Amboseli, the Maasai’s “Place of Dust”, is a small and very popular park, and often full of visitors. Scenically, however, it is redeemed by the stunning spectacle of Kilimanjaro towering over it and – in those clichéd but irresistible photos taken with telephoto lenses – appearing almost to fill the sky. In the right light, the snowy massif, washed coral and orange, is devastatingly beautiful. Sunrise and sunset are the most likely times to see the mountain, especially during the rainy season when the air is much clearer, but for the most part it remains tantalizingly shrouded in a thick shawl of cloud.
On the animal side, Amboseli is elephant country par excellence. You will see large herds, and some individuals with big tusks. Predators, apart from hyenas and jackals, are relatively scarce (lions are almost absent, thanks to the revenge wrought by the Maasai upon the expulsion of them and their herds from the park (see Amboseli’s history), but good numbers of herbivores are present. In the dry season, most of the animals crowd into the impenetrable marshy areas and patches of hardy acacia woodland where food plants are available. But during and shortly after the rains the picture is different, with the animals more dispersed and the landscape greener.
In the dry season, Amboseli can seem a parched, unattractive place, with Kilimanjaro disappointingly hazed into oblivion. Heading straight for the park’s centre at Ol Tukai, with its lodges, workers, filling station, fences and barriers, doesn’t improve first impressions. During the rains, however, it all looks far more impressive, with the shallow and seasonal Lake Amboseli partially filled, and a number of other seasonal lakes and ponds – the temporary home of small flocks of flamingos, pelicans and other migratory species – scattered across the landscape.