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the six must-see parks and reserves

It’s the season ! Big like France and populated by 53 million souls, Kenya is the safari country par excellence. The most beautiful national parks to discover.

Kenya is the safari country par excellence. That of the origin of the modern safari too. This story begins in the 1910s and the first hunting expeditions organized by the American Theodore Roosevelt. Since then, this East African country, which takes its name from its highest point, has seen a surge of travelers from all over the world in search of wide open spaces and African fauna to bring back, like trophies, their photos of big cats. . This country, as large as France and populated by 53 million souls, is full of natural treasures… To discover them, our selection of the six most beautiful national parks and reserves.

SEE THE FILE – Kenya: the Figaro travel guide

The most famous: the Masai Mara reserve

The Masai Mara, a vast region of more than 1500 km², is a reserve and not a park. It is indeed inhabited by the Masai, this emblematic people that we meet at the bend of the sandy tracks. But this reserve is above all famous for its emblematic safari landscapes: the infinite savannah punctuated by a few umbrella acacias on which scavenger birds come to rest and a few rocky mounds (the kopjes) which serve as an observatory for hungry felines.

The presence of a high population of lions goes hand in hand with that of most large animals in Africa. It is the most visited park in Kenya. A stay in the Mara presupposes a few usual precautions, in particular that of choosing the right region. Leave the comfortable tracks and prefer the muddy tracks, to finally discover solitude, the absolute height of the traveler on safari.

If you have to see the Mara in its best days, you will prefer to travel it between August and September, when the famous great wildebeest migration, an all-you-can-eat buffet for predators, sweeps through the savannah. A stay in the Mara cannot be envisaged without an unforgettable hot-air balloon flight at sunrise… A must.

The most photogenic: Amboseli National Park

The most legendary view in Kenya, on Kilimanjaro. Adobe Stock / adogslifephoto

If Kenya had an Eiffel Tower, Amboseli Park would be its Trocadero spot. This national park located in the south of the country, relatively small (392 km²), has the most mythical view of the continent: on Kilimanjaro. The image of the elephant in the savannah against the background of this extinct volcano, the highest point of the continent, is here. Although the famous volcano is located in Tanzania, the best view it offers belongs to Kenya. This strato-volcano, extinct for 350,000 years and 5895 meters high, stands alone, isolated in the middle of this flat land, hypnotizing the traveler. From the park of Amboseli, rich in a large population of elephants, the gaze is only looking for “the mountain of lights”.

If the view is impregnable, it is also capricious. Kilimanjaro does not always show itself, hidden by clouds or mist. But not a day goes by without him discovering himself… Generally, at the end of the day. It is therefore advisable to return early from safari, to find a good place and to sip a well-deserved beverage, while waiting for the show to be offered to you… with a scent of eternity.

The largest: Tsavo National Park

At dusk, the “Finch Hattons Camp”, located in the West National Park of Tsavo in Kenya, shines with a thousand lights in memory of the lover of Karen Blixen who perishes in a plane not far from there. ERIC MARTIN / Le Figaro Magazine

With its 13,747 km², this national park, larger than the entire Île-de-France region, is one of the largest on the African continent and also one of the most contrasting. Mythical for many because it was here that the first safaris took place, it has become synonymous with the excesses of poaching. Its size making it impossible to control, this park which extends from the coasts of the Indian Ocean to the center of the country, saw its population of elephants and other large mammals disappear during the 1980s and 1990s. , the hunt was better controlled and the large animals returned. Very popular in the East, close to Mombasa and its beaches, it becomes more confidential in the East where we find jewels such as the famous lodge with the mythical name, since it is that of the lover safari guide by Karen Blixen, Finch Hatton.

Taking the train (the SGR, Standard Gauge Railways) between Nairobi and Mombasa is undoubtedly the most original and least expensive way to cross the famous Tsavo Park. Recently renovated but still picturesque, it allows you to cross these immense landscapes with the strange feeling of traveling between two eras.

Highest: Mount Kenya National Park

Mount Kenya is heaven for daredevil climbers. Adobe Stock / JAG IMAGES

Mount Kenya, from its height of 5200 meters, dominates the country to which it gave its name. After a few hours driving north from Nairobi, he is watching you from afar. It is quite rarely the ultimate destination, and yet it is located on the equator. If you can meet many animals including elephants, rhinos and other monkeys, it is one of the paradises of reckless climbers. Three days are needed to climb it and it is difficult. At first, the hike takes place in dense primary forests. Then, little by little, the vegetation gives way to the arid rock before almost reaching the summit at just under 5000 meters above sea level. The mount’s central location allows the daring to embrace the country, from the shores of the Indian Ocean to the arid lands of the north and the major cities of the south.

Try a night in a “tree lodge”, these lodges perched like stranded boats, on large stilts. Here, the safari consists of waiting for the animals, elephants, rhinos and other felines to come and drink there. One of them, the Treetops, was according to legend the one where Queen Elizabeth slept the night her father died and where she actually became queen.

Farthest: Samburu and Shaba National Parks

These reserves offer landscapes and wildlife that are very different from other large parks in the country. Adobe Stock / gmcphotopress

Rarely visited because they are far from Nairobi and the main arteries, the national parks of Samburu and Shaba are nevertheless essential. Located in the north of the Equator, these reserves offer landscapes and fauna that are very different from other large parks in the country. Here, the Nile crocodiles are larger and the desert antelopes, the Oryx, which were believed to be the privilege of the Namibian deserts, are at home. These magnificent antelopes with straight, tapering horns could be the goal of this trip. But giraffes, lions and other elephants compete with the 450 species of birds that live there.

Dry, this region resembles in places the African bushes found in southern Africa. But the semi-desert climate makes life easier for the traveler. To meet the animals, it is often enough to follow the bed of the rivers, the only green places in the middle of this yellow and ocher ocean. No need to run, just stop at the right place.

The greenest: Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha parks

Lake Nakuru. Adobe Stock / lotosphoto

The lakes region is located two hours by road from Nairobi… A vacation spot for well-to-do Nairobians, we find in this region many of the country’s riches: the large plantations of roses or beans but also the extravagant properties, a legacy of the British colonial era. At the heart of this region, two lakes stand out. That of Nakuru, not far from the city of the same name, surrounded by a primary forest rich in particular with its rhinos, and that of Naivasha. They were depicted in their colony of flamingos before they migrated north. But their majestic primary forests and lake landscapes have no equivalent in the country. Here, everything is green or blue.

Do not miss to visit Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha, the island where the animals used for the filming of the famous film were released Out of Africa. Since then, they have been living in the wild on this tiny island which can be visited on foot in a few hours… And in complete safety, because only the herbivores have been released there!


Practical notebook

GO

From France, count 8 hours of flight. Kenya Airways and Air France offer direct flights from Paris. From the regional cities, all the major European companies will also take you to the Kenyan capital.

On site: the train between Nairobi and Mombasa costs from €40 per person one way. Domestic flights are very valuable given the length of road trips. Count on average 150 to 200 € per flight per person depending on the route chosen.

On the road: prefer 4X4 journeys. If the “safari” minibuses are still popular, the 4X4 remains the best way to access more remote and therefore more confidential areas.

WHEN TO GO

It is agreed to say that the months of April and May are not recommended. Wetter, these months of the “green season” are also those during which tourist numbers are lowest and prices are the most affordable. If you choose this season, use the savings to fly from point to point.

During the winter from November to March, the temperatures are mild and you can take full advantage of the swimming pools after a day on the slopes. The landscapes are clear and the landscapes green.

From June to October, we enter a winter equivalent, cooler, drier but also and without a doubt the most fruitful for animal lovers, culminating in the famous great migration which arrives from Tanzania in July August and returns there from October.

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