Best 25 National Parks in East Africa

© Elephant goes people-watching at Ruaha River Lodge
East Africa's diversity is sensational. The range of terrains, climates, ecosystems, cultures and wildlife on offer almost defies belief. Good news for travellers: surely there's a park or reserve to satisfy every whim? True � but that's also the problem.Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda between them contain hundreds of protected areas. Without some serious research, it's hard to know which to head for. With this in mind, we've compiled a guide to what we believe to be the 25 best parks and reserves East Africa has to offer.Needless to say, this ranked among the hardest tasks we've attempted. To keep it manageable, we excluded all private reserves. We also wanted our choice to reflect the full scope available: although big game is the raison d'etre for many reserves and the motivation fuelling most visitors, other equally exciting parks are gazetted in order to protect endemic species, rare ecosystems or spectacular scenery.Compiling an initial shortlist of about 50 candidates proved straightforward enough. Of these, some selected themselves while others seemed too obscure for final inclusion, but there remained many strong contenders whose case was not so clear. In collaboration with writer Philip Briggs—who has visited an astonishing number of the region's parks—we spent days locked in debate, conscious that whatever we included, we'd be omitting someone's favourite, somewhere. In the end, the parks and reserves selected were not necessarily the most popular, the most accessible or the best known (though some were all three). Instead we chose the ones we believe offer their visitors the most impressive experiences.Inevitably, many high-quality places couldn't be included. Tanzania's Gombe Stream, famed for chimp-tracking and its association with the revered researcher Jane Goodall, is smaller and less biodiverse than nearby Mahale. Many worthy savannah reserves — Kenya's Meru, for example — aren't included, not because they don't warrant visiting, but because we felt they lacked that ultimate "must-see" edge. Kakamega stands out as Kenya's most important rainforest site, yet on a regional scale, could it beat several Ugandan counterparts?
East Africa's diversity is sensational. The range of terrains, climates, ecosystems, cultures and wildlife on offer almost defies belief. Good news for travellers: surely there's a park or reserve to satisfy every whim? True — but that's also the problem.
Unsung nuggets such as Ethiopia's Nechisar NP (straddling twin Rift Valley lakes) caught our collective imagination, but were perhaps too esoteric for inclusion. The omission of Shimba Hills or Arusha — the list goes on — is no slight on these fantastic reserves, but rather testament to the incredible scope of East Africa's protected areas.The last thing we're advocating is that you avoid the places we've left out. We simply hope this list will be seen as a celebration of the region's diversity and as a useful source of ideas for your next itinerary. From tropical forests and mountain chains to coral reefs and savannah that spans the horizon, here are (in no particular order) the parks we believe to be East Africa's most inspirational.

The Big 25 Checklist

Ethiopia


1. Simien Mountains NP

2. Bale Mountains NP

Uganda


3. Murchison Falls NP

4. Kabale Forest NP

5. Ruwenzori Mountains NP

6. Queen Elizabeth NP

7. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Rwanda


8. Parc des Volcans / Volcanoes NP

9. Nyungwe Forest NP

Tanzania


10. Mahale Mountains NP

11. Katavi NP

12. Ruaha NP

13. Udzungwa Mountains NP

14. Selous GR

15. Mafia Island

16. Mount Kilimanjaro NP

17. Tarangire NP

18. Lake Manyara NP

19. Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Tanzania / Kenya


20. Serengeti NP / Mara Reserve

Kenya


21. Amboseli NP

22. Tsavo East & West NPs

23. Mount Kenya NP

24. Lake Nakuru NP

25. Samburu GR

by Phillip Briggs

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