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: The Wildebeest Migration
A safari itinerary in western Kenya usually begins in Nairobi (as indeed most Kenya safaris do). 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 Great 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 or read more about when to go to Kenya for the migration.
Eastern Kenya: Savannahs & the Best Views of Kilimanjaro
Amboseli National Park is eastern Kenya's flagship reserve. 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.
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 Recommendations:
We've done the planning for you: here are our top recommendations for a flawless safari in Kenya.
Honeymoon Kenya's Samburu, Mara and South Coast: This 15-day vacation is perfect for honeymooners who want the ultimate bush-beach break. Every aspect of this journey has been carefully designed to offer a full selection of Kenya’s best experiences.
Family Ol Donyo and Masai Mara: With private villa accommodation throughout the trip, you and your family can truly unwind on this 10-Day family vacation. Imagine days spent out on the Masai Mara and nights watching falling stars.
Experiential Mount Kenya, Samburu and Masai Mara: This 9-day itinerary combines sublime game viewing in some of Kenya’s best wildlife areas with diverse cultural activities and plenty to see and do.
Kenya's Lake Naivasha and Masai Mara Sky Safari: Experience Lake Nakuru and, of course, the fabled Masai Mara on this 6-day vacation. Add a dawn hot-air balloon ride to your adventure, go on a walking safari, ride a horse through the savannah or just let go of the stresses of city life.