 156 km (96.93 mi) northwest of Nairobi on Nairobi–Uganda Road (A104 road). For travelers from Masai Mara or Elementaita, the Nderit Gate is perfect for accessing the park.
Travelers also use Naishi Airstrip.
Campsites and privately owned lodges are some accommodation options available.
8. Hells Gate National Park
Reconnect with nature at Hells Gate National Park, established in 1984 and measuring 68 sq. km (26.25 sq. mi). It’s a charming spot in the Great Rift Valley escarpment with a natural spa, water-gouged gorges, and towering cliffs. While here, get up close to some of the park’s raptors at The Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide.
Songs and movies have been shot at Hells Gate National Park. Among the movies include Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. ‘The Lion King movie’s setting was inspired by this park.
Best time to visit: June to March.
Activities: Mountain biking, rock climbing, game viewing, camping
Wildlife: African buffalos, zebras, baboons, elands, hartebeests, and Thomson’s gazelles. If you’re lucky, you might spot Chandler’s mountain reedbucks and klipspringers.
The park boasts prolific birdlife, with over 100 bird species, including vultures.
Accessing the park: By Road: It is 116.2 km (72.20 mi) from Nairobi via Nairobi–Malaba Road (A104 road). Plus, it’s 34.8 km (21.62 mi) via Moi South Lake Road from Naivasha town.
Accommodations: Naiburta Campsite is one of the best campgrounds in the park.
9. Mount Kenya National Park
Dense forests, glaciers, and mineral springs are some features of Mount Kenya National Park. It measures 2,124 sq. km (820.08 sq. mi) and is home to Africa’s second tallest mountain — Mount Kenya. The park is among Kenya’s water catchment areas and habitat for wild animals.
Best time to visit: December to March.
Activities: Mountain climbing, camping, hiking, caving
Wildlife: Elephants, black-fronted duikers, waterbucks, mountain bongos, white-tailed mongoose, and elands. Rarely seen animals include giant forest hogs and leopards.
There are more than 130 bird species, including olive ibis, green pigeons, and brimstone canary.
Accessing the park: Via road: 175 km (108.74 mi) from Nairobi. There are six entry gates to the park namely Naru Moru, Kihari, Mawingu, Sirimon, Kamweti, and Chogoria. Chogoria gate is on the Embu – Meru road, approximately 150 km (93.21) north of Nairobi.
By air: The nearest commercial airstrip is at Nanyuki.
10. Sibiloi National Park
For informative archeological safaris, make your way to Sibiloi National Park. Popular for its centuries-old skeletons, this park features a 1.7 million-year-old elephant fossil. It’s accessible throughout the year and measures 1,570 sq. km (606.18 sq. mi).
The park is on the banks of Lake Turkana and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Its semi-desert habitat has open plains, which are breeding grounds for many birds and animals. Sibiloi National Park is an ideal starting point for exploring the park’s volcanic formations, sand dunes, and of course, Mount Sibiloi.
Koobi Fora Museum, set within Sibiloi National Park, lets you learn a thing or two about the evolution of man.
Best time to visit: June and July, when the weather is cool.
Activities: Bird-watching, camping, fishing, and game viewing.
Wildlife: Gazelles, Nile crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, and striped hyenas, among others.
The park hosts over 300 bird species, including pelicans, ducks, and flamingos.
How to get there: Via road, through Kitale and Lodwar towns.
By air, via Lodwar Airport. There are several flights daily from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to the airport.
Upon arrival, you can hire a car or take a taxi to the park.
Wildlife havens in Kenya
Whether you visit Africa regularly or in the country for the first time, you’re in for a special treat in any of the above national parks in Kenya. You’ll stay close to the wildlife and engage in fun leisure activities. So, back your bags and create new memories in the wild.