A short drive from Nairobi’s central business district lies Nairobi National Park. Here the open grassy plains support populations of lions, rhinos, buffalos, giraffes, and hippos against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers. If that’s not enough for an urban area, the Park is also home to impala, jackals, crocodiles, servals, and ostriches. Established in 1946 it’s a small area (compared to Kenya’s other parks) that is fenced in on three sides. The open southern boundary allows wildlife to move between the Park and the adjacent Kitengela plains. Despite its small size and proximity to the bustle of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi National Park is something of a wonder, and one of Kenya’s most successful rhino sanctuaries.
If you’re in Nairobi, it’s well worth taking the time to see some incredible wildlife living alongside the biggest city in Kenya. The Park is located next to the Kenyatta International and Wilson airports. And if you look closely you can do some wildlife spotting before you even land! There are several picnic spots at elevated viewpoints in the Park that give you a great view of the area and the contrasting urban skyline of Nairobi.
Generally, it’s an easy park to self-drive and has good signage. The Park is well maintained, and if you stick to the main paths, the roads are usually in good condition. The smaller routes can get rough, however, especially in the rainy season. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) tends to sell maps at the front gate although this should not be relied on. You can always use Google maps if needed. If you are self-driving, ask the KWS rangers on entry to point you in the direction of where they have spotted wildlife recently. Alternatively, you can hire a ranger to show you around (the price is negotiated with no fixed amount).
Average rating: 4.3 (very good)
Best time to visit: you can visit the Park year-round. Wildlife viewing is at its best in the dry season from June to September. A 4×4 is recommended during the rainy season (historically April to May and then late September to early November). If you’re going on a game drive head out early morning or evening as most animals take shelter during the midday heat. The gates open at 06:00 and close at 19:00 each day.
How to get there: getting into the Park is easy as it’s just a 10 km drive to the south of Nairobi City Centre. Tours can easily be arranged in the city or your hotel, or you can drive there yourself. The Park entrance is along Langata Road (next to the Langata Barracks Stadium). While several gates show up on online maps, these are special entry sites for KWS staff or the accommodation located within the Park. If you don’t have authorisation to enter these gates, you will be turned away. This is the same for leaving the Park at these gates as well. If you don’t have a vehicle there is a public shuttle to the main gate on weekends. Alternatively, KWS have a small number of vehicles that they rent out. It may be worth booking them in advance or getting there early to avoid disappointment.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, wildlife watching
Number of reports: 3
Last updated: 2022
WILDLIFE IN Nairobi NATIONAL PARK
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 lion – 67% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Incredibly, Nairobi National Park is home to an estimated 35 lions. This is despite the fact that the Park is only around 140 km2 in size and lions have been known to use territories up to 400 km2. Sightings aren’t guaranteed by any means, but the large number of lions in such a small area means your chances of spotting one are good. They’re well used to cars full of tourists coming close and leaning out the window to take photos. Living next to such a large predator is, unsurprisingly, not uncontroversial, and there have been reports of lions leaving the Park to explore the city’s suburbs. There’s a short video of the lions of the Park here.
#2 rhino – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (3/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Lions and other wildlife aside, the real reason to visit Nairobi National Park is the rhinos. Despite (or perhaps because of) its urban location, the Park is an important rhino sanctuary and virtually guarantees the chance to see black rhinos. With a population of only 700 in Kenya following years of poaching, Nairobi National Park is home to 60 of these highly endangered creatures. As well as 11 white rhinos that were moved to the Park to protect them from poaching.
To help tell the two types of rhino apart look closely at their mouths. Black rhinos feed on bushes so carry their heads high. They have triangular mouths with hooked upper lips to strip leaves and thorns off low growing trees. While white rhinos feed on grasses so have longer necks and downwards facing heads so that they can graze easily. White rhinos are also generally bigger and heavier, with longer horns.
#3 Cape buffalo – 67% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
In 1965 eleven Cape buffalo were introduced to the Park. Numbers have gradually grown over time to reach around 500 individuals. Nowadays the Park supports a large population of buffalos and they are easily seen. They can typically be found living in large groups, spending their time grazing the open grasslands. A study of wildlife populations in the Park and the nearby plains found that, although species such as wildebeest are declining in the region, buffalo numbers are on the rise. Numbers in the Park also appear to fluctuate with rainfall. With buffalo moving into the Park during wet years and out on to the plains when water is scarce.
#4 giraffe – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (3/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Despite its small size, the world’s tallest mammal can also be found in Nairobi National Park. The Maasai giraffe is the tallest subspecies of giraffe – reaching up to 5.5 metres tall! With their towering legs and long necks, you have a very high chance of seeing these graceful animals browsing acacia trees or silhouetted against the horizon. A (now dated) study of the giraffes in the park identified 160 individuals and found the population to be particularly high for the region.
#5 hippo – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (3/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The best spot for hippos in Nairobi National Park is the aptly named ‘Hippo Pool’. These large, lumbering mammals are a common site wallowing in and around the water’s edge. Most guided tours will involve a stop off at the pool and there is a picnic spot where you can have lunch. From here you can take a short walk down through a shady forest path to the pool where you can look out for hippos.
#6 Impala – 100% of Wildside users (3/3) reported sightings
The Park supports a good population of impala and they are easy to spot. The best place to see them is the (also well named) Impala Observation Point. Impalas are slender antelopes with reddish-brown coats and large curling horns. Their prefered habitats are short grasslands that border open woodlands and are close to water sources. During the wet season, they gather in large herds as the rains bring an abundance of grasses, shoots, herbs, bushes and shrubs for grazing.
#7 Jackal – 33% of WildSide users (1/3) reported sightings
There are three species of jackal – the black-backed, side-striped, and golden jackal. The most commonly seen species in Nairobi National Park is the black-backed jackal. They are easily recognised by the black and silver stripes running down their backs. Jackals are sociable animals and are often found in packs. They know that there is a good chance of stealing some leftovers if they follow lions so wherever there are lions, jackals are always in the vicinity! For more information on jackals check out this great page.
#8 Nile crocodile – 100% of wildside users (3/3) reported sightings
Nile crocodiles are the most commonly seen crocodile in Kenya, and are easily spotted in the Park. Reaching up to 5 metres in length they are the second-largest crocodile species in the world. They are also aggressive and dangerous animals. Nile crocodiles are ambush predators, waiting underwater for prey to come close. They can be easier to spot when they are out of the water basking in the sun for warmth. In the Park look out for them along the trail to the Hippo Pool.
#9 Ostrich – 100% of WildSide users (3/3) reported sightings
Ostriches are large flightless birds with a number of unique adaptations to life in the African savannah. They are the fastest birds on land, running at 70 km/hr, and they lay the largest eggs of any animal. Ostriches can be found throughout Nairobi National Park and are relatively easy to spot. If you are looking out for ostriches they tend to prefer plains with short grass and avoid rocky areas.
#10 Serval – 33% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Servals are beautiful, spotted cats similar in appearance to cheetahs – although much smaller. While they can be seen in Nairobi National Park they are notoriously difficult to spot. Their preferred habitat is moist, tall grasslands, near to wetland areas. They are nocturnal cats that hunt by sight and sound. Whatsmore, their spotted coats make them well well camouflaged in the long grasses of the savannah. Keep your eyes peeled and with a bit of luck, you might spot one in the Park like we did!
In addition to the top ten, Nairobi National Park is also home to a range of other species including zebra (67% of WildSide users reported sightings), wildebeest (33%), grey heron (33%), lapwing (67%), spoonbill (33%).
Photo credit: alecstrachan under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay