Kenya is one of Africa’s premier safari destinations, and for good reason.
With infamous national parks like the Maasai Mara and Amboseli, as well as lesser-known but equally spectacular destinations like Tsavo and Samburu, there’s little that Kenya doesn’t offer. It’s possible to spot all of the Big 5 safari animals here, with elephants drinking at the waterhole, leopards hiding in the trees, buffalo munching grass in the open plains, rhino moving slowly through the bushes and lions roaring in the distance as you go to sleep.
Thought to be the setting for The Lion King, a wildlife holiday to Kenya really is like stepping onto Pride Rock and straight into the lives of Simba, Nala and Rafiki.
Safari camps in Kenya are often staffed by locals, with Maasai warriors driving and guiding you out in the bush. This only adds to the experience as they share stories of their history and culture. Some safari holidays will include visits to Maasai villages to help you see it for yourselves.
Staying at a lodge in Kenya’s exclusive conservancies make it possible to enjoy special activities, including romantic bush dinners, open air breakfasts, exhilerating walking safaris and classic sundowners from scenic spots in the reserve.
Find out everything you need to know about seeing wildlife in Kenya, including where and when to go, where to stay and more in this Kenya wildlife travel guide.
Kenya National Parks & Game Reserves
In Kenya, you’ll find some of the best national parks on the continent, home to the Big 5 animals and plenty more besides. Away from the public parks, Kenya’s private conservancies are ideal for a more exclusive experience with intimate camps and wildlife encounters without the crowds.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli is home to one of the largest populations of elephants in Kenya, with close-up sightings of them almost guaranteed. Chances are also high of seeing the rest of the Big 5. Located just over the border from Tanzania and its famous Kilimanjaro National Park, Amboseli offers an unrivalled opportunity to observe giraffe, dwarfed by the towering mountain behind them.
Maasai Mara National Park
Wildlife travel in Kenya doesn’t get better than the Maasai Mara. This world-famous safari destination is known for its big cat sightings and dramatic encounters between other predators and their prey. Though the Great Wildebeest Migration is a big draw for many visitors, wildlife viewing is great throughout the year with over 25,000 different species to spot.
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is a completely unique place to see wildlife. Where else can you spot white rhino grazing in their natural habitat, but with a backdrop of skyscrapers? Nearly all of the Big 5 are here, with the exception of elephants, but the chance to be on safari within an hour of landing in Kenya’s international airport more than makes up for that.
Tsavo East & West
Together, Tsavo East and West combine to create the largest area of conservation in Kenya at over 20,000 square kilometres. With such a large space to traverse, the wildlife can be hard to spot in and amongst the bush, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy a brilliant safari here. Volcanic landscapes in the West meet red stained plains in the East for spectacular viewing.
Lake Nakuru National Park
In a country known for its savannahs, Lake Nakuru offers a unique opportunity to spot birdlife and other water-based animals in Kenya. It’s also one of the best places to see large populations of both lesser and greater flamingoes, instantly recognisable from their pink tinged plumage. In the park surrounding the lake, you can also spot rhino, buffalo, lion, hippo and giraffe.
Samburu National Reserve
The arid landscapes of the Samburu National Park make for wonderful wildlife viewing, thanks to the high concentration of animals living amongst the lush vegetation of the Ewaso Nyiro river. As well as the typical Kenyan big game, Samburu is also home to the ‘special 5’ – a group of animals that are rarely seen outside of the National Reserve.
When to go to Kenya
As an equatorial country, there isn’t really a bad time to go on a wildlife holiday to Kenya. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your dates, including the weather, the popularity of lodges and prices too.
Kenya’s peak season is during the dry months between June and September as well as January and February, thanks to the great weather and opportunities to see animals as they congregate around waterholes – both predator and prey alike. If it is your dream to see the Great Migration, go in August. At this time of year, thousands of wildebeest and zebra travel from Tanzania to Kenya, through crocodile infested rivers and predator heavy plains, making for one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles in the world. As plentiful as the animal sightings will be, the number of tourists wanting to see them is enough to put some visitors off. It can be difficult to get good spots along the riverbank, and prices soar as the demand rises too.
Arguably the best time to visit Kenya is the shoulder season between October and December. At this time of year, you can enjoy the perfect balance of excellent animal sightings, smaller crowds, mild, dry weather and cheaper prices.
During the off peak season, prices are likely to be much lower due to the lower demand. But be warned that many lodges and camps may close to help regenerate the landscape and to avoid the worst of the rains.
Where to Stay in Kenya: Safari Lodges & Camps
Safari lodges and camps in Kenya vary wildly in price, service levels and locations. From the most basic adventure camps with limited facilities to luxury lodges with private plunge pools overlooking the savannah. Below is just a selection of available accommodation options in Kenya, but have a read of our favourite safari lodges in Kenya for more inspiration.
How to Travel in Kenya
Kenya is a large country, and while most safari destinations in Kenya are located towards the south of the country, you’ll still need to know how to get around.
Bush planes, such as those run by Safarilink, are popular forms of transportation between safari camps, national parks and Nairobi. Flights are regular and relatively affordable, and can either be booked by you, a travel agent or your safari company.
If you choose to take a Kenya safari tour, many will travel by road between Nairobi and various camps across the country. While these tend to be cheaper than fly-in safaris, it really is best to fly to maximise the time you spend on safari. It’s also an incredible experience as you can enjoy incredible views over animals on the plains as you take off and descend.
Shared buses, taxis and private transfers can also be arranged through your safari camp from Nairobi, but prices and timings can vary greatly.
Things to do in Kenya
Of course nothing beats a safari when in Kenya, but there are plenty of other activities and day trips to keep you entertained if you fancy a change of scenery.