Amboseli is one of Kenya's oldest and most-visited parks. Much of its magic is derived from the fact that it is towered over by the snow-capped bulk of Mount Kilimanjaro which, at 5,896 metres, above sea level is Africa's highest mountain. Comparatively compact, the park is dotted with a series of bright green swamps, in which great herds of elephants can often be seen half-submerged amongst the papyrus grasses. As renowned for its photo-opportunities as it for its large elephant population, Amboseli remains one of THE great safari destinations.
Once part of the Great Southern Game Reserve, Amboseli is one of Kenya's earliest game sanctuaries; it is also one of her most popular attracting over 200,000 tourists per year.
The park covers part of a Pleistocene lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a non-permanent lake known as Lake Amboseli, from which the park takes its name (Amboseli means ‘salt dust' in Maa, the language of the Maasai). Easily flooded during times of heavy rainfall, the lake is fed by underground streams that flow from Mount Kilimanjaro to rise in a series of lush papyrus Cyperus papyrus swamps. These are surrounded by tracts of Acacia xanthophloea (more commonly known as ‘fever trees') woodland while open Acacia tortilis woodland also occurs along the drainage lines of the southern part of the park. The basin is surrounded by Acacia-commiphora bushland, while the alkaline soils of the lake floor support thickets of Salvadora persica and Suaeda monoica. There are three large swamps (Enkongo Narok, Engone Naibor and Loginye Swamp) in the south-eastern area of the park, all of which are fed by underground springs from the melt-waters of Kilimanjaro. Filtered through the volcanic strata, these springs are crystal clear and, as the only permanent water sources in this otherwise arid landscape, attract large concentrations of wildlife and exceptional birdlife.
Amboseli is world-famous for its populations of large mammals, most especially elephant of which there are around 700. The swamps are a centre of activity for elephants, hippos, buffaloes and abundant water birds. The surrounding flat grasslands are home to grazing antelopes. Spotted hyenas are plentiful, as are jackals, warthogs, olive baboons and vervet monkeys. No longer present in their original numbers, lions can still be found in Amboseli though the famous black-maned lions have long since disappeared, as have the black rhinos that were once so plentiful.
Bird life is abundant, especially in the vicinity of the lake and swamps where a great variety of water birds may be seen. Over 425 bird species have been recorded here, including over 40 species of birds of prey, amongst which are two great rarities, the Taita falcon and the southern banded harrier eagle. Several species of global conservational concern occur, including lesser kestrel, small numbers of non-breeding Madagascar squacco herons and lesser flamingo in variable numbers. Perhaps the most frequently seen and easily identified of the park's birds, however, is the aptly named superb starling with its gorgeous iridescent plumage and fearless behavior. Grey-crowned cranes are also frequent visitors to the plains.
One of the high points of the park, Observation Hill towers above a small car park and its summit is easily accessed by a winding stone stairway. Once at the top the views are tremendous, the photo opportunities countless and, as the sun begins its descent, it provides one of East Africa's finest sundowner venues.