Many safari goers ask whether Amboseli National Park is worth visiting as part of their Kenya safari itinerary. Here are our expert thoughts on this small but rewarding safari destination in southern Kenya on the border of Tanzania:
A guided bush walk against a backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro.
What is Amboseli Like?
Against a backdrop of looming Mount Kilimanjaro, you can see everything from lush primeval swamps to wide, dry plains here. ‘Amboseli’ is an English corruption of the Maa word Empusel, meaning ‘salty, dry place’ but underground streams flowing from the melting ice-cap on Kili keep certain areas of the park well supplied with water, which in turn attracts elephants and plenty of birds.
Parts of the forested swamp have been fenced off to prevent elephants from munching their way through the trees and to allow the vegetation time to regrow. During the long rains between about March and April, the dry plain can become a shallow lake, filled with wading birds (there are 400 species here alone). Because it is quite small, Amboseli is easy for rangers to patrol and is very well kept.
Amboseli's elephants during the Green Season.
Amboseli is a great choice for first-time safari goers or first-timers to Kenya. Its compact size allows you to see virtually every aspect in about two days and its proximity to Nairobi means you don’t have to follow a long-haul flight with a very long drive or another longish flight. Short-haul flights between Wilson Airport and the Amboseli airstrip take less than an hour in a light aircraft.
Amboseli is definitely a convenient place to ease into your Kenya safari. It’s closeness to Nairobi does mean that lots of Kenyans drive through for weekends and school holidays, and you may experience traffic congestion during Easter and Christmas so your Africa Safari Expert will help you plan your trip with that in mind.
Which Animals Will I See in Amboseli?
A hyena and her pups hitting the road.
The diversity of the landscape is reflected in the diversity of the game. Elephants are commonly sighted and many are known by name by the guides because they’ve been studied by researchers at the Amboseli Elephant Research Centre.
There is also a baboon research centre here to find out more about these very social, inquisitive and intelligent primates.
We can’t guarantee the Big 5 in Amboseli: leopard and rhino are virtually non-existent here. But don’t let that deter you as they are easily found elsewhere in Kenya (Lewa is fantastic for rhino and the Masai Mara for leopard). You won’t see the weirdly proportioned gerenuk either as they prefer the aridness of Samburu in the north.
But you should see masses of birdlife, bat-eared foxes (a very rare sighting), giraffe, lion, buffalo, cheetah, and non-migrating wildebeest. For getting your game-spotting eye ‘in’, Amboseli is ideal. Look out for Thomson’s gazelle and how they differ from impala; Maasai giraffe; Burchell’s or plains zebra; and plenty of spotted hyena (known as ‘spotties’ – there are no brown hyena here).
Game drive with Tortilis Camp.
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Will I See Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro: the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
Although Mount Kilimanjaro is actually in neighbouring Tanzania, the best views of the world’s tallest free-standing mountain and Africa’s highest peak are in Kenya (Africa is often like this: the best views of Victoria Falls, which plunge down the Zambian border, are from Zimbabwe).
Because of its proximity to the Tanzanian border, Amboseli does have the best vistas of Kili. But – and this is a serious but – Kili is 5 895 metres / 19 341 feet high, meaning its summit is almost always swathed in cloud. Your best chance of seeing the peak is at dawn – when conditions may have cleared overnight – so don’t skip the early-morning game drives!
Bear in mind that professional photographers spend ages in the field capturing the perfect shot so don’t put pressure on yourself or feel disappointed if you can’t replicate in a day or two what they spend weeks and months finding.
The view from Tortilis Camp's family tent.
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Where to Stay
When to Go
Amboseli is green and lush during the low season, with clear views of Kili.
High / Peak Season: June to October
- Best time for game viewing – grass is shorter which makes animals easier to spot and they don't stray far from water sources.
- Mostly sunny with very little to no rain.
- Rates are higher and the park can get rather busy.
Low / Green Season: November to May
- The short rains peak in November, and the long rains in April and May.
- Scenically Amboseli is at its best – a superb time for photography.
- Best time to visit for bird watching.
- Best views of Kilimanjaro – skies are clear of dust.
- Lower rates and the park is quieter due to wet road conditions (around April and May).
Should I Go?
Yes. Transfers are easy, the landscape is beautiful and there is much to see. Amboseli is a good kick-off before you head to the Masai Mara and ideal for first-time visitors to Africa. Chat with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help you plan an itinerary that's right for you...
Go2Africa's Tracy, Rikke, Angela and Bonita in Amboseli.