Amboseli National Park is currently second in popularity after the legendary Masai Mara, and not only offers great game viewing but is also the place to go for the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain which actually rises just across the border in Tanzania yet Amboseli has a postcard-perfect view of its snow-capped peaks, rising almost six vertical kilometres above the savannah.
Amboseli is located about 200km south-east of Nairobi and accessible by road or air, it is an area of low scrubby vegetation and open grassy plains, all of which makes for easy game viewing. Accommodation is available at several luxury safari lodges and you’ll explore the park on game drives, horse-back safaris and guided nature walks.
Altitude 3,900 – 4,500ft
Area 392 sq. ft
Distance from Nairobi 135 kms from the Airstrip
Opened: April 1948
Status: International bio – sphere reserve
Highlights: Unrivalled views of Mounts Kilimanjaro & Meru, Contemporary Maasai Culture, Excellent Elephant & bird viewing, Year round springs & waterholes
Exploring Amboseli National Park
Amboseli is a place of stark contrast. Meaning “A place of water” in maa, language of the Maasai. Amboseli, despite its sometimes dry and dusty appearance, has an endless water supply filtered through thousands of feet of volcanic rock from Kilimanjaro’s snow melt. These underground streams converge into two clear water springs in the heart of the park.
The endemic dust is volcanic ash which spewed from Kilimanjaro a millennia ago. During dry seasons a curious feature is the shimmering dry lake bed where false mirages of populated horizons, punctuated by real herds of zebra and gnu (wildebeest) hover in front of visitors. The principal attraction at Amboseli is its vast herds of elephants. The bulls have some of the largest tusks in Kenya. There are zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, impala and leopard, caracal and serval cat can be seen. Birdwatchers can see pelicans, bee-eaters, kingfishers, African fish eagle, martial eagle and pygmy falcon.
Amboseli is an important rangeland in Maasai culture. The ranch areas outside the park offer a wealth of game viewing and walking safaris.
The Kenya Wildlife Community Service works closely with local elders to develop ecotourism attractions which benefit indigenous communities and protect this fragile eco-system.
One of the most popular parks in Kenya, Amboseli offers a wide range of accommodation. There are four lodges inside the park (total 602 beds) and two campsites, and the Ol Tukai self-help bandas, built as the film set for the “Snows Kilimanjaro”. There are a number of small tented lodges just outside the park (total 72 beds).
In 1883, Joseph Thompson was the first European to penetrate the feared Maasai region known as Empusel (meaning ‘salty, dusty place’ in Maa). He, too, was astonished by the fantastic array of wildlife and the contrast between the arid areas of the dry-lake bed and the oasis of the swamps, a contrast that persists today.
Amboseli was set aside as the ‘Southern Reserve’ for Maasai in 1906 but returned to local control as a Game Reserve in 1948. Gazetted a National Park in 1974 to protect the core this unique ecosystem, it was declared a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve in 1991. The park earned $3.5 m (€2.9 m) in 2005. On 29 September 2005, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared that control of the park should pass from the Kenya Wildlife Service to the Olkejuado County Council and the Maasai tribe. Some observers saw this as a political favour in advance of a vote on a new Kenyan constitution: legal challenges are currently in court. The degazetting would divert park admission fees directly to the County Council with shared benefits to the Maasai immediately surrounding the park.
The park is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants. Other attractions of the park include opportunities to meet Maasai and visit a Maasai village. The park also offers spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Amboseli offers some of the best opportunities to see African animals because its vegetation is sparse due to the long dry months. Amboseli National Park is home to wild animals, which include the African elephant, cape buffalo, impala, lion, cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra, and wildebeest among other African animals. There is also a host of Kenyan birds, both large and small, to see if you keep your eyes open and stop at every sighting.
The park has several rules to protect the wildlife: do not get out of your vehicle, except at designated spots; do not harass the animals in any way; keep to the tracks; no off-road driving; and animals always have the right of way. The roads in Amboseli have a loose surface of volcanic soil that is dusty in the dry season and impassable in the wet season.
There is a small airport in Amboseli, the Amboseli Airport (HKAM).
- By Road: 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: Airstrips: The park has a single airstrip for light aircrafts at Empusel gate. Other airstrips exist at Kilimanjaro Buffalo Lodge and Namanga town
- Kulunyiet Gate
- Meshanani Gate
- Kitirua Gate
- Iremito Gate
- Airstrip Gate
Size / Location
- 390.26 Km2
- Loitoktok District, Rift Valley Province
- Temperature ranges from 20-30 c and rainfall from 200mm – 700 mm
- Two rain seasons: Long rains – March & April & short rains – Nov/ December
Safari Card Required?
Entry is by Safari card only. Safari card may be obtained and loaded at any KWS Safaricard office or at the Iremito Gate. Proof of identification will be required.
- Citizens – Valid Passport or National ID
- Residents – Valid Passport & re entry pass
- Large Herds of Elephants
- Mt. Kilimanjaro
- Big Five
- Observation Hill which allows an overall view of the whole park especially the swamps and elephants,
- Swamp below observation hill hosts many elephants, buffaloes, hippos and a variety of water fowls like pelican, Egyptian goose
- Contemporary Maasai culture and indigenous lifestyle
- Leopard, Cheetah, Wild dogs, Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Lion, Plains Game, Crocodile, Mongoose, Hyrax, Dik- dik, Lesser Kudu, and Nocturnal Porcupine
- Prolific birdlife features 600 species
What to take with you
- Drinking water, picnic items and camping equipment if you intend to stay overnight. Also useful are: binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and guidebooks