You’d think deciding where to go on a Kenya safari holiday would be easy. Just find somewhere with prowling lions, colourful warriors and a luxury lodge and you’re all set. How hard can it be? Despite years of expertly planning trips with a level of precision that would make even the military blush, when it came to picking a safari location in Kenya, we hit a brick wall. There was just too much choice. How on earth would we be able to decide between the Masai Mara and the Samburu? Was Amboseli a better option than Laikipia? And where would be best for photography?
A rather delicious dilemma to have, but a dilemma nonetheless.
Like any good modern-day traveller, we turned to the online community for a little help. In particular Trover, one of those recent discoveries we wished we’d found years ago! It’s a photo-sharing social network that helps you find the best places to go on holiday using suggestions from other users. How good is that? Getting other people to do all the hard work and then using their research and experiences to inform your own trip. Yet we didn’t feel guilty. We knew we’d be adding our own favourite discoveries, like bush breakfasts overlooking the Mara River where hippos were happily cavorting in the water, thus helping future travellers decide where to go in Kenya on their own safari adventures. Communities like this are such a fabulous way to engage in travel, and it really does make all the planning that bit easier!
After doing a lot of research and asking countless questions from those in the travel community who have ‘been there, done that’ we’ve put together the definitive list of the top safari destinations to visit in Kenya.
How to choose where to go on your Kenya Safari Holiday
Who should visit: anyone on their first Kenya safari holiday.
What makes it so special: sitting proudly in the Rift Valley in south-west Kenya, the Masai Mara is the most popular safari destination in the country, and possibly all of Africa. The landscape is what you dream of when you think of safari, with wide open savannah punctuated by dense woodlands and riverine valleys. Game here is plentiful, which makes spotting the famous ‘Big Five’ a relatively easy game to play. Plus, at certain times of year, this is where you’ll see the great wildebeest migration. During our visit we also saw plenty of hippos, countless hyenas and even a cheetah. The Masai Mara is also the place to come for hot air ballooning – a safari with a difference! The reserve does become rather busy during peak viewing seasons, so it’s worth considering staying in one of the surrounding conservancies such as Mara North, which share the same game but are private and thus a lot more exclusive.
Who should visit: photographers and anyone who wants to view elephants up close.
What makes it so special: known as ‘Land of the Giants’, Amboseli is a popular national park in southern Kenya, home to over 50 animal species, including large herds of elephants who roam the plains. This is where to come to get that iconic photograph of elephants wandering across the savannah with a back drop of the immense snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro on the horizon. You may even get to see some of the big tuskers here, so don’t forget your camera. The flat plains make for top-notch and unobstructed game viewing so Amboseli is an ideal location for spotting big cats such as lions, cheetahs and leopards stalking their prey.
Who should visit: anyone looking for a contrasting location to the typical Masai Mara plains, and those who like some mountain peaks interrupting their savannahs.
What makes it so special: slap bang in the very heart of central Kenya, the Samburu National Reserve is a place of dramatic landscapes, traditional cattle herding communities and some rather unusual animals. If you’ve already ticked off the ‘Big Five’, you’ll be looking for another challenge, which is where the Samburu ‘Special Five’ come in. This collection of rare and endemic species unique to the Samburu area is well worth the effort, and includes the Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich and the Gerenuk, an antelope that stands on its hind legs to feed on high tree foliage! The Samburu is also the place to go if you want to interact with local communities, and we loved coming across local herders taking their cattle to find water, which is really scarce here during the dry months. Just as exciting as spotting lions!
Who should visit: second or third time safari-goers looking for a more immersive and experiential Kenya safari holiday.
What makes it so special: nestled between Samburu and Mount Kenya, Laikipia is a stunning and remote region in the Rift Valley boasting a huge variety of landscapes and wildlife. With high altitude plateaus, deep river gorges low-lying valley forests, Laikipia is home to elephant, lion, leopard and a whole host of plains game. In Laikipia, tourism and local communities work hand in hand and it’s a great opportunity for visitors to meet locals and have an insight into the daily lives of the Samburu and the Masai. Safaris here go beyond the standard vehicle excursions, and include bush walks, picnics, fly camping, fishing, horse riding and even camel treks!
Who should visit: anyone who wants to see flamingos. Seriously, who doesn’t love a pink bird!
What makes it so special: famous for its vast pink flocks of flamingos who come here to thrive in the shallow alkaline waters, Lake Nakuru is one of the most popular Rift Valley soda lakes. Flanked by high escarpments the area is also well known for its rhinos (both black and white), and although it doesn’t have the sense of wilderness enjoyed by many of Kenya’s other parks and reserves, it’s great for all-year-round wildlife viewing, and you’re likely to spot giraffe, hippo, ostrich and lion here too. The lake setting makes a lovely contrast to the plains and forests of the other safari areas, and it’s not far from Nairobi so many people like to visit here on their way further afield.
So which did we choose?
In the end we went for a combination of the Masai Mara and the Samburu. It was our first trip to East Africa so we were keen to have the traditional Kenya safari holiday experience that was pretty much guaranteed by a visit to the Masai Mara. Then for a change of scenery we opted for the escarpments of the Samburu and spent a few days searching for the ‘Special Five’, all in the company of our rather magnificent warrior guides.
So where would you like to visit on your Kenya safari holiday?
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