Everyone associates Tsavo West with a hot, dry hostile place only for the seasoned outdoor enthusiast, but there is a whole lot more to discover. Tsavo West stretches down from the Nairobi-Mombasa road down to the Tanzanian border making it one of the biggest KWS National Parks in Kenya. Made famous by “The Ghost and The Darkness”, about the death of numerous railway workers in 1898 who worked on the stretch of rail that passed through Tsavo West. The infamous Maneater lions of Tsavo killed many rail workers, and ever since Tsavo West has been associated with the unknown terror of the Kenyan bush.
Tsavo West is wild but hospitable. Managed by KWS, the parks facilities are in good condition, with well maintained roads and attractions, such as the beautiful Mzima Springs, which make for a welcomed hike to break up a long journey or a long game drive across the vast Tsavo plains. The sheer magnitude of the park combined with Tsavo East and the various conservancies that surround it make game spotting difficult, but that bit more rewarding when you see big game (Elephant, Lion, Leopard). On one occasion, near Lake Jipe, I came across a pride of 9 lions 50 meters back from the road and got to spend an hour with the lions, with no vehicle or noise around.
On this trip, we were lucky to find a KWS warden that needed a lift to Mzima Springs, which allowed him to take us on a long game drive around the park before we dropped him off. We managed to see a Forest Cobra (in the wild), Hyena, Kudu and all of the usual plains game, a very rewarding experience that was capped off by a walk around the Mzima Springs.
Being such a versatile park, Tsavo has the ability to go from the hot savannah up to the cool Chyulu Hills and the hills surrounding it that offer spectacular views of Mt. Kilimanjaro (when the clouds allow) and the vast savannah that surrounds it.
The Park has a variety of accommodation to suit all pocket sizes, right from the very high-end at Finch Hattons, down to self-drive camping, with various campsites located around the park. The campsites and KWS bandas are maintained by KWS with the various other properties all privately owned.
I have a passion for finding simple, clean, affordable self-catering houses or bandas that offer something slightly different and are often tucked away in hidden parts that offer breath-taking views or something unique that is not ‘run-of-the-mill’.
Kitani self-catering bandas are just that. The bandas are located about 40km from the Mtito Andei gate. We slept 5 people in a banda, which worked out to be about 1,300 per person per night (we only stayed one night on our way back from the coast) and we brought our own bedding (sleeping bags), food and water. The bandas are clean with a hot water shower, a semi-detached kitchen with a fridge (upon request), parking for your vehicle, a fire pit and nice veranda to watch the sunset.
That all sounds fairly ‘run-of-the-mill’ but Kitani does offer something very unique. A friend’s brother, who also visits Tsavo regularly and has stayed at Kitani a few times, once told me about his wildlife encounters while staying at the bandas. The one that stuck me the most was his encounter with a pride of lions, at night, while staying at the bandas that had him and his friends taking refuge in their cars.
Having heard this, I was ready to for my own wildlife encounter and Kitani did not disappoint. There was a pack of hyena about 50 meters from our banda while we cooked dinner, which kept us on edge, and just before bedtime, the intense darkness and our dim torches had our minds racing. We had spotted a set of cat’s eyes 30 meters from our banda, which had us scrambling for our vehicle thinking we were being stalked by a leopard, only for morning to reveal the prints were much smaller and probably belonged to a Servile Cat or similar.
The drive to or from Nairobi is not as long as it has to be if you use the route from Emali to Oloitokitok and turn off using the Chyulu Gate to enter the park. The drive is more pleasant, a lot less traffic and combines a nice game drive across the Shetani Lava Flow on your way in or out.
Tsavo West is still very wild and very accessible. A 4×4 is recommended but not required and if you can leave Nairobi or Mombasa early enough, it is not far from Nairobi at all. Tsavo, is one of the last National Parks in Kenya that gives you that feeling of a rugged Kenyan safari.