Known for being the best place to see mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park is probably Africa’s best hidden gem.
Overshadowed by the great Masai Mara in Kenya or the nearby Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, I was surprise to see many travelers skipping Amboseli National Park in East Africa. This national park not only offers the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro, but it is also home for one of the largest communities of elephants in Africa as well to zebras, lions, cheetahs and buffalo. Wild encounters are 100% guaranteed and no matter if you are a first-timer on your way to your first safari or an old experienced traveler looking to explore something different, Amboseli will leave you in awe.
Magic surrounds you everywhere in Amboseli. Either you go there for the panoramic views, the excellent bird-watching, or to spot these large herds of 30, 40 and even 50 elephants together, Amboseli won’t disappoint. Here is a guide on how to make the most during your visit in Amboseli National Park.
Located almost 200 km south of Nairobi and situated right next to the border with Tanzania, Amboseli’s accessibility and biodiversity makes it one of the most interesting places to visit during a trip to Kenya.
Experts agree that the sceneries of Amboseli are probably the best in whole Africa and despite its size – way smaller than its bigger cousin, Masai Mara, or other national parks in Kenya like East Tsavo – Amboseli host some of the best animal encounters you can see in the continent.
It has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife during the dry season (June to October and December to March) and some consider it the best spot to see elephants in whole East Africa.
Amboseli’s unique location also adds something special to the mix. Its fresh underground water supply from the Kilimanjaro’s ice cap provides Amboseli with enough water, so wildlife can easily coexist all year round. Additionally, Amboseli offers some of the best sites in the world for birdwatching. Here, it is not surprising to see thousands of flamingo flying around as well large populations of ostriches and other East African birds.
For travelers visiting Amboseli and arriving from Nairobi or Arusha, the best way to explore it is from west to east. The western gates of the national park (Meshanani Gate or Kiritua Gate) are located between 70-80 kilometers from the town of Namanga. Furthermore, road conditions are also in very good shape (keep in mind, the road from Namanga to Kiritua Gate is a dirt-road) and there is plenty of accommodation in that area.
Inside the park, off road is forbidden by the authorities (in contrast to Masai Mara) and signalization is excellent. Amboseli is very well organized and very easy to move around without getting lost – something that can be a plus for those interested in doing a self-driving experience.
I visited Amboseli for 3 nights and 4 days and it was enough time to explore everything I wanted and take some incredible memories back home.
Where is the best place to stay in Amboseli
Unlike Masai Mara or Serengeti where location is key when it comes to moving around the national park, Amboseli is small enough that is worth risking location in order to save some money.
Travelers visiting Amboseli can also choose between staying inside the national park or outside the park. Both options are fine and it is important to mention that staying outside Amboseli does not mean risking the quality of the experience.
Accommodation outside the national park
With multiple lodges and camps situated between Kiritua Gate and Namanga, this is probably the best location to stay when visiting Amboseli. Most lodges situated in this side of the park also offer excellent views of Kilimanjaro and depending on how far from the gate you book, you will need 10 minutes or less in order to get into the national park.
Prices for accommodation do not change much outside the national park. Rooms offering breakfast and dinner start at 80 USD a night and for 100-120 USD, you can spurge yourself a little bit without affecting the budget.
Accommodation next to the Meshanani, Ermito and Kimana gates are also available. However, expect long drives into the deep of the national park.
Accommodation inside the national park
Inside the national park, prices get high and quality as well. Amboseli Lodge, Ol Tukai or Serena Lodge offer luxury accommodation in the heart of the park. However, expect prices to easily triple or quadruple for a night.
For those expecting a full luxurious journey, Elewana Tortilis Camp Amboseli is located in the southern part of the park and offers a complete private experience.
But not everything inside Amboseli is luxurious. Amboseli’s public campsite offers camping spots for just 30 USD and if you or your tour operator are traveling with a full camping equipment, this could be a great option to get a different kind of experience.
Amboseli’s public campsite is also the preferred choice for travelers doing self-driving.
Other activities around Amboseli
Beside the game drive activities, there is plenty to do around Amboseli. Even though the national park is too far from Namanga, cultural village tours with the Masai are possible not far away from the entrance gate.
Additionally, travelers interested in the activities the national park itself offers, can also enjoy wonderful experiences such as a night drive for just 20 USD, horse riding for 25 USD and even walking safaris for just 15 USD.
Take into consideration that these are just the fees for these activities. You still need to arrange a guide and vehicle to move around.
Best time to visit
For travelers hoping to see the best of Amboseli in just a few days, the dry season from June to October is generally considered the best time to visit. Waterholes become excellent viewpoints for observation and with the grass low, spotting a lion or a cheetah becomes way easier.
However, dry season in Africa means high season for tourism. Even though Amboseli is not as popular as Masai Mara, expect accommodation to be booked months in advance. Still, Humphrey Ndara, owner of Africa Kenya Safaris and expert in safari experiences in Africa told me. “Even though I recommend booking as soon as you book your flights, it is possible to get accommodation in Amboseli on a short notice all year round.”
Wet season also offers a completely different experience. The sceneries of Amboseli turn green and vibrant and even though the spotting of big cats becomes kind of a difficult task, the herds or elephants roaming will not disappear.
At this time, prices also go down and availability increases. You can end up spending 30-40% less in accommodation and tours.
Read more: How to get ready for your first safari trip?
Self-driving or independent tour
Going on a self-driving experience when doing a safari is kind of a dilemma. The trip is definitely more unique, but finding animals is more complicated and long driving hours become exhausting.
And while self-driving in Serengeti or Masai Mara is not recommended at all, Amboseli is not a bad place to test those driving skills while going on a safari.
All roads in the national park have signalization, the driving conditions are fine for anyone who has driven on gravel road before and most vehicles simply follow other cars when it comes to spotting wildlife.
Self-driving fees do not divert at all from the normal vehicle fees and even though Google Maps is great for finding your way around the park, you can also get a road map at the arrival gate with the rangers.
NOTE: Remember basic etiquette while driving on a national park. Never get out of the vehicle. Do not chase animals in the wild and be cautious about encounters with elephants.
Costs to visit Amboseli National Park on a safari
As I mentioned before, I visited Amboseli National Park on a private tour for four days and three nights.
I balanced my budget between accommodation and days in the national park, and decided to stay for a longer period of time and save money in accommodation.
Since I decided to go on a private safari with a private company, I didn’t have to deal with comparing accommodation prices and calling. I discussed with my tour operator my total budget, my priorities and let her decide what would be the best for me.
In comparison to Masai Mara, Amboseli is way cheaper. Group tours in Amboseli start at 200 USD for 3 days and 2 nights, while private tours for 2 people can start at 100 USD per night per person. The longer you also stay in the park, the cheaper is the tour.
For those looking for a safari experience in Amboseli the best they can do is get in touch with different tour operators, discuss the budget that you are willing to spend in total and arrange the right itinerary based on your needs.
Here is a short list of some trusted local tour operators in Kenya:
- Africa Kenya Safaris
- Natural World Safaris
- Hyrax Safaris
- Memorable Safaris
- Eyes on Africa Adventure Safaris
Planning a trip to Kenya independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.
They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.
These are some of the most popular tours in Amboseli National Park at SafariBookings
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