Spanning 300-square miles and three eco-systems, Kenya’s Aberdare National Park has so much to offer that we stayed in two different sections just to do it justice. Unlike the open savanna of the Mara, this park has one of the most dense and diverse forests in the country–changing from jungle to bamboo groves to misty moorlands–plus, it’s packed with wildlife. We used the historic Aberdare Country Club as our gateway to the park and then dove deeper with an overnight at their sister lodge, The Ark. For more on our safari adventures, plus our hysterical journey from Nanuki, read on.
Heading from Samburu to Aberdare you basically pass Mount Kenya so we decided to make a stop and explore a bit. The town of Nanuki is known to be the best jumping off point to experience the mountain, as we later discovered, the equator. We took a walk to this elusive equator for two reasons, 1. It sounds cool and 2. To find out what’s the deal with the Coriolis Effect (when water drains in a different direction depending on which side of the line you’re on). See this video and find out for yourself!
Since we didn’t have enough time to summit of Mt. Kenya, we hired a guide to get us to the closest vantage point of the peak from outside (note the italics) the park. It’s always a little shady picking up a local guide but Lawrence Kariithi showed us his credentials as a former employee at a reputable trekking company so we thought that would be fine…until we got stopped by the Kenya Wildlife Services. Unbeknownst to us, Lawrence had snuck us into the backside of the park to dodge the entrance fee and when the KWS found this out, they took us into custody! There was talk of arresting us, revoking our guide’s license, fines and who knows what was threatened in a swirl of Swahili…but in the end, this large, armed, Maasai park ranger simply escorted us out of the park with just a warning. (See Mom, nothing to worry about!)
It was bit odd going from KWS custody straight to our next honeymoon hotel, Aberdare Country Club, but with a stiff drink, all was well in the world. Originally built as an estate in the 1930s for a British family, Aberdare Country Club is a magical place where peacocks perch on the porch, wart hogs graze along the paths, and zebras nap on the lawn.
The hotel grounds are gorgeous with the 1,300-acre wildlife sanctuary as the highlight. 21 giraffe, 72 zebra, 16 eland, and 6 elusive leopard live here, making for a walking safari of close encounters. We took this photo on foot.
The next morning we headed to see the rhinos (and so much more) at the Solio Game Reserve. This massive park has become one of the most successfully breeding grounds in Kenya with over 200 black and white rhinos. Here, they thrive alongside eland, oryx, waterbuck, zebra and even lion in a the most idyllic settings (just look at that forest!)
To get to from the ACC to their sister property The Ark, we opted for a game-drive-meets-waterfall adventure. In Aberdare National Park, 98% of the ground is covered by bushes making for not only lush scenery, but even more intense animal sightings. Just when you think all is calm in the woods, a leopard will dash across the road or a massive elephant like this will pop its head out of the trees. There are 2,000 forest elephants in the park each eating 250-300 kilos a day…good thing there are so many trees to go around.
Like a creature straight out of Jim Henson’s labyrinth, the Giant Forest Hog is as ugly as it is adorable. Everyone wants a piece of this big piece of bacon but this 250+ kg beast will never run away from its predators…it simply charges. We were incredible lucky to spot this endangered species and do a quick study on its quirky ways.
Climbing from the bamboo forest into the moorlands, we arrived to our first waterfall. Looking down the three-tiered Karuru Falls makes your stomach drop in the best possible way.
Not just any cave, this is the Queen’s Cave or Kimanthi’s cave, depending on who you ask. When the Queen of England came to Kenya, she went on safari in Aberdare with a special stop for high tea at Magura Falls and its mystical grotto. Ironically, this is also where the Mau Mau freedom fighter Kamanthi would hide from the colonial army. Either way, we went and paid homage to both!
In the final hour of our drive to The Ark, the big cats came out. Our guide spotted a young leopard in the bushes and then ten minutes later we came across this beautiful beast. This leopard was like no other we (or even our senior guide) had ever seen. Its bright orange coat, piercing blue eyes, and enormous face had us in awe. If there was ever a wild liger sighting, this was it.
After our epic game drive, we reached The Ark. Inspired by Noah’s legendary boat-full of animals, the hotel is built like a ship with the liveliest watering hole at the helm. With expansive balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, the quirky hotel design is all about connecting guests with the great African outdoors. The watering hole attracts countless elephants, warthogs, zebra, buffalo, leopard and more to its shores. Staring out the window from their cozy sofas was like being on the comfiest safari possible.
Standing out on the hotel balconies, sitting in the sun room, or peering out from the ground level observation bunker (above), you always felt as if you are watching an episode of National Geographic.
To get a glimpse at the kind of animal action and fun we had at The Ark, check out this unbelievable elephant bath-time video.
At a little over a 100 miles from Nairobi, Aberdare National Park is one of the easiest and best safari spots within easy reach of the city. Combo this park with the stark contrast of the Maasai Mara and you’d have the most unforgettable (and do-able) 10-day African vacation.