Amboseli National Park, located at the foot of Africa’s highest mountain, 5895-meter Mount Kilimanjaro, is one of the most popular of Kenya’s national parks. Amboseli National Park lies some 240 kilometers southeast of Nairobi very close to the Tanzania border.
The snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro rising above a saucer of clouds dominates every aspect of Amboseli. Amboseli was gazetted as a national park in 1974; it covers only 392 square kilometers but despite its small size and its fragile ecosystem it supports a wide range of mammals, well over 50 of the larger species, and birds with over 400 species. Park rangers have often noticed birds that have migrated from as far as Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Years ago, the Park was the locale around which such famous writers as Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark spun their stories of big game hunting in the wilds of Africa. It is also the home of the Maasai people, those tall, proud nomads whose legendary prowess in battle and single-handed acts of bravery in fights with wild animals have spread across the globe. Perhaps more than any other community in Kenya, the Maasai have learned to live in complete harmony with their environment and the wildlife which surrounds them. All around the Park are occupied and abandoned Enkaang’s – Maasai villages quickly built out of bent poles and sticks and plastered with cow dung and equally swiftly abandoned when the grazing is finished and the herds must move on.
A part of Amboseli is composed of a dried-up lake-bed that in the shimmering heat produces mirages. Swamps and springs, fed by underground rivers from Mount Kilimanjaro’s melting snows, form permanent watering places for the wildlife through times of drought. The Amboseli lake-bed is subject to sporadic floods and noxious salts in the gravel bed are dissolved to serve as a deadly poison for what is left of the local woods; very few of the fine acacias, once a feature of this region, remain.
The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, white and crystalline, form a majestic backdrop to one of Kenya’s most spectacular displays of wildlife – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, cheetah, buffalo, and hosts of plains’ game, creating Kenya’s most sought after photographer’s parades. There are estimated to be around 650 elephants, the largest number in all of Kenyan parks and reserves per square kilometer. The swamps and springs have encouraged the hippos to stay around. Other animals also seen are wildebeest, antelopes, zebras, giraffes, gerenuks, gazelles, and buffalos. Amboseli’s best game runs are around the swamps and there is a fine lookout on Observation Hill, which offers views over the whole of the Amboseli National Park and beyond.
A well worth it and recommended activity is the Amboseli – Kilimanjaro balloon safari. Early in the morning, you will be woken and driven to the departure site. The balloon drifts with the gentle wind across the myriad of pinks, oranges, and purples lighting up the Amboseli sky as you watch the spectacular ‘African sunrise’ peaking around Mount Kilimanjaro. Hot air ballooning is without doubt the most romantic way to fly. Imagine floating over the open plains and watching as the sunrise turns the awe-inspiring Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, into a purple hue, and the snows on its Kibo peak, a delicate pink. The magnificent sight of Mount Kilimanjaro above herds of elephants crossing the plains of Amboseli is a timeless African image and one of life’s most memorable experiences. Experience the hot air balloon safari with friends and take a group photo with the Mount Kilimanjaro peak opening up to the early morning chill.