Shimba Hills National Reserve protects one of the last large coastal rainforests in East Africa. It is a stronghold for the rare subspecies of sable antelope: Roosevelt’s sable. This is not a Big Five reserve, but several of the usual safari animals, as well as some interesting forest animals, can be found here.
Shimba Hills is a refuge for many forest species. Elephant and buffalo are the only Big Five animals you’re likely to see. Predator sightings are rare, but Masai giraffe has been introduced and many interesting antelope species occur here naturally. Some of the delightful smaller inhabitants include the red-bellied coast squirrel and the Greater galago, both of which have become habituated at Shimba Hills Lodge.
Shimba Hills has a big population of elephants. They disappear easily into the forest and close-up sightings are not guaranteed, but an eagle’s eye view over the forest from one of the lookout points – especially Elephant Hill – often proves productive. Other common mammals include buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, and bushbuck.
Shimba Hills is a sanctuary for the endangered Roosevelt’s sable antelope. Several primate species can be seen including yellow baboon, Sykes monkey, vervet monkey, and the beautiful Angolan colobus monkey. Charming nocturnal greater galagos (or bushbabies) are regular visitors to Shimba Hills Lodge, and their piercing cries can be heard at night. Two other species of galago occur here: the small-eared galago (or lesser bushbaby) and the tiny Zanzibar galago.
Shimba Hills can be visited throughout the year, but heavy downfalls may restrict game drives and hiking trips. There is rain along the coast throughout the year. However, the peak of the short rains in November and the long rains in April and May make these months less appealing.
The reserve’s habitat consists of coastal rainforest and grassland interspersed with woodland and coastal bush. Shimba Hills is considered to be one of the most diverse of the forested ecosystems on the Kenyan coast, supporting over 1000 plant species. Sheldrick Falls has a lovely plunge pool, perfect for cooling off.
An ever-present breeze tends to take the sting out of Shimba Hills’ heat and humidity, though it never really gets that cool. Even at night, it stays warm. You can’t fully escape the rain here, but it’s more pervasive in October and November, and can really pelt down in April and May. Sunny days are typical in the intervening dry periods.
The drier seasons (December to March and June to September) see the animals congregate around local water sources, making them easy to find. You can still track them in the wetter months, but it takes greater effort as they’re more dispersed. You won’t really be bothered by other tourists here at any time of year, as the park doesn’t tend to attract crowds.
Birds – Shimba Hills National Reserve
Over 200 bird species have been recorded in Shimba Hills NR, including several coastal endemics, restricted to the area, such as the east coast akalat. Although forest birding is notoriously difficult, it is worth the effort here, as birders are rewarded with many interesting species. Non-birders will most likely enjoy some of the more easily observable forest avifauna, such as the trumpeter and silvery-cheeked hornbill.
Best Time for Bird Watching – Shimba Hills National Reserve
Shimba Hills is a favorite among bird watchers at any time of year. Residents include many of the unusual forest birds, and they can be seen at any time. From November to April, the migratory birds arrive and add to the already interesting array of species. Regarding the weather, be aware that November and April are peak months for rainfall, and heavy rain can certainly curtail your birding activities.
A visit to Shimba Hills is usually best in the drier months from June to September and December to March. Although the reserve can be visited year-round, visits during the rains are more challenging. The vegetation is thicker in the wet months, which makes animal spotting difficult, and the abundance of water means wildlife tends to be more dispersed.
Although cooled by strong breezes, misty mornings and clouds, Shimba Hills has a hot and humid coastal climate. Temperatures are around 29°C/84°F in the afternoon. It cools down a bit at nighttime, but it’s still warm at around 20°C/68°F. Rainfall is common year-round, but peaks during the ‘short rains’ (October to November) and the ‘long rains’ (April to May).
Drier seasons –December to March and June to September
December, January, February & March – When the dry period actually hits is difficult to predict, but it usually falls in these months. Although it still rains a little, these months are the hottest with temperatures averaging around 31°C/88°F.
June, July, August & September – Sunny conditions prevail with little rain. It’s the main Dry season, though showers are still around on some days. These months also represent the coolest time of year with daytime temperatures of 27°C/81°F.
Wet seasons –April to May and October to November
April & May – ‘Long rains’: Plenty of rain around during these months – the wettest of the year. Although showers are possible all day, storms in the afternoon are more likely. Expect an average of around 29°C/84°F in the daytime.
Shimba Hills is an easy day trip from Mombasa, Diani Beach, or any of the other beach resorts south of Mombasa. It is also possible to stay the night in Shimba Hills Lodge located in the reserve. Many hotels in Mombasa or Diani offer day trips to Shimba Hills, or you could rent a vehicle for the day.
Most people fly from Europe or North America to Kenya via Nairobi. 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 Nairobi, you can take a domestic flight to Mombasa or Diani, which can be your base for Shimba Hills.
Shimba Hills is, in our opinion, a very safe destination for visitors to Kenya. If you are on a self-drive safari, be aware that the usual precautions in cities and towns between parks apply (see ‘Cities & Other Urban Areas: Safety Precautions’ below). Shimba Hills is usually visited from one of the nearby beach resorts, and theft is a problem on the beaches south of Mombasa.
Your doctor is best placed to provide medical advice about vaccinations. Malaria is a major concern for visitors traveling around the country. Shimba Hills lies in the coastal region and malaria risks are quite high. Taking antimalarials is recommended. Other precautions are covering up at dusk 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.
It is important to respect wild animals as their behavior is unpredictable and can potentially be dangerous. Behave sensibly and listen to the instructions provided by your guide. Actual incidents are very rare and there is certainly no reason for paranoia.