Smaller and drier than the legendary Maasai Mara, Amboseli National Reserve is the second most visited national park in Kenya. It may not offer the extensive variety of wildlife you might find in the Mara, but I offer three reasons to include it in your Kenyan safari.
In my post on the Maasai Mara, I warned about traffic congestion on the plains. Popularity comes with a price: The jeeps and mini-vans that converge on the lions and cheetahs can make for an unnatural and disenchanting game drive experience. Escape the throngs of other tourists for a more peaceful safari in Amboseli, where you’re more likely to feel like one with nature.
2. Mt. Kilimanjaro
What’s better than an East African safari? A safari against the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. It’s true you might find it hidden under a veil of clouds and haze as I did—but it still made my heart skip a beat. For the best views of Kili, sunrise and sunset are your best bets.
One of the defining photographic shots of Kenya is that of grazing elephants and, behind them, Mt. Kilimanjaro rising over the open savannah. Amboseli is home to lions, zebras, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, buffalo and countless birds (among other animals), but it’s most famous for its large concentration of free-ranging elephants. Here, you can get up close to the herds of these giant, complex mammals and, for an elephant lover like myself (if you aren’t one, I guarantee you’ll quickly become one after a game drive through Amboseli), the experience is extraordinary.
I loved both my Maasai Mara and Amboseli wildlife adventures—but for different reasons. Thankfully, I didn’t have to choose one over the other because, while it’s easy to assume the Mara is the superior national park, Amboseli will enrich your safari experience in a way the Mara simply can’t.
What you should know about Amboseli:
It will take approximately 7-8 hours to drive from Amboseli to the Maasai Mara.
But Tsavo National Park, another popular wildlife-viewing area, is nearby—about a 3.5-hour drive away.
The park is small enough to be experienced in 1-2 days (but I would lean towards 2).
I recommend taking a few specific items on your Amboseli safari. The roads are dry and dusty, and you’ll inevitably end up layered in dirt after each game drive, even if you’re in a mini-van. For women, a hair elastic will keep some of the dust out (my hair got so dirty, it took 20 min. to brush through it). For even more protection, cover your head with a hat or bandana. Sunglasses will help protect your eyes from the clouds of dust, as will throwing your day pack or camera bag in a plastic bag. Lastly, wet wipes may come in handy to clean the film of dirt off your skin.