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Kenya National Parks and Reserves

A trip to Kenya would be incomplete without visiting one of its many National Reserves (NR) and National Parks (NP). They are home to some of the most splendid, rare and endangered creatures on this planet.

But, with more than 50 game parks to choose from, how do you decide which one(s) to visit? Aren't they all the same? The simple answer is no. Kenya's terrain is incredibly diverse. Some species of wildlife are unique to certain regions and altitudes. The landscape can evolve dramatically in just a few hours - even within the bounds of a single park. Tsavo National Park, for example, is divided into East and West for administrative purposes. Tsavo East is quite different from the West, both in terms of wildlife and terrain and, combined, Tsavo is bigger than Wales!

Below is a comparison of Kenya's most popular National Parks and National Reserves. The table is designed as a guide to maximise your wildlife sightings in the time available, so check below to see which best suits your particular Kenya safari wildlife needs.



Aberdare NP

Amboseli NP

Lake Nakuru NP

Masai Mara NR

Mt Kenya NP

Samburu NR

Tsavo NP

Size km2









Central highlands, west of Mt. Kenya. Nyeri District, Central Province

N/W of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on Tanzania border. Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province

140km N/W of Nairobi in the Rift Valley Province, Central Kenya

270km west of Nairobi in the S/W corner of Kenya on the border with Tanzania

Central highlands, 176km north north-east of Nairobi. Tana District

355km north of Nairobi. Samburu District, Rift Valley Province.

East: Taita District, Coast Province. West: Turkana District, North Eastern Prov.


Stunning volcanic range, forming part of the Great Rift Valley. Waterfalls, deep ravines, streams, forest.

Vast open plains, acacia trees, swamps and marshland set against the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Shallow soda (alkaline) lake (62km2) surrounded by forests, rocky cliffs, waterfalls, marsh and grasslands.

An extension of the Serengeti plains. The Mara River snakes through open plains, hills, woodland and grasslands.

Snow-capped extinct volcano, Kenya's highest peak (5,199m) second highest in Africa. Rainforest, bamboo, moorland.

Arid open plains of thornbrush, scrubland, smooth hills, swamps, acacia, set against  Mt.Ol Olokwe backdrop.

Vast, semi-arid. East: Galana River, rapids, lava flow. West: more varied, mountainous, swamps, lake, and springs.


Mist or rainfall most of the year

Mainly hot and dry

Ranges from cold to hot/humid and hot/dry

Dry season: Jul-Oct. Hottest months are Dec-Jan

Mainly wet and cool to cold. Temp. range approx. 2-20°C

Hot and dry. Ranges from 20 - 30°C

Hot and dry. Ranges from 20 - 30°C. East is drier than West.

Big Five

5: Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo

3: Elephant, rhino, buffalo

3: Rhino, buffalo, leopard

5: Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo

3: Elephant, buffalo, leopard

5: Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo

5: Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo

Big Cats

Leopard, lion, serval

Caracal, wild cat, serval


Lion, leopard, cheetah, serval


Lion, leopard, cheetah, serval

Lion, leopard, cheetah, serval


Poor (dense veg)




Poor (dense veg)




Air and road.

Air and road

Air and road

Air and road

Air and road.

Air and road

Air, road and rail


Limited: lodges, expensive. Camping requires special gear. Difficult for budget travellers.

Good: Lodges and camps are available for all tastes and budgets.

Limited: lodges, bandas (self-catering) and budget campsites.

Excellent: number of luxury to budget lodges and camps reflect Mara's popularity.

Limited: lodges, bandas (self-catering) and budget campsites.

Limited: Luxury tented camps, lodges and budget campsites.

Limited: lodges, tented camps and budget campsites.


Low (reasons above)



No. 1 (reasons above)

Fair (reasons above)

Low (northern location)

High (but quiet due to size)

Notable features

Dramatic scenery, Thompson Falls (waterfall plunging to 73m), unusual fauna, elephants, second largest black rhino population.

Mount Kilimanjaro is a stunning backdrop; famous for big game and elephant herds. Observation Hill offers what it suggests.

Home to nearly a million flamingoes and 450 species of bird - an ornithologist's paradise. Rothschild giraffe, rhino sanctuary.

The Great Migration (June-Oct); the 'big five' and big cats (BBC's Big Cat Diary is filmed annually in the Masai Mara).

Mt. Kenya attracts climbers of all abilities. Dramatic views, glaciers, tarns (small lakes), rare and diverse flora and fauna, varies with altitude.

Quiet, excellent birdwatching. Home to Grevy's zebra, black rhino, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, oryx, Somali ostrich, African wild dog.

East: Lugard Falls, Yatta Plateau - world's largest lava flow. West: Mzima Springs, rhino sanctuary. Combined, Tsavo is bigger than Wales!

Nature, by definition, is unpredictable and knows no bounds. Nothing is guaranteed. To say you would definitely see a rhino or lion in a particular Kenya National Park/Reserve is mistaken. We were lucky enough to see a leopard, in daylight, on our final game drive in the Masai Mara. Had we left the day before, we would not have seen one. That's how it goes. However, you can give yourself the best odds by visiting the park/reserve which has the most sightings. For example, your chances of not seeing an elephant in Amboseli National Park are extremely remote; Amboseli is renowned for its high elephant concentration.

Mountainous and forested areas, such as the Great Rift Valley, offer spectacular scenery. But, due to the dense vegetation, wildlife viewing becomes more difficult. Conversely, flat open plains - though a less interesting landscape - allow for optimum viewing of big game wildlife.

Those keen to see the big five and the big cats would be wise to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve, especially if time is of the essence. The shallow soda lakes, such as Lake Nakuru, would certainly be on the itinerary of an avid birdwatcher.

Time of year and season also plays a big part, not only for wildlife prolificacy but also in the practical sense of accessibility to the area. If you're visiting during the rainy season, you must consider how you will fare on the mud tracks, where a 4x4 is a must.

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Have you been to Kenya? Is there a wildlife park or lodge that you would recommend? Write a review here about your 'big five' safari holiday and tell others about your experience - good or bad. Perhaps you know of an excellent budget campsite - or a luxury lodge that should be avoided! Otherwise, feel free to post a question. Let's share our Kenya safari wildlife experiences...

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