In Africa

Tsavo National Park | A Three-Day Travel Guide

Where is Tsavo National Park?

Tsavo National Park is actually two separate national parks these days: Tsavo West and Tsavo East. This separation was done purely for administration purposes after the railway to Mombasa was completed. Together, the park covers 22,000 square kilometers or 8,500 square miles in southeastern Kenya along the border with Tanzania. That’s larger than small countries like Israel, El Salvador, and Lebanon.

How to get to Tsavo National Park

things to do in tsavo national park

The main primary airport in Nairobi is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). It’s the largest and busiest airport in Kenya and serves as a major gateway to the rest of Kenya and East Africa. From Nairobi Terminus (near the airport), you can take the Madaraka Express train between Nairobi and Mombasa. We got off at Mtito Andei where our driver from Finch Hattons was waiting for us with the safari jeep. From there, it was a short drive to the park gate and another 90 minutes or so over dirt roads to the campground. (Though it might take longer on the way in, because you’ll be stopping for wildlife sightings.)

Voi is another popular stop to access the national parks. Where you disembark will depend largely on where your campground is located. Consult with your lodging on the best train station to stop at for your visit.

Best time of year to visit Tsavo National Park

The dry season from June to October is typically the best time to visit Tsavo National Park. Dry weather means the grass won’t be as tall, making it easier to spot wild animals. It might also mean that water sources are fewer, so your guides can more easily find the animals at popular watering holes that last throughout the year. I visited in early February, fresh off of some heavy rains that left the park blooming. It makes for beautiful scenery, but it does make it harder to find wildlife.

Tsavo National Park Entrance Fee

National parks in Kenya are not cheap. They need money for conservation. And considering the inherent imbalances of the world, international tourists –– whose paychecks are salaries for Kenyans –– are charged a pretty penny for the privilege to enter these spaces. The Tsavo National Park entrance fee is no exception. The non-resident entrance fee for Tsavo National Park (West or East) is $52 for an adult or $35 for a child.

Things to do in Tsavo National Park

Given Tsavo National Park’s size, there’s no shortage of things to do in the park. But here’s what we did:

Maasai Olympics

Maasai Olympics

On our first night, Finch Hattons took us out on a short game drive, ending with a sunset view while we partook in the Maasai Olympics. Historically, Maasai boys would get circumcised and sent out into the wild for months to track, hunt, and kill a lion to prove their manhood. This practice ended about a decade ago in the spirit of protecting the lions. These days, they play the Maasai Olympics, which includes events using their traditional weapons. As the sun set, we threw some clubs into a basket from a distance and tried our hand at archery.

Chyulu Hills Sunrise and Cloud Forest Hike

Chyulu Hills Hike

From Finch Hattons, we had a 4 a.m. wake-up call to allow time for the bumpy 90-minute drive out to the Chyulu Hills for a sunrise hike led by Isaac, a Masaai warrior and one of the last of his kind to hunt down a lion as part of the old ritual of achieving manhood.

We mosey on up the hillside, the morning dew deceptively soaking our shoes, and await the sunrise. No such luck in the fog. But we don’t let the uncooperative weather dampen our spirits. After a little breakfast nosh al fresco, we head over to the cloud forest of the Chyulu Hills.

Isaac explains that the Chyulu Hills are the youngest volcanoes of Africa, stretching about 120 kilometers. They’re also sources of water for Tsavo and over a million people in Mombasa by way of the nearby Mzima Springs.

For the Masaai, the Chyulu Hills are a sacred place –– a divine land where the physical and supernatural worlds intersect. That’s why protecting these lands has been important to them long before Westerners started posting about environmentalism on the Gram.

For them, this is home.

Tsavo National Park Safari

things to do in tsavo national park

The beauty of embedding yourself so deeply within the park is that every drive is basically a safari. In my experience, giraffes and zebras are a given. You’ll see tons of them out and about. Leopards are rare, especially in the tall grass, but we were lucky to spot one sunning itself on the road. We also saw some hyenas one evening, getting some great views of them over at the local watering hole with our binoculars.

It took a couple of days but we finally caught up to a herd of elephants after visiting the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. And on our last day, a couple of hippos were hanging out in the water right next to the dining patio at Finch Hattons. The only animal we didn’t see of the Big Five was a lion. But again, it’s a huge park, so the animal density isn’t as intense as some other places and we had the tall grass to contend with. But rest assured you’ll get to the point that you’re not asking to stop for the giraffes or zebras anymore.

Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary and Intensive Protective Zone

Moses and IPZ Rangers

Rhinos at the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary and within the Intensive Protective Zone (IPZ) are incredibly difficult to find. So you visit these places not necessarily to see a rhino but to learn more about what the Tsavo Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service is doing to protect these endangered animals. It’s an interesting experience that impacts conservation on a global level and it gives you an opportunity to meet some of the Kenyan rangers working to protect the rhinos. We even visited a ranger outpost, high atop a mountain with a view over Tsavo, where two men had been stationed at their campsite for months. I’m glad we had the chance to witness their dedication up close

Oldoinyo Ololarami Volcano Hike

Tsavo national park volcano hike

The Oldoinyo Oloarami volcano is dormant these days. In fact, it’s so lush with vegetation, that you wouldn’t even know it’s a volcano until you climb to the top (following animal tracks) and peak inside the crater. (The crater is also lush, but it’s still a crater!)

Perhaps most interesting about this experience for me was following our Maasai guide to the border of his village and the park, which cuts through the dormant volcano. He pointed out a missing landmark used to mark the border, surmising young boys probably removed it and rolled it down the hill. We learned the relationship between the local Maasai community and the rangers is a bit like a game of cat and mouse with the tribe continuing to allow their cattle to graze within the park even though that’s technically not permitted. Isaac, our Maasai guide, explained that they’ll just keep an eye out for the rangers and the jeeps, knowing that they can outrun them if needed since the Maasai just where sandals with tire tread and the rangers have heavy boots.

Airstrip Trail Run

How would you suspect that I’d spend my last night in Tsavo? One last game drive in hopes of spotting a lion or cheetah? Another fabulous gin and tonic with Kenya’s own Procera gin? Or maybe just melt away poolside, taking in the fresh Tsavo air?

Not exactly. Instead, we head out to the nearby airstrip to run up and down the track for five kilometers. It might not be how you would spend your last night. But if you know me, you know it’s wildly on brand.

Somehow in the course of the run, we manage to drop the other guys, making this very likely the only time I’ll ever outrun a Kenya. In all seriousness, there’s a lot of potential out here for trail running to become popular. I can see it now: The Tsavo Man-Eater Ultramarathon!

Where to stay in Tsavo National Park

Finch Hattons

Finch Hattons Pool

Finch Hattons is a campground deep in the belly of Tsavo National Park. There are no fences here. Animals, yes, even the big ones, are free to roam as they please.

You might recognize its namesake from Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa,” famously dramatized by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. But you don’t feel trapped in the past here. You feel present. Because you’re spending time with today’s Masaai leaders as they share their stories of life in Tsavo today. And you see how the camp’s partners continue to protect sensitive wildlife populations, like the Kenyan Wildlife Service members who haven’t lost a single rhino to poachers since opening the sanctuary.

Finch Hattons is impressively ingrained into the Tsavo National Park of today.

Then there’s the cuisine. The food here is just stupidly delicious. Every meal is a trip around the globe with stops in Italy, Mexico, and Southeast Asia.

Chef Sudi Baha is the captain of the kitchen, churning out phenomenal bites day after day. He was kind enough to walk us through their kitchen and garden where you can see their farm-to-fork philosophy play out in real-time. Soon, Chef Baha plans to open a cooking school with Finch Hattons to give up to the local community and help young cooks earn a living. Of course, that means they get to live and work in Tsavo, which left me wondering… Are they hiring?

Find out more at finchhattons.com and tell them I sent you!

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