Tsavo West National Park is a renowned wildlife destination situated in southeastern Kenya, slightly southeast of its sister park, Tsavo East National Park. Together, they constitute the larger Tsavo National Park. The park gained its reputation from the infamous man-eating lions that supposedly claimed numerous lives during the construction of the Uganda Railway in 1898.
Established in April 1948, Tsavo West National Park is named after the majestic Tsavo River, which serves as its primary water source. The park covers an area of 7,065 square kilometers (2,728 square miles), making it the second-largest park in Kenya. It is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Tsavo West and Tsavo East are separated by the A109 highway, which connects Nairobi to Mombasa. Together with adjacent ranches and protected areas, they form the Tsavo Conservation Area.
Tsavo West National Park’s remote location in the coastal province adds to its allure for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. It is particularly popular among visitors due to its stunning scenery and diverse vegetation. The park’s popularity sets it apart from Tsavo East National Park, making it a top choice for those seeking natural beauty.
Tsavo West is known for its remarkable biodiversity and serves as a sanctuary for a wide range of plant and animal species. It is especially notable as a refuge for the endangered Black and White Rhinos, which can also be found in the neighboring wildlife ranches.
In contrast, Tsavo East National Park features vast open plains, semi-arid grasslands, and the meandering Galana River. Its unique characteristics create a distinct atmosphere, setting it apart from its western counterpart. While Tsavo West benefits from the presence of the Tsavo River, resulting in a relatively wetter environment, Tsavo East experiences a drier climate. These divergent climates and landscapes offer visitors the opportunity to explore contrasting ecosystems within the Tsavo Conservation Area. Whether one seeks the lush vegetation of Tsavo West or the rugged beauty of Tsavo East, both parks showcase the unparalleled natural treasures that Kenya has to offer.
Location of Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park is situated in the southeastern part of Kenya, along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. It is approximately 240 kilometres from Nairobi, following the main A109 highway that connects the two cities. From Mombasa, it is only a few hours’ drive, covering a distance of about 250 kilometres.
Getting to Tsavo West National Park
Getting to Tsavo West National Park is convenient, whether you prefer road or air travel.
If you choose to travel by road, the A109 highway runs through the middle of the park, providing direct access. It is advisable to use a local tour operator to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Public buses operate daily from Nairobi to Mombasa, passing through the park.
You can enter the park through various gates, including Tsavo Gate, Mtito Andei Gate, Chyulu Gate, Ziwani Gate, and Maktau Gate. If you’re coming from Mombasa, the main entry point is the Mtito Andei Gate, or you can use the nearby Tsavo Gate near Manyani.
If your Kenya safari includes or starts from Amboseli National Park and then Tsavo West National Park, you will enter through the Chyulu Gate. Another option is the Taveta-Voi road, where you can enter the park through Maktau Gate, Jipe Gate, or Ziwani Gate.
Take the Madaraka Express (SGR train) and get off at Mtito Andei. Then get a taxi from the train station.
For those opting for air travel, there are several airstrips within the park, such as Tsavo Gate Airstrip, Ziwani Airstrip, Kamboyo Airstrip, Jipe Airstrip, Kilaguni Airstrip, Finch Hattons Airstrip, and Maktau Airstrip. Booking a flight safari to Tsavo West National Park is also possible, with departures from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
Attractions in Tsavo West national park
Tsavo West National Park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, boasting a remarkable variety of African big game. Visitors have the opportunity to encounter the renowned African big five, including Lions, Elephants, Buffalos, Rhinos, and the elusive Leopards. The park is also home to an impressive array of other significant game species, such as Giraffes, Zebras, Hyenas, Cheetahs, Hippos, Crocodiles, Gerenuks, Lesser Kudus, Waterbucks, Impalas, Jackals, Foxes, Wildebeests, African Wild Dogs, and more. Exploring the park’s diverse habitats provides an exhilarating wildlife experience.
Tsavo West National Park is renowned for being the habitat of a unique and captivating phenomenon: the red-skinned elephants. These elephants, which are the largest population of their kind in the world, are a remarkable highlight of the park.
Although their coloration is described as “red,” it is important to note that these elephants possess the same natural color as other elephants. The illusion of redness is created by the fine red volcanic soil found within the park. The elephants frequently engage in dust-bathing, covering themselves in this reddish soil, resulting in their distinctive appearance.
In addition to its magnificent mammal residents, Tsavo West National Park attracts bird enthusiasts with its abundant avian population. The park hosts over 400 bird species, including rare and sought-after birds found within the country. Ngulia Hills is a notable spot for birding, and the park serves as a vital migratory route for numerous bird species. Bird ringers often visit the park between October and January, adding to the excitement for birdwatchers. Some of the exceptional bird species found in the park include the Corncrake, Basra Reed Warbler, Secretary Bird, River Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Eastern Black-headed Oriole, African Finfoot, Starlings, Golden Pipit, and many more.
Mzima Springs is a captivating natural wonder located within Tsavo West National Park. This enchanting sight is characterized by an astonishing flow of fifty million gallons of crystal-clear water, which emerges from the depths of the arid lava rocks.
Originating underground, the Mzima Springs form a stark contrast to the surrounding dry landscape, providing a serene oasis of life and beauty. The water, filtered through the porous rocks, emerges as a source of pristine freshness, creating a mesmerizing spectacle.
The crystal-clear waters of Mzima Springs sustain a diverse array of flora and fauna, attracting a multitude of wildlife to its banks.
The Poachers Lookout
The Poachers Lookout, located in Tsavo West National Park, is a prominent hill offering a panoramic view of the entire park. It earned its name from its historical association with poachers who used it to survey wildlife. Despite the eradication of poaching, the name remains, attracting visitors interested in its history. Climbing the hill provides breathtaking views of the park’s landscapes and diverse flora and fauna.
Shetani Lava and caves
The Shetani lava flows and caves are captivating natural features in Tsavo West National Park. The Shetani lava flows, located about 4km west of the Chyulu gate, stretch across 50 sq. km of the savannah near the Chyulu Hills. These black, folded lava formations were formed just a few hundred years ago and are believed to have emerged from the earth, earning the name “Shetani,” meaning “devil” in Kiswahili. The area around the Shetani lava is barren, devoid of vegetation and animal life, creating a unique and mysterious landscape.
Adjacent to the lava flows are the Shetani caves, which were also created by volcanic activity. Exploring these caves requires a flashlight due to their dark interiors. However, caution must be exercised while navigating the caves, as the rocks can be sharp and uneven. It is advisable to watch your footing and be aware of the potential presence of local fauna, such as hyenas, who may inhabit the caves.
Lake Jipe, located on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, is a picturesque body of water teeming with aquatic life. Spanning 10 kilometers in length and 3 kilometers in width, the lake is adorned with expansive reed beds that foster a flourishing ecosystem for a diverse array of wildlife. Within its pristine waters, a multitude of fish species and other aquatic creatures thrive, adding to the vibrant biodiversity of the area.
Lake Jipe is not only a haven for aquatic life but also a paradise for birdwatchers. The surrounding landscape offers a remarkable habitat for a wide variety of bird species. Bird enthusiasts can delight in observing magnificent avian creatures such as Pied Kingfishers, Palmnut Vultures, Black Herons, African Skimmers, Purple Gallinules, Pygmy Geese, and Lesser Jacanas, among others. The tranquil ambiance of Lake Jipe and its environs provides an ideal setting for immersing oneself in the wonders of birdwatching and appreciating the natural beauty of this enchanting location.
Ngulia Sanctuary, situated within Tsavo West National Park, is a vital refuge for the rare and endangered black rhinos. This sanctuary serves as a significant breeding ground and protected environment for the growing population of black rhinos in Kenya. Through dedicated conservation efforts, Ngulia Sanctuary has contributed to the remarkable increase in the number of black rhinos in the region. Visitors to the sanctuary can witness these magnificent creatures up close and learn about the ongoing conservation initiatives aimed at safeguarding their future.
Chaimu Crater, also known as “the devil’s crater” in the Kamba tribe language, is a prominent hill characterized by its striking black lava stones. This tall volcanic formation offers adventurous visitors the opportunity to climb to its summit using a designated path. However, ascending the hill can be challenging due to its unstable and slippery terrain. Despite the difficulties, the climb rewards those who reach the top with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Roaring Rocks, located near the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, is a renowned observation point offering stunning panoramic views. These rocks derived their name from the resounding roar created by the wind hitting the rugged volcanic formations. They serve as an ideal spot for observing lions, with their distinctive roars often emanating from this area. It is even said that the Roaring Rocks were the inspiration for the iconic scene in “The Lion King” where Simba, the lion king, was held up.
To reach the top of the hills and enjoy the breathtaking scenery, visitors can climb the Roaring Rocks. The wind whistling through the hills and the constant hum of cicadas create an atmosphere reminiscent of a lion’s roar. While caution is advised when exploring the nearby Chaimu crater due to the potential presence of snakes and resting animals, guided excursions are offered by lodges like Kilaguni Serena Lodge.
Roaring Rocks provide a parking area and a nature trail that winds its way to the top, offering captivating views of the surrounding landscape. Two viewpoints allow visitors to admire the park’s beauty in both the east and west directions.
Additionally, there are picnic sites equipped with shade and seating, making Roaring Rocks a popular choice for weddings and a peaceful spot to appreciate the natural wonders of Tsavo West National Park. The magnificent vistas from the top, including sightings of the famous “Five Sisters” hills and, on a clear day, glimpses of Mount Kilimanjaro, leave a lasting impression.
Founded in 1977 to honor the legacy of David Leslie William Sheldrick, the park’s esteemed founder Warden and a respected naturalist, this charitable organization plays a vital role in the conservation and understanding of Tsavo’s wildlife.
The Trust’s dedication to the protection and well-being of Tsavo’s wildlife is evident through its rehabilitation work with orphaned elephants. They provide a safe haven for these vulnerable creatures, nurturing them back to health and ensuring their overall welfare. Through their expert care and attention, the Trust prepares these elephants for their eventual reintegration into the wild.
By preserving the natural habitats of Tsavo and actively supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of orphaned elephants, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust contributes significantly to the park’s overall conservation efforts.
Activities to be enjoyed at the park
Tsavo West National Park provides an exhilarating rock climbing experience amidst its stunning landscapes. The park boasts impressive cliffs that are perfect for climbers, featuring solid gneiss walls adorned with plentiful holds and minimal vegetation. Adventurers will find themselves drawn to the prominent east face of Kichwa Tembo, a towering wall reaching a height of 300 meters, which has captivated explorers from the early days.
Climbers seeking thrilling routes can also choose popular options like the Great Tsavo Chimney and Ivory Tower on Elephant Rocks. It is advisable to begin climbing early in the day to avoid the intense heat, ensuring a more enjoyable ascent. It is essential to honor the exclusive climbing and camping privileges granted to the Mountain Club of Kenya (MCK) within the park.
Those interested in embarking on a rock climbing adventure in Tsavo West National Park are encouraged to reach out to the MCK for additional details and guidance.
Other activities to be enjoyed at Tsavo west national park include game viewing, bird watching, cave exploration underwater hippo and fish viewing
The climate in Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park, located a few degrees south of the equator, experiences a consistent temperature throughout the year. During the day, temperatures range from 27 to 31°C (81-88°F), while at night, they range from 22 to 24°C (72-75°F). The park has high humidity levels from December to April.
The park’s climate is characterized by distinct rainy seasons. The long rainy season, known as the monsoon season, occurs from March to May, while the shorter rains fall from October to December.
The landscape of Tsavo West National Park is predominantly composed of open savannah grasslands, adorned with Acacia woodlands, Scrublands, Rocky ridges, and Riverine vegetation. This diverse vegetation creates a visually captivating environment for visitors.
Best time to visit Tsavo West National Park
The best time to visit Tsavo West National Park is during January and February, as well as from June to September.
It is advisable to avoid visiting during the heavy rainy season of March to May when the roads become muddy.
Although there may be some rainfall from October to December, temperatures remain pleasant, ranging from 27 to 31°C (81-88°F) during the day and 22 to 24°C (72-75°F) at night throughout the year.
For birdwatchers, the best months to see migratory birds in the park are from October to January. To maximize animal sightings, it is recommended to visit the park early or late in the day when the animals are more active and tend to rest during the hot afternoon sun.
- Adult: KSH 515
- Child: KSH 215
- Adult: KSH 5,200 (or USD 52)
- Child: KSH 3,500 (or USD 35)
Accepted modes of payment include MPESA, VISA card, and direct deposits to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) bank accounts at any park gate.
Please note that the fees mentioned here are subject to change, so it’s always a good idea to check the latest information before visiting the park.
What To Wear
When visiting Tsavo West National Park, it is important to dress appropriately to ensure your comfort and safety during your safari adventure. Here are some essential items to consider packing:
- Sunglasses: The park’s location in southeastern Kenya means that it can get quite sunny and bright. Protect your eyes from the sun’s glare and harmful UV rays by wearing sunglasses with UV protection.
- Light and some heavy clothing: Tsavo West National Park experiences a wide range of temperatures throughout the day. It is advisable to wear light, breathable clothing during the hot daytime hours. However, as temperatures can drop in the evening, especially during the cooler months, it is also wise to pack a few warmer layers or a lightweight jacket to stay comfortable.
- Sunscreen: To shield your skin from the strong African sun, apply a high SPF sunscreen to exposed areas of your body. This will help prevent sunburn and minimize the risk of sun damage.
- Insect repellent: Tsavo West National Park is home to a variety of insects, including mosquitoes. Protect yourself from insect bites and the potential risk of malaria by using an effective insect repellent. Look for a repellent that contains DEET or another recommended active ingredient.
- Safari Hat: A wide-brimmed hat is essential for protecting your face and neck from the sun. Choose a hat that provides ample shade and ventilation to keep you cool throughout your safari.
- Comfortable shoes: Exploring Tsavo West National Park often involves walking or hiking on uneven terrain. Opt for sturdy, closed-toe shoes or hiking boots that provide good support and traction. This will ensure your feet are comfortable and protected during your safari activities.
KWS Self Catering:
- Kamboyo Guest House
- Lake Jipe Cottages
- Kamboyo Campsite
- Chyulu Campsite
- Lake Jipe Campsite
- Simba Campsite
- Royal Little Campsite
- Kudu Campsite
- Kenge Campsite
- Palm Tree Campsite
- Professional Campsite
Privately Owned Campsites & Lodges:
- Ngulia Safari Lodge
- Kilaguni Safari Serena Lodge
- Kitani Severin Safari Camp/Lodge
- Finch Hatton’s Tented Lodge
- Voyager Safari Camp
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