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10 Best Places to Visit in Kenya for Animal Viewing (With Photos)

I've visited every location on this list, and they are all special in their own way.

I've visited every location on this list, and they are all special in their own way.

Best Places to See Wildlife in Kenya

Kenya ranks top in Africa when it comes to wildlife and safaris. From the northern dry region to the highlands and plains to the coast, you can explore a wide variety of wildlife and get involved in amazing safaris. Here are the 10 best places for wild animal viewing in Kenya.

  1. Kora National Park
  2. Meru Game Reserve
  3. Hell’s Gate
  4. Samburu
  5. Mount Kenya
  6. Amboseli
  7. Lake Nakuru
  8. Nairobi National Park
  9. Maasai Mara
  10. Tsavo

Before reading further, I want to introduce you to this guide on East African wildlife. I've visited all the places mentioned above with the help of this guide. It's a travel manual you would never want to lack when visiting Kenya (or just East Africa) for a wildlife tour.

1. Kora National Park

Located 120km east of Mount Kenya, Kora is home to a wide variety of animal and plant species. The 1,785 square-km park is set on an undulating plain that features a breathtaking ridge terrain.

Some animals found in this place include lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, hippopotamus, wildcat, and antelope. Its vegetation mainly consists of acacia bushland and riverine forest.

According to my own experience, this wilderness park offers a better safari experience during the dry seasons when vegetation is less and there are no tight thickets to hide animals.

When it comes to tour packages and park fees, you cannot spend more than $300 (per person per day) on safari services and $50 (adult non-residents) on entrance charges.

2. Meru Game Reserve

Located 350km northeast of Nairobi, Meru Game Reserve is a national park that covers an area of about 870 square-km. This destination has a wide range of Kenya's wild beasts, including elephant, lion, cheetah, leopard, rhino, and antelope.

The area receives abundant rainfall, which supports the growth of lush swamps and tall grass in the park.

I visited this animal reserve during a rainy season, and I didn’t like the hassle I went through trying to move from one place to another. I recommend that you visit it when there are no rains to avoid nasty mud that can get your vehicle stranded.

Concerning the entrance fee and safari prices, you can spend about $350 in a day on both admission and tour service charges.

3. Hell’s Gate

Located near Lake Naivasha, 60km northwest of Nairobi, Hell’s Gate is well known for its breathtaking scenery and a wide range of animals. The 68 square-km park is home to the Three Big Cats (lion, cheetah, and leopard), hyrax, hyena, baboon, buffalo, gazelle, hartebeest, zebra, and eland.

It is also home to birds such as the vulture, eagle, and buzzard. Concerning safaris, it is a great place for adventure activities such as hiking, camping, bicycling, and motorcycling.

What I liked about Hell’s Gate is that it is surrounded by all sorts of accommodation facilities, so you cannot miss a good place to stay.

Concerning the time to visit the park, you can visit it during any season but I recommend that you avoid it when there is heavy rain. Some dangerous flooding occurs when there is a downpour in the area.

4. Samburu National Park

Located in a dry area in northern Kenya, Samburu boasts all the Three Big Cats—lion, leopard, and cheetah—as well as buffalo, hippo, crocodile, and elephant. Other animals found in this place include: baboon, warthog, waterbuck, impala, and gazelle.

With hundreds of bird species, Samburu is a bird watching haven. The Ewaso Ngi’ro River flows through the park, providing water to the wildlife. The river has hippopotamus and Nile crocodile, which means that you can see more animals on a good day.

The game park is served by few safari operators, and so you may find its tour services are more expensive. If you are planning to visit this place, I recommend that you go with a lot of drinking water as this region is quite dry and lacks good amenities.

5. Mount Kenya National Reserve

Situated in central Kenya, northeast of Nairobi City, Mount Kenya Reserve boasts rich biodiversity and beautiful sceneries. It has a considerable population of animals, such as tree Hyrax, monkey, elephant, buffalo, hyena, leopard, porcupine, and antelope.

It is also home to several bird species. The mountain offers adventure activities such as mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and camping.

I have found out that this game reserve is pretty similar to Kora and Meru which means that you may want to visit it during a dry season when there is less vegetation and the trails are passable. Tour services and entrance charges are pretty cheap, so you can be sure not to break the bank.

6. Amboseli National Park

Located 240 km southeast of Nairobi, Amboseli is one of the best national parks in Kenya. The 390 square-km game reserve is one of the top places to visit if you want to see free ranging animals and indulge in a thrilling safari in Africa.

If you want to enjoy the spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is the place where you need to go.

It is home to wild animals, such as lion, cheetah, hyena, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, impala, and zebra. It is also home to many species of birds, such as raptor, pelican, hammerkop, crake, and kingfisher.

In order to tour Amboseli fully, I recommend that you stay within the area. There are great lodges, campsites, and hotels in the area and many safari companies are based there.

I also recommend that you take your safaris between 10:00am and 4:00pm as this is the time when animals are out in the clear zones. This is a premium park, so the admission fee is higher—about $60 (adult non-residents).

7. Lake Nakuru

Well-known for its numerous flamingos, Lake Nakuru is a game park located near Nakuru Town. The 188 square-km park includes a fenced-off area that protects black rhino, white rhino, and giraffe.

It is also home to other animals, such as lion, leopard, cheetah, waterbuck, and large-sized pythons. Apart from the flamingo, it boasts other species of birds such as eagle, kingfisher, hammerkop, and heron. Some of the best Kenyan safaris take place in this area.

I visited this park at the same time as Hell’s Gate, and I found out that the two offer similar safaris. You encounter all sorts of birds, and the weather is pretty cool. This is also a premium park, so be ready to part with some more cash.

8. Nairobi National Park

Located 7km south of the Nairobi CBD, Nairobi National Park is home to a wide range of wildlife. The 117 square-km natural safari park boasts the Three Big Cats (lion, cheetah, and leopard), black rhinoceros, Africa buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, hartebeest, baboon, impala, eland, and hippopotamus.

This top safari destination also boasts a variety of bird species, including ostrich and vulture. It is the most desired tourist attraction in the capital, and includes the Ivory Burning Site Monument, an animal orphanage and the Nairobi Safari Walk.

I have visited this game park a dozen times and I have found out that it has everything that anyone would expect from a safari destination. If you are a safari beginner, I recommend it to you. It is within the city and has a lot of tour guides and rangers.

9. Maasai Mara National Reserve

Globally well-known as a place where the world's most breathtaking annual migration of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles takes place, Maasai Mara is a large game park located in south western Kenya. The 1,510 square-km game reserve is home to the Big Five—lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo.

The place also has a considerable population of cheetahs, hippopotamus, hyenas, jackals, foxes, and crocodiles, making it one of the best places to go for safari in Kenya.

In addition, it is home to hundreds of species of birds, such as the eagle, vulture, ostrich, hornbill, falcon, and stork. The park’s herbivores usually migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the area between July and October.

This is a big animal reserve, and I recommend that you stay within the area if you want to cover a large part of it within a short period of time. Just like Amboseli, it is surrounded by great lodges, hotels, and other accommodations.

If you love camping, this is the best place to do so—it has awesome campsites. When it comes to the entrance fee and tour packages, you can spend about $450 for a one-day safari at Maasai Mara.

10. Tsavo National Park

Divided into Tsavo East and Tsavo West, Tsavo National Park is the largest game park in Kenya, covering a total area of 22,800 square-km. The Tsavo East is semi-arid and has attractions, such as the Yatta Plateau, Mudanda Rock, Aruba Dam, Lugard Falls and a wide range of animal species.

It is one of the game reserves with a vast number of animals in the world, and is home to all kinds of big cats, herbivores, monkeys, wild dogs, and rodents. It is also home to more than 500 species of birds.

On the other hand, the Tsavo West is wetter and more mountainous. It is well-known for its magnificent scenery, guided walks, rock climbing, Mzima Springs, and varied wildlife. It is popular with animals such as black rhino, buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant, lesser kudu, hartebeest, hippo, giraffe, and other amazing wildlife.

I have visited this game park for at least two times, and I have come to understand that you need a powerful vehicle, like a 4WD, to cover all the most interesting areas of the reserve. The trails are not up to the standard, and the areas of interest are quite far apart.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and tour operators charge higher for admission and tour services respectively. A one-day wildlife tour can cost you more than $500 in this wilderness park.

Final Thoughts

If you are planning to visit Kenya for a wildlife tour, these are some of the best places to choose from. In these national parks and reserves, you will have the opportunity to see animals up close and maybe even interact with them. You will definitely have something to spice up your stay in this wonderful country.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Frederick S Januaries