Kenya provides an unparalleled safari experience, from the renowned grasslands of the Maasai Mara to the hidden gems of lesser-known reserves. This short guide should offer something for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned safari fan or a first-time visitor eager to experience Kenya’s natural treasures! If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Kenya, here’s your one-stop shop for everything you need to know when booking a safari experience, including the best places to see wildlife and explore the best national parks in Kenya! Make sure you read: Kenya holidays – what you need to know before you go

If you’re a first time solo traveller, or nervous about travelling Africa by yourself but don’t want to miss out on the cance to experience a safari in Kenya, why not check out these group tours? These multi-day trips mean that you are looked after by a trip organiser from the moment you set foot on the continent and follow a hand-selected itinerary to ensure you get the most from your experience. If you are travelling solo, this also could help to reduce travel costs of organising the trip independently, and means you have a ready made group of travel buddies to enjoy the trip with!

Planning a trip to Kenya? Here’s what you need to know:

It can seem an intimidating task to try and organise a once-in-a-lifetime trip such as a safari in Kenya. So here’s my one-stop shop for all the places you need to shop around so you can find the best deals and save when booking your dream trip!

  • Save money when booking flights to Kenya with Skyscanner – it’s my favourite tool for price comparison and sourcing the cheapest times to fly and budget rates. Try using the search tool to pick the cheapest month or use flexible dates to get the best deal.
  • Don’t forget to buy travel insurance, I recommend SafetyWing for holidays and shorter trips, and World Nomads if you’re planning a longer multi-destination trip. 
  • Make sure you apply for your 90-day single entry visa before you go. Even if you have a UK passport, you will require a visa to travel to Kenya.
  • Get the best travel debit card through Starling Bank and skip the charges when you use your debit card in Kenya

To understand the different types of safaris one can engage in, it is important to provide a short overview of the difference between wildlife conservancies and national parks. Conservancies and national parks in Kenya are both protected areas that play crucial roles in wildlife conservation and promoting sustainable tourism. However, they differ in ownership, management, and specific objectives.

What exactly are national parks?

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a division of the government, oversees and manages national parks in Kenya. The state owns these parks, and their main goal is to safeguard the survival of biodiversity by protecting wildlife and their natural habitats. National parks often draw more people since they are more well-known. They provide a well-established infrastructure, including lodges, campgrounds, and escorted safari tours, guaranteeing a relaxing and engaging wildlife experience.

 What exactly are wildlife conservancies?

Wildlife conservancies are often privately held or community-owned and are run by local communities, businesses, or conservation organisations. They are built on public or private property that are immediately near to national parks or reserves, frequently forming wildlife corridors, with the aim of protecting animals in case they venture outside the national parks’ boundaries. Conservancies provide a more exclusive and intimate wildlife experience due to their smaller size and lower tourist numbers. Tourists often have the opportunity for off-road game drives, night safaris, and walking safaris, which can be super exciting, given that you might spot animals in specific situations, which might not be possible in national parks.

When talking about going on safari in Kenya, mostly huge national parks come to mind, however, there are some amazing, lesser-known wildlife conservancies in Kenya which definitely provide just as much of a magical experience!

Now that we’ve established the difference between the two, what are the the best national parks in Kenya?

Photo by Guyo Adhi

Maasai Mara: The home of epic wildlife spectacles!

If anyone has ever done a google search with the term “Kenya safari”, chances are that the Masai Mara will always get mentioned somewhere. The Maasai Mara is one of the most well-known game reserves bordering Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park in southwest Kenya. It is part of the larger Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, known for its diverse species and annual wildebeest migration, which is one of the most amazing animal spectacles in the world – and definitely something you need to add to your Kenya bucket list!

The Maasai Mara is mostly made up of wide grasslands, scattered acacia trees, and the Mara River, covering a total area of 1,510 square kilometres (583 square miles). Because of the distinctive topography that provides a habitat for an amazing range of species, it is one of the best safari destinations in all of Africa and almost guarantees an unforgettable safari experience!

The Maasai people, who live in the area for years and coexist peacefully with the wildlife and are also integral in the conservation efforts of these animals. While visiting the Maasai Mara you’ll also have the chance to learn about the intriguing Maasai culture and traditions in addition to seeing the amazing wildlife. 

Throughout the year, the Maasai Mara offers amazing game viewing opportunities, with the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) as well as countless other species of mammals, birds, and reptiles. However, as mentioned earlier, the highlight of the Maasai Mara is the Great Migration, where thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle cross the Mara River in search of fresh grazing. This attracts predators like lions, crocodiles, and hyenas, making it an absolute insane spectacle to witness!

Here are 3 Maasai Mara safaris you won’t want to miss:

>> Book hotels and accommodation near Maasai Mara National Park

Photo by Twilight Kenya

Amboseli National Park: A Paradise for all Elephant lovers!

If you love elephants, then Amboseli National Park is definitely for you! It is situated in southern Kenya, close to the Tanzanian border and is renowned for its breathtaking views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, which is located just across the border in Tanzania. It is one of Kenya’s most popular safari locations, especially if you’d like to witness Africa’s gentle gians, Elephants!

Approximately 392 square kilometres (151 square miles) in size, the park is mostly made up of a variety of landforms, such as large grassland plains, wetlands, and the seasonally present Lake Amboseli. This area is ideal for game viewing and photography due to the variety of wildlife that can be found there.

What makes Amboseli National Park so special are the large elephant herds who call these large grassplains home! These elephants are some of the most studied and best-protected in Africa. Amboseli is probably the best place where you can witness these magnificent creatures up close, along with other iconic African animals such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest. If you are into bird-watching then you’ve also come to the right place as Amboseli National Park contains over 400 species of birds recorded, including numerous migratory birds.

Here’s some safari tours of Amboseli National Park:

>> Book hotels and accommodation near Amboseli National Park

Photo by Dianne Magbanua-Negado

What are the best wildlife conservancies?

Ol Pejeta Conservancy: A flagship model of wildlife conservation

Similar to what Masai Mara is to national parks in Kenya, Ol Pejeta is to conservancies. Ol Pejeta is a private wildlife conservancy located in Laikipia County, Kenya and covers an expansive area of approximately 360 square kilometers (90,000 acres). It is one of the largest conservancies in Kenya and a leading conservation success story in East Africa. 

Established in 2004, Ol Pejeta is dedicated to wildlife conservation, habitat protection, and community development. The conservancy plays a crucial role in protecting endangered species, including the critically endangered northern white rhinos, southern white rhinos, and black rhinos. It also serves as a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees, providing a safe and natural environment for these primates to live. 

Ol Pejeta Conservancy provides you with outstanding opportunities for game viewing, enabling you to see the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) as well as a wide variety of other wildlife species, such as giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and other bird species. The conservancy actively participates in community development projects, supports adjacent schools and healthcare institutions, and offers employment opportunities to nearby populations in addition to its work to conserve animals.

With its commitment to wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism, Ol Pejeta Conservancy stands as a model for successful conservation efforts, demonstrating the importance of preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species for future generations.

Check out these options for a safari in Ol Pejeta Conservancy:

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy: Wildlife conservation sanctuary at the slopes of Mount Kenya

Another well-known private wildlife preserve, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is situated in Kenya’s Laikipia County. It covers about 65,000 acres and is located along the slopes of Mount Kenya. Lewa, which was founded in 1995, is committed to protecting animals, fostering community growth, and promoting sustainable land use.

Lewa Conservancy is a leader in East African wildlife conservation initiatives, safeguarding critically endangered animals and their ecosystems. The conservancy is renowned for its effective work in protecting black and white rhinos, and it acts as a habitat for these vulnerable animals. In addition, a variety of wildlife, including the Big Five, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and several bird species, call it home.

The conservancy is deeply committed to community development, collaborating with local communities to create a positive impact through education, healthcare, and livelihood projects. By involving local communities in conservation efforts, Lewa strives to promote sustainable land management practices and foster a harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife.

Kenya is home to countless species of wildlife and is one of the best safari destinations in the world. Big national parks like the Masai Mara or Amboseli provide epic game viewing opportunities and seasonal spectacles like the wildebeest migration, which should be on everyone’s bucket list! However, you cannot forget about wildlife conservancies too. They provide a more intimate opportunity to view wildlife while at the same time leading important conservation efforts that are crucial for the survival of various species. So in case you are currently in the process of planning your safari in Kenya, national parks as well as conservancies should be on your list if you’d like a very well-rounded and comprehensive safari experience!

Thank you to Sidney Lee for contributing this article and his expertise on safaris in Kenya. You can find more of his writing on Discovering Kenya.