Tsavo West National Park is a rugged wilderness of immense beauty where you can experience some of the most breathtaking game viewing in the world. Smaller than its sister to the North East of Mombasa road, the Tsavo East National Park, Tsavo West National Park covers 1,745,800 acres of open grasslands, scrublands, Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges. Here are eight fun things you can do when you visit.
1. Visit the Springs of Mzima
Stand in a volcanic arena where the clear waters of Mzima Springs gush out of lava rock to attract a host of wild game. The springs which are 40 KM (25 MI) from Mtito Andei form a series of clear pools where elephants, buffalo, zebra, lesser kudu and other animals come to drink water. Other significant viewing places are at the Kangethwa Dam, the Kilaguni waterhole and an artificial spring right in front of the Kilaguni Lodge. The top pool at Mzima has an underwater observation tank where you can safely watch Hippo, fish and Crocodile.
2. Explore the Shetani Lava Flows
Shetani is a Swahili word which means the devil. Located about 4 KM west of the Chyulu Gate, the Shetani Lava Flows are a sight to behold. They are a vast expanse of folded black lava that spreads for 12,355 acres across Savannah resting at the foot of the Chyulu Hills. Here, the hottest stories will be those of volcanic eruptions and the fear of fire and evil spirits. When 500 years ago, locals saw fire and smoke coming from below they believed it was the devil emerging from the earth. That incidence continues to inspire fantastical stories of the place to this day.
3. Venture into the Ancient Shetani Caves
The Shetani Caves, like the Shetani flows, are a result of volcanic activity. You will need a torch to explore the caves and beware of razor-sharp rocks at the foot. Hyenas are also known to inhabit here so approach with caution. It is in these caves that Colonel Patterson shot dead two man-eating lions during the construction of the railway. It is not clear why these lions turned to man-eaters. One theory says they may have acquired a taste for human flesh from the bodies of dead slaves that lined the slave route traversing Tsavo. The two mane-less lions are today exhibited in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Colonel Patterson sold their skins and skulls to the museum for a staggering USD 5,000.
4. Enjoy the Birdlife
Spot an assortment of birdlife numbering 600 species including the African skimmer, red and yellow bishops, goshawks, buffalo weavers and palm nut vultures that live here. The best time for this is between October and January. Lake Jipe is an excellent place to start. You can also do a boat excursion on the lake or explore the swamps at each end of the lake.
5. Take a Walk at Chaimu
Visit the Chaimu lava flow, which has a fun walking trail. The brittle black lava is not very stable here and is bare of plants. It is possible to climb up to the crater rim, but it is arduous work. Be wary of wild animals present here as you take in the spectacular sceneries.
6. Witness the Return of the Black Rhino at Ngulia
Visit the Ngulia Sanctuary where an endangered species of black rhino is slowly coming back from the brink of extinction. Rampant poaching back in the 1960s almost wiped the species from the face of the earth.
7. Visit the Five Sisters
No idea who decided they were female or siblings but the five almost identical cone-shaped hills called the Five Sisters are a must-see. They are a stunning low ridge of black lava outcrop surrounded by long luscious grass.
8. Retrace the Steps of a Bizarre War
The East African campaign was one of the most bizarre of the First World War. The Germans led by Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck fought the allied forces under Meinertz-Hagen in the ‘Bundu’ (Bush) of Tsavo West’s unexplored wilderness of thorny scrub and dense forest. With a handful of native soldiers, Paul managed to keep nearly 250,000 Allied troops at bay for four years. This curious war usually referred to as the last ‘gentleman war’ used a mix of guerilla tactics adopted from African tribal fighters and the code of honour rules of war. Lettow-Vorbeck’s orders to his men were, “harass, kill, but don’t get caught.” With guided tours of the Crater, Kichwa Tembo and Mzima fort, you can retrace the footsteps of the world war veterans.
They say Tsavo West National Park is the ancient land of lions and lava. Indeed it is. The man-eaters are long gone, but their descendants still roam the vast wilderness, spectacular volcanic formations tower above the sky, and the park’s whiff of legend lives on. The park is accessible through the Chyulu Gate from Amboseli and Mtito Andei Gate. It is also reachable via the Taveta-Voi road through Maktau, Ziwani and Jipe Gates. If you prefer flying, there are airstrips at Kamboyo, Kilaguni, Tsavo Gate, Jipe, Kasigau, Finch Hottons, Ziwani, and Maktau. Take some time out and visit. You can get the current entry fees at the Kenya Wildlife Service website.