Hippo, Mzima Springs

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The National Parks and Mombasa Highway

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This area covers the well-travelled route from Nairobi to Mombasa and a number of detours off it, along with the country’s most visited game parks: Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Meru, Chyulu Hills, Tsavo East and Tsavo West, and a trio of reserves in the north – Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba. The Mombasa highway is Kenya’s most important thoroughfare, the subject for many years of a massive resurfacing project, which was more or less completed in 2009. With scenic interest marginal for much of the journey, the temptation is to head straight for the coast, stopping only at the Amboseli or Tsavo national parks. But there are some rewarding diversions off the highway, which are not greatly explored: east into Kamba country and the towns of Machakos, Kitui and Mwingi, or south towards the base of Kilimanjaro and the Taita Hills.

Together with the coast, the game parks in this chapter are the most visited parts of Kenya, and the country’s archetypal image. This is not to take anything away from their appeal, for visiting any of them is an exceptional experience. In the 24,000 square kilometres covered by the nine parks, animals hold sway. Their seasonal cycles and movements, most spectacularly in the Maasai Mara’s wildebeest migration, are the dominant plots in the natural drama going on all around. Seeing the wildlife isn’t difficult, but it does require some patience and an element of luck that makes it exciting and addictive.

It’s likely that you will either already be booked on a safari, or you’ll book one once in Kenya, either from the coast or from Nairobi. Popular alternatives are to rent a vehicle, with or without a driver, or, if you’re alone or there are just two of you, and especially if you’re on a limited budget, to take a no-frills camping safari. There are details on the ins and outs of booking safaris in Basics, and plenty of operators listed in Nairobi and Mombasa.

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