About 2 and a half hours drive north from Nairobi lies one of the forgotten gems of wildlife tourism in Kenya, the Aberdare National Park. This park, founded in 1950, is 766 km2 in size, but it is unusual for the sheer variety of terrain. It cuts through the eponymous mountain range and encapsulates mountain peaks intersected by streams and waterfalls to dense forest and moorland.
Carving your way through the thick rainforest in your Land Rover, you would come across a glade with hundreds of buffalo.
The viewpoints are amongst the most sublime in Africa (sublime is an adjective which I cannot underuse for this continent.) We picnicked on a point with clear views of the snow-capped Mount Kenya a hundred kilometres away. The wildlife thrives in this fertile mountainous environment. As well as the big 5, you could be rewarded with a rare sighting of a mountain bongo or my preferred monkey, the black and white colobus.
Part of why this area is neglected on the tourist circuit has been the quality of accommodation. Old lodges coupled with under-investment equalled undesirable places for tourists to visit. This is changing. Just outside the park lies the colonial Aberdare Country Club. A club in name only, this colonial establishment with its own wildlife park and golf course is paired with the Ark lodge within the park. The Ark, so named as it in the form of a giant (Noah's) Ark, has been recently and tastefully refurbished and offers comfortable (if small) rooms with large viewing galleries and walkways. This is the prime reason why people visit this lodge. It is perched above a vast water hole that comes alive at dusk and night with the tread of herds of elephant and buck of all descriptions. One of the most thrilling experiences is descending into the bottom-most floor of the Ark and viewing these graceful giants through windowless loopholes only a few feet away from you.
Another pairing of establishments is the old colonial Outspan Hotel in Nyeri with Treetops Lodge within the park. Unless the other pair, little investment has been made in these establishments within recent years. This is a great pity. The Outspan represents old Africa, and like most of these hotels, they were well situated with the most stunning views and enjoyed generous and rich grounds. Treetops is mostly associated with the current Queen Elizabeth. It is there that she learnt for the first time that her father, King George, had died and that she would be Queen. The lodge has lived off this historic moment ever since and is a tired remnant of a great past. It is still worth visiting just for the views. Like the Ark, this lodge on stilts overlooks a watering hole with a salt lick. With floodlights at night illuminating the hole, you will see a microcosm of the African animal world drinking, wallowing and playing in this life-giving environment. These moments are magical and will make you forget the shortcomings of your hostelry.
The Aberdares is a short distance from Nairobi, and I would really recommend the visit. It is a perfectly contrasting match to the Masai Mara or Tsavo. I will certainly spend more time there on my return.
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Aberdare National Park Safari