Amboseli National Park travel guide

Even if you’ve never heard of Amboseli you’re probably familiar with its most iconic vista, that one of herds of elephants tracking slowly past the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro. It’s the quintessential image of East African safaris, but there are more reasons to visit this compact national park than one, admittedly awesome, view.
Amboseli’s elephants have endured despite the East African poaching crisis. Thanks to the presence of tourists and researchers – and the vital support of local Masaai communities – this is one of Kenya’s jumbo strongholds.
It’s important to consider Amboseli National Park in the context of the wider Amboseli ecosystem. This dusty savannah remains largely unfenced and wildlife disperses during the wet season into the surrounding lands – some of which are now Masaai-owned conservancies where it’s possible to enjoy intimate walking safaris and night drives.
Justin Francis, chief executive and co-founder of Responsible Travel explains just how important these conservancies can be: “few people realise there are actually five separate migrations in East Africa – not just the one in the Masai Mara. One of these happens in Amboseli. It’s not anywhere near the same scale – around 2,400 animals – so don’t go thinking you’re seeing an alternative to the Great Migration, but you’ll still see plenty of wildlife. It’s also perilously threatened and there needs to be real incentives for local landowners to keep the land accessible to wildlife and to protect it. Wildlife tourism with profits going directly to local people is key”.

And therein lies Amboseli’s real beauty – a pioneering community-led approach to tourism and conservation that generates local income and a greater protection for wildlife.

Amboseli National Park is...

a bit of a dust bowl, but one of the best places in the world to see wild African elephants, with around 1,500 packed into just 392km2.

Amboseli National Park isn't...

just about THAT Kilimanjaro view. This park has pioneered community-based conservation, where profits from conservation and tourism go directly to local people.

Amboseli map & highlights

Tucked up against Kenya’s southern border with Tanzania – hence that Kilimanjaro view – and just a four hour journey from Nairobi, Amboseli is one of Kenya’s most accessible and popular wildlife destinations. Its geography is its charm. Sat underneath Africa’s highest mountain the park receives little rainfall yet is home to a network of swamps and marshes sustained by underground mountain run-off that attracts a wealth of colourful birdlife. Safaris here are not usually done in isolation, instead Amboseli is likely to be one of several parks you visit. Combining Amboseli with the Masai Mara is a popular option, for example, while the park also makes for an excellent safari addition to beach breaks along southern Kenya’s stretch of powder-white Indian Ocean coast.

1. Birdwatching

The classic Kili view is what makes Amboseli so unique. While in its rain shadow, swamps formed by water flowing underground from the mountain are sustained year-round and provide habitats for a wealth of bird species. Over 420 of them, in fact, including the prehistoric and somewhat ridiculous-looking shoebill. Clouds of flamingos settle here during the wet seasons too – turning the swamps a hazy, squawking, pink.

2. Elephants

Around 1,500 elephants call Amboseli home, a healthy population living in 392km2 that has bypassed much of the poaching crisis affecting other areas of East Africa – thanks in the main to the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Africa’s longest running study of wild elephants, and the community-owned conservancies which surround the park. Expect to see herds of up to 100 individuals of all ages, from tiny babies to 60 year old matriarchs and huge tuskers, wander past during game drives.
Lake Amboseli

3. Lake Amboseli

The vast lake which names the eponymous national park is mostly parched and dry – although come the rainy season it can fill with a shallow of water, no more than 2ft deep. The result is spectacular – a vast mirror reflecting the sky and savannah. In the dry season expect strange mirages as the heat shimmers off the dry, salty surface.
Observation Hill

4. Observation Hill

Aptly named – this pyramid-shaped hill rising out of Amboseli’s plains offers a panoramic view across the park to Kilimanjaro in the south, or east to the swamps. You’re unlikely to encounter wildlife here – hence it’s one of the only places you can get out of your vehicle and stretch your legs – but seeing elephants and hippos in the distance puts their size, and the sheer scale of the landscape, in context.
Selenkay Conservation Area

5. Selenkay Conservation Area

Adjoining the national park, the Selenkay Conservation Area is a pioneer of community conservation in Kenya. Traditional Masaai landowners lease out their lands and profit from visitors’ stays. As a result elephants and other wildlife, originally aggressively chased off the farmlands, now range far into the conservancy – where they can be seen by vehicle or on foot with a Masaai guide. Only 20 guests stay at a time in the conservancy’s remote camp for unique, intimate and cultural safari experiences.
That view

6. That view

You’ll need an early start to catch the iconic view of Kilimanjaro towering over the Amboseli plains – leave it too late in the day and cloud cover obscures the snow-covered peak. And even when it’s clear the heat haze and dust can make the peak indistinct at best. You’ll have to be doubly lucky to catch wildlife in front of it, so if that photo is paramount you’ll need to be flexible.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Amboseli National Park or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Amboseli’s elephants

The name Amboseli comes from the Masaai word meaning salty dust – and seeing herds of gentle giants covered in this white, salty mud after an afternoon of wallowing in the swamps is a happily common sight here. There’s a reason for that; against a backdrop of devastating poaching across East Africa, Amboseli’s elephants have been able to live a relatively undisturbed existence. Thanks to the presence of the continent’s longest-running wild elephant research programmes, tourists and the support of local Masaai people, this park has become the poster child for elephant conservation success in Kenya.

Encompassing key habitats for the dispersal of wildlife during the wet season, the conservancies surrounding Amboseli play a vital role in elephant protection. Where animals were once aggressively hounded off land needed for farming and grazing livestock, the money generated by leasing the same land for tourism – and the jobs created for Masaai communities – has delivered a sustainable source of alternative income that allows both people and wildlife to share the same space.
The Big Life Foundation is a non-profit organisation working to preserve the wildlife and habitats of the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem through community-based and collaborative strategies. Jeremy Goss, Conservation Scientist, explains the value in supporting Amboseli’s Masaai conservancies.
“If wild animals provide a source of economic benefit, which they do through tourism, then they take on a tangible value to local communities. In some cases the income has stimulated the economy to the point where people might not have to poach to put food on the table. More broadly, if the benefits are shared appropriately then you tend to end up with communities that value wild animals alive, and are therefore intolerant of poachers. This creates a network of eyes and ears that support the community game rangers in keeping a look-out for poachers.”
The wider Amboseli Ecosystem has been the first to establish community scouts to protect wildlife – a system that has become so effective that the Big Life Foundation estimates all poachers who enter Amboseli come from outside the local community, and if they do there is an estimated 80% chance of them being caught. This is astounding when compared to the national average of 10%. As a result, Amboseli not only has lots of elephants, it has elephants of all ages, too, from newborn calves to matriarchs in their 60s and many large adult bulls in their 40s and 50s. This diversity is of huge importance to the health of the population.
“Elephants form deep bonds with each other, which last for decades. Elephant survival is strongly affected by access to the social and ecological knowledge that older elephants hold; where to go, what to eat, how to avoid danger.” - Dr. Cynthia Moss, Program Director at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project – the longest running wild elephant research programme in Africa.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: oversnap] [Is/isn't: Ray in Manila] [Birdwatching: _paVan_] [Elephants: Regina Hart] [Lake Amboseli: Ray in Manila] [Observation Hill: Regina Hart] [Selenkay Conservation Area: Regina Hart] [That view: Sergey Pesterev] [Elephants: Githinji Wanjohi]