The Maasai Mara
No visit to Kenya would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Maasai Mara. Home to the Wildebeest Migration for 3-5 months of the year, the sprawling Maasai Mara is the quintessential safari destination.
As Kenya’s most popular safari destination, the Maasai Mara is home to a huge variety of accommodation. From budget tented camps on the outskirts all the way up to luxury lodges on the Mara River, there truly is something for all budgets.
Even if you aren’t visiting during the Wildebeest Migration (August – October), the Maasai Mara remains one of the best places in the world to spot the Big Five. You might even get lucky and spot African Wild Dogs!
While the Maasai Mara is a massive park in its own right and has a wealth of accommodation options, those looking for a more luxurious, secluded safari may want to consider the various private conservancies in the area.
Many of the lodges and camps within these conservancies offer game packages inclusive of game drives, activities, meals, and alcohol. You can even purchase these packaged with flights to and from Nairobi.
While you’ll get an undoubtedly unforgettable luxury experience in such conservancies, it’s important to note that even private conservancy guests will need to enter the Maasai Mara proper in order to see a river crossing on the Mara River.
The Lakes (Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, and Lake Bogoria)
Often combined with the Maasai Mara due to their placement between Nairobi and the Mara, Naivasha, Bogoria, and Nakuru can be combined into a two night/three-day extension that can add a lot of depth to your trip.
Lake Nakuru National Park is the only one of the lakes to be a true national park. While it is no longer home to the flamingos that once made it famous, the park is nonetheless an excellent place for a game drive – especially if you’re interested in seeing rhinoceroses.
Remember those world-famous images of massive flocks of flamingos on Lake Nakuru? The flock might have moved on, but it can still be seen in Lake Bogoria. You won’t find a lot of big game here, but Lake Bogoria’s resident flamingos are a drawcard all of their own.
Last, but certainly not least, Lake Naivasha is one of Shadows of Africa’s favorite places. Overnighting on the shores of Lake Naivasha gives you the chance to take a boat safari and/or a walking safari in nearby Crescent Island Game Sanctuary.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Located a short drive from most Lake Naivasha hotels, Hell’s Gate National Park is a geologically active park with a unique volcanic landscape that is said to have inspired the landscapes in The Lion King.
With no big game to worry about, Hell’s Gate National Park is a terrific place to enjoy a bike ride or hike. You can even go rock climbing here!
If you’re looking for a break from the safari car, a day exploring Hell’s Gate is a must.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is home to the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro you’ll find in either country.
Located on the Kenya-Tanzania border, Amboseli is often used as a bridge between the Tanzanian and Kenyan legs of a safari. Where better to photograph elephants than against the backdrop of the Roof of Africa?
Even if you aren’t visiting Tanzania, it is possible to include Amboseli National Park in a five-day Kenyan itinerary. You can combine it with Lake Nakuru and the Maasai Mara to get a more diverse safari experience.
Tsavo East & Tsavo West
Often overlooked due to being a bit more ‘out of the way’, Tsavo East and Tsavo West lie between Amboseli National Park and the Kenya Coast.
Combined, Tsavo East and Tsavo West account for 4% of Kenya’s total landmass, making them one of the world’s largest national parks. While they are home to the Big Five, their isolation and the relative sparsity of wildlife means they aren’t recommended for first-time visitors.
Tsavo West’s unique blend of landscapes makes it a surreal place to visit. Extinct volcanoes, swamps, rolling plains, and natural springs combine to create an almost alien environment. While lower wildlife density might be off-putting, world-class birding and the distinctive landscape make it a photographer’s dream.
Neighbouring Tsavo East is semi-arid and can boast better wildlife viewing due to the lack of vegetation. It is here you’ll find the famous red elephants of Kenya, whose habit of taking dust baths in the ruddy earth lends them a martian hue.
If this isn’t your first safari or you’ve got a few extra days, a trip to the twin parks of Tsavo West & Tsavo East can be a great way to add something unique to your trip.
Wild and rugged Samburu is home to Kenya’s unique “Special Five”. The special five include the reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, Beisa Oryx, and Gerenuk. These five animals cannot be seen together anywhere else in the world.
Samburu is often combined with the Maasai Mara to form a Big Five and Special Five safari. It is ideal for those wanting to get off the beaten track and see something different.
Along with nearby Shaba Game Reserve, Buffalo Springs lies in the same ecosystem as Samburu. Boasting the same rugged charm and unique wildlife, it is even more off the beaten track than Samburu.
Buffalo Springs is usually recommended for those taking an extended safari in the Samburu region, as it does not offer anything that more accessible Samburu doesn’t.
Ol Pejeta (otherwise known as Sweetwaters) is the ideal inclusion for a family safari in Kenya.
Part resort and part private reserve, Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to something for everyone.
First and foremost, Ol Pejeta is a terrific game-viewing destination. It is home to the highest density of wildlife in Kenya after the Maasai Mara. It is also home to the largest black rhinoceros sanctuary in East Africa. You’ll even find two of the last Northern White Rhinoceros in the world here!
Ol Pejeta is also home to a group of 37 chimpanzees, making it a great place to see our closest living relatives without having to take a trek to Uganda or Rwanda.
There is also the opportunity to track lions on foot, spot endangered African wild dogs, go hiking or cycling, go horseback riding alongside rhinos, take night game drives, and so much more.
Aberdare National Park/Mount Kenya
An often-overlooked gem in Kenya’s north, Aberdare National Park is a heavily forested, mountainous park famous more for its treehouse-style accommodation than wildlife viewing.
It was here that Queen Elizabeth was vacationing when she became Queen, and the romance of that story still draws tourists to the park. We even offer a Royal Tree safari to recapture that magic.
The park is technically home to the Big Five but a trip to Aberdare is more about the experience than the quality of game viewing. It offers unparalleled serenity in a unique, mountainous environment not found anywhere else in Kenya.
Climbing Mount Kenya
Africa’s second-highest mountain isn’t quite as famous as Mount Kilimanjaro, but Mount Kenya is worthy of your attention It may even be preferable to Kilimanjaro if you’re looking for a more challenging and less crowded experience.
Climbs range in length from 3-5 days, with different routes offering different levels of difficulty.
The Kenya Coast
Zanzibar in Tanzania maybe East Africa’s most famous beach destination, but don’t sleep on Kenya’s coast. There are some who even argue that the beaches of Malindi and Watamu are better than anything you’ll find on Zanzibar.
Accessible by overland transfer (via Tsavo East & West), train, or flights from Nairobi or the Maasai Mara, the Kenyan coast boasts similar white sand beaches and turquoise waters with much more competitive pricing than you’ll find on Zanzibar.
While crowded Mombasa isn’t the ideal beach destination, there are gorgeous resorts in nearby Watamu and Malindi made for rest & relaxation.