Kenya’s largest park, Tsavo, is sliced in two; Tsavo West and Tsavo East. Tsavo East is the larger of the two parks, covering nearly 12,000 sq. km of harsh, rugged terrain. Considerably flatter, more arid, and a good deal bushier than neighboring Tsavo West, it’s also the less-visited park. Its vast expanses of thorn brush scrubland.
Tsavo East National Park
What to see and do at Tsavo East National Park
These are the most common Kenyan animals you may see during your visit to Tsavo East National Park: Cape buffalo, cheetahs, duikers, red elephants, gazelles, gerenuks, giraffes, hares, hartebeests, hyenas, impalas, leopards, lions, mongoose, black faced vervet monkeys, Sykes’s monkeys, crested porcupines, giant rats, black rhinoceros, squirrels, warthogs, waterbucks, and zebras.
Tsavo’s famous red elephants are not, as the mythical-sounding name suggests red at all. In fact, they’re normally pigmented pachyderms but wear a coat of red Tsavo soil — rich in iron — from time spent dusting and mudding themselves as part of their daily routine to keep cool under the heavy sun.
Birdwatching is best between October and January, with many migratory birds including: African skimmers, red and yellow bishops, goshawks, buffalo weavers and palm nut vultures, to name but a few. Over 500 bird species have been recorded in the park, including ostriches, kestrels, buzzards, starlings, weaverbirds, kingfishers, hornbills, secretary birds and herons.
A tremendous, invigorating stretch of gushing white-water cataracts where it’s possible to follow a riverside route on foot as you search for sunbathing crocodiles. Not true falls, but a series of rapids — good for spotting hippos, crocs, and all kinds of animals that come down to drink.
At about 290km long, it’s the world’s longest lava flow (also the oldest fossilized lava flow on Earth), reaching up to 10km wide and 300m high in places.
Mudanda Rock is a 1.6km outcrop of rock, with a dam at its base. This is a popular drinking place for animals.
Aruba Dam also attracts animals and birds looking for a place to drink.
Walking safaris are offered by several guides along the Galana River.
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary is saving the black rhino from extinction due to hunting by poachers.
Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West is wetter and topographically more varied with some of the most beautiful scenery in the northern reaches of the park.
The Wildlife of Tsavo West National Park
The hilly landscapes and woodland of Tsavo West mean that spotting wildlife can sometimes be tricky. There’s plenty of it, however, including large numbers of elephants and good lion prides. There’s also a good chance of seeing black rhinos in the secure rhino sanctuary. Giraffe, impala, buffalo and Burchell’s zebra are all common species here.
The birdlife in the park is outstanding – if you’re on a birdwatching safari you’ll be knocked out by the number of sightings you have. The white-headed buffalo weaver is a particularly noticeable species, with its prominent bright red rump, and there are at least eight recorded hornbill species here. If you have time for an all-day game drive to the southwest corner of the park, you could visit Lake Jipe, which is a real waterbird paradise.
What to see and do at Tsavo West National Park
How to get to Tsavo West National Park
By Road: From Nairobi, it takes about five hours, even more depending on which area and which side of the park you plan on visiting. By Air: Safarilink offers direct flights from Nairobi Wilson to Tsavo West. The flights are just under an hour in duration. If you are landing at JRO in Tanzania, the drive is around 3.5 hours in normal conditions and not including border crossings.
A near-mandatory stop-off within the park is the Mzima Springs, where 220 million of water, filtered to crystal-clear purity by the Chyulu Hills lava massif, gush out into a series of pristine pools, forming a spectacular oasis where hippos swim, crocs bask, and birds and monkeys gather en masse. Despite being a true Eden in the midst of an otherwise dry landscape, Mzima can feel like a bit of a commercial experience — there’s even an underwater observation tank (where you can count yourself extremely lucky if you happen to spot a submerged hippo), and you need to be escorted around the water (by an ill-informed, armed park ranger) — but it’s nevertheless a haven for a rich wildlife pageant and makes an ideal spot for a picnic.
The Shetani Lava Flow is the largest of a whole series of lava flows in the park, with several places where you can get out of your vehicle and stretch your legs, including a series of lava caves below the surface. These caves used to be notorious for trapping prey animals that had stumbled inside in search of water, and then trapping predators that had followed them. At one time there was even a series of plaques identifying the bones on the cave floor. Over the last couple of decades the presence of visitors has gradually put off the wildlife from entering but the caves, and the all the lava flows still have a slightly spooky atmosphere – the Shetani Lava Flow is named after the Swahili for devil or malevolent ghost.
The developed area of Tsavo West also has several steep, recent volcanic cones, one of which, Chaimu Crater, is a nature trail where, again, you can leave your safari vehicle and hike – though it’s best to do this early in the morning if you want to do the 30-minute hike to the summit as the heat on the cinder track becomes brutal as the sun rises. When you get to the top, you have superb 360-degree views of the Developed Area.
Another spot for a good scan with the binoculars is the wooded Poacher’s Lookout, which you drive up on a steep, winding track. — a fine spot for sundowners accompanied by majestic views of the surrounding landscape.
This is a strongly seasonal river, whose flow is very much determined by rain and snowfall on Kilimanjaro and its eastern foothills. The sandy roads along the riverside are a good area for game drives, especially in the dry season.
Much of this area was converted to sisal plantations long ago, but there’s a beautiful dam and lake that makes a good spot for a picnic.