This belongs in the elite of Kenya’s national parks, and it’s easy to see why. Its signature attraction is the sight of hundreds of big-tusked elephants set against the backdrop of Africa’s best views of Mountain Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest peak broods over the southern boundary of the park, and while cloud cover can render the mountain’s massive bulk invisible for much of the day, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas when the weather clears, usually at dawn and/or dusk. Apart from guaranteed elephant sightings, you will also see wildebeest and zebras, and you have a reasonable chance of spotting lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. The park is also home to over 370 bird species, and it has an excellent array of lodges and an agreeably mild, dry climate.
While other lodges have a spa and/or massage treatments, the main activity is watching wildlife, with at least one lodge offering night-time wildlife drives. Most lodges also offer short nature or birdwatching walks within their properties and other activities such as tree planting.
The park’s permanent swamps of Enkongo Narok, Olokenya and longiye create a marshy belt across the middle of the park; this is where you will encounter most wildlife. Elephants love to wallow around in the muddy waters and you have a good chance of seeing hippos around the edge. For really close-up elephant encounters, Sinet Causeway, which crosses Enkongo Narok near (Normatior) Observation Hill, is often good; climb Normatior for excellent views. The surrounding grasslands are home to grazing antelope, zebras, and wildebeest, with spotted hyenas, cheetahs, and lions sometimes lurking nearby; there’s a reasonably reliable hyena den signposted northeast of the Hill, which all the guides know about.
Birdlife is especially rich in these swamps when the migrants arrive in November. If you are taking the road that runs east across the park to Kimana Gate, watch for giraffes in the acacia woodlands; this is the best place inside the park for giraffe-spotting. We’ve also had excellent luck out here with cheetahs and lions. Some years back, Ol Tukai Lodge was the only place offering night drives to guests staying at the lodge only.
Despite being on almost every Kenyan itinerary, there’s a real lack of midrange accommodation in Amboseli, and almost everything here is either top-end luxury or budget simplicity. Whether you plan to camp and cook for yourself or enjoy pampering in a fancy lodge, you’ll find something suitable here.
Most accommodation is outside the park, but there are three lodges inside.
Amboseli Serena Lodge
A classically elegant property in Amboseli, the Serena is comprised of fiery-red adobe cottages, some of the rooms overlook the wildlife-rich Enkongo Narok swamp and are fringed by lush tropical gardens of blooming flowers and manicured shrubs. There are no Kilimanjaro views from the lodge. Service is excellent, as is the swimming pool and wi-fi connection.
Ol Tukai lodge
Lying at the heart of Amboseli, on the edge of a dense acacia forest, Ol Tukai is a splendidly refined lodge with soaring makuti (thatched roofs of palm leaves) and tranquil gardens defined by towering trees. Accommodation is in chalets, which are brought to life with vibrant zebra prints. The split-level bar has a sweeping Kili view and a pervading atmosphere of peace and luxury.
Kibo Safari Camp
Around 2km from Kimana Gate, Kibo Safari Camp gives you the experience of a tented camp without asking the prohibitive fees of the lodges inside the park proper; you can be inside the park soon after sunrise. The 72 tents and expansive grounds are beautifully kept and there are astonishing views of Kilimanjaro to be had, as well as a good restaurant serving high-quality buffet meals.
Set on its own private 24sq-km conservancy close to Kimana Gate and with its own airstrip, Tawi Lodge is our pick of the places southeast of the park. You’ve got the choice of going into Amboseli or exploring Tawi’s own wildlife-rich area, while the cottages are refined, beautifully furnished and most come with fine Kili views. There’s even an on-site spa, and night drives are possible.