Best Parks & Game Reserves for a Safari Near Mombasa, Kenya
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
There are many reasons to visit Mombasa. These might include aromatic markets, or Unesco World Heritage–listed Fort Jesus, or even the magic of the sunset call to prayer echoing through the tangled streets of the old city. And, of course, there are some superb Indian Ocean beaches nearby. Less well known are Mombasa’s safari possibilities. Across the city’s hinterland, you’ll encounter world-class national parks, niche sanctuaries with very few visitors, and there’s even the possibility of a marine safari. Here are some of our favorites.
Tsavo East National Park
If you only have time to go on one safari near Mombasa, make it Tsavo East NP. One of Kenya’s best parks, it’s famous for elephants that you’ll very often see bathed in the red Tsavo dust. Lion sightings are similarly common and they have a story to tell: Tsavo lions have always been known for their ferocity and for the scruffy manes of the park’s male lions. Cheetahs, too, are a real highlight here, especially on the plains out in the eastern reaches of the park, the section of Tsavo East closest to Mombasa. The wild Galana River and the wildlife-rich Kanderi Swamp are also lovely focal points for your visit, and among the park’s more unusual wildlife prizes are the Somali ostrich, the gerenuk and the endangered Hunter's hartebeest (hirola).
Tsavo West National Park
It’s quite an excursion from Mombasa, but Tsavo West NP is one of Kenya’s best parks and it’s not all that far away. Weird-and-wonderful rock formations and lava tubes dominate the park. Places such as Mzima Springs feel like another world, with greenery, hippos and crocs. Tsavo West’s other wildlife can be amazing, even if the denser vegetation means that the elephants, lions, leopards and more can be harder to see here than in neighboring Tsavo East NP. Giraffes, rhinos and plenty of birds are also highlights here.
Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
It’s a bit of a drive from Mombasa to get here, but Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is well worth the effort. At the heart of this private community sanctuary is a pocket of forested hills surrounded by savannah grasslands, not far from the arid plains of Tsavo. You’ll probably see elephants, and you might even see lions, cheetahs and klipspringers here. But it’s the birding that really gets visitors excited, especially the chance to see some forest species, as well as birds of prey.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Southwest of the city, inland from Diani Beach, Shimba Hills NR is one of the best game reserves near Mombasa. The hilly landscape here is a gorgeous combination of lush, tropical greens and savannah wildlife. While you’re here, you might see elephants, sable antelope and buffalo, as well as baboons, giraffes, plenty of birds and more butterflies than you ever thought possible. Not many safaris make it out here, and almost all of them come on day trips from the coast. Stay overnight if you can.
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary
Close to Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and worth combining with it if you’re coming from Mombasa, Lumo is a community-run sanctuary that gets big cats, elephants and more. While you’re here, you might even see a black serval or an aardwolf! The birding is also incredible: over half of Kenya’s 1,100 bird species are possible, with the Taita thrush, Taita white-eye and Taita apalis possible highlights you just don’t see elsewhere. Unlike in Kenya’s national parks, you can even go on a walking safari.
Kisite Marine National Park
Going on safari near Mombasa isn’t just about cats and elephants and animals grazing the savannah. In the waters around Wasini Island, this marine national park also includes the Mpunguti Marine National Reserve. It is great for diving and snorkeling in search of dolphins, turtles and all manner of marine life on the beautifully preserved coral reefs.
Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
You don’t have to travel far from Mombasa to see elephants. Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary is one of Kenya’s newer reserves and it lies along an important elephant-migration corridor. Seeing an elephant is almost guaranteed while you’re here. The riverine scenery through the Cha Shimba Valley, as well as the fact that very few visitors come here, combine to make this one of the more rewarding safari experiences in Kenya’s southeast.
South of Voi and a little removed from the main safari trail, Tsavo Conservancy is a special place. Part of its appeal is the wildlife. The conservancy lies along an elephant-migration corridor, Grevy’s zebra inhabit the area, and more than 300 bird species have been seen here. But it also offers the chance to engage with local community projects set up to increase self-sufficiency and alternative sources of income for local people.
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