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Tsavo East: Kenya’s largest conservation area!
Lighthouse attraction: The Red Elephants
Tsavo East National Park is Kenya’s largest conservation area. Together with the neighboring twin park of Tsavo West, it is listed as number three of Africa’s mega parks! Many people underrate Tsavo East, simply because they are not aware of its wild, unknown north, an unspoiled paradise for explorers in the search of absolute serenity, which was a no go zone for decades until recently. Hence, most accommodations and guests are found in the south near Voi.
A huge herd of Red Elephants is gathering at a water hole below Voi Safari Lodge.
Accompany us on our safari through the park of indefinite vastness and follow untamed Athi River into the heartland of the famous Red Elephants! Discover both faces of Tsavo East, the mild and the wild!
In the land of scratches
Once you have branched off Mombasa Highway and rumbled over the famous tracks of the Uganda Railway, merely a kilometer behind Mtito Andei, every human trace will vanish. Except for the two red tire tracks which carry you deeper and deeper into an absolute wilderness, until even the humming of the lorry engines and the rattling of their trailers have fainted completely.
Saying goodbye to civilization: After branching off Mombasa Highway, the humming of the lorry engines and the rattling of trailers vanishes.
The early morning sun stands still low, turning the dry land and its faded colors into a glowing beauty of yellow grass, orange bush and crimson soil. It is a red, so intense, that you could think of a giant tinting the earth with his blood while he struggles through the dense forest as millions of thorns rip his clothes and skin to pieces. Every plant, it appears, whether grass, shrub or tree, has molded its own defense arsenals of poisonous saps and spikes, needles, hooks, thorns, barbs or stings.
The nature surrounding us is stagnant, akin to a queer dream. It has encapsulated itself from the world, hibernating until the next rains. Hornbills are the only living beings, as we see them hovering through the branches, holding their creaky, ghostly conversations. And there are tiny dikdiks, shy as elves, that shoo into the undergrowth as we approach.
Tracks of a baboon on the red laterite soils which tints the elephant skin.
Our path is a straight cut through the impregnable vegetation, the only penetration that allows easy movement for us and the animals. We recognize baboon tracks and eventually elephant droppings in front of us, literally heaps the size of a football. But all the beasts seem to have moved away, attracted by what pulls us too: the Athi River. It feels ironic that the major obstruction to our discovery travel through the wild, semiarid northern part of Tsavo East National Park is attributed by the only open water in this huge stretch of dry land!
Kenya’s largest conservation area
Tsavo East measures 13.747 km² which is significantly larger than the western twin brother’s size of 9.065 km². If you counted in other conservation areas of the region, such as adjacent South Kitui National Reserve to the North, Chyulu and Amboseli National Parks in the West as well as several private sanctuaries, such as Taita Hills Sanctuary, they form an even more titanic protected ecosystem.
Tsavo East sun, land and water
Tsavo East might be larger but with an average precipitation of 510 mm it is also much drier and less diverse than Tsavo West. Its southern part is dominated by plains of grass and bushland which change over to semi deserts as you move north easterly. Appealing hills can only be found at the park’s western fringes. The thick, refreshingly green riverine forests on the banks of Athi, Galana, Tiva and Voi River offer a welcoming change in the dry land. On the other hand, it is exactly the monotone, boundless landscape which accounts for much of Tsavo East’s special appeal.
“Well, there is a ferry, that’s true. But …”, says Steven and hesitates. “… but I fear it is for pedestrians only …” “…!” We are taken by surprise for the KWS rangers at the gate didn’t indicate there might be a problem crossing the river. Steven works for the Sheldrick Elephant Trust which runs a remote bush station on the banks of Athi River. Luckily, he doesn’t only come up with bad news, but also with a possible solution. “There is an old river crossing not far from here. Let’s go!”, he exclaims while hopping into the backseat of our 1997 Pajero, we affectionately refer to as the ‘Old Lady’. What we are looking for, is one of only three fords on a river stretch of several hundreds of kilometers. They constitute the only access points for cars, when you come from the south or the east and you want to go into the northern part of Tsavo East, an area far bigger than Nairobi. This still is a very, very wild corner of Kenya!
Stuck on the banks of Athi River
Our joint safari ends three kilometers onwards where we get stuck in the sandy banks of the Athi. So we leave the car where it is, and walk to the river. On a first view, it looks really frightening, if not impossible, and I don’t have a clue, how our Old Lady should ever make it through the strong current over to the other side. In front of us lies a diverse riverine landscape with Yatta Plateau as a backdrop. But the river, our problem, naturally captures my attention.
Preparing for the daring attempt
The passage runs through a set of small rapids. It is composed of rocky, but slippery shallows, little sandbanks, islets and chunks of old concrete. Once upon time, it must have been a proper ford with sticks marking its fringes. Then came untamed Athi River and did its bit desolating the crossing. By now, the sticks have rusted away to short stumps. It already is a challenge on foot to find the right course crossing the river. How to manage that by car? Faded tire tracks at some points show, that others have successfully done it before us. That is somehow encouraging, but what if the car gets stuck, the engine dies down and we are washed away with our one and only car out here? Unfortunately enough, you can enjoy these situations only in the aftermath, when telling others about it.
Halfway through the first part
“It would mean an inevitable end to our researches!” says the boring angel on my right shoulder. “On the other hand, dude, let me tell you as a brother …”, replies the small devil on the left, giving cause for a second thought. “If we turn around at this point, it will mean an endless detour. Just think about the massive Tsavo East distances! Instead, let us dare to go for the unknown. That always has proven to produce some of the most impressive moments and memories of our research expeditions, hasn’t it?” He definitely has a point, and so we go as a huffy angle falls silent. Luckily, we are not alone, for without the aid of Steven, the ranger, we would have never found the right way!
Moment of relief – and a clean car from below!
We balance through the river on foot four times, back and forth, to check the course of the way and marking it. After beating soapy algae and the strong current, after narrowly saving my mobile phone and my pocket camera from drowning, I start to believe I can do the same with our 4WD-lady with Steven as my pathfinder. With a couple of stop and go’s in the river, we reach the other side without any trouble. We are proud of our car, the Old Lady, fresh and clean from below right up to the doors, as she is now!
Bridges to the past
At a certain point of history, there must have been plans for a bridge over Athi river. Some 30 km downstream, right before the spot, where Tsavo River and Athi River merge to form the Galana River, the rocky river banks form a channel which is merely twenty meters in width. Woodley’s Bridge Place (S2 57.658 E38 30.103) indeed is a perfect spot for a bridge, if it was ever been built. It is named after Bill Woodley, who was at one time the warden of Tsavo East.
A foraging Jumbo between Galana River and Voi sniffing suspiciously for us.
Talking of history. The Tsavo region became famous in the beginning of the 20th century for its elephants that bore tusks of record size and professional hunters, such as Denys Finch Hatton and Baron Blixen brought affluent customers here for trophy hunting. But the hunting business in Tsavo inevitably ended when the two National Parks were gazetted on 6th of April 1948 and David Sheldrick became the first warden. The Woodleys and the Sheldricks, two British-Kenyan families, have greatly contributed to the research and protection of the Tsavo wilderness up to this day. The Sheldricks got involved with elephants in particular and run the world famous Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park, as well as a center for reintroducing orphaned jumbo youngsters into the wild at Ithumba, near the northern HQs of Tsavo East. Two of Bill Woodley sons also became rangers and served in KWS until some years ago.
Mr. Rajui, lodge pioneer and our gracious host at Tsavo Safari Camp.
Our bridge to the past is Rajui, the owner of Tsavo Safari Camp which hides in a raphia palm forest a little upstream form the ford we happily mastered. He knew both, David and Bill, whom he flew around Tsavo with many times. Once upon a time, in the middle of the 1960s, Rajui opened and owned some of the very first Kenyan safari lodges like Kilaguni and Voi Safari Lodge. Today, he is slightly over 80, something, I would have never believed, and has downsized holding only three premises from his former company. His passion has always been the bush and his very special love clearly is for the wilderness of Tsavo East and this camp, which now is managed by one of his daughters.
The cosy lounge at Tsavo Safari Camp
As we sit in the lounge, we describe the 50 Treasures of Kenya, before learning more about the camp and Rajui’s background. He is from a good family and nobody thought he should look for his fortune in the bush. His father, J.M. Desai, had played a vital role in supporting the struggle for independence. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and many other African political leaders were closely befriended with J.M. Desai. Whenever needed, they would find a car and a safe place to meet at the family home during the late 1940s and early 1950s. But when the MauMau uprising started, Rajui’s father was put under house arrest.
Drive the river
I feel very privileged for having had the chance to meet Rajui and hear about the birth of modern safari tourism in the late 1960s. Even more so, as I was able to meet all those historic figures whom he brings back to life with his stories and which I only knew from reading. After being so warmly received, it is difficult to turn down the offer for lunch, but we have to move on. Following Athi River downstream, we eventually reach the southern part of the park which is still some sixty kilometers or so away. Rajui equiped us with a brief but to the point description of the drive along the Athi and even gave away his secret spot on some rocks at the foot of the Yatta Plateau. Its here we enjoy an unobstructed view over the dry, grey bush which is nerved by a single green vein of life, the river and its forested banks.
View of the region from some rocks at the bottom of the Yatta Plateau.
For the next hours the 300km Yatta Plateau, a forested, impregnable wall and longest lava flow of the planet, forms the horizon to our left. To the right, Athi River, winding downstream creates a painting of untouched wilderness, of greenish rapids, shady palm thickets, acacia bush, dunes, anthills and sandy beaches. There is lots of game which all shy away from us, performing a ballet of incredible jumps as they dash over the track into the bush. I am seriously frustrated as I photograph a constantly growing derriere collection of gerenuk, impala, buffalo, Guinea fowl and the rare lesser kudu.
Together in the tub: Hippo baby and mom paddling in Athi River.
I the case of the huge crocodiles lying on the sandbanks and the hippo herds drifting lazily in the deeper pools of the river, their only movement being the propelling ears, I would have hoped for more motion. It is the prolific birdlife of water fowl and savannah species that ease my disappointment. And when finally, the long and winding track offers another stunning view over the river, and we see an elephant family drinking on the other side, magically illuminated by the very last rays of the sun, while an impressive stand of raphia palm with bushy crowns raises in their back, I feel fully recouped.
Drinking elephants in the last rays of the sun are towered by impressive raphia palms on the banks of Athi River.
What has impressed us most about , is the fact that we had this unforgettable experience of the long river drive completely for ourselves. Throughout the whole day, we didn’t see a single other car! The track we were using is in a good shape except for a few corrugations and gullies, but it is apparently hardly ever driven on. The Northern part of Tsavo East had been closed for 20 or so years when the war on poaching raged and created serious security issues. Since reopening, it seemingly has not yet been recaptured by tourism.
Opposite Chapeya Epiyu Camp, the Yatta Plateau almost touches Galana River. A beautiful sunrise.
During the last bit of our long safari day, we drive under the full moon, climbing and descending the Yatta Plateau until we reach the well built river crossing that carries us on dry tyres to the southern sector of and to Chapeyu Epiya Camp, where we find a place to stay.
In the heartland of the red elephants
Most travelers visit the Southern part of Tsavo East, where the majority of lodges and camps are found. Because open savannah land is prevailing in much of the South, it is easier to spot animals here, too. As much as we cherish to charge the batteries of our equipment and the comfort of a shower, we still prefer the wild North and its total privacy over the mild South. The tracks here are to well kept to make us feel like explorers anymore. At least, we get connected to the bush radio and the safari bus drivers are happy to share their information on the last lion kills with us. It seems we are too ungifted to find the simbas but a proud male Somali Ostrich with his blue legs and neck, plus an angry elephant cow who mock charges our Old Lady to drive us away from her calf, are proper compensations.
A proud Somali ostrich with blue legs and neck pays somehow off for not meeting Mr. Simba.
Tsavo East is home to the Big Five, i.e. elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard. Especially during the rainy season, when the grazers move away from the rivers and water holes, it can be a challenge to spot them in the immense area of the park. Crocodile and hippo however are always easy to find at Crocodile Point and Aruba Dam. The shy but handsome lesser kudu as well as huge buffalo herds, various monkeys, leopards and the most diverse birdlife are most likely to be encountered in riverine bush and forest along Galana River.
A huge flock of weaver birds bath and drink in a calm stretch of Galana River.
Cheetah and lion are downright savannah animals are frequently seen on Ndara plains in the very south of the park. There are even packs of African wild dog in Tsavo East but they are roam over large distances so it is a question of luck to spot them. The mascots of Tsavo East have always been the famous red elephants although their rather peculiar skin color is not of genetic origin. Instead, the animals apply a body make-up of red laterite soil after bathing, probably to lower the menace of parasites and protect their skin from sunburn. Other prominent animals in the park are zebras, Grant’s gazelle, impala, giraffe, waterbuck, gerenuk, eland, oryx and antelopes. On top this, Tsavo East is an ark for one of the most endangered larger mammals; the Hunter’s antelope or Hirola, which is closely related to the topi and was only found east of Tana River originally .
The only prominent elevations are found near the south-western boundary of Tsavo East, where a lone Red Elephant seems to enjoy the panorama.
The big red elephant show starts as we approach the region around Voi Safari Lodge with its grass savannah stretching up to the foot of Taita Hills, and the eventual rocky outcrops. It starts with a single massive bull standing at a water filled pan, then suddenly, elephants are everywhere, foraging on the savannah plains, resembling mammoths from a long bygone era. There were literally families 15 or 20 heads crossing the road just a few meters from the car!
Some elephants are particularly strict on their right of way.
The impressive number of red giants gives us an idea of how it must have been in the 1950s, before droughts and slaughtering by poachers reduced the former 40,000 parchyderms of Tsavo to less than 5,000 animals. Today, the elephant population of both Tsavo parks has significantly recovered to about 13,000. But until historic numbers are reached, a lot of water will flow down Athi River, especially as poaching is on a dramatic rise again. The rhino population of Tsavo was hit even harder, as it plunged from 5000 animals to the verge of extinction. Today, there are around 100 rhinos in Tsavo, which are kept in fenced sanctuaries where they can be better guarded.
A family of elephant approaches a leak in a water pipeline below Lion Hill Lodge.
Our journey ends with a literal highlight as we sit on the veranda of Lion Hill Lodge, right at the boundary of Tsavo East. The beautiful land below stretches up to the far horizons, as clouds and sun are splashing colors and light beams on the canvas of the evening sky. Another elephant clan treks past us to drink at a leakage on a water pipeline. After a long and hot drive we enjoy our sundowner, recollecting the events of the past two safari days, which offered enough events for a complete week.
Voi boasts a bit of New York flair when shot with a long exposure night shot. The headlights of cars on the road to the National Park in the foreground, and of the lorries on Mombasa Highway in the back look like marker bullets.
Lion Hill Lodge offers a sight into two worlds as the wind carries the lion’s roar and elephant sounds to us on top of the hill as Tsavo East sinks back into complete darkness. But behind our backs, the lights of Voi Town glitter and the headlights of the trucks on Mombasa highway appear like laser bullets moving in super slow motion through the night. It is here, that ancient and modern Kenya confront each other. Do you have to be a soothteller to know that Tsavo East holds a real treasure? A treasure which is getting more and more precious in today’s Kenya?
Northern sector of Tsavo East:
The Yatta Plateau is the world’s longest lava flow which stems from Ol Donyo Sabuk mountain near Nairobi and stretches more than half way down to the coast. What we see as an impressive single table mountain in fact consists of a former riverbed which was covered by a huge lava stream.
Yatta Plateau is very impressive – obviously more for its sheer stretch of 300 kilometers, making it the longest lava stream in the world – except for its height.
As the soft surroundings eroded over the course of time, the lava stood out as a towering elevation, which offers stunning views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Chyulu Hills, Ngulia Range and Athi River from above. Because of its porous lava rock, there is hardly any water found on top of the plateau. This again has led to specific drought resistant forest vegetation. The main track from Galana River to the Northern HQs climbs the Plateau and offers nice vistas of the Yatta.
Athi River Drive
The riverscapes of Athi, Tsavo and Galana River become a glittering attraction when the sun comes near the horizon.
The drive along the northern banks of Athi River is one of the most scenic, wild and serene experiences you could possibly imagine. It offers ever changing riverscapes and plenty of wildlife encounters and no other cars. You can be sure of seeing hippo, crocodile and plenty of plains game coming to the river for drinking. The stretch from the ford close to Tsavo Safari Camp to the main river crossing measures 70 km and can fill a whole day.
Woodley’s Bridge Place
Woodley’s Bridge Place would in fact be a perfect spot for building a bridge across Athi. Travel writers would mourn though, as the most adventurous river crossing nearby became obsolete …
At kilometer 45.7 km from the Athi River Crossing, or 46.7 km from Tsavo Safari Camp, the river squeezes itself through a narrow rock bed which looks like an artificial channel although its of natural origin.
Birth of Galana River
Think twice before looking for a refreshing bath in the waters of the Athi and Galana Rivers. You might end as a croco snack. Some specimen really have impressive jaws.
The merging point of Tsavo River, which stems from Mt. Kilimanjaro and Athi River, which sources in the Nairobi region, is the birth place of Galana River, which is Kenya’s second longest after Tana River. The merger lays just a couple of kilometers downstream from the famous Tsavo Bridge, where two man eater lions brought the construction of the Uganda Railways to a halt for almost a year. The site, which is guarded by impressive crocodiles basking on the shores, can also be visited from the south side of the river.
Southern sector of Tsavo East:
Some people call Mudanda Rock ‘Little Ayers Rock’ which surely is an overstatement. Still, Mudanda Rock and the natural dam below are worth a visit.
A rewarding destination is Mudanda Rock which is found north of Voi Safari Lodge between junction 158 and 112. It is almost 2 km in length, 20 m high and about 50 meters in width. It is composed of ancient bedrock and rises abruptly from an otherwise perfect plain. It can be climbed from the west and opens a view to the east, where the rock plunges into a natural dam which is fed by the runoff water. In an otherwise dry surrounding this attracts many animals which can be well watched from the top. If you are lucky, you will see a bathing elephant herd.
To the north of Mudanda Rock, between junction 170 and 150 stands Observation Hill, which offers great panoramic views over the location of the merging of Athi and Tsavo Rivers and Yatta Plateau.
As you follow Galana River downstream from junction 160 which leads to the river crossing, there is another branch-off which takes you to Lugard Falls which are rather rapids then falls. During the past thousands of years, the river has chiseled a small cut through a massive bar of bedrock. During the rainy season, the hissing and foamy floods offer a thundering spectacle.
Galana River squeezes itself through a belt of rock to form Lugard Falls.
In the dry season, you can climb on the rocks which resemble a collection of weird sculptures, cut out and polished by water. The falls are named after Frederick Lugard, who passed this place on his way to Uganda, which he brought under the control of the Imperial British East African Company. He was made a lord for his successful unification of the huge colony of Nigeria from 1912–14.
Crocodile point lies just below Lugard Falls. Probably, the crocs are attracted by the fact that dizzy fish must be an easy catch?!
Just below of Lugard Falls lies Crocodile Point, which you reach through junction 163. From a cone of about 50 m you enjoy an unobstructed view of the treacherously calm waters which are populated by bathing hippos. Huge crocodiles lie on the beach in the sun to digest their previous fish meal.
Buffalos at a wallow below Voi Safari Lodge.
Coming from Voi Gate, you can follow the mostly dry riverbed of the Voi River. However, the green vegetation on its banks and many water holes attract a lot of animals from the dry surroundings. Especially during dry season this is the spot to watch birds, monkeys, elephants, gazelles, lions and leopards. Exceptionally rewarding are often the River Loop and Wanderi Swamp Loop.
Aruba Dam pools Voi River, forming a small lake which lures thirsty animals from Taru desert. A viewpoint reached over junction 140 offers a nice view over Lake Aruba and its hippos, Aruba Ashnil Lodge and the hills at the fringes of the national park.
Where to stay:
Tsavo Safari Camp, S2 38.417 E38 21.879
Luckily, Tsavo Safari Camp – one of the very few accommodations in the northern sector – is not pretending to be a boutique hotel, but lives up to its name. Founded as a hunting base under the name of Kitaani kya Ndundu, it became one of the earliest established tented camps in Kenya associated with famous adventurers, such as Glen Cottar and renowned photographer Peter Beard.
Vistas of Tsavo Safari Camp.
It is a true safari camp in the middle of a huge wilderness! The 18 tents lie in the shade of raphia palms, right on the Northern banks of Athi River. Although surrounded by absolute wilderness, guests don’t have to refrain from any comfort. Apart from the big beds made of natural wood, the interior is rather descent, but the bathrooms at the back are spacious and friendly and there is even a swimming pool. Lounge and restaurant are placed in a huge open shade which is furnished comfortably.
When coming the 30 kilometers from Mtito Andei by car, you have to ford Athi River or you park the car on the other side of the river and a boat brings you over to the Camp, which also owns a private airstrip. Activities offered comprise of day and night game drives, bush meals, sundowners, birdwatching, fishing and excursions to Sheldricks’ Blind at the top of Yatta Plateau. The camp is children friendly and offers specific activities for them.
www.tsavosafaricamp.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. +254 (0)729 613 201 or +254 (0)708 367 300
Epiya Chapeyu Camp, S3 03.002 E38 46.578
Epiya Chapeyu is somewhat a budget option on a full board basis, idyllically situated at the sandy banks of Galana River inside a palm tree forest and run by friendly staff. The camp owns 17 comfortable but rather simply furnished safari tents with toilet, sink and shower plus one bungalow with a double bed.
Vistas of Epiya Chapeyu Camp.
As the owner is Italian, the food served on the veranda of the restaurant is excellent. There are hippos in the river and two resident elephants which wander through the camp at night, but no swimming pool.
http://www.epiya-chapeyu-camp.com/, Tel.+254 (0)733 743 210
Galdessa Main & Private Camp, S3 01.506 E38 39.086
Galdessa Camp is sitting on the southern banks of Galana River facing Yatta Plateau, where you enjoy palm shade, a gentle breeze and a scenic view of the river. What makes Galdessa Camp outstanding, is the attention which has been put into the interior of the public lounge, the 12 spacious safari tents on wooden platforms and three exclusive bandas, which can be rented only by one party, granting absolute privacy. Materials from the surrounding, like an impressive hippo skull and weird deadwood have been combined into a piece of African chic, which is very comfortable, stylish and exclusive.
Vistas of Galdessa Camp.
Having an Italian owner and a manager from Seychelles, good food and beverages are given the proper attention. The camp has a laid back philosophy: As much as service, interior and food are given its attention, the major attraction is serenity and the pleasure to sit above the river as you watch waterbuck, the resident elephant by the name of Mugabe, the local hippo clan or read a good book. Walking safaris are offered in the afternoons. The camp is not fenced to ensure a real wilderness feeling. There is no swimming pool.
www.galdessa.com, email@example.com, Tel. +254 (0)40 3202217 or +254 (0)20 2608458
Voi Safari Lodge, S3 20.837 E38 34.003
Voi Safari Lodge, being one of the very first lodges of the country, has gotten a history that reaches back into the 1960s. If it was built today, its motel like outside would probably have been given a different look. It has gotten 53 rooms on three floors which are rather small but have been renovated recently and are equipped with a fan and mosquito net.
Vistas of Voi Safari Lodge.
This place clearly stands out for its spectacular view down to a waterhole well frequented by huge elephant and buffalo herds, and over the endless plains of Tsavo East. You will enjoy the view also from the rooms, the swimming pool area with its Tembo Bar and Ndovu Restaurant. It clearly is the place to come for a swim and possibly a sundowner, as you gaze into the indefinite distance.
www.kenya-safari.co.ke, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. +254 (0)41 471861-5 or +254 (0)722 203 143/4
Lion Hill Lodge, S3 21.852 E38 35.114
Located on the top of a hill just before you enter Tsavo East’s Voi Gate, Lion Hill Lodge undisputedly offers the most spectacular views of all accommodation in and around Voi. On one side, you look down to Voi and Sagalla Hills in the distance. On the other you peep deep into the national park with huge herds of buffalo and elephant passing below, as you hear their sounds carried up by the wind.
Vistas of Lion Hill Lodge.
Lion Hill Lodge offers 12 spacious, friendly rooms, all having nets, vans and a terrace with the striking view to the national park, two spacious safari tents and a set of family cottages. A spacious pool currently is under construction and should be finished towards the end of 2013. The team is friendly, the location superb, prices are fair – it doesn’t get much better than this.
www.lionhilllodge.com, email@example.com, Tel. +254 (0)208 030 828, +254 (0)717 722 772 or +254 (0)735 877 431
Sagalla Homestay, S3 26.470 E38 37.325
Anna Biberstein, the good soul of Sagalla Homestay, is the initiator of the New White House Academy, a boarding school for orphaned children, right on Mombasa highway some 4 km out of Voi. The Swiss lady has opened her home for travelers who don’t need fuss like a warm shower, but cherish a private atmosphere in colorful surroundings, excellent food and hearty company.
Vistas of Sagalla Homestay.
There are only three rooms and space for camping in the garden. Rates are very favorable and include breakfast. There is wifi and an extensive library. Anna is happy to show people the impressive work of the White House Academy and helps with organizing trips to Tsavo East and the Sagalla Hills. Because of the highway passing close by, traffic might be heard in the rooms of the front side.
firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. +254 (0)717 562 232
Ngutuni Lodge, S3 24.929 E38 38.963
Ngutuni Lodge lies at the Southern fringes of Tsavo East, inside the private Ngutuni Game Sanctuary bordering the national park. The lodge comprises of two wings with 24 spacious double rooms each, including 16 rooms with interconnecting doors for families.
Vistas of Ngutuni Lodge.
The interior lacks a bit of a personal touch, but rooms are spotlessly clean and have a veranda facing a watering hole which is frequented by herds of buffalos and elephants. The premises is very well maintained and offers attractive lunch packages for people traveling on Mombasa Highway, as the lodge is situated only 7 km off the tarmac. Pre-booking is required, though.
Further accommodation in and around Tsavo East:
Satao Camp, http://www.sataocamp.com, is situated at the banks of seasonal Voi River. Creative makuti and dead wood architecture give the camp a special feel. Camp and safari jeeps are equipped for wheelchairs.
•Patterson’s Safari Camp, www.pattersonsafaricamp.com, lies in a quite corner of the southern part of Tsavo East, right on the banks of Athi River
•Sentrim Tsavo, www. sentrim-hotels.com, is a fairly priced, rather simple camp, which lies under shady trees.
•Ashnil Aruba Lodge, www.ashnilhotels.com, lies at the fringes of Aruba Dam and offer luxury bandas as well as safari tents on a fenced of compound.
•Man Eaters Lodge, www.voiwildlifelodge.com, stands on historc grounds, right on the banks of Tsavo River.
The choice of public campsites in Tsavo East is somewhat limited, currently they are only three. You can camp at Sala Gate and there are two public campsites close to Voi Gate, namely at Kanderi Swamp (junction 173) and the shady Ndololo Campsite (junction 137), which offers showers and a toilet. Restaurant and Bar of Ndololo Camp are just a few steps away.
Where to eat:
All safari camps and lodges have restaurants, some however are only open to guests who stay at the premises, such as at Epiya Chapeyu or Galdessa Camp. If you are in the southern sector, it is an option to leave the park for lunch at one of the many restaurants of Voi before re-entering.
Enjoying the refreshing view and drinks at the Tembo Bar
If you are not going for the wild style and drink your own supplies somewhere at the riverbanks, Tembo Bar of Voi Safari Lodge is a decent place for a sundowner, as it sits right over a water hole which is frequented by huge herds of elephants and buffalos.
Tours & Gudies:
All major tour operators offer trips to Tsavo East. Southern Cross Safaris (www.southerncrosskenya.com) and Lofty Tours (www.lofty-tours.com) have proven to be knowledgeable and reliable. They also have car rental for self-driving.
Welcoming spirit at Mtito Andei Gate of Tsavo East National Park.
Getting there and around:
Entry fees: The entry fees to Tsavo East are as follows: Citizens: Ksh 500 (Adults), Ksh 200 (Children/Students), East African Residents: Ksh 1000 (Adults), Ksh 500 (Children/Students), Nonresidents: US$ 65 (Adults), US$ 30 (Children/Students). Vehicles up to 6 seats are charged Ksh 300, and above .
Remember that you can enter Tsavo East only with a Safari card. If you don’t have one or it is not charged, you will have to return to Voi or Mtito Andei …
Tsavo East and Tsavo West can only be entered with a KWS Safari Card which has to be loaded in advance with the entry fees. Safari cards are obtainable and chargeable at Tsavo West’s Mtito Andei gate, merely 400 m off the Mombasa Highway and at Voi gate.
National Park Gates:
There are five major gates to the park namely Mtito Andei Gate, which is rarely used because of the delicate river crossing, Manyani Gate, which is preferred by people coming from Nairobi. There is Voi Gate which is just at the fringes of Voi town, Buchuma Gate, which is the closest gate to Mombasa and Sala Gate, which is the appropriate access when you approach the park from Malindi.
The park is open from sunrise to sunset, driving around the park after dark is prohibited.
Best travel time: Tsavo East can be visited all year round. However, during rainy season, some of the tracks might be impassable due to mud or flooding. Best conditions for watch animals are found during the dry season, when the game is lured to the riversides and water holes.
Roads and orientation:
Tsavo East is of incredibly vast extent, distances and travel times must not be underestimated. But tracks in generally are well maintained, although on some stretches there is quite a bit of corrugation. The southern part can also be visited with a saloon car. The park is equipped with a proper system of sign boards which bear numbers. When obtaining the recommendable Tsavo East National Park tourist map on sale at Voi gate, you can hardly get lost, as it also shows the junction numbers. However, some of the marked tracks disappeared as they have been reclaimed by wilderness, especially in the northern part.
Distances in Tsavo East are huge! Better remember if you want to make it home before dark!
There are only three fords crossing Athi and Sagala River, respectively: At junction 160, which is well built as it is on the main road to the Northern Headquaterss, at junction 177 (this is the wild one described above) and close to Sala Gate. Please note the security advice below before crossing the fords! Beware of the huge distances in the park otherwise you might be caught unprepared by nightfall. From junction 100, right after Voi Gate, it is 27 km to Aruba Lodge, 69 km to Buchuma Gate at the Southernmost tip of Tsavo East, 88 km to Sala Gate and 193 km to Malindi, 41 km to Lugard Falls at Galana River, 37 km to Mudanda Rock and 153 km to the Park Headquaters at Ithumba.
Tsavo East, especially its Northern part, is a real wilderness. Make sure, you don’t go unprepared when you are on a self-drive basis: Take two spare wheels and tools to change, make sure you have enough petrol and mind to take enough drinking water. In many parts of the park, there is no mobile reception.
When you are getting out of the car make sure, you don’t bump into lions, elephants or other wild beasts. This is specifically true for the riversides with its massive crocs. Swimming in the river is suicidal, as tempting as it might look. Be extremely careful when crossing Athi River, respectively Galana River and the fords are flooded. You wouldn’t be the first to be washed away with your car and get killed. So show patience until the swelling of the river is over after the rains.Certain parts of the park have a lot of tsetse flies, which are not a danger but a serious nuisance. Keeping your windows closed will be the only way to keep them out.
Information, maps and readings
There is a recommendable map about Tsavo East sold in the KWS shop at Voi Gate. Another attractive tourist map (scale 1:50,000) is available in the bookshops around the country which has been released by Sapra Safari Publishers. It is however not always 100 % correct and lacks some clarity, especially in those regions with a densely knit network of tracks.
The well known American photographer Peter Beard has done a gripping if not shocking book titled ‘The end of the game’ about Tsavo’s elephants starving in the thousands during the severe droughts in the 1960s and 1970s. Possibly the most touching shot shows an elephant battered to death by a giant baobab it had felled to reach the few leaves at its top.
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