Expert Reviews – Chyulu Hills

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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
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The little-visited Chyulu Hills National Park is effectively an extension of Tsavo West to the south, but has very small numbers of animals because of its altitude (the highest peak is 2188 metres) and no permanent rivers. Lower parts feature grassland and scrub, while in the clouds roughly above 1800 metres is mossy montane forest. It’s beautiful and green but very difficult to visit; there’s no accommodation and just a few steep four-wheel-drive tracks. My venture into the park was from the Kithasyo Gate and Kenya Wildlife Service’s Kiboko Campsite off the Nairobi-Mombasa road (A109). The plains between the highway and the hills were dotted with only a small amount of wildlife; giraffe, zebra and wildebeest (plus a fair amount of cattle), and the drive was short and tricky. The far better option is staying at either Ol Donyo Lodge or Campi ya Kanzi – both upmarket options on Maasai group ranches adjoining the park that offer walking and horseback safaris. Additionally look out for the sweeping views of the Chyulu Hills – the rocky outcrops and misty peaks can be seen from the plains of both Tsavo West and Amboseli, as well as from the A109 between Makindu and Mtito Andei.

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