Amboseli National Park – an Elephant Wonderland

Amboseli was a park I had to fight to keep in our itinerary, and I was glad I did. Kenya has many parks and conservancies to be visited so, depending on the quantity of days you have available, it will be a tough choice. What made the travel agencies want to squeeze it out of our itinerary was exactly the reason why we wanted to keep it: too many elephants. Excuse me, but there´s no such a thing as too many elephants, dear! All travel consultants said the same: “you will be seeing elephants in all of the other parks and in Amboseli is hard to get a sight of anything else, sooo…”. So? Sign me up.

Amboseli National Park is located in the south of Kenya, spreading over 392 km2. It is the home of about 1200 elephants, which means that, though you will indeed be seeing elephants in all of the other parks you visit, this is where you will see dozens of them walking together at the feet of the Mount Kilimanjaro. Oh, wait, I didn´t tell you this before? Yeah, add this to the equation. Besides gazing at the marvelous sight of a herd of elephants of all ages walking, playing, running and trumpeting together, you will have the highest mountain in Africa as the backdrop. Don´t let any tourist consultant take this away from you, because it was one of the most majestic views we had during our entire trip.

A herd of elephants of different ages
Is there any backdrop better than this?

You will have to fight it though. I mean, not the travel agent, because, in the end, you are responsible for your own itinerary. What won´t be easy is the 4- to 7-hour drive that you have to face in order to get there. In case you start from Nairobi, you will be on the road for 4 hours. In case you come from some safaris in the North, and you don´t want to waste a night in Nairobi, your last night will probably be in Lake Naivasha before you head to Amboseli – and this route will take you 7 hours. Whichever itinerary you choose, it´s important to have in mind that you will be driving through many unpaved roads that will be e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y bumpy the closer it gets to the park. In this perspective, 4 hours can look like 8, and 7….don´t even ask. If flying in between parks fits your budget, this is the time to go for it.

One good news is that the shop that the travel guides usually stop by before Amboseli was one of our favorites. We had promised ourselves we wouldn´t buy any crafts anymore, because we had already bought more than what we wanted or had room in the luggage for…but, oh well. I couldn´t resist the beautiful ebony comb I saw there, which was something I had not seen anywhere else. The salesman (who was also a craftsman) was very nice and even took the time to show Mathias some carving techniques on the the wooden buffalo he was working on.

Good luck keeping your wallet closed in craft shops…
The ebony comb I couldn´t resist!

Another good news is that the closer you get to the National Park, the more you can finally see of the Mount Kilimanjaro. And what a sight! I even got a bit emotional seeing it for the first time from the window. It´s one of those things you see so much on tv, that it doesn´t feel real when you see it live. This view definitely took my mind out of the hours we were sitting in that car.

Mount Kili – though the volcano belongs to Tanzania, you get the most amazing views of it in Kenya, in Amboseli National Park

Our hotel for two nights at Amboseli was Kibo Safari Camp. Our guide had warned us that in order to keep within our overall budget, he had to book a lower category lodge at this time of the trip,  which was fine by us. When we got there, we were quite surprised. Kibo looked absolutely amazing with its open rustic and green common areas. Though the hotel is located just outside Amboseli Park (literally a few meters from the park´s entrance), you definitely don´t feel like you are separated from the animals at all. You can even see some elephants from the drop-off area by the reception. By the way, Amboseli is not a fenced parked – animals can walk free until Tsavo, if they want. But some hotels, like ours, are fenced, for the safety of guests.

What I loved the most about Kibo was the view to the Kilimanjaro, which left us in awe by the time we arrived. My favorite thing was to be able to see it from the veranda of our own tent. You also get an amazing view of Africa´s highest mountain from Kibo´s open fire space, where tourists gather for a drink after a safari day – probably my favorite place in the whole hotel. In a nutshell, after a 7-hour drive, a few resting hours there had already totally cured us before going on our first afternoon safari.

Lobby Area – Kibo Safari Camp
Our spacious tent with honeymoon decorations!
Storytelling by the fire with Kili views? They have it!
I love how integrated with nature the hotel is

After a great lunch in the bush (when the hotel staff arranges a table for you surrounded by the nature, outside the restaurant area), we were ready to hit Amboseli! Our first sight, the minute we crossed the gates,  was that of a majestic solo elephant, with the longest tusks I had ever seen! Our guide promptly presented him to us: Tim – one of the largest elephants in the continent (no, I didn´t say in the country!), and one of the last remaining with special genes that cause their tusks to be super duper long. Wow. Nice to meet you, Tim! If only elephants could talk, I wonder what Tim could tell me about his 50-years of life.

Magic Tim!
How amazing to find this family of elephants at sundown

Sure we had been seeing elephants from day one of our safari trip…but nothing like this. We literally gasped when we saw ourselves surrounded by different herds, catching different scenes with our eyes every moment we concentrated on a direction – two baby elephants playing roughly and suddenly getting reprehended by an older one; a matriarch leading her herd to another grass area; some elephants running in the horizon; a baby trumpeting past our safari car. It´s elephant wonderland at its best!

If you are wondering if the prophecy of some of the tour guides I told you about in the beginning of this article came true, no, it didn´t. We did not only see elephants, though it was, indeed, one of the most amazing things we experienced here. On the first day, we also saw many zebras (including two fighting), wildebeest and impalas. We probably did not see more, because we insisted with our guide on staying with the elephants. This is, of course, a personal choice.

The crossing of a herd
I could look at these gentle giants for hours

On the second day, besides the elephants, we were lucky enough to see a cheetah chase, which ended up unsuccessful for this cheetah, who missed her meal. A day for the hunter, a day for the prey, right? It´s the balance of nature. On another note, what made me extremely happy was that we had to see it from a distance, without human interference – as it should be! After seeing safari cars parking in between the hunter and the prey, or disturbing the chase by getting too close to animals in Samburu and Masai Mara, we were more than happy to see that Amboseli has stronger rules and guides are obliged to stay on the roads. This alone is worth your tourist money.

Apart from the exciting chase, we also spotted giraffes, impalas, hyenas, jackals and wildebeest. Additionally, we ventured further away in the park up to Lake Amboseli, where we saw many flamingos and hippos. Lake Amboseli, by the way, was formed by the eruption of Kilimanjaro, when lava flows  blocked off the Pangani River. Our last stop before returning to the hotel was to the Noomotio Observation Hill, where you can get a 360 degree view of Amboseli after climbing 159 steps. There you also learn a lot about its inhabitants and how hard it is to protect them. For example, I found it very interesting that signs on the hill explained to tourists the ongoing men x nature conflict in Kenya, that makes many tribes that live inside the parks kill lions and elephants. This might come as a shock to many outsiders, but it´s info that needs to be known.

Tourists observing the cheetah hunt
A wildebeest – they became one of my favorite animals
Giraffes with babies far ahead

Talking about lions, Amboseli also provided us an amazing and unexpected encounter with a lion. In a safari, the best animal sights are the ones unanticipated, even by your guide. While we were driving around and our car came to a stop by the side of a bush, I looked to my right and my heart dropped. I saw a huge lion head just next to the car, less than a meter away, resting under the bush. It´s one of those moments you never forget – to look inside a lion´s eye from up close, while he looks back at you. I had two choices: roll up my window (FAST), or take a picture. By the lack of a National Geographic award winning close-up picture of a lion here, you know what I chose…

This dusty park won our hearts. It´s like it wanted to show us the most amazing things it had to offer, exactly because travel agencies wanted to discourage us to go there. Is it far? yes. The roads to get there are hell? Oh yes. Will you be covered in red dust after driving around Amboseli? Unfortunately, yes (some Asian tourists even used masks). These are truths that you have to weigh in when organizing your itinerary. I´m actually glad we didn´t have the luxury of knowing any of this before we went there. I could have lost the chance of experiencing the most amazing view of the Kilimanjaro, and feeling small – in a good way -, surrounded by giants.

The observation hill, where you can not only see, but also hear hippos at the lake nearby
Jackals – always running around the national parks with one or two friends
Two fighting zebras

When it comes to our accommodation, overall, our stay at Kibo was pretty good. We loved the food, the bed was super comfy, the tent was spacious….the “only” problem is that Mathias´ iPhone charging cable disappeared from our room while we went on a safari on the second day, which left us pretty bummed. It was a pity, because we would definitely recommend this hotel, if it wasn´t for this…In order to read my honest TripAdvisor review of this hotel, click here.

The beautiful rustic restaurant at Kibo
Watching the sundown in our hotel

In case you want to experience this wonderland with us, click on the video below to have an overview of how these 2 days of safari in Amboseli went. I also made an homage to Tim, this amazing elephant that unfortunately died on March this year (2020) of natural causes.

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