The two Tsavo parks, East and West, combined make up the largest game park in Africa and are a wild and barren wilderness. Apart from two permanent rivers, there is very little water and the largely volcanic soil only supports dry thorn bush. Tsetse flies mean the region has never been properly occupied, apart from small numbers of hunter-gatherers. Tsetse fly and lack of water also meant that the historical route from the coast went further south through modern-day Tanzania. This remained the case until the railway was built at the turn of the last century but even this did little to develop the area.

Because of its poor soil and lack of water, the animals here do not appear in such large numbers, are much harder to find and less tolerant of tourists. This makes finding them a bit more of a challenge but equally more rewarding. The large herds of elephant and rhino that existed decades ago have largely gone through poaching, although more recently their numbers are building up again and Tsavo West is one of the centres for the reintroduction of the Black Rhino.

Tsavo offers the visitor a very different scenic experience to the more popular Mara and there is also the chance to see some of the dry country specialist animal species that are not found in the Mara ecosystem plus a very different range of birdlife. Antelope such as lesser kudu, fringe-eared oryx and klipsringer are all relatively common in Tsavo West but difficult to see elsewhere in Kenya. There is also a chance of coming across some very unusual species such as striped hyena and Grevy’s zebra.

One popular excursion is through the Shetani Lava Flow, to the oasis of Mzima Springs, where underground water erupts from the volcanic rock to form the start of the Tsavo River. This unexpected green forest, in the midst of Tsavo’s arid bush, provides habitat for Syke’s monkeys, normally only found in the coastal region or highland rain forests of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, and a range of different birdlife, along with a resident population of hippo and crocodile.  An underwater viewing chamber provides views of shoals of barbel and catfish as they swirl through the crystal clear waters.

Tsavo West has two big lodges catering largely for the coastal tourist trade on short safari breaks. We prefer to use Ngulia Camp which is a small and intimate lodge, offering a mix of self-catering or full board options, based in a great location on the edge of the Ngulia Escarpment with superb views down the valley.

The Lodge has six self-catering bandas, a number of standard rooms and a luxury rock room all constructed to meet the needs of the discerning traveller. The self-catering bandas are tastefully furnished with twin beds, a well-equipped kitchenette and a complete bathroom suite. The Lodge has a good restaurant for those booked in on full board.

Set against the backdrop of the rugged Ngulia Hills, the lodge has a couple of water holes that are frequently visited by a wide variety of wildlife. Most of the rooms have verandas where you can sit and look out over the valley and the water holes. In fact, it is easy to while away several hours just sitting and doing nothing while a never ending parade of animal life comes to drink.

Occasionally one of Tsavo’s rare Black Rhinos finds its way through the night time shadows to the waterhole. The ever elusive leopards are sometimes seen, more often heard, as they make their way through the rocky slopes behind the lodge.