Amboseli is a 392km square park located close to the Kenya-Tanzania border. The name Amboseli means “salty dust’ in the Maasai language. This dust originated from volcanic activity at Mt. Kilimanjaro a millennium ago. This park is a photographers’ haven because it presents spectacular views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, animals at close range and a vast range of bird-life. If you want to have an elephant safari, Amboseli National Park should be your first choice.
A week ago, I joined a group of travelers going to Amboseli. The cost was KShs 9750 for both residents and non-residents, however, the non-resident park fees were not included. Luckily, for Kenyans the price was all inclusive. I had mentioned a short while ago that group travel is one of the ways to travel on a tight budget.
We left Nairobi at 6.45am and plied the Athi River-Namanga Road. Now, you may be wondering why we took this road and not Mombasa Road? To answer you, our first stop was the Namanga Border. It took us about 3 hours to get to Namanga. Here we spent our night at Hills Gate Homes.
On arrival, Carol, a warm lady, welcomed us. She offered us tea and snacks, checked us in and briefed us about the remaining part of the day.
Fitness was the theme of this part of our trip. We were going hiking! Oldonyo Orok (which means ‘black mountain’ in Maasai) was waiting for us. Two armed Kenya Forest service rangers arrived. The local guide explained to us that the reason for this was because at this time of the year buffalos and elephants tend to stray to this side of the forest, therefore caution had to be observed.
We started the hike at 11.00am. The guide led us through a moderately steep route. The aim was to get to one of the peaks and enjoy the view before descending.
Oldonyo Orok has cattle-made trails and in some instances, we were required to bend through. Most of us were physically fit so it took us only one and a half hours to get to the peak. The views from here are breathtaking.
Namanga border point is visible from the peak. On a good weather day, Mt. Longido, Mt. Meru, Lake Amboseli and Mt. Kilimanjaro are also visible. This is a view that you want to take in for the longest time possible. However, the sun is unforgiving.
Climbing down was the easy part. In 45 minutes, we were back at the hotel. Please note that these timings are based on fit hikers. It is a moderate hike for non-hikers and a tough hike for an unfit group.
Back at the hotel, Carol awaited us. She briefed us about our rooms, including how to switch on a hot shower, and wished us a pleasant stay.
Hills Gate Homes is a small bed and breakfast facility with only 7 rooms. One of the rooms has bunk beds and can accommodate up to 5 people each in own bed and about 9 people when sharing beds.
The hotel is clean and beautiful both inside and outside. The rooms have a kitchen area, sofa bed, a mirror, a study table and an en suite bedroom.
The dining area is right outside of the rooms. It has a flat screen television (with DSTV) mounted on the wall and an ambience that offers a quiet and conducive environment for studying, storytelling, board games, reading and relaxing.
After freshening up, some of us went to the border point for refreshments while others stayed back at the hotel relaxing. It was a premier league weekend and my team was playing, so you can bet I stayed back to watch it. Dinner was served at 7.30pm and afterwards the driver briefed us about the next day.
I was up by 5:30am the next morning, prepared and packed up for the day. Carol had already set up the dining table for breakfast. I helped myself to a cup of coffee before everyone got there. By 6:00am, the sun was already showing signs of a hot day ahead. Despite what kind of weather lay ahead, Mt. Kilimanjaro still stood tall in all its majesty.
We left Hills Gate Homes at 6.30am and embarked on a 50km drive to Amboseli National Park.
On our way to the park, the sun graced the morning and thanked us for being up at the crack of dawn. If you listened closely enough, you could hear the rays whispering that the early bird catches the warm.
The road from Namanga to Amboseli is made of marram and had been graded only recently, making our ride relatively smooth. After 1 hour, we found ourselves at Meshanani Gate where we found the vast savannah was in wait!
We started spotting the grazers: zebras, wildebeests, impalas, giraffes and gazelles were grazing just a kilometer from the gate.
Daniel, our driver, used the radio call to get updates of the park. He received information that lions had been spotted. We rushed there only to find that they had entered a thicket and slept. We waited for almost 45 minutes, but they did not move. We decided to proceed with the game drive and come back later.
African Elephants are the pride of Amboseli National Park. They were scattered all over the park, either lone, in pairs, or herds. If you have never seen many elephants at close range, please pack a bag and head to Amboseli.
We also marked hyenas present in the roll call sheet. They were awake and looked ravenous. They started heading towards one direction and this only meant there was a carcass ready to be scavenged. No one wants to see a dead animal so we declined their invite.
Mt. Kilimanjaro was waving. It stood dominantly and seemed to occupy the entire terrain. The person who called it “the rooftop of Africa” was on to something.
Lake Amboseli on the western side of the park was somewhat dried up, but the swamps inside the park had water. Here, bird-life was thriving. Bird-watchers would have a party! Flamingos were also in plenty.
After a 4-hour non-stop game drive, we stopped at the observation hill. This is the point in the park where you are allowed to get out of your vehicle and enjoy a panoramic view of the park. We also took this time to eat our packed lunch. There were elephants close by but they seemed to mind their business.
Amboseli National Park is beautiful and you only need a 4-hour game drive to see the wildlife. Nature lovers have a chance to explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah and woodlands.
After lunch, we embarked on the final lap of our game drive and at 2:00pm exited the park through Iremito Gate
From here, we connected to Emali-Oloitoktok Road with Nairobi as our destination. By 5pm, we were in Westlands and were dropped off at Sarit Centre.
It was an exciting 2-days getaway full of thrilling activities. The hike offered magical views and Amboseli crowned the experience with wildlife and landscape. Hills Gate Homes gave us a home away from home. In my opinion, this trip was worth more than KSh 9,000. If you happen to see this travel package on offer anywhere, grab it without a second’s thought. Hills Gate Homes plans this getaway once a month and you can check out the next one on their facebook page.
Until next time, keep traveling…
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Eliud Ndungu, a part-time adventure travel blogger who’s been exploring his motherland-Kenya for over 5 years.