Tsavo West National Park together with its expansive Tsavo East neighbor form one of the largest national parks in the world. The park is home to the Big Five, but wildlife viewing can be a bit slow at times. There are, however, several landmarks worth visiting including recent lava flows and Mzima Springs with its underwater observation chamber for close-up views of hippos.
Wildlife densities in Tsavo West aren’t that great, but everything is there. There are many elephants, and they are often covered in red dust, giving them an eerie appearance. The park is also known for its maneless lions and big herds of buffalo. Black rhinos have been on the comeback in Tsavo since the ’80s when they were close to being locally extinct.
The park is one of the best places to see the skittish lesser kudu. The rocky terrain is also a good habitat to look for klipspringers, often found in pairs. Antelope that thrive in arid conditions can also be found here, including the very localized fringe-eared oryx and gerenuk. The drive-through rhino sanctuary increases your chances of spotting the elusive black rhino.
The best wildlife viewing in Tsavo West NP is in the Dry season (June to October), although the park is worth a visit at any time of the year. During the Dry season, the vegetation is minimal, and animals tend to hang around the few available water sources.
Tsavo West’s prolific birdlife features over 400-recorded species. Ngulia Hills, one of the landmarks in the park, is situated along with one of the world’s busiest avian migration routes. Bird ringers make an annual pilgrimage here between October and January. Ngulia is the site of Africa’s foremost bird-ringing (tagging to enable individual bird identification) project. More than 100 migrant and resident species have been ringed here – the most prolific being marsh warbler, river warbler, red-backed shrike, thrush nightingale, and common whitethroat.
Tsavo West offers great bird watching in all seasons. Many of the more unusual specials are residents and can be spotted at any time. Migratory birds, a real feature of the birding in the park, fill the trees, waterways, and skies from November to April. Peak migration months are October and November. November and April are peak months for rainfall – good to keep in mind if birding is your primary interest here.
Tsavo West is best visited in the dry months from June to October and January to February. Although the park can be visited any time of year, wildlife viewing during the height of the Wet season (November, April, and May) is not recommended. In the wet months, animals tend to spread out due to the abundance of water.
Tsavo West NP has a climate characterized by hot and dry conditions. During the day, expect temperatures around 29°C/84°F, while 18°C/64°F is typical at night. Cool mornings mean warm clothing is a good idea for early game drives. Rainfall peaks in April and November.
The coolest months are full of sunshine, but very little rain. Warm clothing is necessary for open vehicle game drives.
June & July – Sunny afternoons see temperatures reach about 25°C/77°F. Early mornings and nighttime are cool at an average of 15°C/59°F.
August & September – Temperatures slowly increase. Although temperatures rise far higher, the average daytime temperature in September is 26°C/79°F.
The ‘short rains’ followed by the ‘long rains’ comprise the Wet season. In between these two wetter periods is a drier stretch which falls in the months of January and February.
October, November & December – November is a peak time for rainfall. The rains generally begin in October, although the exact timing changes from year to year. Afternoon storms often sweep through. It averages 30°C/86°F in the daytime, although rain cools things down.
January & February – February is the hottest month: average afternoon temperatures are 32°C/90°F. These months represent a dry spell between the short and long rains. It’s not possible to know exactly when they will begin/finish.
March, April & May – The long rains generally begin in the second half of March. Brief afternoon showers are normal. April is the wettest month, and road conditions often worsen in April and May. Afternoon temperatures climb to around 29°C/84°F.
Tsavo West is situated in the southeast of the country, 232km/144mi from Nairobi, and 250km/155mi from Mombasa. Driving to the reserve from Nairobi, Mombasa or another park is a good option depending on your plans. The distance from Lake Nakuru NP is 460km/285mi and the driving time is about eight hours.
There are scheduled flights to Tsavo West from Nairobi, and several other parks including Masai Mara and Amboseli. There are also airstrips available for chartered flights.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi, the country’s largest transport hub. Kenya’s second international airport is in Mombasa, Moi International Airport (MBA), and is just 9km/6mi west of the city.
Tsavo West, in our opinion, can be considered a very safe destination. This is generally the case with Kenyan parks and reserves as they do not usually suffer from crime. However, it’s always good to exercise safety precautions in the cities and towns between parks (see ‘Cities and Other Urban Areas: Safety Precautions’ below) – especially relevant if you are traveling independently and driving yourself.
Seek your doctor’s advice regarding vaccinations that you will need before a trip to Kenya. The main health concern for visitors is malaria. It is advisable to take antimalarials as well as other precautions, such as covering up exposed skin 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.
Listening to the instructions given by your guide and using your common sense are the best ways to keep safe around wildlife. Although the behavior of wild animals is unpredictable and potentially dangerous, incidents are extremely rare so there’s no reason for paranoia. Further advice on limiting dangers and annoyances when traveling: