Expert Reviews – Chyulu Hills NP

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Hemingway’s Kenya
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The volcanic Chyulus are Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa. With their rolling summits capped by cloud forest they lie in the heart of Masailand midway between Amboseli and Tsavo, with unrivalled views of Mt Kilimanjaro. You could fit the whole of the Mara into this little-known corner of Kenya; yet accommodation is confined to just two luxury lodges. One is Campi ya Kanzi, situated on a 400,000-acre Masai ranch and renowned for its friendly house-party atmosphere and Italian cuisine.

Besides game drives in search of lion, cheetah and elephant, it offers wonderful walks romantic sundowners, and a checklist of 400 birds including Verreaux eagles. The other lodge is Ol Donyo Wuas on the adjoining Mbirikani Ranch at the Amboseli end of the Chyulu range. You can wake up here, as I did, to see giant tuskers browsing in the acacia woodlands below. Beyond the trees lies a miniature Serengeti of open grasslands and granite kopjes that you can explore on game drives or on horseback without ever seeing another vehicle.

Chyulu Hills: Green Hills of Africa
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On my first visit to Chyulu Hills, I saw more livestock within the park’s boundaries than I did wildlife – a few scampering Sykes’ monkeys were about it. The scenery was lovely (these volcanic mountains evoke Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa) and there was not another vehicle in sight (I was the only paying visitor to the park the day I was there). It’s also true that I was in the eastern sector of the park, where human populations crowd close to (and sometimes cross) the park’s boundaries. On my second visit, to the mountains’ western flank which is home to some luxury lodges, I found fine views of Mount Kilimanjaro, and spent time tracking lions, leopards and elephants; there’s also a small, heavily protected rhino population here, not to mention a soulful Maasai presence just outside the park; two of Kenya’s most innovative lodges here works closely with local Maasai communities on conservation and social programs that benefit the local communities.

A volcanic chain of scenic misty green hills with a fantastic view of Kilimanjaro
Overall rating

The little-visited Chyulu Hills National Park is effectively a dispersal zone between the more famous Amboseli and Tsavo (East and West). But numbers of animals are not as great because of the Chyulu’s altitude (the highest peak is 2188 metres). On one visit, I attempted the steep four-wheel-drive tracks on the eastern side via the Kithasyo Gate off the Nairobi-Mombasa road (A109), and the hills were dotted with only a small amount of wildlife; zebra and wildebeest and a fair amount of cows. The far more rewarding visit was staying at the magnificent and super-luxurious ol Donyo Lodge on the Mbirikani Group Ranch adjoining the western side. The gorgeous suites, restaurant and swimming pool deck here look down on wooded waterholes and I saw plenty of giraffe, eland and elephant stopping by for a drink on their way between Amboseli and Tsavo. Beyond, our quiet game drives took us across large expanses of magnificent grassy plains that perfectly framed Kilimanjaro looming above the Kenya-Tanzania border. Other activities include horse riding and hikes up to the higher green and misty peaks. A similar experience can be had at nearby Campi ya Kanzi, another upmarket option in the western foothills of the Chyulus, tucked away in a Maasai-owned group ranch.

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