Marsabit National Park is located in northern Kenya, a part of the country that will only appeal to the intrepid, adventurous traveler. Anybody traveling this far north will find a stopover in this little-visited park very worthwhile. Its wildlife-viewing centerpiece is a forest-fringed crater lake overlooked by Marsabit Lodge. Elephants, relatives of Ahmed – a former big tusker that received ‘presidential protection’ in his day – pass by the lake daily.
The dense forest of the park and lack of facilities and tracks makes wildlife viewing very challenging, but a visit to the lodge in the late afternoon is a great way to catch the elephants on their daily walk around the Crater Lake. The elephants here are renowned for their big tusks. Other animals present, but rarely seen include lion, leopard, and buffalo.
The densely forested Mount Marsabit is a fine example of a basalt shield volcano. The mountain is peppered with extinct volcanic craters, known as gifs (the name given to them by the local Borana people). The craters are lined with stands of juniper. Scenic Golf Sokorte Dika lies immediately in front of Marsabit Lodge.
The range of landscapes in this park means there’s a lot of variation in altitude. This, in turn, means the temperature can change a lot too, dropping 6.5°C/3.5°F for every 1,000m/1,000ft you ascend. Generally, though, it stays hot here, certainly in the Dry season (June to September) but even more so in the heart of the Wet season (October to May).
Animals roam far and wide when the park is wet, and those that stay can easily disappear into the dense vegetation. So, the Wet season (October to May) is not the best time to strap on your binoculars – unless birds are your priority, that is. To see other animals out in the open, visit in the drier months when there’s a virtual parade of beasts at the crater lakes.
Wildlife viewing in Marsabit is rather restricted through lack of facilities. The biggest highlight is the herd of elephants that usually walk around the Crater Lake in front of Marsabit Lodge in the afternoon. Other animals that can be spotted coming to drink at the lake are buffalo and bushbuck. Black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys are often around as well.
Marsabit is renowned as the habitat of one of the most regal of antelopes, the greater kudu. On the other side of the spectrum, the tiny Suni antelope can sometimes be spotted dashing off into the undergrowth. Other forest antelopes to look out for are three species of duiker: the common, red, and grey duiker. The park also shelters the rare Peters’ gazelle (a local species of Grant’s gazelle).
Marsabit can be visited throughout the year, but the best wildlife viewing is in the Dry season from June to September. At this time, the vegetation is less thick and animals congregate around the crater lakes. April is the wettest month and wildlife viewing can be difficult at this time.
Marsabit is a birder’s paradise. It has almost 500 species recorded, including 52 different raptors – the rarest of which is the bearded vulture (lammergeyer). The crater lakes are great to spot many waders.
Just north of the reserve lies the black lava Galgalla desert, which is the best place to look for the endemic Williams’s lark (restricted to Kenya) and a number of near-endemics (restricted to Kenya and marginal areas beyond) including Somali bee-eater, masked lark, and Somali sparrow.
Any time of the year will be rewarding for birders visiting Marsabit NP. However, if possible, November and April should be avoided as the rains in these months may interfere with your plans. Generally, a lot of the park’s more unusual specials are residents, so they can be spotted at any time. November to April sees the arrival of migrant species.
Like most of Kenya’s parks, it is possible to visit Marsabit year-round and see wildlife. However, the best months are when it is dry, from June to October and December to March. Marsabit National Park If visiting during the height of the short rains (November), and especially during the long rains (April and May), the wildlife experience may not be as good. Road conditions deteriorate in the wet months, and animals tend to disperse.
The climate in Marsabit is hot, although it cools down at night. The average daytime temperature is 31°C/88°F, while the average nighttime temperature is 16°C/61°F. The rain mostly falls in the ‘long’ and ‘short’ rains which peak in April and November respectively.
Dry season –June to September
There is sunshine during the days, which tend to be hot. There is a scarcity of rain, and the conditions are very dry.
June & July – Hot conditions with plenty of sunshine. Afternoon temperatures average 30°C/86°F.
August & September – Before the rain breaks, temperatures during the day increase. In September, the average is about 30°C/86°F with higher peaks.
Wet season –October to May
A dry period is a norm during the months of January and February, which divides the two Wet seasons: the ‘short rains’ followed by the ‘long rains’. Road conditions can deteriorate in April and May. Marsabit National Park
October, November & December – The ‘short rains’ typically begin in October. The most rainfall is received in November. Storms in the afternoon are common, but it rarely rains all day. Average temperatures in the daytime are around 31°C/88°F.
January & February – The exact timing of this dry period, which falls between the short and long rains, is unpredictable. Generally, the hottest month is February with afternoon temperatures averaging around 33°C/91°F, although expect higher peaks.
March, April & May – The long rains normally commence in the second half of March. Brief showers in the afternoon are typical, although it hardly ever rains all day. April receives the most rainfall. Afternoon temperatures are about 32°C/90°F.
Marsabit is located 560km/347mi north of Nairobi. Although very off-the-beaten-track, Marsabit is sometimes visited on a road expedition to Lake Turkana. This safari should only be undertaken by experienced 4×4 enthusiasts.
Road go there
The newly tarred road from Isiolo (near Samburu NR) to Marsabit and continuing towards Lake Turkana, might put Marsabit on the tourist map. This area is however still very remote and advice should be taken before heading out here.
Most people visiting Kenya fly into Nairobi. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is located 15km/9mi southeast of the city. Moi International Airport (MBA) is Kenya’s second international airport and is located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa.
Marsabit is usually visited on a road trip to Lake Turkana. Northern Kenya is very undeveloped, and Marsabit is totally off-the-beaten-track. Marsabit National Park It is advisable to drive in a convoy with at least one other vehicle. Northern Kenya has a history of tribal conflict and there have been cases of banditry as well. Local advice on recent safety issues should be taken before heading up north. In our opinion, Marsabit National Park itself is quite safe to visit.
You will probably require some vaccinations before coming to Kenya – ask your doctor for advice. Taking precautions against malaria is highly recommended. Antimalarials are advised and you should cover up at night, and apply mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective). Marsabit National Park
If you’re in a room that doesn’t have a mosquito net, consider spraying the room every evening. The peaks of the rainy seasons (from April to May and October to November) are when the risk from malaria is greatest.