Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve protects the largest remaining tract of coastal forest in East Africa. The reserve is mainly a bird-watching destination, and several endemics and near-endemics can be found here. The forest is a magical place to spend a couple of hours – and a welcome refuge from the coastal heat – but doesn’t expect to see any of the big safari animals.
The Forest Reserve is home to a big variety of wildlife, but most of it isn’t very visible to visitors. There are some elephants and buffalo, but you are very unlikely to encounter them. Of greater interest are the three endemic mammals: Ader’s duiker, Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose, and the golden-rumped elephant shrew. Troops of yellow baboons are a common sight.
Although incidents are extremely rare, you should always keep in mind the potential danger and unpredictability of wildlife encounters. Listen to the instructions given by your guide at all times. Baboons have become a bit of a pest in some lodges, including Treetops in the Aberdares. The baboons will avoid confrontation, but if provoked they can give a nasty bite.
Arabuko Sokoke is not primarily a wildlife-viewing destination. Buffalo, elephant, and leopard are present, but sightings are rare. Blue, red and common duikers can sometimes be spotted. The forest is home to 250 different butterfly species, of which four occur nowhere else in the world. Try Kipepeo Butterfly Farm to see these dazzling creatures.
Aside from several birding specials and endemics, the forest is home to three mammal endemics as well. Unfortunately, they are even more difficult to spot than the birding specials. This is the last stronghold of the golden-rumped elephant shrew. The forest is also the only place to see Ader’s duiker and Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose.
Arabuko Sokoke can be visited throughout the year, but heavy rains might interfere with drives and forest hikes. There is rain along the coast throughout the year, but the peak of the short rains in November and the long rains in April and May are the wettest times of the year.
The reserve’s main habitat is coastal dry forest. The ecosystem comprises of three forest types: mixed forest; miombo woodland (lovely for walking, with its open canopy); and cynometra (tropical forest), each of which is home to different animal species. There are several forest-fringed ponds with water lilies along the trails as well as some viewpoints over the canopy.
Arabuko Sokoke doubles up on its dry and wet periods. There are two drier seasons (December to March and June to September) – a hotter one at the start of the year and a cooler one mid-year. In between are the ‘long rains’ of April and May, when storms are common, and the ‘short rains’ of October and November.
You can visit Arabuko Sokoke year-round. The rain will test your stamina and perseverance on forest hikes in the wetter months, but you’ll have lots more birds as well as frogs for company. Alternatively, visit in the drier months, when the sunshine makes getting around that much more pleasant.
More than 230 bird species have been recorded in Arabuko Sokoke. The area is well-known for several globally threatened species, including Sokoke scops owl and Clarke’s weaver. Other sought after species that can be seen here include Sokoke pipit, Amani sunbird, and chestnut-fronted helmet-shrike. As always, forests don’t offer easy bird-watching, but the rewards of interesting species are plentiful here. Even non-birders will enjoy some of the more noticeable forest avifauna, including the trumpeter and silvery-cheeked hornbill.
Arabuko Sokoke is a bird-watchers paradise throughout the year. A lot of the more unusual forest species are resident and can be spotted at any time. The migratory birds are added to the mix from November to April. November and April are the peak months for the short and long rains – heavy rain can interfere with bird-watching activities.
It is possible to plan a trip to Arabuko Sokoke any time of year. However, heavy rain might interfere with drives and forest hikes. There is rain along the coast throughout the year, but the less than ideal months – due to peaks in rainfall – are November, April and May.
Arabuko Sokoke has a hot and humid coastal climate, cooled by strong breezes. Average afternoon temperatures are around 30°C/86°F. Although it cools down a bit, nighttime is still warm with temperatures of 21°C/70°F. It rains throughout the year, but rain peaks during the ‘short rains’ from October to November, and during the long rains from ‘April to May’. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve
Drier seasons –December to March and June to September
December, January, February & March – This is a drier spell between the short and long rains. The exact timing of the dry period is unpredictable and it can still rain a bit. These are the hottest months with average temperatures of 31°C/88°F. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve
June, July, August & September – It is mostly sunny. It can still rain some days, but this is the main dry season. These are the coolest months with daytime temperatures of around 28°C/82°F.
Wet seasons –April to May and October to November
Summer has more comfortable temperatures and a bit more rainfall. Some days might be cloudy and it might drizzle for a day, but it is mostly sunny.
April & May – ‘Long rains’: These are the wettest months. There are many overcast days and it can rain all day. Afternoon storms are more common though. Road conditions might deteriorate. Daytime temperatures drop slightly to 30°C/86°F.
October & November – ‘Short rains’: The rain increases in October and peaks in November. It rains less than during the long rains, but November can be very wet. Afternoon storms are common, and there is a bit of sunshine around as well.
Getting There – Arabuko Sokoke
Arabuko Sokoke forest is located 120km/74mi north of Mombasa and 560km/347mi from Nairobi.
Arabuko Sokoke is an easy day trip from the popular beach resorts at Malindi and Watamu. Daytrips to Arabuko Sokoke are offered by most hotels in the area, or you can hire a car as well.
Most people fly from Europe or North America into Nairobi as this is the biggest transport hub and there is a lot of choice for tickets. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA) located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa. From either airport, you can take a domestic flight to Malindi, which can be your base for visiting Arabuko Sokoke.
Malaria & Safety – Arabuko Sokoke
In our opinion, Arabuko Sokoke is a very safe destination. Crime issues in any of the developed parks and reserves in Kenya are very rare. If you are traveling independently and driving yourself, caution is advised in cities and towns between parks (see ‘Cities and Other Urban Areas: Safety Precautions’ below). Arabuko Sokoke is mostly visited from one of the nearby beach resorts, and petty theft is a problem on the beaches of Watamu and Malindi.
Malaria & Vaccinations
Seek advice from your doctor about vaccinations before coming to Kenya. The main concern when traveling around the country is malaria. Arabuko Sokoke lies in the coastal region and malaria risks are quite high. It is advisable to take antimalarials. Other precautions are covering up in the evening and using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective). Malaria risk is worst in the peaks of the rainy seasons from April to May and October to November. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve
Wildlife Viewing – Arabuko Sokoke
It is important to respect wild animals as their behavior is unpredictable and can possibly be dangerous. Incidents are very rare, and there is no reason to be paranoid if you behave sensibly and listen to the instructions given by your guide.