Best time to visit Kenya for a safari

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 24.05.2024

With stacks of national parks (23 on land, plus four marine parks) and national reserves (28, plus six marine reserves) Kenya is an incredible destination for wildlife lovers. But in order to maximise your experience, you’ll want to know when’s the best time to visit Kenya for a safari. Read on to find out exactly that, with detail on seasonal shifts in wildlife-watching opportunities, and intel on the best national parks.

What’s the best time for a safari in Kenya?

Deciding when’s the best time to visit Kenya for a safari depends on the wildlife-watching experiences that sit at the top of your wish list. That and considering the weather in Kenya around the year. 

In general, for optimal experiences, the June-October dry season is the best time to visit Kenya for a safari. This period provides excellent game viewing opportunities, particularly for the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara

If, however, you’re mainly hoping to maximise birdwatching opportunities, or fancy experiencing the joy of calving season, the January-February and November-December shoulder seasons might suit you better.

Tempted to take a trip to Kenya? Browse our customisable Kenya itineraries before talking to our local experts to kick-start curating your dream trip.

Wildebeest jumping into Mara River. Great Migration. Kenya. Tanzania © Shutterstock

For the Great Migration, the best time to visit Kenya for a safari is the June-October dry season © Shutterstock

Weather considerations

Broadly speaking, Kenya experiences hot, dry weather from January through to early March, and hot, wet “long rain” conditions from mid-March until early June. 

Meanwhile, June/July through to October is warm and dry, with November and early December experiencing warm temperatures and brief periods of heavy rainfall known as the “short rains.”

To help you decide when to vist, read on for a rundown of the weather in Kenya around the year.

July-October dry season 

The July-October dry season is generally considered the best time to visit Kenya for a safari. First up, the cooler, drier conditions make game drives all the more comfortable.

Secondly, wildlife is easier to spot as a result of animals congregating around diminished water sources, and thinner vegetation. As a bonus, the dry season sees fewer mosquitoes.

At the same time, it’s worth knowing that this is peak tourist season, so parks can be crowded, and prices for lodges and camps tend to be higher.

November-December short rain season

Rains are usually light and far less disruptive between November and December than they are during the April-June “long rain” season.

At the same time, these months draw fewer visitors than the preceding dry season, which means less crowded national parks, and better availability at lodges. 

Just be aware that while the season’s short rains don’t usually last all day (the clue’s in the name!) and safari activities can still be enjoyed, the weather can be a little unpredictable, with some occasional heavy showers.

March-May long rain season

Due to heavy rains, this is the least popular time for safaris in Kenya. Expect frequent downpours, higher humidity and more mosquitoes. 

In addition, heavy rains can render some roads and areas inaccessible.

On the plus side, the long rain season means significantly lower prices, fewer tourists, and incredibly lush landscapes. March-May also heralds some special wildlife experiences — more on those below.  

Editor’s tip: for more detail on the weather, read up on when to go to Kenya.


Leopard in Samburu National Park, Kenya © Shutterstock

Wildlife-watching in Kenya around the year

Here we present insights into seasonal wildlife experiences that might help you decide when’s the best time to visit Kenya for a safari.

January to February

These months are an excellent time for birdwatching thanks to presence of migratory species. In addition, it’s a good time for wildlife viewing in general as animals are still concentrated around permanent water sources from the short rain season.

Key parks to visit: Amboseli National Park and Samburu National Reserve.

March to early June

Offering lush green landscapes and dramatic skies, this is birthing season for many animals, so you might just get to experience the magic of seeing young wildlife.

Key parks to visit: Maasai Mara and Tsavo National Parks.

July to October

These months herald the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara — an unforgettable experience that sees millions of wildebeest, zebras, and other animals migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

With predators more active at this time, game viewing is especially thrilling. 

Editor's tip: consider taking a trip that covers Tanzania and Kenya, and read up on how to plan a safari in Tanzania.

Key parks to visit: Maasai Mara for the Great Migration), Amboseli National Park, and Tsavo National Parks.

November to December

The short rains season brings lush scenery, and good wildlife viewing. This is also the start of calving season for herbivores, which attracts predators.

Key parks to visit: Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara, and Samburu National Reserve.


Wildebeest migration © Shutterstock

Overview of the best time to visit Kenya for a safari based on wildlife interests

  • Great Migration, July to October: witness dramatic river crossings and massive herds in the Maasai Mara.
  • Birdwatching, November to April: the presence of migratory birds from Europe and North Africa makes this an ideal time for bird enthusiasts.
  • Elephant viewing, January to February and June to October: Amboseli National Park offers spectacular elephant sightings, especially during the dry months.
Mum and baby elephant in Samburu, Kenya

Mum and baby elephant in Samburu, Kenya © Shutterstock

What are the best safaris in Kenya?

Kenya offers a diverse range of safari experiences, each catering to different interests and levels of adventure. 

Offering a balance of adventure, safety, and opportunities to learn from local experts, guided and camping safaris are generally the most popular.

For those looking for more independence and challenge, self-drive and bush walking safaris provide more hands-on experiences.

Guided safaris

On a guided safari, you’ll benefit from the knowledge and experience of a local guide, which will enhance wildlife-watching, and keep you safe. 

Alongside knowing exactly where and when to see wildlife, local guides will also be able to inform you about conservation and culture.

Note that guided safaris will be pricier than going it alone, and there’ll be less flexibility with the schedule.

Traveling with kids? Take a look at our customisable Family Safari in Kenya trip.

White-tailed eagle on the lake Naivasha © kyslynskahal/Shutterstock

White-tailed eagle on Lake Naivasha © kyslynskahal/Shutterstock

Self-drive safaris

Offering flexibility and the freedom to explore at your own pace, self-drive safaris are more budget-friendly than guided safaris.

Just bear in mind they require planning and good navigation skills, and you’ll need to be prepared for rough roads and potential encounters with wildlife.

Editor’s tip: thank to their well-marked roads, accessible parks like Tsavo East and Tsavo West are well-suited to self-drives.

Camping safaris

Offering an immersive experience, camping safaris are often more economical than lodges, thought they offer less comfort, too. 

Editor’s tip: many national parks, including Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru, have designated campsites with basic-to-moderate facilities. Do your research to find options that best suit your expectations.

Bush walking safaris

Guided by experts who can teach you tracking skills, bush-walking safaris provide an up-close and personal experience.

For example, conservancies adjacent to the main parks — like those near Maasai Mara, or the conservancies in Laikipia — offer guided walks that are safe end deeply informative.

Want the best of both worlds during your trip to Kenya? See our customisable Bush to Beach Safari.

Diani Beach in Kenya © Shutterstock

Book a customisable Rough Guides trip for a bush-to-beach experience. Pictured: Diani Beach, Kenya © Shutterstock

What are the best safari parks in Kenya?

Here are some of the best safari parks in Kenya, considering the wildlife you’re likely to see, accessibility and popularity.

Maasai Mara National Reserve

Famous for the annual Great Migration of millions of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles — and more — Maasai Mara National Reserve is also one of the best places to see the Big Five. Namely, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.

It’s accessible via a 5-6-hour drive from Nairobi, or by scheduled flights to one of several airstrips within the reserve. 

Note that roads can be rough, especially during the rainy season, and expect high visitor numbers during the July to October migration season.

Amboseli National Park

Known for its large elephant herds and stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park is also home to giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and hundreds of bird species.

As for how to get here, it takes around 4 hours to drive from Nairobi, with good roads making it one of the more accessible parks. Alternatively, it’s reachable by air with flights to the Amboseli airstrip.


Amboseli Park © Shutterstock


Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks

Together, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks form one of the largest national parks in the world. 

Famous for large herds of elephants covered in red dust, lions, hippos, and a whopping range of birdlife, both parks are split by the main road from Nairobi to Mombasa, making them easily accessible.

Editor’s tip: Tsavo East is generally flatter and more arid, while Tsavo West offers more diverse landscapes including springs and volcanic features.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Best known for the thousands of flamingos that line the shores of Lake Nakuru, this is also a sanctuary for rhinos, and home to lions, leopards, and species of bird.

Just a 2-3-hour drive from Nairobi, it’s also one of the most accessible parks — great for a day trip or weekend getaway.

Flamingos, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Flamingos, Lake Nakuru, Kenya © Shutterstock

Samburu National Reserve

Located about six hours from Nairobi, rougher roads make Samburu National Reserve less accessible than some other parks. As such, it offers a less crowded safari experience.

On arrival, you’ll be rewarded with the chance to see some of Kenya's unique wildlife, including the "Samburu Special Five” — Grevy's zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, and Beisa oryx.

Meru National Park

Made famous by the conservationists George and Joy Adamson and Elsa the lioness, Meru National Park is also known for its wild and rugged terrain.

Due to its remote location (it takes around seven hours to drive here from Nairobi), it’s also less visited than other parks. Expect excellent sightings of rhinos, elephants — and more — without the crowds.

How long have you got? Check-out our suggested itineraries for spending Kenya 7 days, 10 days, and 14 days in Kenya.

Elephant family in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya © Maggy Meyer/Shutterstock

Elephant family in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya © Maggy Meyer/Shutterstock

Inspired to visit Kenya for a safari? Get The Rough Guide to Kenya to help you plan your trip.

Not keen on planning? Browse our customisable Kenya itineraries before talking to our local experts to kick start curating your dream trip.

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 24.05.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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