A game drive in peaceful Tsavo East is sensational if you’re adventurous and up for the challenge of seeking out the wildlife in a vast, untamed bush. Tsavo is divided in half by a main road, thus creating Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Tsavo East is 13,000 sqkm and Tsavo West is 9,000 sqkm – together, they are one of the world’s largest national parks. Tsavo East is wilder and less visited than its neighbour, a true wilderness with a unique “Out of Africa” feel that is so hard to come across these days.
13,000 sqkm of arid grassland plains are divided by the meandering, emerald-green Galana River. You can only game drive in the area south of the river, but it’s a massive expanse and more than sufficient. Your English-speaking guide will take you to the best game viewing destinations, for example, thousands of animals collect at beautiful Aruba Dam and the flat, open plains around Voi Gate. You are likely to spot buffalos, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, jackals and impalas here. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of all the other main mammals, especially Tsavo’s short-maned lions – in fact, some male lions here actually have no manes at all. With a bit of perseverance, you might even come across a leopard, a cheetah, the rare lesser kudu or the elusive fringe-eared oryx.
You’ll almost certainly see large herds of “pink” elephants. The earth in Tsavo is red and dusty, which covers the elephants from head to tail and makes them look distinctively pink. The elephants like to spend time at Mudanda Rock, a sheltered area of tall rock towers that back onto a natural dam – hundreds of elephants come here to bathe, it’s wonderful to see them rolling playfully in the waters and spraying the red dust off each other. For more elephants and stunning scenery, go to the wetland area of Lugards Falls, a series of mesmerising rapids that feed nearby hippo and crocodile pools.
Tsavo as a whole is seasonal home to around 500 bird species. For a fantastic birding experience, visit Yatta Plateau, a 300km long lava flow known to be an ornithological paradise, attracting thousands of migratory birds from all over the world.
Tsavo East National Park is not a place to come if you want easy game viewing with animals teeming around you. A day or night game drive in Tsavo East is a unique wilderness experience, incredibly rewarding if you have the patience. You’ll be accompanied by a highly experienced driver/guide who knows exactly where to seek out the wildlife - it’s great to feed-off his knowledge and passion for the animals. You can leave your vehicle for a guided walking safari along the Galana River and there are special birding tours at Aruba Dam.
Bush meals are a wonderful way to experience the peaceful wilderness of Tsavo East. Either drive or walk into the bush for a delicious meal around a roaring camp fire, watch the incredible African sunset and lie under a blanket of radiant stars before returning to your accommodation.
The lodges and tented camps in Tsavo East are well-spread out in peaceful settings on hills or around waterholes, adding to your wilderness experience. You can lie in bed or sit on your private veranda with a sundowner, watching wild animals walking past. One lodge at Voi Gate has a wonderful 50m observation deck. There’s something for every budget, from luxurious to basic. If money is tight, you can choose from several special campsites and self-catering “bandas”.
All times of year are good. If you visit in the dry season (January to February, and June to October) more game collects at the permanent water sources so it’s easier to spot. Tsavo is remarkably colourful and dramatic in the rainy seasons and the park’s roads are reliable for game driving at all times of year. The long rains are in March and April, short rains are in November and December.
Tsavo East National Park lies between Nairobi and Mombasa. From Mombasa, take the main road north and drive approx 120km to Bachuma Gate. Nairobi to Manyani Gate is around 360km or c. 6.5 hours drive. There are several airstrips in the park for chartered flights. The coast is only 3 hours away, so a safari in Tsavo can easily be combined with a beach holiday.