Small yet stunning, Amboseli National Park just may be the most picturesque place in all of Kenya. While usually playing second fiddle to the larger and more popular Masai Mara, Amboseli offers stunning views of wildlife with snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. The park covers an expanse of 392m2 and wraps around Lake Amboseli, from which it takes its name. Several landscapes are enclosed within the park, including: open grasslands, acacia woodlands, swamps and marshes. All this makes for gorgeous sightseeing at the base of Africa’s tallest and most majestic mountain.
Hunter-gatherers originally inhabited the region until several waves of farming tribes settled the area, culminating in the arrival of the Masai people in the seventeenth century. In 1883, the first Europeans reached the region, which the Masai call “the salty, dusty place.” The British colonial government established the Masai Game Reserve in the early 20th century to protect the region’s incredible biodiversity and natural beauty.
When Kenya was granted independence from the British Crown in 1961, control of the reserve was handed back to the Masai people and the new Kenyan government expanded the park to its current size as a national park. Sadly, the wildlife was depleted by this arrangement and the Masai were forcibly removed from the park. Today, though, the relationship between the Kenyan government and the Masai people has improved significantly, with many Masai working as knowledgeable safari guides or on lodges bordering the park.
Amboseli is world-renowned for its big game and especially for its elephant population, with numbers reaching over a thousand strong. These majestic creatures, some of the largest in all of Africa, can be found wandering freely across the swamps and plains of Amboseli. The longest running study of land mammal behaviour, popularized by research of “Echo” the elephant, is conducted to this day at Amboseli through the Amboseli Elephant Research Project.
In addition to elephants – giraffes, zebras, cheetahs and lions all call the park home. Birders relish Amboseli’s 400 species, ranging from ostrich to flamingo and 47 types of raptor. Thanks to runoff from Mount Kilimanjaro, there are an abundance of watering holes where the animals gather, providing the perfect opportunity for visitors to view the local wildlife in their natural habitat.
Dry Season – June to October
Wildlife viewing is optimal during the dry season, as the bush thins out and animals gather at watering holes. With almost no rainfall, the conditions are beautiful and the park is easily navigable by foot or car. The only minor downsides are that the air can often get quite dry and the views of Kilimanjaro are less impressive due to the lack of greenery.
Wet Season – November to May
With flora in full bloom, the wet season is the best time to visit Amboseli for scenic views of the park and the towering Kilimanjaro. Despite the rainy conditions, there are great wildlife watching opportunities; namely, bird watching during the migratory season. The views of Kilimanjaro are unbeatable during the wet season, as the sky clears of dust after rainfall, casting a radiant glow on the mountain. Naturally, road conditions aren’t always ideal during this time – particularly between April and May when rainfall is most frequent.
Thanks to its gorgeous location and status as a famous elephant sanctuary, there is no limit to fun and thrills for nature lovers at Amboseli.
The elephant research camp in the heart of the park offers visitors an insight into the tireless effort put into elephant conservation over the past few decades at Amboseli. Since 1972, Cynthia Moss and her team have worked to protect elephants from poachers and hunters. Book ahead of time on their website to learn more about these magnificent, threatened creatures from the researchers themselves.
For an adrenalin-fuelled addition to your safari adventure, hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. There are a number of trips available, taking between five and seven days, with differing levels of difficulty and final altitude reached. Whether you’re a trekking novice or an experienced hiker, you’ll be able to find a tour that suits you.