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When we went to Kenya our top priority was going on a safari. We have both dreamed about going on an African Safari for years. So, when my parents surprised our family with a trip to Kenya to celebrate their 40th Wedding Anniversary, we jumped at the chance. Because our trip included my two nephews, we opted for a shorter 3-day Tsavo National Park safari for the whole family. A 3-day safari was the perfect amount of time to see both sides of Tsavo National Park.
For help choosing a safari in Kenya check out this post for Best Safari Destinations in Kenya
Tsavo National Park is the largest and one of the oldest parks in Kenya. It is divided into East and West sides and each side has something different to offer. Tsavo East has a savannah terrain with long grasses, thorny bushes interspersed with marsh lands. Tsavo West has a diverse habitat with rocky, volcanic areas, flowing rivers and views of Mount Kilimanjaro.
We chose to book our safari with a local company on arrival in Kenya, rather than an expensive trip with a company in the UK or US agent online. The total cost for our 3-day safari as a couple was $800 USD. This included our private guide, all of our game drives, entrance fee into Tsavo National Park and 2 nights full board accommodation at mid-range safari lodges inside Tsavo National Park.
If you want to book a Tsavo National Park Safari on arrival we recommend doing your research on the local companies before booking. Local tour operators should also be registered with the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) to ensure they are following responsible and ethical safari practices.
Day 1: Tsavo East National Park
The first thing you need to know about going on a safari is you start early in the morning. We were picked up from our hotel in Diani Beach at 7am for the drive to Tsavo National Park. The drive to Tsavo Bachuma Gate took almost 4 hours due to the crazy long single carriageway roads full of slow-moving lorries. It wasn’t boring though because along the sides of the highway you can spot various wild animals including zebra, giraffes and baboons. This was a nice little taster of what is to come when you arrive in Tsavo National Park.
We arrived at the Bachuma Gate in Tsavo East around 11am after a quick bathroom break and a drink stop at a local service station come craft shop which sold hand carved wooden ornaments and batik products. We started our safari game drive in Tsavo East and immediately on entering the park we encountered a herd of elephants including several babies! I promptly burst into tears of joy which my nephews found hilarious, but nothing compares to seeing elephants in the wild.
Our safari continued and we saw incredible birds of prey circling above, many types of antelope and other small deer. We had to stop at various points for an ostrich crossing the road, and a giraffe feasting on a tree. One of the highlights of the day was a cheetah laying in the shade under a tree literally a meter from the 4×4. In true Steph fashion I almost dropped my phone with excitement.
Voi Safari Lodge
Our drive continued through the afternoon until we reached our safari lodge. The first night we stayed at the Voi Safari Lodge which was great. Check out our full review in this post: Voi Safari Lodge-A Complete Review. Briefly, the Voi has multiple watering holes where you can get up close and personal with the wildlife. We went down into the hideout and found a whole herd of elephants having a drink and a bath. After a quick lunch stop which was a basic buffet style meal and to drop off our bags, it was out again for a late afternoon safari drive before dinner.
This time was slightly different as it was getting towards dusk. All the prey animals were on high alert and for good reason, because sleeping on the side of the road were 6 lionesses waiting to hunt. It is indescribable how magical it is to get so close to these magnificent animals in their home.
More elephants and some amazing pictures of giraffes at sunset and it was back to lodge for some much-needed showers to wash away the red dust and sweat. Dinner at the lodge was a babble of excitement about what we had seen and guessing what the following day had in store for us and if we could possible out do this first day safari.
Day 2: Tsavo West National Park
Wake up at 5.30am for an early morning game drive, just as the park is waking up. Tsavo National Park is home to over 500 birds so as the day breaks the park starts to come alive with the sounds of the many animals starting their day. It can be chilly early in the morning, so we’d recommend wearing a jacket for your first game drive especially if you have a pop top 4×4 like we did.
After the morning game drive we headed back to the Voi Safari Lodge for breakfast around 7.30am. Breakfast was again buffet style with a selection of fresh fruit, meats and cheeses and a hot breakfast selection including omelettes and pancakes. Once breakfast was over, we headed back to our rooms to pack our bags ready to move on. We continued driving through Tsavo East to exit the park via the Voi gate. Driving along the highway we arrived at the Tsavo Gate entrance to Tsavo West where we entered the park again. Tsavo West has a different landscape from Tsavo East and is rocky and volcanic in landscape on account of being at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The first stop was a visit to Mzima springs, Mzima springs provides the source of drinking water to Mombasa. The water is filtered by the volcanic rocks of the Chyulu range to a crystal-clear transparency. The area contains two large pools connected by rapidly flowing waterfalls.
The visit to the springs was unique and unlike most places in the National Park. Here you could get out and wander the paths amongst the fruits trees including date, water berries and fig trees. Amongst the trees are monkeys, birds and small antelope grazing on the fallen fruits and the grassy surroundings. However, the main attraction at the springs is the large population of Nile crocodiles and hippos.
The first pool has a submerged viewing area where you can sit surrounded by the clear waters. Watching the fish swimming in the pool, you may be lucky enough to spot a sleek crocodile or a comedic hippo tip-toeing along the bottom. Following the path through the park with a rifle wielding park ranger as a guide, you have to keep your wits about you. Predators don’t often appear here but during droughts it has been known to happen and you definitely shouldn’t get between a hippo and the water. At the second pool there is a wooden viewing platform over the water. Here you can watch the for the hippos lazing in the pool to come up for air.
It is customary to tip the rangers for keeping you safe at the end of the walk and we were more than happy to do so.
Back in the 4×4 we drove through the park to our second safari lodge of the trip. Read our review of the Ngulia Safari Lodge here. We arrived at Ngulia in the early afternoon for another buffet style lunch in the open-air restaurant overlooking the watering hole and the leopard feeding station.
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary
After lunch we went for a late afternoon game drive to look for rhinos at the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. At the foot of the Ngulia Hills the 90km sq miles of land is sectioned off from the main park by a 1m high electric fence and has 24-hour security patrols. The aim of this is to protect the 80 rhinos that call Ngulia their home from poachers. Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary was founded with just 3 rhinos in 1986 after a surge in poaching in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This took the number of black rhinos in Kenya from 20,000 to just 700. After a successful breeding program within the sanctuary, 15 black rhinos have now been reintroduced to Tsavo National Park. They are under the watchful eyes of the park rangers who are equipped with GPS trackers to keep tabs on where the rhinos are at all times.
The sanctuary is only open from 4pm to 6.30pm as rhinos are nocturnal, this is when they are more likely to be active. There are many driving tracks around this area of the park to the various watering holes. However, there is no guarantee of spotting the black rhinos as they are very shy and elusive and as browsers, not grazers they spend most of their time in the thick undergrowth. Unfortunately, we were not very lucky on our game drive and we didn’t spot any rhinos at all. But we consider this the perfect reason to go on another safari.
As we were driving around the sanctuary area a call came through on our guides radio and off, we went across the park. A Leopard sleeping just outside the fence near some bushes. This beautiful spotted creature was uninterested by the small queue of 4x4s that had formed just to look at them. They were more interested in a small unsuspecting bird that landed nearby and almost got swiped. African Leopards are considered the most elusive of the big 5 in Africa, so we felt honoured to have had such an intimate moment with this one.
Unexpectedly on our way from the rhino sanctuary back to lodge we saw a second leopard scaling a volcanic rock face. It was a huge climb, but the leopard made it look easy. Maybe this one was on its way to Ngulia Safari Lodge for dinner? The main attraction of the Ngulia Safari Lodge is the leopard feeding station. This is a large wooden frame constructed from natural wood and trees. Some poor soul from the hotel must risk their life every night to hang a large cut of meat to attract leopards.
Once we were back at the lodge it was time for showers again, you really do get filthy every day on safari. Who knew? For the evening meal we had a smaller choice than at the Voi lodge, but the food was still tasty, and we were given a table right next to the watering hole. During our meal, we were entertained by a herd of elephants that appeared shortly followed by a herd of water buffalo who began competing for sole use of the watering hole.
We waited with anticipation for the arrival of the leopard until our nephews were falling asleep at the table. During the night, the staff at the hotel will come and knock on your door if the leopard arrives so we weren’t worried about missing the encounter. Sadly, the leopard didn’t turn up to feed the night when we were staying. It was a little disappointing, but we were pleased with our leopard luck earlier during the day.
Day 3: Baboons, birds, lava fields and heavy hearts
Another early 6am start for a game drive where we saw lots of baboons being naughty chasing each other and sitting all over the roads. We also saw huge flocks of blue birds that looked like mini peacocks but which are a common kind of guinea fowl found in Kenya. Everything else must have still been sleeping because there wasn’t many creatures up and about. After the morning game drive, we went back to lodge at 8am for breakfast and to pack our belongings together. We left the Ngulia safari lodge around 9.30am to start our final drive through park.
On our last game drive of the safari trip we went via the Shetani lava fields and the Chaimu crater. The landscape starts to change subtly with the red sand roads being replaced with black volcanic dusty roads. The greenery dwindles down and as a result there are few animals to be seen. This area is still worth visiting for the scenery though as it is completely different to anything else seen in Tsavo National Park. The expansive areas of black lava rocks reminded us very much of when we visited Timanfaya Montana del fuego National Park in Lanzarote.
Winding through the lava field we didn’t see much wildlife and we really had to hang on going up and down some of the hills. On our way towards the gate we followed alongside the Tsavo river and saw a troupe of hippos lazing on the riverbank. Grazing along the riverbanks we saw many small herbivores like impala and zebra. As we began branching off towards the gate, the smaller rivers were dry in places and only had puddles of water which created little gathering places for the wildlife.
Before we knew it, it was time to exit the park. With heavy hearts we made the 4 hour journey back to our hotel in Diani Beach, where we arrived back just in time for afternoon tea and cake.
If you would like to go on a Tsavo National Park safari you can either book a tour like we did. Or if you want a DIY safari it would be pretty easy to do as Tsavo is very accessible from Nairobi and Mombasa.
Getting to Tsavo National Park
If you are thinking of doing a self-drive safari, we would recommend getting a good map of the national park and having a way to contact the park rangers if you get into trouble.
Tsavo East has 4 points of entry called gates.
- Manyani Gate near the Manyani Prison which is 196km from Mombasa and 292km from Nairobi.
- Voi Gate at the town of Voi which is 162km from Mombasa and 335km from Nairobi.
- Sala Gate which is 203km from Mombasa and 390km from Nairobi.
- Bachuma gate through Aruba Dam which is 105km from Mombasa and 383km from Nairobi.
Tsavo West has 3 gates.
- Mtito Andei Gate in the town of Mtito Andei which is 234km from Nairobi and 254km from Mombasa.
- Tsavo Gate opposite the Man Eaters Camp, which is 207km from Mombasa and 281km from Nairobi.
- Chyulu Gate which is 259km from Nairobi and 258km from Mombasa.
There are no scheduled flights to Tsavo National Park but there are several small airstrips nearby. These will accept charter flights for passengers wishing to travel by air. Air travel to the park would need to be arranged in advance and special permission may be needed to enter the park. On entry to the park you would then need a guide to drive you around on safari.
- Kamboyo airstrip is located in Tsavo West, on the northern end of the park. It is only a few minutes south west of the Mtito Andei entrance.
- Lake Jipe airstrip is located on the western shore of Lake Jipe and is only used by tourists and visitors.
- Kasigau gate airstrip is located on the south eastern border of Tsavo west and is the most used airstrip in the park.
- Kilaguni airstrip on the western side of Tsavo West and is one of the most used airstrips for domestic flights.
- Maktau airstrip is located at the south eastern end of Tsavo West.
- Finch Hatton airstrip privately owned by the Finch Hatton Camp.
There are no direct connections to Tsavo National Park via public transport. But you can get to the park via the train network and there are multiple train stations near to the gates.
- Mtito Andei Train station near the Mtito Andei Gate.
- Tsavo Station near the Tsavo Gate.
- Keijolo Railway Station near the Manyani Gate.
- Voi Train Station near the Voi Gate.
If you would rather travel by bus this is by far the cheapest option. The nearest bus station is the Voi Bus Park in the town of Voi. It is near to the Voi gate and you can travel here from Nairobi or Mombasa. If you are travelling by public transport to Tsavo, you will still need to arrange a guide for your game drives beforehand or on arrival in the nearest town.
Where to stay in Tsavo National Park
There are many option for accommodation in Tsavo depending on your budget. For more information on the different types of safari check out our post on choosing an African safari to help you decide the best safari accommodation for your needs. We stayed in the Voi Safari lodge in Tsavo east and Ngulia Safari Lodge in Tsavo west. They are both mid-range safari accommodations click on the links to read all about our experience staying in them.
If you want any more information on a Tsavo National Park safari feel free to send us a message or leave us a comment below.
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