The reviews of the parks on this page are my own subjective opinions based on the limited time I was there. In each case, I indicate the dates I was in the park and I offer a short description. I also give each park a rating of "G" (Good); "VG" (Very Good) or "E" (Excellent).
"Safari" is merely the Swahili word for "journey." That it has come to mean a journey to Africa to see (or hunt) animals reveals Kenya's role as the birthplace of the "safari." Kenya today remains the most popular destination for travelers wishing to go on safari. Its tourist infrastructure is well developed (by African standards) and able to accommodate the thousands of people who visit each year. There is much to see in Kenya. I visited several areas: Lewa Downs, the Samburu Region and the Masai Mara.
Kenya is a different experience than either Botswana or Zimbabwe. The parks are much more crowded, to the point where there are occasional "traffic jams" of minivans. Any interesting sight is quickly broadcast over the radios to other drivers and a semicircle of 10-15 vehicles soon forms. In addition, in my humble opinion, minivans and Land Rovers are not the best vehicles for photographers, unless there are only a few passengers.
Having said all that, there is a reason that Kenya is so popular – the scenery and the wildlife are spectacular! The Masai Mara (the northern end of the famous Serengeti) is a must. When we were in the Mara, the annual migration of zebra and wildebeest was just beginning to enter the area.
I was in the game parks of Kenya from July 5 to July 12, 1998 and again from July 25 to August 3, 1998. During this time, the weather was generally overcast, though there was no rain. July is known as the coldest month in Nairobi (and we did get some rain there). The thick cloud cover also obscured all views of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. During the day, the weather was quite warm. Shorts and a T-shirt were sufficient. The early mornings (before the sun was up) and the evenings could be very cool, requiring at least a light jacket or a fleece pullover.
Lewa Downs is a privately owned and uncrowded conservancy area that specializes in both white and black rhinoceroses (I never managed to see the latter) and various unusual species, such as the Grevy's zebra, the reticulated giraffe and the Somali ostrich. The area is very hilly and offers thick forests, acacia woodlands and open grasslands. White rhino are very easy to see here – they graze in the open grasslands and are about as difficult to find as cattle in Texas. Black rhino are a different story. They are generally solitary and stay concealed in the dense brush. Lewa also boasts plenty of elephants, common zebra, oryx, eland, Grant's gazelles, Jackson's hartebeests, olive baboons and a great variety of birds. During a night drive I also saw bush babies, which have to be one of the most fascinating creatures in nature (but, alas, beyond my abilities as a photographer – they are too fast and only come out at night). It is also possible to take walks in Lewa. While in Lewa I stayed at the Lerai Tented Camp, which offered ensuite flush toilets, running hot and cold water and a very pleasant location.
The Masai Mara (or Maasai Mara) is the Africa of the movies – broad open grasslands dotted with acacia trees falling away to the mountains on the horizon. It is worth the crowds, the fleets of minivans and the bone-jarring roads (made worse when we were there by recent El Niño rains). In the Mara we saw great herds of wildebeest and zebra, the vanguard of the annual migration, and were lucky enough to catch some of them crossing a river. We also saw scores of lions (feeding, mating and some with cubs), two male cheetahs and mother cheetah with cubs, a brief glimpse of a leopard, great herds of elephants (including some engaged in a fascinating greeting ritual), hippos, olive baboons and many monkeys, a serval cat, jackals, hyenas, eland, topi, hartebeest, Thomson's gazelles, impala and a great many birds. We also enjoyed some spectacular sunsets and the proximity of the Maasai. We stayed at three different camps in the Mara: the Mara Safari Club, Kichwa Tembo and Mara Simba. Each was quite nice.
One of highlights of my trip was spending a couple of days riding a camel through the Samburu region of Kenya. In addition to providing some welcome relief from the vehicles and the roads, it gave me a chance to spend a couple of days with the Samburu people, who still retain much of their traditional ways. I also came to like the camels very much, despite their reputation as ill-tempered, smelly beasts (though I will admit they are best appreciated from upwind). Camels are very curious animals (similar to giraffes in this regard) and take quite an interest in things around them – especially other camels. There was not too much to see by way of wildlife along the camel route, but I enjoyed the chance to see the people in the villages and farmlands going about their daily lives.
At the end of the camel trek, I visited the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves, situated along the Ewaso Ngiro River. In these game parks I saw quite a number of lions (some mating), oryx, gerenuks, dik diks, elephants, impala, vervet monkeys and numerous birds (including a rare albino red-billed hornbill). While in the Samburu National Reserve, I stayed at the Samburu Intrepids Club, which was positively luxurious (four-poster beds in the "tents," private stone bathrooms with running hot and cold water, a swimming pool and a large bar and restaurant complex – a welcome sight after sleeping under a bush on the camel trek).
For reviews of game parks in other countries see: Botswana Game Parks, Namibia Game Parks, South Africa Game Parks, Tanzania Game Parks, Uganda Game Parks, Canoe Safari in Zambia and Zimbabwe Game Parks.