Amboseli National Park
A long-standing highlight of Kenya’s safari circuit, 392 km2 (151 square mile), Amboseli was set aside as a wildlife reserve in 1899 and made a national park in 1974.
Renowned for its high density of elephants, the park forms the unfenced core of an 8,000 km2 (3088 square mile) ecosystem that includes large tracts of Maasai community land both in Kenya and across the border in Tanzania.
Amboseli National Park lies at the northern base of Mount Kilimanjaro and, cloud permitting, offers tremendous opportunities to photograph plains wildlife below the snow-capped peak of Africa’s tallest mountain.
Highlights of Amboseli National Park
The 5,891m (19,327ft) summit of Kilimanjaro – the world’s tallest freestanding mountain and Africa’s highest peak – actually stands within Tanzania. Still, the finest views of it are to be had from Amboseli.
For much of the day, the volcanically-formed mountain is rendered invisible by a shroud of clouds, but this usually lifts at dusk and dawn to reveal the iconic snow-capped peak rising a total 5km (3,1mi) above the dusty plains in all its breathtaking glory.
A dominating blue presence on maps of the park, the eponymous Lake Amboseli only holds water briefly in years of exceptional rainfall.
The rest of the time, this flat dry dust bowl supports large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, and various exotic birds. The exotic birds you can expect to include the Secretary bird, Yellow-necked spurfowl, and the localized Pangani longclaw.
Scattered stands of umbrella thorn woodland, dominated by the distinctive flat-topped Acacia tortilis, are home to giraffe, impala, and a host of striking dry-country birds, notably Von der Decken’s hornbill, red-and-yellow barbet, rosy-patched bushshrike, and steel-blue whydah.
The permanent Enkongo Narok and Olokenya Swamps, fed by underground streams that rise on the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro, are home to plentiful hippos and a wide range of aquatic birds, among them long-toed lapwing, painted snipe, great white pelican, and grey crowned-crane.
Another must-see landmark is Observation Hill, which offers panoramic views across a pretty lake towards Tanzania, with Kilimanjaro often visible at dusk and dawn.
Amboseli’s most famous and entertaining mammalian residents are the subjects of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, founded in 1975 by Dr. Cynthia Moss and retains detailed records of most births, deaths, and relationships within an extended community of around 50 families, whose range centers on the national park.
As a result of this close monitoring, the elephants of Amboseli are unusually well-habituated and contain a high proportion of old tuskers – excellent sightings are all but guaranteed.
The core national park is surrounded by several private conservancies that comprise Maasai community land and offer exclusive traversing rights to one or two small camps or lodges.
The conservancies support several species seldom observed within the national park, for instance, Gerenuk and Lesser kudu, and the ability to head off-road allows guests to make the most of cheetah and lion sightings.
Practical Advice for an Amboseli Safari
- Coming by road, Amboseli is 230km (143mi) from Nairobi via Namanga, a drive that includes some heavily corrugated sections and takes about five hours in either direction.
- Road safaris in Kenya often combine Amboseli with Tsavo West National Park, which lies about 120km (75mi) away along a poor dirt road.
- It is also possible to fly into Amboseli from the likes of Nairobi, Mombasa, and the Masai Mara.
- Several safari lodges lie within the national park, and some excellent upmarket tented camps service the surrounding conservancies.