Masai Mara National Reserve, Aberdare National Park, Samburu National Reserve, Maralal Game Reserve, Lake Kanyaboli National Reserve

National Parks and Reserves in Kenya

46. Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara National Park - Sekenani Gate

Next to claiming the bragging rights for the concept of ‘safari’, the Masai Mara National Reserve is Kenya’s biggest trump-card. The crown-jewel of her faunal sanctuaries. And for all the difficulties of getting to the Mara by road, especially on the 67 kms rough patch from Narok Town – a dusty, jerky ride, with a lot of bumping on the windows, which lasts 2 hours, assuming it does not rain – the journey is well rewarded with memorable sights that most people carry for the rest of their lives. Paradoxically, this state is a means of rationing access to the fragile ecosystem, and is synonymous with all National Reserves. Assuredly, the Government has no plans to tarmac the road sections to the reserves. Of its five gates – Ololoolo, Musiara, Talek, Ololomutiek and Sekenani – most visitors to the Mara access it through the Sekenani Gate. The Mara also has three airstrips at Keekorok, Olkiombo and Musiara – served by daily flights from Nairobi City. 

In many respects the Masai Mara National Reserve is perhaps the most popular National Reserves in Kenya and between June and September hotels record 100 per cent booking. It is a reserve not a national park meaning it is unfenced and run by the Local County and not the National Government. There’s something for everyone at the Mara, from crawl-in tents to first-rate resort. More than any other park and reserve in Kenya, the Masai Mara is dotted by numerous luxury lodges, tented camps, and campsites. It has around 42 resorts and safari camps, mainly set up in the conservancies abutting with Mara. As far as luxury safaris go, few places top the Mara. These conservancies are found chiefly around the Masai Mara N. Reserve and serve as dispersal and migratory corridors. Some of the largest conservancies are Pardamat, Mara North, Mara Naboisho and Siana.

47. Aberdare National Park

Aberdare National Park. Image Courtesy of JT Safaris

To a great degree, National Parks in Kenya are prospered by the big-5 species – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinocero and Cape buffalo. The pre-eminence on this cosset group of highly charismatic species originated in the days of big game hunting, when these were considered especially dangerous. You’ll find all these and more here. The Aberdare National Park often romanticized as ‘the valley of beauty’ has unique floral interest, bearing many unique varieties. A drive across the Park takes one through moorlands, bamboo forests and several clear trout streams – west via Naivasha and east from Nyeri. What the 766 km2 Aderdare National Park lacks in size is made up for by its easily accessible sites and good parkways. The Park contains the famous Treetops and the Ark Lodges. Its huge vistas have also enjoyed a share of Hollywood Fame. Gura Waterfall, the most precipitous in Kenya, and Karuru Falls, the tallest, were portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Out of Africa. It was also the set for filming of Gorillas in the Mist and White Mischief. Its links to the Royal Family and the Mau Mau Uprising have had a multiplier effect. The park’s HQ is located 15 Kms from Nyeri, along the Nyeri to Nyahururu Road. It can be reached from Naro Moru and Naivasha.

48. Samburu National Reserve

Samburu National Reserve in Samburu County

Unofficially given the title of big game country, the 165 km2 Samburu National Reserve is aggrandized for hosting one of the largest grouping of elephants in Northern Kenya, in addition to, the respectable numbers of the other members of Africa’s high-minded big-five – lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalos. Unique perhaps to Samburu National Reserve is that it also hosts all the members of the uncelebrated special five– Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Somali’s ostrich and Gerenuk antelope – which are an unusual and select band of exotic game endemic to the northern region of Kenya. In spite of the drastic reduction in the number of elephants and other big mammals due to poaching in the 1970’s, Samburu National Reserve has turned around this calamity and it is now teemed with a spectacular variety of wildlife, that are the stuff of dreams.

Samburu National Reserve lies north of the River Ewaso Nyiro, which separates it from Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves. It is this river that offers the major attraction to holiday-makers in all these three reserves and especially during the dry season – December to March – when it adopts a shallow change in character and its wooded fringes of tall doum palms forms canopies of deep shade affording much welcome relief to man and beast. Here, one comes across, day-to-day, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, baboon, impala, serval and warthog. Also widespread and sighted frequently are zebra, grant’s gazelle, hyena and eland. The Samburu Game Lodge, built along the banks of River Ewaso Nyiro, is the anchor lodge at Samburu National Reserve. Other options include Saasab Game LodgeSamburu Intrepids Tented CampSentrim Samburu Lodge, The Serena Lodge and Samburu Sopa Lodge. Samburu Lodge is 20 kms from Archer’s Post.

49. Maralal Game Reserve

Maralal Safari Lodge. Image Courtesy of Trip Advisor

The defunct Maralal National Reserve which was wound down in 2014 by the Samburu Government following the eradication of wildlife by poaching has since been absorbed by Maralal Town. The area which was once the Maralal Game Reserve is still a prepossessing landscape and the Maralal Safari Lodge, located 3 kms east of Maralal Town, and fully renovated in 2015, continues to thrive.  Some noteworthy areas of interest found nearby are Kenyatta House Museum 1 kms from Maralal, and the Malaso Viewpoint 100 kms from Maralal.

50. Lake Kanyaboli National Reserve

Lake Kanyaboli National Reserve in Siaya County

The recent history of the plight of the satellite lakes in Yala Swamp has brought to the forefront the urgent need to safeguard this biospheres and rethink how their resources are harnessed. The fisheries of the lake that once drew hundreds of fish species now rely primarily on the native pelagic minnow locally known as “Omena” and the introduced Nile perch and tilapia. Further, the cannibalistic Nile perch is threatening not only to destroy itself but the entire lake ecosystem. A management strategy designed to improve and preserve the pleasing 15 km2 Lake Kanyaboli and its sister lakes is underway. Encircled by papyrus round its rim and framed as a living museum for its abundance of the cichlid – a rare and variegated fish species – Lake Kanyaboli is notable as the second largest oxbow lake in Africa.  It is best-known as a bird-lovers paradise that can be combined with sightseeing around its ring-road that loops around the lake, spectacular at dawn and dusk. There are large rock outcrops at the waters edge that are easy hiking sites with exceptional vantage points at the summit. Also of interest for callers to Lake Kanyaboli is sighting the Sitatunga and exploring Kombo Beach.  A trip to the lake is easily combined with a look-see of the near Dominion Farm.

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  1. Lake Baringo National Reserve, Lake Bogoria National Reserve, South-Western Mau National Reserve, Rimoi National Reserve, Lake Kamnarok
  2. Mount Kenya National Park, Mwea National Reserve, Bour-Algi Giraffe Sanctuary, Rahole National Reserve, Arawale National Reserves
  3. Boni National Reserve, Ruma National Park, Bisanadi National Reserve, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Shaba National Reserve
  4. Amboseli National Park, Kakamega National Reserve, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve, Watamu Marine National Park, Malindi Marine Reserve
  5. Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, Ndere Island National Park, Mwingi National Reserve, South Kitui National Reserve, Shimba Hills National Reserve
  6. Diani-Chale Marine National Reserve, Kisite Mpunguti National Marine Park and Reserve, Dodori National Reserve, Kiunga Marine National Reserve, Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
  7. Chyulu Hills National Park, Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve, Malka Mari National Park, Losai National Reserve, South Island National Park
  8. Marsabit National Reserve and Park, Sibiloi National Park, Meru National Park, Mombasa Marine National Reserve and Park, Nairobi National Park
  9. Mount Longonot National Park, Crescent Island Game Sanctuary, Hell’s Gate National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Bonjoge National Reserve
  10. Masai Mara National Reserve, Aberdare National Park, Samburu National Reserve, Maralal Game Reserve, Lake Kanyaboli National Reserve
  11. Kora National Park, Tana Primate National Reserve, Tsavo East & Tsavo West National Parks, Mutejwa National Reserve
  12. Mount Elgon National Park, Saiwa Swamp National Park, Central Island National Park, South Turkana National Reserve, Nasolot National Reserve