Kenya’s National Parks: A quick Guide to Every Single One

Kenya’s National Parks are world-famous. The lions of the Maasai Mara, the great wildebeest migration, the might of an elephant march, and the thrill of the safari capture the imaginations of millions across the globe. 

What makes each park unique, though? There’s a great deal of variety between these national parks. You could climb the highest peaks at one park and dive into the Indian Ocean at another. You could picnic at either a volcanic lake or an island surrounded by crocodiles.

We all know that wildlife is the star of most of these parks, but which parks offer a bit more than that? Let’s find out.

Masai Mara National Park

Masai Mara National Park

  • Highlights: The Great Wildebeest Migration
  • Best Time to Visit: July – October

The Masai Mara is the flagship of Kenya’s national parks. It’s a savannah paradise. With tall grass providing food for the herbivores and cover for the big cats, it’s a park that promises all the action of the wild.

The Masai Mara combines with The Serengeti in Tanzania to form Africa’s most diverse ecosystems. The Great Migrations, when thousands of wildebeests dive to their potential deaths as they cross the crocodile-infested Mara River is a wonder of the world. 

The big cats are mostly present around December to February when it is a bit drier. The drier season is also when it’s easier and less expensive to visit the Masai Mara. 

It is easily accessible from both Mombasa and Nairobi.

Amboseli National Park

Amboseli National Park

  • Highlights: Elephants; Views of Mt. Kilimanjaro 
  • Best Time to Visit: June – October

Another of Kenya’s most famous national parks. Watched over by the magnificent, majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli boasts some of the best plains, forests, and marshes for wildlife to roam in. 

Herds of the great African Elephant slowly marching in line across the plain almost brings tears to the eyes. Families of Cheetahs just soaking up the day almost defy your busy life. There are also leopards, giraffes, 600 bird species, and other small ground animals. 

Around the park are settlements of the world-renowned Masai community with whom it is fun to interact. It is easily accessible from Mombasa and Nairobi.

lake nakuru national park

Lake Nakuru National Park

  • Highlights: Flamingos
  • Best Time to Visit: June to March

Lake Nakuru National Park has 56 different species of wildlife, including the Black and the White Rhino, and the Rothschild giraffe. 

However, it is the flamingos who reign supreme here. Whether they are circling in the sky or having a drink in the lake, they are undeniably eye-catching against blue backdrops. The park also has 14 campsites for backpackers. Once in a while, you could get lucky and sight the elusive leopard. 

Lake Nakuru National Park is located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, about 2 hours from Nairobi, and is best viewed in the drier seasons when more game drives are accessible.

Hells gate national park

Hell’s Gate National Park

  • Highlights: Geothermal landscape
  • Best Time to Visit: June to March

There is something unnerving about walking through Hell’s Gate. The rusted look and random streams of water create a narrow, living, hauntingly beautiful valley that you can walk through. 

This park, located close to Naivasha town, is best known for its extraordinary geothermal activity. The multi-colored surfaces along the many trails make great backdrops and sights as you go biking, hiking, and rock climbing. 

The African Buffalo, Thomson’s Gazelle, Zebra, Eland, and Hartebeest also inhabit various parts of the park. It is best to have a guide in Hell’s Gate.

Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park

  • Highlights: Lots of rhinos; easily accessible from Nairobi
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

This park gets its bragging rights from being the only park in the world within city limits. It’s maybe the most unique thing to do in Nairobi.

Nairobi National park, however, is also one of the most diverse parks in Kenya, with black rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes, and 400 species of birdlife with over 400 species. With a backdrop of the city’s towers, being in Nairobi National Park gives you a longing for the freedom these animals enjoy. 

Being only 10 km from the South of Nairobi City Centre, the park offers excellent picnic sites and corporate event venues. Read more in our complete guide to Nairobi National Park.

Mount Kenya National Park

Mount Kenya National Park

  • Highlights: Mountain climbing
  • Best Time to Visit: December to March

The main feature of Mount Kenya National Park is the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Kenya. Climbing the mountain takes three days and an additional one day to descend. 

The views on the way up are breath-taking and, on the way up, you go through a variety of stunning landscapes. Mount Kenya has has drinkable crystal clear lakes, mineral springs, and glaciers to the elephants, waterbucks, and other endangered species. 

The park is located about 175 km from Nairobi, with the closest airstrip in Nanyuki, about 60 km away.

Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East National Park

  • Highlights: Huge herds of elephants covered in red dust
  • Best Time to Visit: January to February, June to October 

Tsavo East National Park is the best place in the country to watch Elephants goofing around in the dirt and splashing in the Galana River. They are absolute toddlers here. It’s also home to the red elephant, rhinos, buffalos, and lions in Kenya’s largest protected area. 

There’s also the Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, stretching 300 km for the geologically minded. 

The park is a 3-hour drive from both Nairobi and Mombasa. It is also served by nine different airstrips.

Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West National Park

  • Highlights: Shetani lava flows; Rhino sanctuary
  • Best Time to Visit: January to February, June to October 

Tsavo West is more scenic than Tsavo East, with remarkable geographical features such as the Mzima springs and the Shetani (devil) lava flows. 

It’s the kind of vast wilderness adventurers would salivate for. There are elephants, rhinos, and a rhino sanctuary, hippos, lions, cheetahs, leopards, and buffalos roaming the lands. And if you’re looking for a cinematic sunset, this is the park to experience one. 

The Kenyan coast is also just a short distance away, so you can combine your trip to Tsavo West with visits to the Marine Parks as well.

Aberdares National Park

Aberdares National Park

  • Highlights: Mountain scenery and waterfalls
  • Best Time to Visit: June to October, December to March

Aberdares is possibly the greenest national park in Kenya. Waterfalls pop out of dense forests and moorlands.

If you’re keen, you could spot very rare animals. The park is home to the giant forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat, and the blue duiker – creatures most have never heard of.

The forest in Aberdares National Park was also a home for the Mau Mau, the resistance group that fought for the independence of Kenya.

Mount Longonot National Park

Mount Longonot National Park

  • Highlights: Climbing Mount Longonot
  • Best Time to Visit: All year round

The hike to the crater of Mount Longonot is the main attraction of this National Park, but it’s not the only one. 

This is an excellent park for a day trip from Nairobi or Naivasha. With a good selection of wildlife such as buffaloes, elands, lions, leopards, bushbucks, zebras, and giraffes. 

If you’re going to ascend the mountain, make sure to take the extra stroll around the rim of the crater to take in the spectular views.

Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park

  • Highlights: Hiking
  • Best Time to Visit: June to August, December to Mar

For geography buffs, Mount Elgon is the world’s largest Mountain Caldera. That is the depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. 

Mount Elgon National Park also boasts large populations of wildlife, and you can go biking, hiking, and mountain climbing.

Meru National Park in Kenya

Meru National Park

  • Highlights: Fewer visitors
  • Best Time to Visit: July to October

There is a lot to love about the Meru National Park, but being one of the least visited parks on this list, the best will be the isolation. You will have most of the park to yourself, from stunning sunrise to glowing sunset. 

There’s a lot to see with inhabitants, including elephants and cheetahs, among others.

Kora National Park in Kenya

Kora National Park

  • Highlights: Snake population
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

Kora National Park is the sister park to Meru National Park and is just a few minutes away. You can make a two-day adventure with a lot more to experience. 

This is the home of snakes among all the other parks, containing pythons, puff adders, and cobras.

Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park in Kenya

Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park

  • Highlights: Hiking, mountain climbing
  • Best Time to Visit: January to March

This park is one of the quickest out-of-town National Parks to access if you’re in Nairobi. You’ll be met on your way in by colobus monkeys and baboons and find much more wildlife inside. It is excellent for hiking, minimal mountain climbing, and camping.

Central Island National Park in kenya

Central Island National Park

  • Highlights: Crocodile nurseries
  • Best Time to Visit: April to May

Travel to the North-West of Kenya and boat across Lake Turkana’s green, blue, and brown waters. That is where you’ll find this jewel of a National Park. With the largest concentration of crocodiles along the Nile. Central Island is formed of 3 sulfur bellowing active volcanoes. 

South Island National Park in Kenya

South Island National Park

  • Highlights: Volcanic vapor
  • Best Time to Visit: June and July

The haunted island. Wisps of rising, colorful mist imitate a march of spirits to the night sky. March and May see the migration to the park of 34 species of European birds to add to the 23 species already breeding on the island. This makes it the perfect hunting ground for crocodiles, and they are many here as well. 

Make a trip to both Turkana Islands for a bit of variety.

Chyulu Hills National Park

Chyulu Hills National Park

  • Highlights: Hiking
  • Best Time to Visit: June to October, January to February

For nature lovers. This park is made up of beautiful green hills and perfect blue skies. It has wildlife sprinkled here and there, but you’re mostly coming here for the scenery, camping, horse-riding, that kind of thing. 

It’s another rarely visited park, so if you’re looking for a tranquil getaway, this is the one.

Saiwa Swamp National Park

Saiwa Swamp National Park

  • Highlights: Sitatunga Antelope
  • Best Time to Visit: December to March

There are two rare creatures in this swamp: the Sitatunga antelope and the De Brazza’s monkey. It has an elevated boarded path to guide you around the park. This makes it easier to try and find the two rare inhabitants of this park. Bring binoculars.

Arabuko Sokoke National Park

  • Highlights: Rare plants and animals
  • Best Time to Visit: August and April

This forest park is dense and green. It has plants and animals that are indigenous to only this part of the world. The animals are smaller than those found in the rest of the National Parks, but they are arguably more quirky and charming. If you’re in Kilifi, Arabuko Sokoke makes a great day trip and a nice break from the beach.

Ruma National Park Kenya

Ruma National Park

  • Highlights: Roan Antelope and other endangered animals
  • Best Time to Visit: June to October, January to February

The last remaining sanctuary of the Roan antelope, Ruma National Park, is an undisturbed grassland with views for miles. It is one of the best parks for spotting wildlife from a distance. With more rare and globally endangered animals than anywhere else in Kenya, this is one of those parks you have to visit in your lifetime.

Marsabit National Park in Kenya

Marsabit National Park

  • Highlights: Crater lakes
  • Best Time to Visit: June to October, December to March

Marsabit National Park is massive. It’s trees everywhere packed like cards, and, get this, three crater lakes. Tusked Bull elephants roam between the trees. So the camel rides on offer here could provide a useful advantage. 

Having lunch on the shores of one of the crater lakes is a memorable experience.

Ndere Island National Park

Ndere Island National Park

  • Highlights: More than 100 species of birds
  • Best Time to Visit: All year round

This island is littered with bird species both rare and common. It is serene and breezy, even with all the birds around. Being an island in the middle of Lake Victoria, it is the definition of getting away should you need to escape the bustles of Kisumu city.

Malka Mari National Park

  • Highlights: Big cats
  • Best Time to Visit: All year round

Malka Mari is the pleasant surprise park on this list. It’s huge and has such a variety of the more popular wildlife and birds, including cheetahs, hyenas, lions, and elephants. Yet it is one of the least visited parks. Located right at Northern the tip of Kenya, it is quite out there, but it is worth the journey.

Sibiloi National Park

  • Highlights: Communities around Lake Turkana
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September, January to February

Famously known as “the cradle of mankind,” Sibiloi National Park is archeologically rich. Though, the main attraction should be the people who live just at its outskirts: the Turkana, the Gabra, and the Dassanach. Their culture is mostly untainted, and they are warmly welcoming and eager to demonstrate the value of their ways.

Marine Parks

The Kenyan coast is renowned for its white sandy beaches and clear water. Just hanging near the shoreline won’t do you much good, though. 

You can swim with Green Turtles in Watamu, Zebra Fish in Malindi, and Dolphins in Kisite Mpunguti. You can go snorkeling and mingle with swarms of fish who are more curious about you than you are about them. 

There are glass-bottom boat rides across all the parks for exploration further away. These are the best of the Marine National Parks across the Kenyan coast.

Watamu Marine National Park

The Green Turtle is Watamu’s headline sea creature. There are also fascinating ruins of an old Indian Ocean trading town known as Gedi. Watamu offers snorkeling, water skiing, and windsurfing.

Mombasa Marine Park

This park is colored by coral reefs and various other marine creatures like crabs and starfish under crystal clear water. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat viewing is mandated here.

The Marine Park is easily one of the most special places to visit in Mombasa.

Malindi Marine National Park

With gardens of coral, underwater grass beds, and turtles, this is also an excellent place for snorkeling. The winds in Malindi also prime it for windsurfing, skiing, and kite surfing.

Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park

Finally, the dolphins. Viewing dolphins come up for air is always a thrill; it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it. I know you can go snorkeling at the other parks, but this one has the best experience. 

Final Thoughts

There is so much to experience when you visit Kenya’s National Parks. The lesser-known ones offer more personal, secluded, and intimate tours, while the bigger names provide the blockbuster action you expect. As you plan your next vacation or weekend getaway, any of the National Parks on this list should be at the top of your list. Let us know how your experience was in the comments below.

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