“The first and fundamental law of Nature, which is, to seek peace and follow it.” ― Thomas Hobbes.
We had hoped for an early departure from Jungle Junction, but just as well we left a little late as we missed the early morning traffic gridlock into town and out on the Mombasa Road. This road to the port is notorious for being busy and choked with long-haul trucks. We had originally planned to bypass the city center by taking the roads to Ngong-Kiserian-Isenya and had planned on avoiding the Mombasa Road by getting to Amboseli via Namanga. Two things changed, we left late and the concern with inner city traffic was no longer valid and we were able to proceed with the more direct route via Langata Road, Nyaya Stadium Roundabout (this is the third roundabout, proceed straight on through the first 2), where you take the third exit to the road to Mombasa (and also Jomo Kenyatta airport). Near the airport do not become trapped in the 2 outside lanes as you will end up in the airport. This exit from the city was very easy at 11H30 and soon we were only having to put up with the trucks. Although there are many of them they were not too bad, driving in a generally considerate manner and there were reasonably frequent overtaking opportunities. This is a remarkable contrast with entering and exiting Nairobi from the north and west (or so we experienced in our ignorance). The second change was to drive to Amboseli via the turnoff at Emali rather than take the Namaga route. We were advised by two separate sources that the road from Namaga to Amboseli was at present in a bad condition whereas the tar road from Emali, eventually leading to Oloitokital, was excellent.
Our reason for leaving late was that I again needed a front shock absorber and both front brakeshoes replaced, the 5,000km service having already been done by Chris. Also my crank battery problem was due to the battery being shot and we had this replaced on the way out. The vehicle costs were KSh 35,000 (US$ 350) and the battery about US$100. Anyone planning such a trip, please be sure to budget plenty for vehicle repairs, the heavy load and difficult roads will take their toll! We then went to the nearby Galleria shopping mall and made some last minute food purchases at Nakumat.
By early afternoon we were able to turn south off the Mombasa road at Emali and head for the community campsite near the Kimana Gate at Amboseli National Park. As we were only going to reach the park late afternoon we decided to save a day’s park entry fees by sleeping outside the park and a wise decision it was too. Tom a fellow South African at JJ’s had stayed there and was entirely happy with it. We could see from the wet conditions and greenery that there had been plenty of rain. This was confirmed when we stopped for lunch and spoke to a friendly Masai cattle owner, who said it had been raining heavily for a month already. In conversation with him we were amused by his statement that having cattle was better than having money in the bank, they are easily cashed in without even having to go to an ATM. He was an educated man and showed a lot of insight by stating that this obsessional love of the Masai for cattle, the more the better, was leading to massive problems with overgrazing in Masailand. We also discussed wild animal – human conflict and his view was that this was being badly managed with the government still to set up a reliable compensation system, the present one being riddled with inefficiency and corruption. Lions killing their cattle and elephants wrecking their crops were the major problems. Inefficiency meant that many Masai were taking the law into their own hands and the lion population in Amboseli was under threat. We were to hear this too from the community rangers at the community campsite.
Amboseli is unfenced as is the case in most of East Africa and surrounding it are many community conservancies and ranches. Nonetheless it was strange to us seeing zebra, gazelle and even giraffe in the same area as domestic livestock. At the town of Kimana one turns right (west) for Kimana Gate and Amboseli 22km away, just follow all the lodge signs. There is also a sign for the community campsite 8km away, it states Community Rangers Tented Campsite. By now we could clearly see the huge base of Mt Kilimanjaro, it seemed so close, but almost all the mountain was covered in cloud. Were we really at risk of visiting Amboseli, most famous for its views of Kili just across the border, and later leaving without a decent sight of its peaks? This was absolutely on the cards given the recent persistent rain and present cloudy conditions. The dirt road to Kimana Gate was in good condition despite the wet and we soon turned off to the community campsite, well signposted, the precise wording is Amboseli/Tsavo Community Rangers Tented/Camping Site. We arrived at the campsite at the convenient time of 16H00 having taken about 4hr 30min to cover the 227km. The completely cloud-wreathed Kilimanjaro loomed to the south right over the campsite.
This community project was sponsored by the Dutch government. There are 4 pre-erected luxury en-suite tents, but their solar geysers no longer function. The campsites are totally informal but there is one with a wooden work surface fashioned around the trunk of one of the many shady acacias. Nearby is a large shed-like shelter built of wood and also an ablution block with cold showers and flush toilets. As has been the case far too often for the good of tourism, we were the only people there. I had long discussions with the camp manager and later the project coordinator about the work that the community rangers do. Primarily they aim to reduce human-wild animal conflict and also to reduce poaching, for which great success is claimed. There are about 350 rangers in the greater region employed from the community by this apparently very successful project. I did point out to the camp manager that he needs to run a tighter ship in the camp. All the toilet seats were broken and needed replacing, the toilets and showers had not been swept out in ages. A giant eagle-owl was roosting in the shed and its droppings were piled up in a most unsavory manner. I hope he takes this advice to heart, camping here is not cheap at KSh2,000 pppn. The entire site is fenced off and gated, which I found a pity but apparently the campers need protection from the elephants. There are animals within the fence though, giraffe, gerenuk, dik dik, a few gazelle and plenty of birds. Firewood was provided for a generous gratuity. I like supporting community campsites and believe conservation is more likely to succeed when the community benefits directly financially.
This choice proved wise as the Kimana campsite within the park has been closed and the only KWS campsite is right at Kimana Gate and was a muddy mess, hardly worth the expense of the US$80 park entry fee and the US$20 camping fee (camping at the same rate as the community camp). There did appear to be other lodges/camping opportunities nearby outside the park but we did not explore these as we were happy with our choice. We would recommend this campsite if only for your first night.
Amboseli and Lake Nakuru NPs are regarded as the two “premium “national parks in Kenya and have the highest entrance fees for foreign non-residents at US$80 pppn. I am not sure why they have this premium rating, perhaps it is their proximity to Nairobi and therefore their popularity. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Amboseli, but 2 nights in the area proved enough for us, with a full day being available to thoroughly explore this smallish park of 400km2. This park was expropriated from the Masai in the 1960s they having used the central swamp area to water their cattle in dry times. There is still a lot of community resentment and for instance the marauding lions receive scant sympathy from the traditionally lion-killing Masai. Amboseli’s lions are apparently still under threat. Initial poor control of off-road driving turned it into a dust bowl but more recently the park is being run far better. Certainly it was far from a dust bowl when we visited and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and thoroughly recommend it, however 2 nights and one day in the park should be enough.
This park is all about elephants and the view of Kilimanjaro. Ellies we saw aplenty, the claim of having great tuskers was definitely justified. In previous years of very heavy rainfall this park has had problems with flooding but this has not been a problem yet this season despite heavy early rains. Most of the roads were passable and in fact the inundation of the marshes had caused the elephant herds to move more onto the plains for our viewing benefit. We were extremely lucky yet again to experience minimal rain during our two days in the vicinity, a welcome relief after a wet Nairobi.
On the following (Thursday) morning we were into the park early via the Kimana Gate only 15km and 30min away on a reasonable road. Here we were provided with a photocopy of the official park map, there being no maps for sale at that time. The very helpful and friendly staff mapped out 2 small areas around the swamps which were flooded and impassable. They emphasized that the murram roads were all-weather and even if under water for short sections, were safe to drive because of the firm surface and so it was. They also marked out a comprehensive route for us after hearing we wanted to spend the whole day in the park. The park is very well signposted with all intersections numbered and referenceable on the map. T4A was also on the ball.
Foreign non-resident entry fee US$80 pp per 24hrs (24hr clock). (Very expensive indeed)!
Camping, not applicable for us, US$20pppn.
Vehicle entry fee if less than 6 seater and foreign registration, KSh350 per 24hr.
The terrain within the park is mainly flat savannah and the animals are easy to spot. There are some areas with trees but never heavily wooded. Centrally are swamplands and even a lake which we were largely able to access. This was certainly no dustbowl and everything was so emerald green that it hurt the eyes, it was beautiful. Apparently there had been a marked dispersal of animals into the surrounding conservancies with the rain and improved grazing but we were more than happy with our sightings. Close to the gate there were many herds of elephant, even the cows had tusks of note. We saw the occasional gerenuk, warthog and buffalo and plenty of the following; Grants and Thompsons gazelles, Rothchilds giraffe, Burchells zebra, impala, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, hippos, ostrich, Cokes hartebeest and 2 specials, a Bohor reedbuck and some bat-eared foxes. Wildebeest were scarce and only odd ones were seen. The Masai dislike them as they carry a catarrhal illness to their cattle.
The plains were dotted with migratory European white storks. With the low areas and swamps being under water there were plenty of water birds such as pelicans, jacanas, herons, ducks and waders. The swamps are fed from rain falling on Kili and filtering down through the porous volcanic rock. We spent 7hrs in the park covering 122km on our game drive and enjoyed every minute although some of the long stretches of road underwater were a little nerve wracking. We had lunch at Observation Hill with its splendid view. We enjoyed our leisurely game drive, the only disappointment was the fact that we could not take the clichéd photo of an elephant with Kilimanjaro as the magnificent backdrop. It appeared as if we were destined to leave East Africa not having had sight of the peak of Kilimanjaro. Perhaps because of the rain, the park was not as busy as we had been led to expect. I would definitely include Amboseli in any self-drive visit to Kenya, at least one, probably 2 nights. It is conveniently located on the way to the Tsavo parks and to/from the coast.
Main. Some great tuskers were present in Amboseli.
1, 2 and 3. Community campsite.
4. Entance Gate Amboseli.
5. Another decent tusker.
6. Plenty of elephant.
7,8 and 9. Plenty water.
10. Not only elephant.
12. Observation Hill.
13, 14, 15 and 16. Plenty of birds.