The Best National Parks and Game Reserves in Kenya
With their wealth of wildlife and outstanding natural beauty, the national parks and game reserves in Kenya are a must-visit for this bucket list destination.
The sprawling savannahs of Kenya contain some of Africa’s most famous and exciting national parks and reserves. Whether exploring the African bush on foot in Laikipia, marvelling at the exotic wildlife roaming the Maasai Mara or embarking on exhilarating safaris of Samburu National Reserve, Kenya’s national parks and game reserves are truly remarkable.
The sheer scale of Kenya’s national parks and game reserves is breathtaking, with over eight percent of the country currently protected for wildlife and environmental conservation. In these areas, human habitation is restricted, allowing Kenya’s wildlife to thrive. We’ve compiled our list of favourite national parks in Kenya, with useful information on when to visit, where to stay and what to do to make your experience unforgettable.
Our Africa Travel Specialist Matt Shock recommends a private conservancy when asked how to enjoy the outstanding national parks and game reserves in Kenya:
“Staying in a private conservancy means you'll encounter few other game vehicles and have exclusive views of the resident wildlife within these areas or, especially important in the Mara, the annual wildebeest and zebra migrations, which make for spectacular viewing as lions, leopards, and cheetahs’ prey on the vast number of animals.”
How Many National Parks and Reserves Are There in Kenya?
If you’re wondering how many national parks there are in Kenya, you’ll often find a few different answers. That’s because there are several different types of protected areas in Kenya, either classified as national parks or national reserves. Kenya’s 27 national parks (23 on land and four marine) are maintained and run by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which strictly prohibits any humans from living within their bounds. Kenya’s national reserves are instead run by local councils, with the rules around human habitations being less strict. Of these, there are 28 on land and six marine reserves.
Each national park offers something unique and exciting to experience, from lakes teeming with bird and marine life to rugged mountain ranges and sprawling arid plateaus. Kenya's national parks and game reserves have something for everyone to enjoy.
Kenya National Parks and Reserves Map
With such a considerable selection to choose from, it can be challenging to know which of Kenya’s national parks and game reserves to visit first. To help you plan your adventure through Africa’s sunlit savannahs, our travel specialists at Scott Dunn have created this useful list of the national parks and reserves in Kenya.
10 of the Best National Parks and Reserves in Kenya
While there are a wealth of national parks and game reserves in Kenya, some stand firmly above the rest. Whether due to their exceptional variety of animals, breathtaking views or unique landscapes, these national parks are some of the most well-known and spectacular in all of Kenya:
Maasai Mara National Reserve
The Maasai Mara is renowned for its abundant wildlife and unbeatable views and is one of the most famous national parks in Kenya. On thrilling safaris in the reserve, you could witness some of Kenya’s most iconic wildlife, including the ‘Big 5’ and experience the annual Wildebeest Migration over the Mara River. There are plenty of things to see and do during your visit to the Maasai Mara, from traversing across the savannah on exciting game drives, soaring over the plain on a magical hot-air balloon safari or perhaps experiencing the best parts of Kenya on an epic tour around the country. The Maasai Mara offers travellers some of the very best safari experiences anywhere in Kenya - we highly recommend this park for first-time visitors.
Samburu National Reserve
In the northern corner of Kenya, on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, sits the idyllic Samburu National Reserve. Renowned for its abundance of rare species such as Grevy’s Zebra, the Reticulated Giraffe and the Somali Ostrich, few places make for a more unique safari experience than Samburu. There are also several critically endangered species that call this park home, including the elusive African wild dog. Named after the Samburu people, who called the region home for generations, Samburu National Reserve is one of the more secluded national parks in Kenya, offering exceptional landscapes and a diverse range of animal life. This is the perfect park for travellers who have done the basics but now want something a bit more unique on their safaris.
Mount Kenya National Park
Known for its unique alpine ecosystem, snow-capped peaks, and varied wildlife, Mount Kenya National Park offers you a safari experience unlike any other. The park covers an area of about 715 square kilometres around Mount Kenya, with plenty to see and do within its borders. Mount Kenya National Park doesn’t have the same density of wildlife as some of Kenya’s other national parks and game reserves, due to its higher altitude. Regardless, this park is still home to a considerable variety of animals, including elephants, buffaloes, leopards, and even rare species adapted to higher altitudes, such as the rock hyrax. Aside from its picturesque landscapes and rugged terrain, Mount Kenya is unique as the only mountain in Kenya with permanent glaciers, making it one of the only places on the equator where snow can be found - a great choice for those interested in experiencing a different side of Kenya.
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Kenya, located just a short drive outside its capital city. There are few places anywhere on earth where you can experience an African safari with a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers and towering office blocks - an unrivalled shock to the senses. With its abundant wildlife, including cheetahs, gazelles, hyenas and four of Africa’s ‘Big 5’, Nairobi National Park is a great destination for those interested in enjoying a day-trip safari without having to travel too far. In addition, thanks to its crucial role as a sanctuary, this park features the highest density of black rhinos anywhere in Kenya. Whether you’re visiting Nairobi National Park for an exciting day out or on a tour of the very best of Kenya, you can easily add a safari here to your itinerary.
Laikipia National Park
Around the central highlands of Kenya, spanning 9,500 square kilometres of rolling hills, arid savannahs, rocky outcrops and forests, sits the spectacular Laikipia National Park. In Laikipia, you can encounter some of Kenya’s most famous wildlife, including rare African wild dogs and the endangered Grevy’s Zebra. As well as the incredible diversity of animal life at Laikipia, there’s a wide range of things to see and do, such as fly fishing, quad bike expeditions, horseback safaris and plenty more. This variety of activities makes Laikipia one of the best national parks in Kenya for those visiting with family.
Chyulu Hills National Park
With its verdant green terrain and dynamic volcanic landscape, a visit to Chyulu Hills National Park in Kenya makes for one of the more unique experiences on this list. Situated in southeastern Kenya, the park covers an area of around 740 square kilometres and is home to a considerable variety of wildlife. During your visit, you can enjoy witnessing large herds of elephants, buffaloes, several species of antelope and much more. The park offers a range of activities for travellers to enjoy, with perhaps the most unique being a guided visit to the Upper Leviathan Cave, which at 11.5 km long, is one of the longest caves in the world, ideal for those looking to add a little adventure to their trip.
Meru National Park
For those hoping to enjoy a more remote and rugged experience, why not plan a visit to the magnificent Meru National Park, located in East Kenya? Within its borders, you can take in Meru’s rolling grasslands, winding rivers and exotic jungle, home to a wide variety of Africa’s most iconic wildlife, such as cheetahs, lions and giraffes. Thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, the area also hosts a large population of rhinoceros which can be spotted roaming across its varied terrain. Meru is one of the best national parks in Kenya, with its dynamic landscapes, plentiful things to do, diverse native wildlife and commanding views over Mount Kenya.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is a national park in Kenya that offers unbeatable views of Africa’s highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro. Situated around a four-hour drive southeast of Nairobi, Amboseli is known across the continent for the awe-inspiring herds of African elephants that traverse its plains year-round. Across the park’s 392 square kilometres, you can participate in exciting safaris to see lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, and plenty more of Africa’s diverse animal population.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Located in the Great Rift Valley, the picturesque Lake Nakuru National Park is famed for its grassy hills, acacia woodlands and its shimmering lakefront. Ideal for birdwatchers, the most notable feature of Lake Nakuru is the hundreds of species of birds that call the area home, particularly the iconic pink flamingo, found here in their thousands during the breeding season. In addition to the varied and diverse bird life in Nakuru, the park is home to animals like zebras, giraffes, lions, leopards and even a large protected rhinoceros population.
Tsavo National Park
Sprawling across nearly 22,000 km of savannah, Tsavo is the biggest national park in Kenya and one of the largest in the world. As the park is so colossal, it's divided into two distinct areas: Tsavo East and Tsavo West, each with its own terrain and features. Tsavo East is characterised by mainly flat and dry savannah plains, while Tsavo West is much more mountainous with its rolling hills and valleys. Both are teeming with vibrant and diverse wildlife, including rare species like the black rhino and the gerenuk.
The Best Time to Visit Kenya’s National Parks and Game Reserves
There really is no ‘bad’ time to visit Kenya’s stunning national parks and game reserves, thanks to the country's pleasant climate and each season offering a unique feel. With that in mind, the best time to book your Kenyan adventure depends entirely on the experience you wish to have.
For those looking to enjoy excellent conditions during their Kenyan holiday, the dry season is the best time of year to visit. Running from July to October, Kenya’s dry season enjoys largely uninterrupted warm and sunny weather, making for the perfect conditions to set off on an exhilarating safari adventure. This season is also the time to experience one of the animal kingdom’s most spectacular phenomena: The Great Wildebeest Migration, where millions of wildebeest traverse across Kenya’s plains every year in search of food and water.
However, for those who don’t mind getting wet, Kenya’s rainy season brings its own unique charms and attractions. During this period, you can experience the warm rains turning Kenya’s national parks and game reserves into verdant paradises, entirely transforming the landscape. The rainy season also attracts hundreds of different species of birds as they flock to Kenya's vast lakes and rivers, making this an ideal time for those interested in bird watching.
With plenty to enjoy all year round, when you decide to plan your dream adventure around Kenya’s exceptional national parks and game reserves, is entirely up to you.
Meet Our Kenyan Travel Specialists
Whether you’re planning an adventure-packed escapade to remember for a lifetime, or you’d simply like to spend your days stretching back and taking in the sights, rest assured that our travel experts are here to help you craft your dream Kenyan holiday. To start booking your unforgettable experience exploring Kenya’s idyllic national parks and game reserves, get in touch with a member of our team today.