My favorite place in the entire world is Amboseli National Park, Kenya. I didn’t even know places like this were real until I visited in 2003.
As a child, I flipped through my dad’s National Geographic and watched nature documentaries on TV. I saw images of large assemblages of wildlife: zebras, elephants, and lions, but somehow it didn’t seem real, like it was movie magic.
When I went to Amboseli, I saw for myself that it is indeed very real. This small park provides the essential elements to make your safari unforgettable. Here’s the 5 reasons why I love Amboseli (and why you’ll love it too):
- It’s the Best Place to See Elephants. Lots and Lots of Elephants.
You can see elephants in many parks across Africa, but you can see them best in Amboseli. Elephants are the largest land animal and among the most intelligent animals on Earth. Aren’t they the best to see? I argue they are.
Researcher Cynthia Moss has studied elephants in Amboseli for decades. She has named every single one of them and can identify them by their unique ear tears. This long-term study ensured a safe(r) place for elephants when poaching was rampant (and unfortunately is again).
The elephants are so used to researchers and tourists staring at them that they just ignore you. If they need to cross the road and your car is in the way, they will move just a foot or two in front. They don’t want to have to go too much out of their way.
In Amboseli, you can get so close to the elephants, that it feels like you can reach out and touch them (but don’t). You can hear them breathe and chew. You can see their wrinkles and eyelashes. The first time you watch them, you are scared, but as you relax, you become paralyzed in awe.
- You’ll see lots of animals up close.
It’s not just elephants, you’ll see lots of species and up close. Amboseli is a swamp in an arid landscape so it has naturally attracted wildlife for centuries. The animals have become so used to tourism that they’ve seemed to let their guard down and relax. Like unbelievably used to it.
Once we saw spotted hyenas and pups emerged from the den (whoever thinks hyenas are ugly has to see pups!). When we looked down, we saw one hyena curled up just under the small overpass directly below our tire.
Another time we saw a trio of teenage lions still with their baby spots. We watched them as they rolled around, nuzzled each other, and drank delicately from puddles of water just a few feet away.
- It’s a Nature Documentary Come to Life
Driving around Amboseli is like what you would expect if a nature documentary were to come to life. I thought the chase scene or baby animal shots that filmmakers got were hard and rare, and perhaps even manipulated by placing out food.
In Amboseli, you really get to see animals play out their lives and do natural behaviors. I’ve seen hyenas dragging zebra heads, cheetahs run at high speed after prey, and scarred hippos munch on grass.
Amboseli is also special in its vast and open savannas. At some points, you can see from one end of the horizon to the other. Animals walk in the distance as if they were on the edges of earth.
- The Highest (and Prettiest) Mountain in Africa
In Amboseli, you get perfect, picturesque views of Africa’s tallest mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro is so surreal looking, it’s almost like it’s a backdrop painted in a Hollywood studio. Bonus: the mountain changes color throughout the day with the sun, from shades of vivid reds to soft purples. Then the animals walk perfectly in front of it as if on cue for their movie role.
- You Can Be Fancy
Fancy is a taboo word for most ecotourists, but I grew up in a family who “camped” overnight by staying in hotels. I learned how to rough it eventually on my own, but I still appreciate the finer things in life. In Amboseli, you can mix fancy with safari fun. It has a gorgeous lodge, buffets to gorge on, and dawa cocktails (Kiswahili word for medicine) for relaxing.
If you visit Amboseli, it’s important to support local Kenyans through community-run tourism, purchasing souvenirs, and/or donating to conservation nonprofits that work with local communities. Without the support of locals, Amboseli cannot exist.
Those are my top five reasons why I love Amboseli! If you want to jump into a real-life nature documentary, then get your butt to Amboseli National Park. But don’t touch the elephants. Even if you think they’ll let you.
Photo credits: K. Wagoner, S. Parmar, B. Kogle, K. Long
- Stephanie Schuttler
- : Dr. Stephanie Schuttler is a wildlife biologist of 15+ years, public speaker, and science communicator. Her research focuses on understanding the ecology, behavior, and conservation of mammals, and human attitudes towards wildlife. She collaborates with K-12 teachers worldwide to implement citizen science camera-trapping into their classrooms. Stephanie is highly interested in increasing people’s connections to nature and overall scientific literacy through all forms of science communications. She created her own blog, Fancy Scientist, to break stereotypes of scientists, encourage people to learn about wildlife, and live more sustainably.
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- : People should visit the Fancy Scientist to explore fun photos of and learn about animals, get tips on sustainable living, and advice on becoming a wildlife biologist. My goal is to make content super relatable and fun so everyone can learn more about our planet.
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- : This is the first time this story has been published.