I almost removed Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya from our itinerary this summer; but, I am so happy that I did not. Amboseli provided five varying habitats across the park with differing ecosystems lacking in the other conservancies we visited. One can visit a dried-up Pleistocene Lake, or the wetlands and swamps with sulphur springs, or the savannah rangelands and mountain forests.
The diverse ecosystems captured my attention from our plane even before we landed. I snapped the above photo from our Safarilink flight as we were flying over the area.
Giada of Go2Africa recommended taking flights between camps in order to reduce our time spent in slow, bumpy overland travel and to maximize our time in the camps. This was sage advice. Even though a bit pricier, the pilots made it fun and the aerial views made it worth it. The Amboseli Airstrip (above) was the most developed(!) airstrip that we saw, having both a building and even a short asphalt runway. Giada arranged our flights with Safarilink which went seamlessly; our first flight was on the plane shown above.
Amboseli was officially declared a national park in 1974 to protect this unique ecosystem; however, the park's history dates back to the pre-British colonial era. It was set aside in 1906 as a Southern Reserve for the indigenous Maasai people in this area, (stay tuned for a post upcoming on our visit to a Maasai village), but then returned to control by the Kenya Wildlife Service in 1948. In 1991 it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The park's fame of being the best location in the world to see large herds of free-ranging elephants up close piqued my interest. Then, add to that imagining the park's backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's crowning peak, and the case for visiting became compelling. Beforehand, I knew it was arid and would be dusty, and there was the possibility that the dust and clouds might obscure our view of the revered mountain; but, in the end, my heart won; I had to visit this spot.
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the African continent and the highest free standing mountain above sea level in the world; it stands at 19,341 ft above sea level (that's 3.7 miles high; in the US only Denali, part of a range in Alaska, is taller at 20,310). I might not have recognized it from photographs; its glacier and ice fields atop are greatly diminished from what they once were. Seeing it for the first time, I immediately felt grateful, and felt a small thrill to see it while it still retained a white cap even if small; its ice field and glaciers are predicted to disappear as early as 2025 according to scientific research.
The Amboseli Airstrip is very close (3 miles) to Ol Tukai Lodge where we stayed; Ol Tukai is by far the largest of the four camps we visited with a total of 80 rooms. Its location in the heart of Amboseli is terrific, and looking out from our room onto the wetlands with so much wildlife was enjoyable. Writers have described Ol Tukai and Amboseli National Park 'as a home for the Gods'. It is also Eco-rated and has excellent outdoor and indoor facilities with a unique collection of African art.
Our experience was significantly enhanced by Miriam of guest relations who made both Ethan and me feel like VIPs indeed. She accompanied our guide to meet us at the airplane; she checked on us frequently to see how our game drives had been, to assure our expectations were met and so much more. She then accompanied us with our guide back to the airstrip when we left and made certain we were getting onto the correct plane. Thank you Miriam; you made our time at Amboseli special indeed. Also a shout out to John, who found us at each mealtime, making certain we were happy with our food and drinks.
After our arrival, Ethan and I were enjoying our welcome pastries and drinks in the outdoor restaurant. We were taking in the serene view of wildlife, when a baboon jumped in to join us. In a split second, he had a muffin in his mouth and and was grabbing tasty treats with both hands before making his speedy getaway. It was shocking in its surprise but kind of fun since Ethan and I had already satisfied our appetites. We had learned a lesson about the nature of baboons. Later I read that the Amboseli Baboon Project is one of the longest running studies of wild primates in the world; that made the experience even more interesting and memorable.
Ol Tukai is a fenced park (the only one that we visited) however, the fencing was around the people, rather than around the animals; this felt right to me. With many people and children onsite, an unobtrusive electric fence kept the wildlife outside of the lodging area. In fact, it was so unobtrusive, sometimes I couldn't discern which side of the fence the animals were on.
Our room was number 10 above. I was delighted to look out our windows or sit on our porch overlooking the wildlife before us. I could have spent a lot of time just doing that for the view was spectacular indeed.
I was getting ready to head out of our room for my first game drive at Amboselli, when I realized I was being watched through my window. A small jump on my part, then I realized it was merely one of the many baboons peering inside.
I hope I have convinced you that Ambroseli National Park is well worth a visit. This guy will be waiting for a chance to steal your biscuit!