Essential East Africa
|On the Prowl: Elephants roam through Kenya's Amboseli National Park. (Corbis)|
Because of its relative econo lodging and close proximity to Nairobi (a 5-hour drive, or 40 minutes by plane), Kenya's Amboseli National Park scores hits with the value-conscious, time-strapped crowd. But that's not why you go. The main draw is Amboseli's renowned elephant herds, and through the Cynthia Moss Research Project the pachyderms are subjects of the longest-running studies. No doubt you're subliminally familiar with this ultra-scenic park. Cynthia Moss is the eminent author of Elephant Memories and Portraits in the Wild. And those classic postcard photos of elephants and giraffes with towering Mount Kilimanjaro in the background? That's Amboseli. Pack extra film and memory cards for this beauty.
A trio of small national reserves on the safari hit parade north of Nairobi is Samburu, Shaba, and Buffalo Springs. Samburu is outstanding for leopards. With some patience you'll see the spotted cats prowling Samburu's scrub desert and swamps with majestic Mount Kenya in the backgroundanother classic African image. Shabas prickly landscape might be familiar as well: it played host to the 2001 edition of (pardon the yawn) TV's Survivor. But Shabas most notable attraction is a central marsh that draws ostriches, gazelles, dikdik, and a supporting cast of dozens. Over at Buffalo Springs, a two-hour game drive will net you close-ups of oryx, elephants, and surly baboons that frequent a spring in the arid park.
As the safari circuit goes southbound across the border, you'll pick up Serengeti, the most famous of Tanzania's national parks. And for good reason: it has the largest concentration of migratory game animals on earth, holding 1.5 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, 1,000 lion, 800 elephant, and on and on. Serengeti, Masai for "endless plain," is larger than the state of Connecticut, and its greatest fame claim is being the primary route for the Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle.
When to catch this spectacle depends on rainfall that greens the short grass plains, but generally the big herds mobilize from December through May.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication