Tranquil Tsavo East

The drive from Nairobi to Mombasa is long, even at the best of times. If you’re headed up to the North Coast (Kilifi, Watamu, Malindi or further north), doing the drive in a day is possible, but exhausting. Much like Tsavo West though, Tsavo East offers a welcome overnight stop on the long drive from Nairobi, and if you’re planning on visiting the North Coast the road through Tsavo East (from Voi) also gives you the option to continue onwards to Malindi directly from Tsavo East, away from the hustle and bustle of the Mombasa – Nairobi highway and ensures you avoid the Mariakani/Mombasa madness that can sometimes add a few hours onto your journey.

A lone bull in one of the marsh areas of Tsavo East.
A lone bull in one of the marsh areas of Tsavo East.

Tsavo East is vast! It is home to the Yatta Plateau, the World’s longest lava flow (290km long) and yet still feels like an endless savannah when you’re game driving around. Similar to Tsavo West, the game is sparsely populated and can be challenging to spot, though all the more rewarding when you do get to see one of the Big-5. There are a few places in the park that make for better game viewing, such as the open marsh areas and along the banks of the Athi River, where you often find game coming for a drink and to escape the sun under one of the Acacia trees along the Athi riverbank.

There are various accommodation options in Tsavo East. If you are passing through Tsavo East on your way on to the coast, I would advise staying at a camp/lodge that is not too far off the Park’s main road, for ease of your onward journey and also in ensuring that if you do get to Tsavo East slightly late (as I did on my way to Malindi via Tsavo East) you are able to find the property without too much fuss, which didn’t turn out to the be the case for.

Sala Gate, Tsavo East.
Sala Gate, Tsavo East.

A friend of mine had arranged for me to stay at Kulalu Camp on my drive to the North Coast prior to a New Years party a few years back. The inevitable happened on this road trip; my friend’s car broke down, and really slowed our progress, but we made it into Tsavo East and towards the camp. We were running horribly behind schedule and around 8pm we had to get the Kulalu Camp manager to send out some camp vehicles to find us. It turned out we weren’t too lost, but the saga took all of the relaxation of the overnight stop out of the drive.

We arrived at the camp to a nice hot meal and hot showers in our tent.

My friends Defender, Daphne, may have had some issues, but still made it. The 60kph speed limit in National Parks was more favourable than high-speed Mombasa-Nairobi highway.
My friends Defender, Daphne, may have had some issues, but still made it. The 60kph speed limit in National Parks was more favourable than high-speed Mombasa-Nairobi highway.

Needless to say, we woke up the next morning to peace and tranquility in the bush and a wonderful breakfast overlooking the Athi River. Kulalu Camp is a basic, clean, well-run property and the staff were very hospitable after a long hot previous day for us. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to fully relax and enjoy the camp or take any game drives as we had to continue our journey onto Malindi the following morning.

The Sabaki River on the last part of the drive from Sala Gate to Malindi.
The Sabaki River on the last part of the drive from Sala Gate to Malindi.

The rest of the journey went as smoothly as could be. The roads inside Tsavo East National Park are a lot better maintained than the national roads outside the park. Driving through the park was easy going and we were able to make good progress, however the road from the Park gate to Malindi has not been maintained and was slow going.

If you have time to spare, I would always suggest taking the long way and adventuring through more of our beautiful country if resources allow.

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