It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
In Kenya, there is more than enough natural beauty to go around.
There are many reasons why visitors come to Kenya’s National Parks. One reason is to spot the big five (described below), view the stunning Savannah Grassland, spot even more exotic animals and exclusive plants, and finally to take in the incredible views of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Seriously, the Great Rift Valley is something that you can’t pass on when visiting Kenya. Expect it to take a prominent spot on our upcoming travel bucket list post.
The reason we always suggest visiting national parks is due to the fact that the animals reside in their natural habitat and are relatively undisturbed by visitors. You will surely appreciate seeing Kenya’s amazing wildlife interacting in their natural habitat. If you are lucky enough to visit Kenya the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the view.
Each of Kenya’s Top National Parks possesses unique characteristics and offer new and interesting sights to visitors. Enjoy this list of the top 10 national parks in Kenya. And don’t forget to let us know which you want to visit the most!
What are the Big Five?
The term Big five refers to the 5 large animals that can be found throughout Kenya. The Big 5 are:
- Cape Buffalo
The term was created by big game hunters who considered these five animals to be the ultimate trophy hunts. The term is now used by safari tour operators who hope to spot these powerful beasts. But hopefully, the only shots being taken are photos!
How many National Parks are there in Kenya?
There are a whopping 54 national parks in Kenya! The first to be officially created was the Nairobi National Park which was created in 1946.
Which is the biggest national park in Kenya?
Tsavo National Park is the largest in National park in Kenya.
Tsavo National Park covers nearly 9,000 square miles / 23,000 square kilometers!
That makes it roughly twice the size of LA county.
Top 10 National Parks in Kenya
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley, a popular destination on its own, and is perhaps why it is the most visited national park in Kenya. Many visitors from all over the world come to the reserve, which borders Tanzania, for the views alone. Awesome plateaus of the Siria escapement and amazing grasslands below, you won’t be short of views in Maasai Mara National Reserve. Another plus is that the park also has big cats like the lion and leopard. No safari would be complete without a lion spotting!
The Maasai Mara National Reserve provides a natural home for nearly 100 species of mammals and even more birds with its seasonal marshes, open plains, and tree coverings. The Mara Triangle is a popular safari spot due to the good road conditions and is a great place to view massive herds of wildebeests as well as all the other popular African animals. At Maasai Mara, you have the chance to view Africa in all of its natural beauty.
The Mara Triangle, which is the part of the reserve that borders Tanzania, is the most visited by tourists on safari. It is a golden triangle due to the high concentration of wildlife that can be seen. If you can only choose one National Park to visit, and want to experience all of the top animals, the Mara Triangle should be the top choice to consider.
For the craziest experience possible consider cashing out for a hot air balloon ride in Maasai Mara National Reserve!
Lake Nakuru National Park
The Lake Nakuru National Park, also located in the Great Rift Valley, sits at a height of 5,700 feet above sea level. To find such a wide range of wildlife living around this mile-high lake is truly astounding. Just make sure you take the time to get acclimated to the altitude!
The views of the lake have historically been of a pink hue due to an abundance of flamingos which flocked to the lake. This is the main reasons why you should consider visiting Lake Nakuru. You will find thousands of flamingos feeding on the algae that grow in the lake. However, most of the flamingos have fled the area due to rising water levels. There are still many of the colorful birds at Lake Nakuru, just not as many as you will expect if looking at photos from 5-years ago.
In addition to the beautiful pink flamingos, Lake Nakuru is also a habitat for other interesting wild animals, including rhinos and zebras. These are found on the floor of the Great Rift Valley which is surrounded by rocky escarpments. All this makes Lake Nakuru a favorable place for hiking, bird watching, game drives, and picnics.
Tsavo West National Park & Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo National Park is a two-in-one national park found in the South East of Kenya. It ranks among the largest parks in the world when ordered by size. Just how big is Tsavo National Park? Combined, the park covers nearly 9,000 square miles!
It is separated into East and West sections by the Mombasa Railway which runs from the capital of Nairobi to the popular seaside town of Mombasa.
The Tsavo National Park is filled with large open plains that include features like Lake Jipe, various swamps, and the Mzima Springs. The park is home to numerous large animals such as the Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Hippo, Lion, and Maasai Giraffe. And how could we leave out the adorable Bush Baby, Hartebeest, or Lesser Kudu? There are plenty of animals here to make any visitor happy.
Come here to enjoy diverse views of the mountains, flatlands, and watering holes spread across this massive park.
Aberdare National Park
Located a few hours north of Nairobi is Aberdare National Park, one of the most visited National Parks in Kenya. The Park is located in the Aberdare Mountain Range so prepare for the cold if you visit. Honestly, the difference in scenery is part of what makes this place beautiful. The view of the waterfalls and size of the mountains gives a great sense of scale and perspective to prospective hikers.
Speaking of hiking, Aberdare National Park makes an excellent visit for hiking enthusiasts. Enjoy panoramic landscape views from numerous viewpoints. The top hike in the region is undoubtedly Elephant Mountain. You have the chance to see a large number of wild animals, depending on your luck, and hike through the surreal bamboo forest. Enjoy every bit of nature when visiting this national park.
Nairobi National Park
Did you know that Kenya has a national park where you can watch beautiful wildlife from the window of your office building?
That’s right, the Nairobi National park is connected to the southern part of Nairobi and offers residents great views and chances to see wildlife. If you want some exercise the Oloolua Nature Trail is the perfect opportunity! This is probably the easiest and most convenient way to experience real Africa due to its convenient location next to the capital.
The animals, buildings, and scattered acacia give an enjoyable view that you will suffice if you are unable to head to more remote parts of Kenya. The Nairobi National Park hosts many wild animals that include lions, leopards, and giraffes. You can enjoy the park’s picnic sites, three campsites, and walking trails which were built for hikers.
Mount Kenya National Park
The cold air of Mount Kenya is the first thing you will notice while the serene views are what makes this place beautiful. The immense size of Mount Kenya makes it a suitable place for hikers looking to get out of Nairobi. Here you will be surrounded by the perfect view of lakes, tarns, glaciers, mineral springs, and waterfalls. Many hikers have the chance to catch sightings of various endangered animal species.
Mount Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, labeled as a place of Outstanding Universal Value. After visiting it’s easy to understand why Mount Kenya is so important. It’s not often that you can hike an extinct volcano covered with ancient glaciers. If you do visit, it would be good to do so soon. The glaciers are melting at an alarming rate and it is possible that they will be gone before long.
Panoramic views are provided over all areas of the mountainous region. Enjoy every bit of nature when visiting and be sure to join a mountain climbing or caving tour at Mount Kenya. Many tours offer the chance to camp on the mountain which is a very special experience.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Hell’s Gate is not as intimidating as the name suggests. The National Park is located relatively close to Nairobi so is a viable option for anyone visiting the capital. It’s less than 2-hours away from the capital so it’s easy to fit into any travel itinerary that includes Nairobi. It is also the only National Park in Kenya to offer bike tours that I know of. Other popular activities at Hell’s Gate include rock climbing, hiking, and trekking.
Hell’s Gate National Park is also a popular spot for bird watching. The park is smaller than others on this list and the number of large animals is not as high. However, there is a large population of birds that draw bird watchers and photographers to the area.
Enjoy watching birds of prey nesting on the cliffs, wildlife running and playing, hiking nature trails, and experiencing hot spring that can only be found at Hell’s Gate National Park. It’s one of the most atmospheric regions due to the geothermal vents located in the park. It also benefits from its location at the Great Rift, giving Hell’s Gate its towering cliffs and water-eroded gorges.
Sibiloi National Park
Sibiloi National Park is located in Northern Kenya along the Turkana Lake. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sibiloi is often referred to as the Cradle of Mankind due to the discovery of some of the oldest human fossils in the world. It is possible that the human species originated at or near Sibiloi National Park.
The main draw of Sibiloi National Park is as an archaeological site and the location where many important fossils were discovered. It sits at the shores of Lake Turkana and boat rides on the lake are quite popular. Taking a ride on the lake to enjoy the breeze is an alternative to the typical African safari. Visit Sibiloi to see kudu, striped hyenas, and crocodiles.
Samburu National Reserve
Samburu National Reserve is an open savannah that shelters many rare species of birds and animals. Some animal species you can expect to find are the long-necked gerenuk, East African oryx, and the endangered Grevy’s zebra. Enjoy spotting rare birds while on a wildlife safari or Samburu Culture Tours.
If you are able to make the tip to Samburu you are really in for a treat. As one of the largest natural reserves on the list the interactions with wildlife are quite special. Roughly 450 bird species can be found at Samburu, making it one of the most biologically diverse as well.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Shimba Hills National Reserve is located quite close to the city of Mombasa. This is great news for anyone visiting this seaside city. There are many popular night safaris that run to Shimba Hills and make for a unique experience.
The area is very hot during the day so most animals find some shade to hide under. In the evening when the weather cools they will come out – making night tours the best way to guarantee animal sightings. African Elephants and Spotted Cheetahs are some of the highlights that you can expect to see. Of course, you will have the chance to pick up some souvenirs along the way.
The beautiful Sheldrick Falls is well worth the 2km hike required. Just make sure that you have plenty of water if you plan to make the hike during the heat of the day.
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