Amboseli can be quite dusty and is usually dry. There are not many trees, but the vast open plains means that wildlife spotting is a cinch here, and very rewarding. Even though the landscape is dry, the earth is a wonderfully rich red color and stunningly beautiful. Observation Hill situated close to the swamps in the park is a perfect picnic spot, offering visitors the chance to stretch their legs and soak in the view, while listening to contented hippos munch on the grass below.
Amboseli Dry Facts
Amboseli National Park covers 392km² (151 miles²) and has a mixed topography of plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush, swamps and marshes. Amboseli was declared a national reserve in 1968 and it became a national park in 1974. The minimum average daily temperature is 27°C and the maximum is 33°C. Drought is typical in this area, and evaporation is high. A total annual rainfall of just 300mm is expected during April and May, and again during November and December. (See more about Kenya's weather and climate).
The roads in Amboseli have a loose surface of volcanic soil that is dusty in the dry season and impassable in the wet season. Luckily the wet season does not last too long, so the park is open for most of the year (May is the month you have to watch out for -- check with your tour operator for dates). Off-roading is officially not allowed in the park due to the degradation this was causing to the environment. Amboseli is home to the "Big Five" along with cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hippo and much more.
Getting to Amboseli
By Road: from Nairobi, the drive to Amboseli takes around 4 hours. Traffic in Nairobi can be pretty dire, so add on an hour if your hotel is near the city center. The main road into the park is from Nairobi via Namanga (240 km) on the Nairobi - Arusha Road, through Meshanani Gate. The other road is from Nairobi via Emali (228 km) on the Nairobi - Mombasa Road. Access from Mombasa is mainly through Tsavo West National Park via Kimana (Olkelunyiet) Gate.
By Air: There is a landing strip in the park, and a scheduled flight on Safarilink from Wilson (Nairobi) departs daily (but not always during the rainy season, so check with your tour operator). Some safari lodges/camps offer their own charter flights.
Where to Stay in Amboseli
- The first time I looked at lodging options in Amboseli, I was immediately drawn to Porini Amboseli Camp. With just 9 tented camps in the bush, and located in the Selenkay Conservancy just outside the national park, it offers all the benefits of a genuine safari experience. The Selenkay Conservancy is made up of land that has been leased from the local Maasai, and in the past decade it has returned to wild bush, filled to the brim with wildlife including elephants. The comfortable camp allows for a truly authentic Maasai village experience, and most of the staff are local Maasai. To me, the advantages of being able to take nature walks, night drives and enjoy sundowners without seeing a single other vehicle, was worth every penny. You still get to spend all day in the National Park, and then enjoy your own private wilderness at the start and end of every day.
- Porini also offers a more basic "Adventure Camp" in the Selenkay Conservancy, where you stay in domed tents and sleep on mattresses rather than the larger more luxurious style safari tents. But they still come with a flush toilet and bucket shower unit. Both camps include two game drives in 4x4 vehicles, manned by expert Maasai guides. The food is great, the service is friendly and I highly recommend the experience.
- Tortilis Camp is a very luxurious tented camp, set in an Acacia woodland, inside the National Park. The Camp has 17 spacious tents, all with elegant en-suite bathrooms with showers and modern flush toilets. Each tent leads from a bedroom with expansive king-size or generous twin beds, through a dressing area into modern bathrooms with pressured hot showers and flush toilets. Each tent is raised up on a wooden deck and sheltered by a makuti (thatched) roof overhanging a large verandah, ideal for an early afternoon siesta. The camp has a pool and is renowned for its tasty, Italian inspired cuisine.
If tented camps are not your idea of a holiday, there are two very good lodges inside the National Park, and another on a conservancy adjacent to the Park.
- Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, has won all kinds of awards and is a very lovely, comfortable luxury lodge. You won't get the intimate bush feel of a tented camp, but you can laze at a pool between game drives (it gets hot here), and enjoy spectacular views from every room. The hotel is built to resemble a Maasai homestead, every room is luxuriously appointed with comfortable beds, and private en suite bathrooms.
- Ol Tukai Lodge is another very nice lodge, located under one of the few shady patches in Amboseli. The African theme extends to every public space, it's nicely designed, with a good pool and bar which is very welcome during the heat of the day. Rooms are nicely appointed and the shop is well stocked and not too expensive.
- Tawi Lodge is an eco-friendly luxury lodge located just outside of Amboseli National Park, in a Conservancy at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The views are breathtaking from each of the 12 cottages, laid out for privacy. The cottages accommodate doubles or twins and have en suite bathrooms with both a shower as well as a bath. A bar and dining room overlook the swamps which are visited by large herds of elephants.
- Self-catering cottages are also an option for those on a budget, or self-driving. KWS has a good list here.
Meeting the Maasai
The Maasai own most of the land surrounding the small national park. They live a traditional pastoralist lifestyle for the most part. One of the big attractions for many visitors is to visit a local Maasai village and get a little insight into their rich culture. The best experience in my book is to stay at the Porini Amboseli Camp and enjoy a most authentic visit to a local Maasai homestead. The local lodges and other camps will be able to organize Maasai village visits for you, and while it's still a fascinating experience, it is mainly set up for tourism purposes.