Kenya National Parks

© Flamingos in their thousands. Lake Naivasha

Despite the massive growth is African safari tourism in the past few years Kenya, with its vast plains and great numbers of animals is still considered the iconic safari by many and Kenya safari vacation packages draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country every year.

Although Kenya parks are susceptible to over-utilisation the wildlife safari experience is no less dramatic. Even in Kenya's two busiest reserves, the Masai Mara and Amboseli, the picture-perfect image of Africa is preserved through all the traffic.

With the upsurge of tourism to Africa many countries are coming to the fore as wildlife destinations and Kenya has seen the need to develop more areas. Recently the country has been looking beyond the iconic areas and in so doing has opened up some of Africa's most dramatic wilderness areas.

Too many tourists?

'Do not go to Kenya, the parks are overrun', is the advice of many African safari-goers and though this may be the case in the most popular areas of the Masai Mara and Amboseli, there are many places on a Kenya safari where very little traffic is encountered. In fact the only traffic jams you may experience in the parks of Kenya occur not through human traffic but rather the unbelievable numbers of animals to be seen.

The Great Wildebeest Migration sees up to 2 million animals moving into the Masai Mara during the second half of the year and staying for up to three months before moving south again into the Serengeti.

It is true that parts of the Amboseli have turned into a dust bowl through uncontrolled off-road driving but even this is been taken care of with more stringent laws in place for safari drivers. In short the parks of Kenya have changed dramatically from the days of mass tourism and little control.

Beyond the migration

The Masai Mara National Reserve is undoubtedly Kenya's crown jewel boasting some of Africa's greatest wildlife viewing - including the annual Great Wildebeest Migration. The rolling savannas and lone-standing acacia trees are the epitome of the African safari landscape, the landscape of postcards and old coffee table books and the migration across this landscape is one of the most dramatic wildlife experiences on earth.

Although the Wildebeest migration is one of earth's greatest spectacles the Masai Mara is far more than this annual event. The reserve is also considered one of the best places to see predators in Africa, providing the setting for the Big Cat Diaries.

Beyond the Masai Mara

Amboseli National Park - set against the backdrop of Kilimanjaro - offers arguably the most photographed image of Africa. The postcard image of elephants - and other wildlife - backed by the snow-capped peak of Kili is the iconic view of an African safari. Although Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania the most famous view of the mountain is from Amboseli.

Amboseli has the most studied and photographed elephant herds in Africa with some of the continents leading researchers having spent time studying the elephants in the park. The possibility exists to spend time with the researchers of Amboseli.

Tsavo National Park was one of the country's finest wilderness areas before been decimated by an expanded elephant population. The park suffered greatly, with the vegetation destroyed huge numbers of wildlife starved - but through an extensive management program the park is almost back to its former glory.

In the northern reaches of the country is the Samburu Game Reserve where wildlife has adapted to a harsher environment and a number of species such as the gerenuk and Grevy's zebra occur that are not found in the southern parks. The beautifully marked reticulated giraffe is also found in Samburu.

Thou shall be queen

It was in Kenya that the present monarch of the United Kingdom heard the news of her father's death, and her subsequent elevation to queen of England, during a stay at the Treetops Lodge in Aberdare National Park. Game viewing in the forested Aberdare Mountains centers around waterholes located in front of the lodges and guests are notified by a bell when an animal comes to drink - whatever time of the night.

Blessed with incredible wildlife the parks of Kenya also offer some of the best birding on the continent - with one of the highlights been the site of millions of flamingos on the lakes of the Rift Valley. At Lake Nakuru the flamingos feed in the shallows as rhino, buffalo and Rothschild giraffe wander the shoreline.

Kenya is still considered by many to be the finest wildlife destination in Africa and the many and varied game parks of the country display this wildlife in a range of landscapes.

by Leigh Kemp

South and East African Safaris
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