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It’s no accident that most travellers venturing out on their first (or second, or third) East African safari tend to choose among the region’s most famous game parks. After all, these places—like Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Amboseli, and Tanzania’s Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro national preserves—check every box on most safari-goers’ lists: copious wildlife, spectacular scenery, unique indigenous culture, and luxury camps and lodges with amenities ranging from private spa suites to world-class wine cellars.
But though we at Micato treasure—and host many of our award-winning Classic Safaris —among these East African jewels, we also maintain an enduring love for the region’s quieter, more under-the-radar gems. And more travellers these days, especially looking for fewer crowds, have been seeking them out, too. Here are a few of our personal favourites.
Set along the northeastern slopes of Mount Kenya in the country’s Central Highlands, this petite park (just 336 square miles) virtually teems with wildlife. Leopards, caracal, cheetahs, elephants, Grevy’s zebras, aardwolves, and some 427 bird species reside here in Meru, as well as a protected population of black and white rhinos—in a startlingly varied landscape that includes riverine wetlands, savannah, and thick rainforest. Despite this extraordinary biodiversity, and the fact that the park was the famous home of the lioness Elsa, whose life was chronicled by Joy and George Adamson in the 1960s book and film Born Free, Meru doesn’t command as much attention as the further-south Masai Mara and Amboseli. But safari travellers who do choose to visit, and to stay at a classically luxurious lodge like Elsa’s Kopje (yes, named for that Elsa), might decide to keep the secret to themselves.
Encompassing nearly 8,000 square miles in south-central Tanzania, Ruaha National Park dwarfs more northerly parks like Tarangire and Serengeti—but is far less visited by travellers. Its sweeping open grasslands are dramatically punctuated by baobab trees, and girded by the Great Ruaha River, which is a lifeline for the park’s masses of wildlife. During the dry-season months between June and October, herds of elephant, zebra, giraffe and rare antelope species like roan and sable gather along the 300-mile-long river’s banks to drink, shadowed by the lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas who stalk them. (During the verdant wet season, large mammals are fewer but birds, including endemic yellow-collared lovebirds and violet-crested turacos, are abundant.) The park’s remoteness means there are just a handful of safari lodges here. But a few, like the arrestingly designed Jabali Ridge Lodge, are dazzling.
This rugged, relatively tiny (64-square-mile) swath of grassland and acacia forest in north-central Kenya shares its name with the indigenous group that has lived here for centuries. Not many safari travellers visit Samburu National Reserve, but those that do get plenty of opportunities to interact with the regal yet affable Samburu, semi-nomadic herders who graze their cattle and goats on the plains of mostly arid savannah, and water them along the wide Ewaso Nyiro River. Wildlife-lovers are richly rewarded here; the reserve houses not only many must-see safari species (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo) but also several that are only seen in this part of the country—like reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, and long-necked gerenuk antelope. A profusion of birds also reside here; some 450 different avian species, including orange-bellied parrots, lilac-breasted rollers, and Taita falcons. A smattering of luxe camps, such as the secluded, sustainability-minded Sasaab, provide lavish home bases.
To learn more about these lesser-known East African safari destinations, or to start planning a Custom Safari to see them, contact one of Micato’s experts.