Imagine massive herds of elephants elegantly dotting on vast empty plains with a backdrop painting of the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. Amboseli National Park is unquestionably one of the most quintessential wilderness in Africa to watch wild game. Its popularity is only surpassed by Masai Mara. Amboseli’s main attraction is the big herds of elephants that roam the dusty plains in the morning and evening. The park’s elephants carry particularly impressive ivory and are very relaxed around cars.
AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK SAFARI GUIDE
Amboseli National Park is located in the south of Kenya on the Tanzania border, immediately northwest of Mt. Kilimanjaro and 140 miles (220 km) southeast of Nairobi. It’s one of Kenya’s top safari attractions, right after the Masai Mara National Reserve, synonymous with majestic herds of elephants and glorious views of Mount Kilimanjaro on the Tanzania side.
At dawn, as the cloud cover breaks and the first rays of sun illuminate the snowcapped 5,895-meter (19,340-foot) Kilimanjaro peak, the sky, colored by rosy pinks and soft reds, provides the perfect backdrop for the plains below. It gets even better at dusk when the mountain stands out in stark relief against the fiery sun.
Amboseli has five different habitats: open plains, acacia woodland, thorn scrub, swamps, and marshlands. To the west are the Ol Donyo Orok massif and Lake Amboseli, which is usually dry. But when the heavy rains return, the surrounding area becomes lush again and attracts back migratory birds. Expect some impassable roads during heavy rains and when the lake is completely dry because the fine alkaline dust that blows up from the lake bed is hell for tires. The salty dust is what the Maasai community calls Amboseli.
Amboseli National Park presents more great animals to watch on safari than just elephant herds, including zebra, warthog, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, impala, wildebeest, and baboons galore. Unusual antelopes roam its plains like the fringe-eared oryx and long-necked mini giraffe-like gerenuk. However, the rhino is extinct and your chances of seeing predators are not quite as good as in the Masai Mara.
Maasai hunters once almost killed off Amboseli’s lions because they preyed on their herds of cattle. Still, after many years of tolerance from the local communities, populations have increased steadily, and lucky visitors may spot not only lions but hyenas, jackals, and cheetah, too.
If it’s elephants you’re after, then Amboseli should feature on your Kenya safari adventure. Perhaps the oldest and most studied elephant population in sub-Saharan Africa lives here. There are more than 1,200 of these great pachyderms today, and because they’re accustomed to visitors and vehicles, you’ll experience eyeball-to-knee-high close encounters.
Birdlife is also prolific, with more than 420 recorded species. There are dozens of birds of prey, including more than ten different kinds of eagles. In the swamp areas, which are fed by the melting snow of Kilimanjaro, seasonal flamingo, pelican, and more than 12 species of heron are among the profusion of water birds.
Game-viewing is best around Enkongo Narok, which means “black and benevolent.” This belt of swamps in the middle of the park is home to hippos, numerous birds, beds of papyrus and waterlilies, herbivores coming to drink, and elephants taking baths. At Observation Hill, the Amboseli landmark just to the west of Lake Kioko, you are permitted to park and walk to the top for a surefire opportunity to spot game as you gaze out over the plains.
Getting There & Around
Amboseli is 220 km (140 miles), about four hours drive from Nairobi. There’s no public transportation within the park, and the roads are gravel; a 4×4 is a good idea and essential if it’s wet. The best approach by road is to the gates on the southeastern side of the park via the reasonably new tarred road from Emali on the Mombasa road (A109)—do not take the old route from Nairobi via the Namanga road (A104) as this is now rarely used and in poor shape. Amboseli’s airstrip is served by scheduled flights from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and Mombasa’s Moi International Airport, some of which go via the Ukunda airstrip at Diani Beach.
When To Go
January and February, and June through September are the best times to visit Amboseli National Park on a Kenya safari. During the rainy season (April and May), roads might become rough but it’s a favorite time for photographers and birders to be here when everything is green. There might also be slight rain in November and December.
- Large herds of long tasked elephants roam in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
- Quintessential views of immense Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania.
- Share a fascinating cultural moment with the NATIVE Maasai bribe in their villages.
Tailored Masai Mara Safaris
WHERE TO STAY
Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge
Price USD 392
Amboseli Serena Lodge is situated beside a natural flowing spring, enjoying spectacular views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and is a good value for money. The lodge balcony has stunning views out onto the plains, and the front of the dining overlooks the waterhole, which gets floodlit at night. However, game drives and activities are not included in the room price, and not all the rooms have views.
Amboseli Sopa Lodge
Price USD 314
Ernest Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro is inspired by his stay around the land on which Amboseli Sopa Lodge was eventually built. The lodge has excellent early-morning views of Kilimanjaro, a great pool with comfy sun loungers, and plenty of wildlife to occupy your gazes, including elephants. However, safari activities are not included in the price, and it’s located a 20-minute drive from the Amboseli entrance.
Ol Tukai Lodge
Price USD 450
Ol Tukai Lodge is a delightful, contemporary retreat sitting within the pristine Amboseli National Park, with spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro and the golden plains. The rooms are very spacious, and the large, fenced-in property is excellent for kids. However, game drives, airstrip transfers, and other safari activities are not included in the price.
Porini Amboseli Camp
Price USD 1,110
Set in the remote and game-abundant 15,000-acre exclusive Selenkay Conservancy, a few miles north of the Amboseli National Park, Amboseli Porini Camp offers a classic safari camping in an area famous for both resident migratory wild game. The camp is entirely locally owned, eco-friendly, and highly benefits the local community and is eco-friendly. However, children under eight are not permitted.
Tortilis Camp Amboseli
Price USD 1210
Tortilis Camp Amboseli is a rustic bush camp named after the flat-topped Acacia Tortilis trees surrounding the main thatch-roof open bar, lounge, and dining room. These overlook a waterhole with superb views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru in neighboring Tanzania. The camp has an excellent library, access to lots of elephants, and incredible birdlife. However, the tents are accessed by steep steps, and it’s about a 45-minute drive to Amboseli’s central swampy regions.
Satao Elerai Camp
Price USD 434
Satao Elerai Camp is an exclusive and eco-friendly game lodge set on a five 5,000-acre private conservation area on the border of Amboseli National Park. The lodge forms part of the community-owned Elerai Conservancy, and you have the opportunity to walk alongside Maasai warriors in search of elephants, giraffes, zebra,s, and other wild game as they herd their prized cattle to grazing grounds.
Kenya Travel Essentials
Kenya is a relatively safe country, but occasional crime incidents are a reality for residents and tourists alike; follow these basic precautions for a safe trip.
Mugging, purse snatching, and pickpocketing can occur in big towns. Leave good jewelry and watches at home, and unless you’re on safari, keep cameras, camcorders, and binoculars out of sight. Always lock valuables in the hotel or lodge safe. If you must carry valuables, use a money belt under your clothes; keep some cash handy, so you don’t reveal your money belt in public. Don’t leave belongings out on balconies or terraces or show them in a vehicle. If you’re unfortunate to be a robbery victim, you will need a police report to make an insurance claim. Please bring copies of all your essential documents and stash them away from the originals. Carry extra passport photos in case you need new documents fast.
Always take a taxi after dark, and never take food or drinks from strangers—it could be drugged. Be on the lookout for street scams like hard-luck stories or appeals to finance a scholarship. If you’re driving, be polite but firm if you’re stopped by police officers charging you with an “instant fine” for a minor infraction. If you ask to go to the police station, the charges are often dismissed.
The best of Kenya safari attractions are nowhere near the terrorist zones in the northern and northeastern borders that have been for a long time restricted to tourists. Exercise increased caution in the terrorist strongholds on the northern border due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. These incidents occur very far from the premier tourism attractions. You’re much safer on a game drive in a Masai Mara than driving your car on a multi-lane turnpike.
The Kenyan Government deals with the international terror threat in much the same way as other modern countries. You’ll find strict security at airports and visible policing in places like shopping malls and outdoor markets, ensuring it is safe to visit Kenya.
In some instances, you’ll fly out of Nairobi immediately after landing, heading to the Samburu, Masai Mara, Amboseli, or any other attraction. Our staff traveling to Kenya regularly, staying in both Nairobi and the Masai Mara with travelers, have reported high airport security levels. Some hotels in the capital city have instituted security measures for additional peace of mind and ensure it is safe to visit Nairobi.
Starting May 9th, 2023, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test will no longer be required for entry into Kenya by the Government. However, travelers with flu-like symptoms will need to take a rapid antigen test at their own expense using 30 USD. If they test positive on the antigen RDT, they must take a PCR test at their own expense using 50 USD and follow the Ministry of Health’s isolation guidance. Those with severe symptoms will follow the isolation requirements for mild, moderate, and severe disease. Any traveler entering Kenya with flu-like symptoms must fill out the passenger locator form on the ‘jitenge’ platform at https://ears.health.go.ke/airline_registration/. Additionally, they may need to take a rapid antigen test at their own expense, regardless of age or vaccination status. You can find more information regarding the Government of Kenya’s coronavirus entry requirements on the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority website.
Before you go to Kenya, make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. The risk of malaria is low during Green Season and very low during peak season. It is higher if you are going into rural areas and villages outside the parks and reserves. If you are going scuba diving afterward, be sure to let them know to ensure they prescribe the correct prophylactic. Check with your travel doctor if you need vaccinations, and be sure to get them timeously.
Yellow fever (before 2013)
The country requirement at entry: a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers aged one year or over arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission.
WHO vaccination recommendation: yes
We recommend for all travelers aged nine months or over, except as mentioned below and generally not recommended for travelers whose itineraries are limited to the following areas: the entire North Eastern Province; the states of Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Malindi, and Tanariver in Coastal Province; and the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa.
Malaria (before 2018)
Malaria risk due predominantly to P. falciparum exists throughout the year in the entire country. Usually, there is little risk in Nairobi and the highlands (above 2500 m) of Central, Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western provinces.
WHO recommended prevention: C
Always use sunscreen and bug repellent with DEET. The HIV infection rate is high, so exercise caution. Malaria is an issue in certain areas (not in Nairobi but definitely on the coast and low-lying game reserves). Consult your health provider well in advance about the best malaria prophylactics to take, as most medication needs to start before arrival in Kenya.
You’ll need full medical travel insurance that includes repatriation in the event of a medical emergency. If you plan to dive, trek, or climb, make sure your insurance covers active pursuits. Medical bills are often paid upfront in Kenya, so keep all paperwork to make an insurance claim.
The AMREF Flying Doctors service provides air evacuation and transportation between health-care facilities for medical emergencies in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, or anywhere within a 1,000 km (621 miles) radius of Nairobi. The planes fly out of Nairobi’s Wilson Airport 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Local landline and mobile calls are pretty cheap, but hotels add hefty surcharges to phone calls. The need for public telephones in Kenya has fallen away, given that the majority of people carry a mobile phone, so most have been decommissioned or removed. If you don’t want to use your mobile phone because of expensive international roaming fees, buy a Kenyan pay-as-you-go SIM card (from one of the service-provider stores or street vendors—there’s no shortage of them) and add airtime as you need it. The local providers are Airtel, Safaricom, and Telkom. Coverage is good throughout most of the country but can be patchy in remote places—don’t expect to get a signal at an out-of-the-way safari lodge or camp.
Calling Within Kenya
City codes are (020) for Nairobi, (041) for Mombasa, (040) for Diani Beach, and (012) for Lamu; include the first 0 when you dial within the country. When making a phone call in Kenya, always use the full 10-digit number, including the area code, even if you’re in the same area.
Calling Outside Kenya: When dialing out from Kenya, dial 000 before the international code. So, for example, you would dial 000 (0001) for the United States. Other country codes are 00044 for the U.K and 00027 for South Africa.
Internet is widely available in Kenya. Free Wi-Fi is available in many public places in Nairobi and Mombasa such as restaurants and coffee shops and at almost all hotels—although again, in remote places you won’t be able to connect. You can top up your own phone with data on a Kenyan pay-as-you-go SIM card.
Kenya prides itself on game meat and seafood, organically grown vegetables, and excellent tropical fruits (such as passion fruit, papaya, and mangoes). When you’re near the coast, sample traditional Indian and Arabic food and look for Kenyan-grown tea and coffee and Tusker beer, a local brew.
“Swahili tea” is very similar to chai in India. You’ll find most cuisines, from Chinese to French to Ethiopian, in restaurants in Nairobi.
Kenya’s main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa, but aside from flights to Zanzibar, this is mainly used for domestic and charter flights. From Nairobi or Mombasa, one can fly or drive between reserves or opt to do a bit of both. Most domestic flights out of Nairobi depart from Wilson Airport (WIL), 6km/4mi south of Nairobi.
In Kenya, several domestic and regional airlines fly from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport in Nairobi, and Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Several major towns have airports, and Kenya also has a vast network of well-maintained airstrips at the safari destinations. One airstrip will service an entire park or reserve, or in some parks like the famous Masai Mara, there are several airstrips that each serve a group of safari lodges and camps.
In most cases, transfers are provided from the airstrip to your accommodations. Schedules for the Kenya safari airlines often work in circuits and drop off and pick up at several destinations and may often return on the same route.
Search within Kenya Airways (the national carrier), Virgin Atlantic, or British Airways for direct affordable flights to Kenya.
There are plenty of efficient domestic airlines offering daily flights. Kenya Airways flies between Nairobi JKIA and Eldoret, Kisumu, Malindi and Mombasa, and several regional destinations, including Entebbe in Uganda, Kigali in Rwanda, and Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. Kenya Airway’s no-frills airline, Jambojet, flies between Nairobi JKIA and Diani Beach (Ukunda), Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi, and Mombasa. Fly540 flies from Nairobi JKIA to Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi, Mombasa, Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. From Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, Airkenya flies to Amboseli, Diani Beach (Ukunda), Lamu, Lewa Downs, Loisaba, Malindi, the Masai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki, and Samburu, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Mombasa Air Safari has its hub at Moi International Airport. It flies in circuits from Mombasa, Diani Beach (Ukunda), and Malindi on the coast to Amboseli, the Masai Mara, and Tsavo West. Also from Wilson Airport, Safarilink flies to Amboseli, Diani Beach (Ukunda), Lamu, Lewa Downs, Lodwar, Loisaba, the Masai Mara, Naivasha, Nanyuki, Tsavo West, Samburu, and Kilimanjaro, and from the Masai Mara to Migori, which links travelers from the Mara to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
Suppose you want to arrange your timetable to the safari destinations or coast. In that case, there are several air charter companies based at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, such as East African Air Charters and Reliance Air Charters. Small planes like Cessnas are utilized, which can seat 5–13 passengers. Although more expensive than scheduled flights, charters are convenient and are an option for families and groups.
All domestic, regional, and charter flights can be booked directly with the airlines. Alternatively, ask your travel agent, or local accommodation, or a Kenyan tour operator to book as part of your package. Airport departure tax is included in all scheduled flight tickets but maybe additional on charter flights.
Be aware that the baggage allowance is usually 15 kg (33 pounds) per person on the small planes to the airstrips in the parks, including hand luggage and camera equipment, and bags should be soft-sided. If you are carrying more than this, most hotels in Nairobi will store extra luggage or ask your airline if they have facilities.
Whichever mode one chooses for travel, in most cases, our local driver or guide will pick you up at the airport and all further transportation as part of the Kenya safari package.
Self-drive Kenya safaris are an option; however, poor road conditions in many places mean there’s often a big difference between distance on a map and driving time. For example, it takes about five hours to drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, a 150-mile/240-km journey. Several car rental companies specialize in 4x4s, and most will also offer the services of a driver. Expect to pay $110 a day to hire a 4×4 and $20 a day for a driver.
All arriving passengers into Kenya now must apply and get their Visas online; this is a much easier method which saves you time from embassy visitations or long ques that use to be for those who opted to get these on arrival at our airports.
- Your passport must have at least two blank pages and be valid for a minimum of six months after your date of entry into Kenya. Most nationalities require a visa, including citizens of the United States.
- Single-entry visas are available online. Multiple-entry visas must be applied for prior to traveling to Kenya. Single-entry visas (US$50) are valid for three months and allow reentry to Kenya after going to Tanzania and Uganda. Children under 16 years accompanying their parent(s) do not require visas.
- Obtain the latest information on visas, as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements, from the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 387-6101, or the Kenyan Consulates General in Los Angeles and New York City.
- You should have proof of yellow fever immunizations, or you may be denied entry.
When is the best time for a Kenya safari holiday?
Generally, a Kenya safari is an all-year-round holiday. Traveler base on many options to tell when the best time is for a safari in Kenya. A traveler can consider how much they’re willing to spend, which places they’ll be visiting and how much time you have on your calendar fixed for the trip.
Most Kenya Safari attractions are showcasing their best during wildlife drama and action between January through March. During this time, the climate is friendly, mostly no rains, and wildlife viewing is climaxing. The dry season is the peak season for a safari in Kenya. Everyone else also considers this the best time for a Kenya Safari trip.
However, mid-March’s downpour through June and October through December, the rainy season, is mostly avoided by travelers. But we would urge you to travel during this time if you want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of off-season discounts.
When is the best time for the great migration in Mara, Kenya?
The best time for viewing the great migration in Masai Mara on a Kenya safari is between mid-August and late October when the wildebeest and zebra herds cross the border from Serengeti National Park. It’s not easy to accurately tell when the migrating animals will be crossing the Mara river, but it’s sometime between August and October. There’s no wildebeest movement from January through to June in Masai Mara. So that should help you narrow down your calendar options.
When is the best time to visit Kenya’s coastal beaches?
The best time to visit Kenya beach destinations is a moot point: Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast is hot and humid all year round, and rain can fall at any time. However, we would recommend avoiding the Kenyan coast during the mid-March to late May season when temperatures and rainfall are highest.
The official currency is the Kenya shilling (KSH). Available notes are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 shillings. Available coins are 1, 5, 10, and 20 shillings.
Most things are priced and paid for in KSH. However, many businesses in the tourist industry like hotels, safari companies, and airlines may quote in U.S. dollars and shillings. If you pay with dollars, check that you’re getting a fair exchange rate.
If you exchange U.S. dollars at a bank or bureau de change, bring new notes; any old, worn, or damaged bills will not be accepted.
ATMs and Banks
Banks open at 8:30 on weekdays and close at 4; on Saturday, they open at nine and close at noon. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Most ATMs are open 24 hours.
Many banks can perform foreign exchange services or international electronic transfers. Try to avoid banks at their busiest times—at nine and from noon to 2 on Friday, and at month’s end—unless you’re willing to arrive early and line up with the locals. Major banks are Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), which has the largest branch network in the country, and Barclays, National Bank of Kenya, and Standard Chartered.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but for small amounts like restaurants, shopping, taxi fares, fuel, and tips, it’s easiest to withdraw shillings from an ATM once you’re in the country. Most ATMs dispense large denomination notes; try and break these when you can as taxi drivers and souvenir vendors often don’t have change for large bills.
Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted at Kenyan banks and by ATMs. Most ATMs accept Cirrus, Plus, Maestro, Visa Electron, Visa, and MasterCard; the best place to withdraw cash is at an indoor ATM, preferably at the airport, in a shopping mall, or guarded by a security officer.
Tipping in Kenya isn’t mandatory, but porters do expect something, and 10% is customary in restaurants. Some hotels and most safari lodges and tented camps have a gratuity box for you to put a tip for all of the staff at the end of your stay. Tip your safari driver and guide approximately US$10–US$15 per person, per day. It’s not necessary to tip taxi drivers as the fare is determined before you set off.
Kenya has a broad choice of safari accommodations ranging from intimate tented camps and luxurious boutique hotels to mid-range safari lodges and beach resorts as well as local lodgings and campsites. Hotel rates in Nairobi and other towns tend to stay the same throughout the year (although there could be midweek specials), but all room prices in the wildlife and coastal areas are seasonal. It’s essential to book in advance in the high season and look out for specials during the low season, while during rainy months.
There’s a bewildering choice of safari lodges and tented camps in the national parks, game reserves, and wildlife conservancies. Lodges tend to be large solid structures with hotel-like rooms and restaurants. Most are family-friendly, and many have extra facilities like a swimming pool. Smaller tented camps have spacious and often luxuriously appointed walk-in tents with bathrooms, meals are taken communally in a dining tent or outside, and most are unfenced, allowing for greater connection with the wildlife (as such, children aren’t always permitted).
Prices at lodges are almost always all-inclusive, which includes accommodations, meals, and activities such as game drives and walks; find out in advance if park fees (US$40 to US$100 per day) are included. Campsites in the wildlife areas have few or no facilities and aren’t an option for visitors with time restrictions or first-timers. Still, there is the option of going on a camping safari with a tour operator.
Nairobi has hundreds of hotels, and many international chains are represented, but there are also charming independent hotels and some older establishments with colonial ambiance. All kinds of accommodations can be found on the coast, from luxurious honeymoon hideaways to all-inclusive family beach resorts. On Lamu, some beautifully restored historic Arabic houses have opened as hotels. Standard prices usually include a full English breakfast, and other meals are available in the hotel’s restaurant. Hotel reviews have been shortened.