Tsavo is divided in half by a main road, thus creating Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Tsavo West is 9,000 sqkm and Tsavo East is 13,000 sqkm. Together, they are one of the world’s largest national parks. Tsavo West is less wild and much greener than Tsavo East, a landscape of hills and acacia woodland dotted with volcanic cones and 300 year-old lava flows. Tsavo River and 4 wetland areas with crystal-clear natural springs feed the park’s wildlife – Mzima Springs is particularly special.
Tsavo West is an incredibly rewarding safari experience if you relish surprise animal encounters, rather than the more obvious wildlife viewing of some parks. You’ll most likely spot game like buffalos, elephants, zebras, giraffes, lesser kudu, waterbuck and Maasai lions. The Maasai male lions have such short manes that some of them have no manes at all. Birdwatching is exceptional in the wetland and woodland areas, particularly at Lake Jipe. The 90 sqkm rhino sanctuary at Ngulia is another great place to visit, not just to meet the 50 protected black rhinos, but to encounter good concentrations of big game.
Your safari won’t be complete without a visit to Mzima Springs, 2 crystal-clear pools connected by rapids create the most enchanting swamp, surrounded by fig trees and raffia palms. Mzima Springs supplies the park with an incredible 200 million litres of water a day. You can take a guided nature trail around the pools to spot huge numbers of birds, blue monkeys and other animals. Then enter the underwater chamber, a partially submerged glass tunnel where you can look in the eyes of a swimming/tiptoeing hippo and see crocodiles thrashing about in the depths.
To see one of Kenya’s exceptionally beautiful wildlife areas, you’ll need a 4x4 and some extra fuel because you’ll be entering the wildest, most secluded area of the park at the southern border. Large mammals literally flock to Lake Jipe to bathe and quench their thirst. It’s magical to see elephant families swimming between the reed islands, not far from the lake’s shore. You’ll also spot large hippo pods bobbing in the water, and plenty of crocodiles. Lake Jipe is a birdwatcher’s paradise, a temporary home to astounding densities of migratory birds - look out for the endangered corncrake and the rare basra reed warbler. There are no hotels or tented camps here, but you can stay the night in KWS “bandas” on the lake’s shores.
A late afternoon visit to Shetani Lava Flow is a spooky experience. Shetani is the largest of all lava flows in Tsavo East and Tsavo West. It’s a mysterious, lunar landscape of black boulders and lava caves, created by 19th Century lava flow. You can even enjoy some cave exploration if you’re feeling adventurous. The Shetani area has a stunning radiance in late afternoon light. You might also like to visit Chaimu Crater, a volcanic cone with an impressive panoramic view of the whole park. It’s a steep 30 minute hike to the top of the crater, so go in the early morning before the sun gets too hot.
In the dry season, take a long game drive down the lush, wooded banks of the Tsavo River, all the way to the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro. Your destination is a jaw-droppingly stunning dam at Sainte Stream and Ziwani Swamp. Take a picnic with you, because it’s the most idyllic setting for an alfresco lunch. If you wish, you can stay the night in a lovely tented camp.
You’ll find an excellent range of hotels, tented camps and campsites at Chyulu Hills in the north, with awesome views of the whole park and beyond to Mt Kilimanjaro. Some lodges overlook waterholes or crystal-clear springs; from the comfort of your private veranda, you can see wildlife collecting to drink and bathe, including elephants, leopards and lions – even a nocturnal porcupine. If you’re taking the long game drive to Lake Jipe, you can stay in the KWS “bandas”.
Game driving in Tsavo West is best in September and October, towards the end of the long dry season. During the wet season, remote parts of the park may be inaccessible due to flooding so avoid March and April, November and December.
Tsavo West National Park lies between Nairobi and Mombasa. Mombasa to Tsavo River Gate is 200 km. Nairobi to Mtito Gate is 270 km or a 5 hour drive. There are 3 airstrips in the park for chartered planes. The coast is only a 3 hour drive away, so a safari in Tsavo can easily be combined with a beach holiday.