TSAVO EAST & WEST SAFARI GUIDE
Covering almost 21,000 square km (8,108 square miles), the combined Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks is Kenya’s largest protected game area. They are two different parks with different ecosystems: Tsavo West features wooded and hilly volcanic landscapes, while Tsavo East is flatter with scattered bush on more open plains. They are administered separately, have separate entry fees, and are split geographically by the Mombasa Highway—the main A109 road between Nairobi and Mombasa—and the railway that runs more or less alongside. Both stretch for about 130 km (80 miles) along the highway, where several park gates provide access to the west and east. It’s impressive that just a few miles away from the constant thunder of motor traffic on Kenya’s busiest road is some of Kenya’s best wildlife viewing.
Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West covers 7,065 square km (2,728 square miles), a little less than a third of the total area of Kenya’s national parks. With its diverse habitats of riverine forest, palm thickets, rocky outcrops, ridges, mountains, and plains, it’s more attractive and certainly more accessible than Tsavo East.
Magnificent landscapes of heavily wooded hills dominate north, where most safari lodges and game-viewing tracks concentrate. The flatter south of Tsavo West is more open plains, but access is tricky as parts of the park are disjointed and crossed by another highway between Voi and Taveta.
There’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere in the park, mainly where ancient lava absorbs the rainfall. In one spectacular spot, this rainfall, having traveled underground for 40 km (25 miles) or so, gushes up in a pair of pools at Mzima Springs in the north of the park. There’s a submerged hippo blind here, but the hippos have gotten wise to tourists and often move to the far side of the pools.
Because of the fertile volcanic soil and abundance of water, the park is brimming with animal, bird, and plant life. There are large numbers of elephants, and you may see lions and cheetahs—especially in the dry season when the grass is low.
A Tsavo west safari guide will spot out the spotted hyena, buffalo, the beautiful Masai giraffe, and all kinds of antelope, including Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle—the prettiest of the antelope.
The birdlife in the park is outstanding, with more than 400 species, including eight types of hornbills.
Tsavo East National Park
The 4,535 square miles (11,747 sq km) Tsavo East National Park is the larger of the two Tsavos. It has a relatively harsh landscape of scrubland dotted with huge baobab trees photographers will rave in the glorious natural light beyond the vast plains stretching to the horizon.
The oasis banks of the Voi and Galana rivers, and the enormous Aruba Dam, built across the Voi, attract game and birdlife galore that Kenya safari adventurers will revel. You’ll see herds of elephants and buffalo, waterbuck, and all kinds of animals coming to drink at the dam. The Lugard Falls, on the Galana River, is more a series of rapids than actual waterfalls; walk along the riverbank to catch a glimpse of the water-sculpted rocks.
Another fascinating feature in the park is the 180-mile-long Yatta Plateau, one of the world’s longest lava flows. It runs parallel to the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway and is 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) wide and 1,000 feet (305 meters) high. Mudanda Rock, a 1.5-km (2-mile) outcropping, is a water catchment area. You’ll see plenty of wildlife coming to drink at the dam below.
The park became infamous in the late 1890s because of the “Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” a pride of lions that preyed on the Indian migrant laborers building the railway. More than 130 workers were killed; the incident was retold in the 1996 thriller, The Ghost and the Darkness, starring Val Kilmer.
There’s a lot of game in this park, including zebra, impala, lion, cheetah, and giraffe, and rarer animals such as the oryx, lesser kudu, and the small klipspringer antelope, which can jump nimbly from rock to rock because of the sticky suction pads under their feet.
Getting There & Around
Tsavo West: It’s 240 km (150 miles) from Nairobi to Tsavo West’s Mtito Andei Gate, which takes around five hours to drive. The park’s Tsavo Gate in the southeast is approximately 200 km (125 miles) north of Mombasa and takes about four hours. There’s no public transport to or in the park, and if you drive yourself, keep an eye on the park signage (cairns at numbered junctions) or use a GPS. There are three airstrips in the park, and you can fly from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, Mombasa’s Moi International, and the Ukunda airstrip at Diani Beach.
Tsavo East: There are several gates to Tsavo East, and Mtito Andei Gate is 233 km (148 miles) southeast of Nairobi. Voi Gate, 157 km (98 miles) northwest of Mombasa, and Buchuma Gate, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Mombasa, are often used on organized safaris from the coast. There are nine airstrips but no scheduled flights; most visitors drive up from Mombasa, or charter flights are an option. There’s no public transport within the park.
When To Go
A Tsavo vacation safari is good year-round; you’ll have a good experience whenever you go. However, plan for the long rains from March to May and the short rains from October to December—vegetation is dense in these wet months, making it more difficult to see animals. July to October is the best time for most safari adventurers to visit Tsavo: its Kenya safari peak travel season, coinciding with the westerly annual great wildebeest migration.
Tailored Kenya Safaris
WHERE TO STAY
Price USD 1,130
Affectionately named after Denys Finch Hattons, one of Kenya’s great adventurers featured in the movie Out of Africa, Finch Hattons camp offers guests a unique opportunity to relive the golden era of the safari. Spacious tents with panoramic vistas of the surrounding springs and forest include ensuite bathrooms, personal bars, and private verandas, complete with comfy chairs and daybeds. However, the park fee is not included, and no children under six.
Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge
Price USD 176
Located on a ridge overlooking Chyulu Hills and the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, Kilaguni Serena Safari is ideal for families. It offers a child-friendly environment with kiddies’ activities, special menus, and a babysitting service. With a waterhole only 100m away, you’ll be able to spot elephants, buffalo, and many other plains game from the comfort of the restaurant and viewing deck. However, not all rooms have great views; room decor is dated and can be flooded with large tour groups.
Salt Lick Game Lodge
Price USD 259
This truly uniquely designed lodge is set in the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary just outside Tsavo West and off the main Voi-Taveta road (A23). Pros: the underground viewing room; watching animals from your bed; fantastic architecture. Cons: no pool; the half-moon-shaped rooms are small; stairs and bridges make it not suitable for small kids.
Severin Safari Camp
Price USD 397
Deep within the vastness of Tsavo, Severin Safari Camp shines in an elegant natural style. Light and warm colors make for a cozy, familiar atmosphere with an unmistakably African feel to it. Each of the 27 tents and suites offers sweeping views over the striking landscape and the nearby waterhole, which is frequented day and night by all manner of resident game. However, most activities, including game drives, cost extra, and it’s unfenced, so not suitable for small children.
Ashnil Aruba Lodge
Price USD 1210
This small and friendly camp lies on a traditional migration route, so it’s not short of game. You get excellent views of the waterhole and up to 50% discounts for children under 12. However, rates do not include park fees or game drives, and hot water for showers is only in the evening.
Satao Elerai Camp
Price USD 436
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.
Before you travel, please be informed of the likelihood of catching CORONAVIRUS if you don’t follow operating procedures put in place to protect you and others. For update local information, visit travelbans.org/africa/kenya/ or the government website www.health.go.ke. Otherwise, Kenya is open for tourism, and for entry, you’ll need a negative PCR COVID test certificate issued 92 hours before.
The majority of inbound travelers are not subject to quarantine upon arrival at any of our ports of entry, take advantage of the relaxation of overall protocols and take that much-needed holiday. All the suppliers and partners we work with are compliant because your safety comes first!
COVID-19 ENTRY RESTRICTIONS
- Passengers entering or transiting through Kenya must have a medical certificate with a negative Coronavirus (COVID-19) PCR test result. The test must have been taken at most 96 hours before arrival. The certificate must be in English.
- Passengers whose medical certificates have expired due to the transit time will be subject to a test for Covid-19 at their own cost upon arrival at a recognized facility.
- Passengers are required to fill in a Passenger Locator Form during their flights to Kenya.
- Passengers must complete the “Travelers Health Surveillance Form” online at https://ears.health.go.ke/airline_registration/ and must hold a QR code showing they have completed the form.
- Passengers are subject to medical screening and quarantine. A list of quarantine exemptions can be found at https://www.kcaa.or.ke/quarantine-exempted-states.
- There is no quarantine for inbound travelers unless you show the virus symptoms on observation.
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.