The Amboseli National Park is one of my favorite reserves in Africa. In my opinion, it’s home to the most iconic African scene:
If you do not know what mountain this is, I’ll inform you in just a bit.
But apart from that perfect setting, the parks diversity in all aspects are just incredible and honestly; what is not to love about spending hours with some of Africa’s largest herds of free roaming elephant.
This spectacular reserve is located about 240km (150 miles) southeast of Nairobi, which is only a four hour drive through beautiful country side. It is also possible to fly in to the Amboseli from the likes of Nairobi, Mombasa and the Masai Mara. This of course is the quickest option in and out of the reserve with flights being only 45 minutes.
Over the years I have noticed that many safari goers ask whether the Amboseli National Park is worth visiting as part of their Kenya safari itinerary.
My sort answer: YES! Well worth a visit.
The Amboseli was set aside as a wildlife reserve in 1899 and made a national park in 1974. Made up of only 392 km2 at its core, the Amboseli is small compared to the other parks you’ll find in Kenya but by far one of the most rewarding safari destinations.
Today the Amboseli National Park is a scenic park in its own right and is synonymous with two particular things; close encounters with the majestic herds of elephant and glorious views (best at dusk and dawn) of Mount Kilimanjaro; the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, and Africa’s highest peak (5,891m summit) in neighboring Tanzania.
Volcanic ash from the eruptions of Kilimanjaro a millennium ago form heatwave mirages in the dry season, inspiring the name ‘Amboseli’, meaning ‘salty dust’ in local Maasai. The arid appearance is somewhat deceptive, however, as the basin is constantly fed by springs from the mountain’s ice caps in the middle of the park. The springs and their magnetism explain the famous diversity of wildlife and birdlife that can be experienced.
The ecosystem of the park is comprised of mainly savannah and grassland plains, but against the backdrop of looming Mount Kilimanjaro, you will find a variety of habitat types which include swamps, dry lake beds, marshland, thick thorn bush and acacia forest.
You will notice that 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.
They say the best time to visit the Amboseli is during Kenya’s dry season, June to October. With a little rain falling, wildlife retreats to the park’s swamps where underground water from Kilimanjaro wells up permanently year-round. However, this is also peak season and you’ll need to book early to secure accommodation during these months. Also, don’t expect to have the wildlife to yourself at this time of year.
For a quieter safari consider January to February, after the short rains (which peak in November) have dispersed. I have hosting many safaris into the Amboseli during the month of February (Best Of Kenya) and what a treat they have been.
April and May bring in the long rains, torrential downpours and washed-out roads are a possibility. They do say that these months best be avoided. I disagree with that… I host the Amboseli & Lake Nakuru safari which takes us into the Amboseli in the month of April. Traveling to the Amboseli National Park during the long rains is an incredible experience, particularly if you have visited it in the dryer months. The colors, the mood, the amount of wildlife is just mind blowing. It honestly feels like a totally different reserve.
The diversity of the landscape is reflected in the diversity of the game. As we all know, nothing is ever a guarantee while out on safari except seeing at least one elephant while out on safari in the Amboseli. Coming across massive herds of elephants is a daily given in this park.
Amboseli National Park can’t guarantee the Big 5 as leopard and rhino are virtually non-existent there but in saying that, don’t let that deter you as they are easily found elsewhere in Kenya. These areas include the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo, Samburu.
Apart from incredible elephant sightings, the Amboseli will also provide you with masses of birdlife, bat-eared foxes, caracal, serval (three very rare creatures), Maasai giraffe, lion, spotted hyena, buffalo, cheetah, and non-migrating wildebeest/zebra as well as loads more plains game.
After exploring the various habitats of the Amboseli, another must-see landmark is Observation Hill. This area offers a panoramic views across the entire park. It is absolutely breath taking to say the least.
It is also good to know that there are several lodges to call home during your safari in the Amboseli. It is even more important to know that there are only two situated inside the park.
To avoid a 20 minute mad, dusty dash to the gate every morning and waiting in a endless line of cars to enter and/or leave the park every day, best you make use of the following two lodges;
- Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge
- Ol Tukai Lodge
These two lodges are both great retreats. They are situated inside the park which is what you want in order to get out at first light to start exploring as well as maximize your evening hours out in the field. I bring this up because as this is a National Park, they do not permit driving after dark and you’ll have to be back at the lodge as the sun sets. Now if you were staying in a lodge outside the park, you’ll have to leave the lion sighting an hour earlier that those staying inside the park so that you can get to the gate before it closes.
To conclude, the Amboseli National Park 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 no less than three full 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. Itinerary extensions to either Tsavo, Lake Nakuru, Samburu or the Masai Mara are also easy to put together as well as highly recommended.
I hope this blog helps you in planning your next adventure. Please feel free to leave me any questions you may have in the comments below.