Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is one of Kenya’s most spectacular and popular national parks. The name ‘Amboseli’ comes from a Maasai word meaning ‘salty dust’. Amongst the dust, scattered lakes, swamps, and marshes attract huge numbers of elephants. Making it one of the best places on Earth to see these astonishing creatures. Besides elephants, the park is home to hippos, cheetahs, giraffes, leopards, lions, warthogs, zebras, Cape buffalos, and even flamingos. Bring your camera and have a good pair of binoculars to hand!
Given its popularity, there can be a lot of vehicles competing for the best spots to see wildlife. At times this can become a bit of a scrum. Most animals are oblivious to the cars, but on one occasion when we were there the elephants became stressed. We asked our guide to take us away and they gladly did. The assumption is that you want a close-up photo, but if you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to say so. There are a number of conservancies around the park that provide community-driven approaches to conservation. The conservancies tend to attract fewer crowds although are becoming more popular. Entry fees are required into each conservancy, as well as into the park.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: entrance to the park is around $60 per day. Accommodation ranges from camping to luxury lodges. If you’re travelling as part of a tour it can cost around $680 a day all-inclusive.
Best time to visit: the park can be visited year-round although is best during the dry season from January to February and June to October. For further info check out this excellent guide.
How to get there: Amboseli is a 4+ hour drive from Nairobi. Most tour operators offer transfers from Nairobi, which helps keep the costs down. There is also an option to fly as there is an airstrip in the middle of the park. Flights tend to take off from either Jomo Kenyatta International or Nairobi Wilson Airport. Within the park, the roads are in good condition and there is adequate signage making it a great place for self-drive safaris. You can buy a map at most of the entrance gates – although this is not guaranteed, so bring a printed map as back-up! For a self-drive safari, you need to rent a car from Nairobi and bear in mind it’s a 4+ hour journey on roads not for the faint-hearted!
Amboseli’s location means it can be easily combined with a trip to either the Chyulu Hills (2-hour drive), Tsavo West (3-hour drive), or Tsavo East (5-hour drive). You can even hop over the border and combine it with a trip to Arusha National Park in Tanzania, or arrange to be taken to a train station to continue your journey to Kenya’s glorious coast.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, animal watching, hot air balloon safari
Number of reports: 2
Wildlife in Amboseli
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are:
African elephant – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Often called the ‘Land of Giants’, Amboseli is most famous for its population of African bush elephants. It’s estimated that over 1,600 individuals roam the wetlands, savannahs, and woodlands that cover Amboseli. Herds of up to 100 can be found drinking at the swampy springs around the park. The numbers are so large that the park has become one of the strongholds of the East African elephant population. It almost takes your breath away – the sheer number of elephants really is staggering! What’s more, the elephants here have some of the largest tusks in the world!
Cheetah – 50% of visitors (1/2) reported sightings
While there are fewer cheetahs here than in the Maasai Mara – you still have a decent chance of seeing one of these incredible cats in Amboseli. Cheetahs are most active between sunrise and sunset. They’re easiest to spot in open grasslands, although they prefer woodland and thickets. For the best chances of seeing a cheetah, go with one of the experienced local guides. They will know roughly where they are based on previous sightings. They are also able to exchange information with other guides.
Giraffe – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
As well as the largest, the world’s tallest mammal can be found in Amboseli. The Maasai giraffe is the tallest subspecies of giraffe – reaching up to 5.5 metres tall! A 2015 study found that Amboseli has the highest concentration of giraffes in the Kenya-Tanzania border region. While giraffe populations are struggling in many places, the population in Amboseli is growing. With aerial surveys showing a 24% increase in the population between 2013 and 2018 – up to over 5,300 giraffes! Thanks to the healthy population, year-round sightings are common in the park.
Hippo – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Despite being mostly dry and dusty, the lakes and swamps of Amboseli support a large number of water-loving hippos. These large, lumbering mammals are a common site wallowing in the wetland areas of the park. According to TripAdvisor reports, one of the best spots to see them is Observation Hill. As well as an excellent vantage point for spotting hippos, you get 360-degree views of the park. And if you’re lucky, Mout Kilimanjaro rising up in the background. The hill is a popular spot for lunch so can be busy around midday.
Leopard – 0% of visitors (0/2) reported sightings
Unlike cheetahs, there are very few, if any, leopards in Amboseli National Park. There are some however in the surrounding area. One study found that leopards were actually the main predators of livestock after hyenas in the Olgulului Group Ranch adjacent to the park. If you want to see leopards head to the Selenkay Conservancy 10 miles north of the park boundary. Selenkay is part of the wider Amboseli ecosystem. It was leased from the Maasai with the aim of protecting wildlife and encouraging conservation as an alternative to farming.
Lion – 50% of visitors (1/2) reported sightings
The lion population is falling across Kenya. However, numbers in Amboseli are on the rise thanks to the work of organisations such as Big Life. The number of lions in Amboseli is estimated to be around179. This compares to around 484 lions in the Maasai Mara and 432 in Tsavo. So while lions can be seen there are fewer than in the other big Kenyan parks. Reports on TripAdvisor from visitors to Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge document some close-encounters with lions passing by the camp dining area. As well as visitors going to sleep to the sounds of lions roaring outside the camp!
Warthog – 50% of visitors (1/2) reported sightings
Warthogs can be seen throughout Amboseli year-round. They are conspicuous and easy to spot with their upright tails, erect manes, and regal bearings. Warthogs are herbivores that spend most of the day foraging for food. Their keen sense of smell allows them to uncover roots, plants, and bulbs. Between 2007 and 2014, the warthog population in Kenya experienced a steady increase up to 16,000 before nose-diving to 13,500 following a prolonged dry spell.
Zebra – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Following a drought in 2009, the zebra population in Amboseli collapsed from around 7,000 to less than 3,000 individuals. The catastrophic decline in food led to increased attacks on livestock by predators in the park. In response, around 4,000 zebras and 3,000 wildebeest were moved into the area to reduce the pressure on livestock. Nowadays the population has increased and sightings are common. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest that Ol Tukai Lodge is a good place to look out for zebras walking past your bedroom window!
Cape Buffalo – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Amboseli supports a large population of Cape buffalo and they are easily seen in the park. They can typically be found living in large groups, spending their time grazing the floodplains and savannah. As with zebra, TripAdvisor reports from Ol Tukai Lodge suggest they can be seen walking past your bedroom window. A warning, Cape buffalos have a reputation for suffering a severe lack of humour, taking on anything they dislike. They can charge at great speed when they feel threatened – making them the most feared animal on any walking safari!
Flamingo – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
As well as your typical big game, Amboseli is also home to lesser flamingos. They can be harder to spot than elephants, zebras, and Cape buffalos. However, if you visit after the rains your chances of seeing these ethereal birds are reasonably high. To see them in large numbers head there during the wet seasons from March to May and October to December. As for hippos, Observation Hill is a good spot to look out for flamingos wading through the lakes below.
Photo credit: WildSide user Chris Eves