The Masai Mara is one of Africa’s iconic safari regions. Together with the Serengeti, it is the stage where the Great Migration is played out. It is home to large densities of antelope and the predators which follow them. In fact, the Mara is renowned for its predator sightings and the show Big Cat Diaries was filmed by the BBC there.
The Masai Mara forms part of the same ecosystem as the Serengeti in Tanzania. During the Great Migration, herds of over two million wildebeest and zebra cross the Mara River between July and November each year. They must avoid death as they brave the crocodile-infested waters, creating moments of high drama. These river crossings are the most thrilling events which guests can witness on safari. It is the most popular time to visit the reserve and when it is most crowded with tourists. However, the Masai Mara offers excellent game viewing throughout the year.
Apart from the Great Migration, the Masai Mara has excellent wildlife viewing throughout the year, and sightings of four of the Big Five – leopard, lion, elephant and buffalo – are pretty much a given, making it a perfect first timer’s safari destination. The Mara is famous for its leopard, lion, and cheetah, but there’s plenty more game to see on the wide-open plains such as giraffe, eland and eland.
The Masai Mara National Reserve makes up just one part of the Greater Mara Conservation area. The rest is comprised of community ranches and private conservancies owned by local Maasai. Footprints Safaris work closely with luxury lodges and community conservation areas which support local Masai communities so that our guests help ensure that the Masai Mara is managed sustainably for both the Masai people and the wildlife.
These conservancies are less crowded than the reserve and offer exclusivity. They also allow additional activities such as walking safaris which allows guests to get out on foot with the Masai guides and learn about the Masai way of life while surrounded by amazing African wildlife.
One of the Great Rift Valley Lakes, Nakuru is a small soda lake which is surrounded by a small national park. It is one of the best places for our guests to see white rhino during their Footprints Safari in Kenya. The lake is sometimes home to millions of lesser flamingos. In the past, the lake was renowned for these magnificent scenes, but man’s interference has affected local ecology. The lake changed water levels and became an unsuitable habitat for the flamingos. They are now only sometimes in residence, moving between Nakuru, and Lake Bogoria and Elementaita.
That said, the lake is still home to an impressive array of waterfowl such as pelicans, egrets and many more. A game drive around the lake is very rewarding as guests can watch rhino grazing on the lakeshore alongside herds of buffalo and zebras. There is a troop of Olive Baboons which is often found in the acacia forests on the edge of the lake. Their antics always amuse guests. Lions are generally also seen on game drives in Lake Nakuru. The park is not home to the Big Five, as there are no elephants in the park, as is not big enough to support them.
Guests on a Footprints Safari who want to see flocks of vibrant pink flamingos will probably encounter them at beautiful Lake Baringo. The lake is on the floor of the Great Rift Valley where geological forces are pulling the Earth’s crust apart here. The shores of the lake are the site of some of the tallest thermal geysers on the planet. These boiling hot water springs create the perfect environment for the plankton and algae which the flamingos feed upon. While a trip to Bogoria is mainly to enjoy the scenic beauty of the lake, the area is home to abundant wildlife such as herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo.
Tranquil Lake Naivasha is the only of the Great Rift Valley Lakes which has freshwater. Herds of waterbuck graze peacefully under the shade of fever trees. A myriad of waterfowl calls the edge of the lake home including many cormorants, pink backed pelicans and herons. The air is pierced with the haunting cries of fish eagles and honking hippopotami calling to each other.
One of the main attractions is going for a boating trip on the lake to the moon-shaped Cresent Island. Here guests can get out and walk on the island among herds of zebra and giraffe. These animals have become accustomed to humans walking among them in this predator-free environment. They allow guests to approach quite close, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities.
Lake Naivasha is one of the major sources of fresh water in the area. Water is taken from the lake to support nearby agriculture, especially the growing of roses for the export flower market. Sadly, runoff water from the farms run back into the lake loaded with chemicals. This is causing the lake to be polluted and creating excessive growth of algae and water plants. Tourism revenue from visits to the lake allows advocates to put pressure on the government to pass stricter laws governing agriculture in the area, which in turn will help reduce pollution and preserve this beautiful Rift Valley Lake.
Amboseli & Chyulu National Park
Amboseli is considered to be Kenya’s most scenic National Park with its backdrop of snow-covered Kilimanjaro. The park is located 260 km to the south from Nairobi. At first glance, the park seems very dry and it is surprising that the landscape could be a wildlife haven. The name Amboseli comes from the Masaai word ’empusei’ which means salty place. In fact, the area teams with wildlife due to the several springs which are fed by snowmelt from the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro.
A region of lush oases has evolved around the springs, attracting wildebeest, hippo, impala, buffalo, zebra, leopard, lion, cheetah and wild dog. If anything, Amboseli National Park is best known for its enormous (and growing) population of big tusker elephants and is considered one of the best places to photograph elephant in the wild. Bird-wise, the area is reported to hold over 600 species, including two types of falcon and a variety of kingfisher.
Nearby Chyulu National Park, while less known, and quite different, is an equally beautiful spot. Consisting mainly of volcanic cones, and containing the world’s largest lava tube, it relies wholly on the rains for water. It is home to buffalo, eland, bushbuck, elephant, leopard, wildebeest and zebra.
The Aberdare Mountain range links two iconic East African mountains, Mount Kenya, the highest peak in Kenya at 5,199m and Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m), the highest peak in Africa. The range is covered in high altitude forests broken by moorland studded with bizarre giant forms of heather, lobelia, and groundsel. The landscape has been likened to areas of the Scottish highlands. This mountain range is one of the oldest on Earth and was here during the time of the dinosaurs.
The Aberdares are home to the Big Five but they are not always all easily seen on a single trip. Many guests travel here for the spectacular scenery or as part of a trip to summit Mount Kenya, which is much less visited than Mount Kilimanjaro, which makes it a much more pleasant climb through similar scenery. Both elephant and buffalo occur in the forest.
Famously Queen Elizabeth II found out that she was now Queen while staying at Treetops Hotel in the park. There are now two Tree Hotels which are set in clearings in the forest near salt licks which attract a multitude of wildlife making for fantastic armchair game viewing and photographic opportunities.
Visitors can explore this fabulously scenic region on game drives and by exploring the many hiking trails through the forest to scenic waterfalls such as the famous Thompson’s Falls. The crystal-clear mountain streams are home to abundant trout and fly fishing is also a popular activity.
Laikipia was a region of many ranches and community areas which belonged to many different tribes such as the Masaai, Kikuyu, Mukugodo, Europeans, Pokot, Samburu, Meru and Turkana. It is a wonderful area where guests can discover the different cultures of Kenya. In recent years it has been increasing in popularity for the quality of its game viewing and exceptional level of safaris.
Laikipia’s success lies in a conglomerate of landowners’ unified approach to conservation (often community-based), in the growing role of tourism as a tool for local area conservation. In the last two decades, wildlife numbers have been recovering and the region. The area contains half of Kenya’s rhino (black and white). It is home to the second largest population of elephant in the country. A huge percentage of East Africa’s Grevy’s zebra have made the plateau their home. The area’s number of wild dog is on the increase, and it boasts Kenya’s only viable population of Lelwel hartebeest.
Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East is Kenya’s oldest and largest conservation area. It is nine times bigger than the Masai Mara. It is a very arid region of the country and the wildlife here has had to survive increasing periods of drought in recent decades. The region is much less visited than the Masai Mara, which means that guests often have a much more authentic safari experience away from the crowds.
The game viewing is much more challenging than the Mara, as here the vegetation is much thicker which makes searching for wildlife more of a challenge. The park is most famous for its large population of elephants which often appear reddish, as they dust bathe in the red coloured Tsavo dust which coats their skin.
Due to its dry climate, guests can see desert-adapted animals that do not occur in the Mara, such as the long-necked Gerenuk and Somali Ostriches. As mentioned, the wildlife in the park is feeling the effects of droughts due to climate change. The edges of the park are under increasing pressure from expanding human populations who need land for farming. There is also increasing human-wildlife conflict as wildlife ventures into agricultural lands which have encroached on historic migration routes. Revenue from tourism helps support local communities and funds solutions to this human-wildlife conflict.
There are few safari lodges in Tsavo East mostly close to Voi which means that there are large swathes of the park which are left undisturbed. Tsavo East has a different feel to Tsavo West with plains of savannah which are more open making for easier game viewing.
Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West has been called “the land of maneaters and lava,” a thrilling epitaph which captures the history of this national park. Geologically the park is known for having the largest lava flow on Earth, stemming from an eruption about 300 years ago. Called the Shetani Lava flow, it is still an impressive sight.
The other historic event that the park is famous for is the maneating lions of Tsavo. In 1898 during the construction of the Uganda railway line through the area, workers were repeatedly attacked over nine months by two male lions who developed a taste for humans. The lions were eventually shot and work on the railway continued. Today, guests come in search of the descendants of these legendary lions.
The park is less visited than the parks of the north, which means that guests can enjoy an authentic safari experience away from the crowds. The region around Mzima Springs is especially lush and it is this area where game viewing is most rewarding as the wildlife congregates here. Tsavo West also has a thriving population of black rhino which are kept in a separately fenced off area to protect them from poaching. The rhinos are thriving here, but poaching is a constant threat and revenue from tourists helps fund their continued protection.
Three small reserves lie up north on the arid edges of Kenya’s savannahs, namely, Samburu National Reserve, Shaba and Buffalo Springs. The Ewaso Ngiro River provides a lifeline to all the wildlife of these reserves. Samburu’s savannahs and forests make for diverse big game country. Home to all the big cats, it’s especially good for leopard as well as providing a haven for super-rare wild dogs and large numbers of elephants.
Samburu is also home to northern Kenyan desert-adapted specialists such as gerenuk (long-necked gazelles) and the Somali Ostrich. For keen ornithologists, there are over 350 different species of birds in the park.
This region is more off the beaten tourist track and it has only started being developed in recent decades. As such guests are more likely to have a more authentic safari and cultural experience. The region is home to the Samburu tribe who are renowned for their particularly decorative style of dress.
Smaller community-run conservancies and wildlife reserves around Samburu have proved to be important for conserving ancient migration routes which wildlife living in such an arid region find vital for survival. The recent increase in tourism to these areas helps fund local communities to keep these wildlife corridors.
Mombasa & Diani
Kenya has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world stretching from the beautiful Lamu Archipelago in the north, Malindi and Mombasa through Diani Beach and Watamu to the border with Tanzania. This coastline is the home of the Swahili people and forms part if an ancient spice route that ran between India, Arabia and Zanzibar, where spices, ivory, gold and slaves were traded.
The city of Mombasa is built on an island which is reached either by bridge or ferry. The city is said to have been founded in 500 BC as a trading post for ivory and slaves, it was settled by waves of artisans from places as far apart as India, Iran and Somalia which have influenced and given rise to the fascinating Swahili culture. The city was also heavily influenced by the Portuguese, who built Fort Jesus which is now a World Heritage Site. Guests love spending time exploring the fascinating architecture and culture that has arisen out of this vibrant melting pot of people throughout history.
Diani Beach is probably the best known of Kenya’s beach destinations. Its beautiful sandy white beach is often ranked among the most beautiful in the world. It is a wonderful addition to a vacation after a safari, allowing guests to relax under the palm trees while sipping a refreshing drink and enjoying a dip in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Diani is popular with honeymooners.
A day trip to the Marine Park is a great way to swim with dolphins, sea turtles and spot whale sharks in season. Take a trip out in an ancient traditional boat called a dhow and take in the spectacular sunset.
In the last few years, Ol Pejeta has been in the news as the conservancy is the home of the last Northern White Rhinos on Earth. There were hopes of breeding them but sadly, the last male named Sudan died in 2018. However, cutting edge genetics and breeding programs still hope to save the subspecies from extinction. The Rhino Project is just one of many great conservation initiatives which guests can support and get involved with at Ol Pejeta.
One of the great aspects of Ol Pejeta is the range of activities offered for guests to get out and experience the African bush. These include fantastic cycling safaris among the wildlife or horse riding expeditions. Guests can head out with rangers and help track animals, as well as assist in conservation and monitoring work. One of their most popular initiatives involves meeting the anti-poaching dogs, learning about the work that they are doing. The fee for this activity goes towards funding anti-poaching efforts.
Kenya’s vibrant capital city is the only city in the world which surrounds a national park – Nairobi National Park. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa and is a regional business and power hub. The city centre is dominated by skyscrapers and beautiful parks at its centre surrounded by large suburbs and sprawling townships.
The city was founded in colonial times in 1899 during the building of the Uganda Railway line. For many, it is just an overnight stop before heading out on safari, but this vibrant city has much to offer with a thriving restaurant scene and a vibrant nightlife. The Nairobi Game Reserve makes a lovely introduction a safari in Kenya. A visit to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage to see rescued baby elephants is an enjoyable experience. Here, you can learn about the many threats facing elephants in Kenya and help support the orphaned elephants until they are old enough to be released into the wild.
Other popular attractions include visiting the Giraffe Centre to see the highly endangered Rothschild Giraffes or stopping by the Karen Blixen Museum to learn about the life of the famous author of Out of Africa. The curio markets are always well worth a visit to pick up fabulous souvenirs.