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Southern Safari Circuit in Kenya

Africa's best authentic tailor-made safaris

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Southern Safari Circuit in Kenya

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By Matthys van Aswegen

Safari Travel Planner

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Southern Kenya offers some of the country’s finest wildlife viewing. The region is a showcase for three of East Africa’s most thrilling safari highlights: the migratory wildebeest that flood into the Masai Mara, the equally prolific flamingos, and the elephant herds that sweep across the Amboseli Plains below the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro.

Wildebeest herds in front of hot air balloon in Masai Mara
Wildebeest herds in front of a hot air balloon in Masai Mara

While this region forms the core of most safari itineraries through Kenya, it also offers some great destinations for independent travel and off-the-beaten-track safaris in Kenya.

Lake Naivasha, Lake Baringo, Hell’s Gate, Kakamega Forest, and Saiwa are all perfectly accessible to self-drivers or those using public transport.

Highlights of a Southern Safari Circuit in Kenya

Renowned for its dense population of well-habituated elephants, Amboseli National Park, above the Tanzanian border at the northern base of Mount Kilimanjaro, is the best place to photograph plains wildlife below its majestic and photogenic snow-capped peak.

Kenya’s most prominent safari destination is the Masai Mara National Reserve, the most northerly component in an immense cross-border ecosystem that incorporates Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains and forms the arena for the spectacular annual migration of two million migratory wildebeest.

Antelopes and zebras in Kenya
Grazing antelopes, zebras and Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park, Kenya

The Masai Mara peaks in popularity between August and November, when the wildebeest cross over from Tanzania, but offers fabulous Big Five safaris and predator-viewing all year round.

A superb base for keen walkers, birdwatchers, and independent budget travelers, scenic Lake Naivasha offers enough activities to keep you busy for a week.

You can walk amongst big game on Crescent Island or in the nearby – and wonderfully scenic – Hell’s Gate National Park and Green Crater Lake Sanctuary.

Hell's Gate National Park,Kenya.
Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya.

More challenging is the hike up the barely vegetated slopes of Mount Longonot, a 2,776m (9,108ft) high volcano that last erupted in the 1860s and whose summit offers fine views in all directions.

Although it’s no longer a reliable site for the flamingos that used to amass in its shallows, peri-urban Lake Nakuru is set within a small national park that offers a good chance of spotting both Black and White rhinos in the course of one game drive.

Often home to hundreds of thousands of flamingos, Lake Bogoria National Reserve is also noteworthy for the dramatic hot geysers that erupt close to its western shore.

Flock of flamingos. Africa. Kenya. Lake Nakuru
Flock of flamingos. Africa. Kenya. Lake Nakuru

A top-notch birding destination, freshwater Lake Baringo is also home to plenty of hippos and crocs and has a refreshingly off-the-beaten-track feel.

The southwest of Kenya is occupied by Lake Victoria, which it shares with Uganda and Tanzania. This is the largest lake in Africa at 66,800 km2 (2579 square miles), but its Kenyan portion is poorly developed for tourism and suited only to fans of genuinely off-the-beaten-track travel.

A contender for Kenya’s most underrated attraction, Kakamega Forest National Reserve protects the country’s largest stand of the equatorial rainforest. It’s easily explored on foot, and its diverse fauna possesses strong affiliations to Central Africa.

Blue Turaco on a birding safari tour
Blue Turaco on a birding safari tour

A tally of seven primate species includes black-and-white Colobus, Blue and red-tailed monkeys, and the nocturnal Potto.

The checklist of 360 bird species has more than 30 forest-dwellers found nowhere else in Kenya, among them the spectacular Great blue turaco.

Red Colobus Monkey chilling in a forest
Red Colobus Monkey chilling in a forest

Another underrated pedestrian-friendly gem is the tiny Saiwa Swamp National Park. Traversed by a walking trail that leads to a series of wooden viewing platforms, it’s possibly the best place in Africa to observe the semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope and white-bearded DeBrazza’s monkey. A long list of forest and swamp birds includes the gorgeous Ross’s turaco.

Practical Advice for a Southern Safari Circuit in Kenya
  • The most straightforward way to explore the Masai Mara, Amboseli, and to a lesser extent, Lake Nakuru is on a fly-in safari combining one or all of these destinations with other national parks and reserves elsewhere in Kenya.
  • It’s also possible to drive into and between reserves, a more affordable option that will entail a lot of time spent on dusty roads getting from A to B. Most other destinations within this region are less remote and quite easily reached by car or by using public transport.
  • Accommodations to suit most tastes and budgets can be found throughout the region. These range from exclusive tented camps and larger hotel-like lodges in and around the national parks and reserves to agreeable budget lodgings in more accessible destinations.

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