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Kenya Safari Guide For Beginners

Birthplace of the classic Hemingway-style safari, Kenya is home to some of the best game viewing and most famous reserves on the continent. But unlike neighbouring Tanzania, whose most popular parks lie on a well-trodden circuit, Kenya's safari destinations are scattered throughout the country and planning an itinerary depends on what you want to see and who you're travelling with.

WESTERN KENYA: GREAT LAKES AND THE WILDEBEEST MIGRATION

A safari itinerary in western Kenya usually begins in Nairobi (as indeed most Kenya safaris do) and includes the country's famous flamingo-covered lakes - Lake Naivasha and Nakuru are the most rewarding. The biggest name in western Kenya is of course the Masai Mara National Reserve, home to some of Africa's best year-round game viewing as well as the annual migration. Present in their hundreds of thousands from around July to November, the wildebeest and zebra herds attract constant attention from Africa's top predators and consequently visitor numbers are high in peak season.

There's plenty of Masai Mara accommodation: many lodges are family-friendly - they offer special kids programmes for example - while others focus on romantic exclusivity. For front-row seats to the migration it's vital to book your accommodation or safari early - sometimes as much as a year in advance. And if it's privacy you want on your Kenya safari, head for the Masai Mara's private conservancies for exclusive game viewing without the crowds.

Get your wildebeest migration timing right with our short animation below!

Video

Kenya Safari Guide - witness the wildebeest migration
Expect dramatic action in the Masai Mara during the Wildebeest Migration
Kenya Safari Guide - cheetah mother & cubs
Expect great sightings in Kenya's top parks
Kenya Safari Guide - views of Mount Kilimanjaro
Views of Mount Kilimanjaro from Amboseli

EASTERN KENYA: SAVANNAHS & THE BEST VIEWS OF KILIMANJARO

Tsavo and Amboseli National Park are Eastern Kenya's flagship reserves. Easily accessible, Amboseli sits right on the border with Tanzania and is famous for its scenes of elephants ambling across the plains as a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro looms behind them. Full of animals, Amboseli's mostly flat and open terrain makes for easy game viewing and there's a wide range of accommodation. January and February are good months to visit as well as June through September but visitor numbers are high in these months; if you want something a little off the beaten path, you'll need Tsavo.

At 22 000km² Tsavo is bigger than Wales and has to be split into two halves - West and East. A sprawling swathe of wooded savannah, Tsavo is classic big game country with most of its accommodation set in Tsavo West. Best visited between May and October and suitable for travellers who want a more remote and wild Kenya safari, Tsavo's trump card is its proximity to Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. Along with several other smaller reserves in the area, Tsavo can easily be incorporated into an excellent safari and beach combination holiday - great for families, great for honeymooners.

Kenya Safari Guide - elephants crossing the Samburu
A family herd of elephant cross a river in the Tsavo National Park

NORTHERN KENYA: UNIQUE WILDLIFE & AMAZING LANDSCAPES

The first thing you'll notice on a Northern Kenya safari is the lack of other visitors. The second thing that'll take you aback are the unusual-looking animals - reticulated giraffe, Grevy's zebra, Somali ostrich and gerenuk antelope - are semi-arid specialists and absent from Kenya's more visited destinations.

Often hot and dry, the reserves of the north are where second-time-around safari travellers like to end up. The Samburu and Shaba National Reserves flank the life-giving Ewaso Ngiro River and are often combined on an itinerary. Both offer classic game viewing, and Samburu is further known for its leopard sightings while Shaba ranks as one of Kenya's more scenic reserves - great for romance!

Other places to visit in the north include unspoiled and largely unvisited Meru National Park (of Born Free fame) and the Laikipia Plateau. The latter is fast becoming the place to visit in Kenya. Made up of private reserves and home to the Big 5, Laikipia features a range of accommodation - its family-friendly lodges offer a mix of activities while its honeymoon suites enjoy sensational views. Visit the north between December and the end of March or July through October.

Kenya Safari Guide - luxury tented camps await
The Mara is best enjoyed while staying in a luxurious & romantic camp

KENYA SAFARI RECOMMENDATIONS

We've done the planning for you: here are our top recommendations for a flawless safari in Kenya.

  • Magnificent Amboseli & Mara Retreat - stay in private Amboseli & Masai Mara conservancies in the care of exclusive, intimate & eco-friendly Porini Camps. Great for game viewing & cultural insights.
  • Discover Kenya Family Safari - designed with children in mind, this all-inclusive, fly-in safari takes in three teeming wildlife reserves and is nicely paced to allow everyone to enjoy each destination.
  • Discerning Kenya Explorer Safari - showcasing some of Kenya's top safari camps, this deluxe fly-in tour promises a diversity of wildlife and landscapes with a bit of adventure. Ideal for honeymoons.
  • Sensational Kenya Simba Safari - forest, lake and savannah destinations mean that diversity is the aim of this guided, value-for-money road safari. Great for budget and solo travellers.
  • Experience Kenya Horizons Safari - combining Kenya's most famous reserves with some of its more unusual ones, this big value, guided road safari is great solo travellers who want diverse game viewing.

 

Written by Dominic Chadbon. Connect with him on Google+.

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