If you’ve just begun to take an interest in African safari destinations, you may not yet have heard of Kenya’s two national parks Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Their near neighbor, Masai Mara, is undoubtedly more famous on the world stage.
However, if you’re planning on visiting Kenya to do some animal spotting, we think the Tsavo parks have to be on your to-do list. Here’s why…
Interesting Facts About Tsavo East and West
- At nearly 23,000km2 combined, the Tsavo national parks are by far the largest in Kenya. East is slightly larger than West at around 14,000km2 and 9,000km2 respectively.
- Tsavo East is the only place in the world where you can see red elephants. These incredible creatures get their hue from bathing in the park’s red volcanic soil.
- The tale of two Tsavo lions who devoured around 35 railway engineers in the late-1800s has been made into several Hollywood movies. The pair were shot and killed and are now on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.
What Can You Expect to See?
Tsavo East and West are vast wildernesses with plenty of animals to see. There are no guarantees on what you will see— the animals are wild— but some species are more common than others. It’s very likely that you’ll spot elephants, giraffes, hippos, zebras, and wildebeest. Less common sightings are buffalo, hyena, and lions. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a black rhino, leopard, or a cheetah. There are also more than 500 species of bird plus plenty of other creatures roaming the lands.
How Does It Compare to Masai Mara?
Masai Mara is the top game reserve in Kenya and, along with names such as the Serengeti and Kruger, among the most famous national parks in the world. It is also one of the smaller reserves in Kenya (around 1,500km2). That can lead to overcrowding, particularly during the Great Migration of Wildebeest when more than 100,000 people flock from around the world to see this — admittedly — mind-boggling spectacle.
The Tsavo parks, on the other hand, are less well-known. They are less developed, less popular with tourists, and more than ten times larger. That provides a much more authentic nature-watching experience. Tsavo still has the big five (elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions, and leopards) plus attractions you won’t find in the Masai Mara. Most famously, it has red elephants, only found in Tsavo East. However, there’s also the stunning Mzima Springs in Tsavo West (a collection of natural springs), plus Yatta Plateau, the world’s longest lava flow.
Are They Worth Visiting on Their Own?
If you’ve booked a Kenyan safari with a tour operator, you may be invited to visit several parks across multiple days. However, to be fully appreciated, Tsavo East and West deserve their own trip. For a start, the sheer size of the parks makes it truly difficult to do anything but scratch the surface in a couple of days.
You’ll want to see the big five, the red elephants, plus Mzima Springs and Yatta Plateau. But there’s also the Galana River with its crocodiles and hippos, dik-diks and Somali ostriches. There’s also Lugards Falls, a rushing waterway of rapids which wind through volcanic rock, plus much, much more.
What Makes Tsavo East and West Different?
Of the 54 national parks in Kenya, Tsavo East and West can be considered unique. Of course, their vast scales instantly set them apart from the others, but there are other distinguishing features. There is, for example, perhaps no better place in the world to watch hippos. A semi-submerged hut in the Mzima Springs provides guests the chance to watch these fascinating creatures (plus crocs and other animals) go about their daily business in their natural habitat. You will also only be able to see the red elephants in Tsavo East, while other animals such as the black rhino and hirola antelope are found in very few other places around the world.
How to See Both Tsavo East and West in One Trip
Tsavo East and West are considered two different parks, but it would be an incredible adventure to see them both in one trip. You could start at Tsavo East, taking as much time as you can afford chasing red elephants, lions, hippos, and all the other incredible wildlife. You can also visit the Yatta Plateau, do some trekking, and even camp.
Next, you could head to Tsavo West to take in the gorgeous landscapes and some more safari. Visit the Mzima Springs, head to the Poacher’s Lookout, and visit the site of a First World War campaign. Finally, you can take the main road south to Mombasa, a major coastal city a few hours’ drive away.
Visiting Tsavo East and West…
Tsavo East and West may not be as famous as Masai Mara, but that’s what makes them great. There are far fewer people, you’ll get a more authentic experience, and you’ll still see some incredible animals. If you can, aim for the dryer months between June to October and January to February, when it’s easier to spot the animals.
Check out these Tsavo tours you might like!