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Shimba Hills National Reserve

Shimba Hills National Reserve is located in the coastal region of Kenya, covering an area of 192.5 square kilometers. The reserve features savannah grasslands, rolling hills, woodlands, and coastal forests, providing a unique habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.

The park has recorded over 1,100 plant species, with 280 species endemic to the reserve. Shimba Hills is home to some of the oldest and rarest plants on Earth, making it a crucial area for plant diversity in Kenya. It also houses the Arabuko Sokoke Forest, the largest coastal forest in East Africa, and is known for its plant biodiversity, with more than 50% of the 159 rare plant species in Kenya found within the hills.

The entry fee for Shimba Hills National Reserve is Kshs 300 for both Kenyan citizens and foreign residents, while their children pay Kshs 215. Foreign non-resident adults pay $25, and their children pay $15.

Shimba Hills National Park was established in 1968 primarily to protect elephants from increased poaching, hence the reserve was gazetted for elephant conservation. The Kenya Wildlife Service relocated 150 elephants from Shimba Hills to Tsavo East National Park to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. Additionally, the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary established an elephant corridor on the reserve’s boundary to further reduce conflicts. The Mijikenda people also have several sacred Kayas in the reserve that are still used for ceremonies.

Located 33 kilometers northwest of Mombasa and 15 kilometers from the main coast in Kwale County, Shimba Hills is about 522 kilometers or a 7-hour drive from Nairobi. The scenic journey is worthwhile, but those opting not to travel by road can take chartered flights from Nairobi to Mombasa or Diani. From there, it’s a short drive to the reserve.

The reserve is an all-year-round destination, but the best visiting times are during the dry seasons from June to August and December to February when roads are passable, animals congregate around water sources, and the grass is shorter, providing better wildlife viewing opportunities. Budget travelers may prefer the rainy season for lower hotel rates.

Accommodations within and near Shimba Hills Reserve include Shimba Hills Lodge, Makadara Picnic Site, Sheldrick Waterfalls Campsite, Ocean View Campsite, and many others, ranging from in-park lodges to beach hotels.

Shimba Hills National Reserve boasts the highest density of African elephants in Kenya and a significant population of endangered sable antelopes. Visitors might also see hyenas, bush pigs, waterbucks, giraffes, duikers, buffalos, genets, serval cats, bushbabies, leopards, mongoose, monkeys, and many other species.

Birding Shimba Hills National Reserve boasts 111 species of birds recorded, 22 of which are coastal endemics. Notable species include the common ostrich, red-necked spurfowl, Zanzibar red bishop, croaking cisticola, brown-breasted barbet, Fischer’s turaco, narina trogon, plain-backed sunbird, silver-cheeked hornbill, spotted ground thrush, trumpeter hornbill, violet-backed sunbird, yellow-throated longclaw, golden palm weaver, and more.

Game Drives Exploring the reserve’s 35 recorded mammalian species is possible by taking a game drive. Visitors may have the chance to see the sable antelope, which is endemic to Shimba Hills in Kenya, and the reserve is also home to an estimated 500 elephants.

Nature Guided Walks Designated trails in Shimba Hills National Reserve offer nature guided walks, allowing guests to connect with the park’s flora and fauna on foot beyond game drives. One popular trail leads to Sheldrick Waterfalls, where numerous birds and primates can be spotted through the forest.

Picnicking Several picnic sites with stunning park views are available for daycation travelers to choose from to enjoy their picnic lunch.

Attractions/what to see

Sable Antelope The Sable Antelope is one of the most beautiful and rarest antelopes, known for its bravery in facing lions, although it is typically shy and reclusive. Spotting a Sable Antelope is unusual, but your chances are high in Shimba Hills.

Sheldrick Falls The magnificent Sheldrick Falls, a main attraction in the park, cascade 21 meters into a scenic pool. The 2-kilometer trail to the falls offers excellent bird-watching opportunities. The falls are named after the conservationist and founder of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who discovered them while flying overhead.

Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary was established to provide a migratory route for elephants between Shimba Hills National Reserve and Mwalunganje Forest Reserve. The sanctuary spans 60,000 acres, allowing elephants to roam freely in search of better pastures. It was formed in the 1990s as a cooperative effort to address human-wildlife conflicts, as elephants were destroying local gardens, leading to retaliatory poaching. The sanctuary is also a haven for bird enthusiasts.

Viewpoints There are numerous viewpoints in the reserve where visitors can enjoy the remarkable flora and fauna. In addition to Elephant Hill, the Marere Dam viewpoint is notable for attracting diverse birds and wildlife.

Butterflies Shimba Hills National Reserve records 295 butterfly species, which is 35% of Kenya’s total butterfly population.

Plant Species Botanists and zoologists will find Shimba Hills National Reserve an invaluable resource, home to 50% of Kenya’s rare plant species, including endangered ones like cycads and orchids.

Elephant Hill As the name implies, Elephant Hill provides dramatic views of elephants in the valley and a comprehensive view of the reserve and the nearby turquoise Indian Ocean.

Mombasa Mombasa, the closest city to Shimba Hills National Reserve, is an historical tourist town on Kenya’s coast. Kenya’s oldest and second-largest city, Mombasa was first mentioned in the 12th century by the Arab geographer Idrisi, although it is believed to have existed even earlier. During colonial times, it served as a pivotal trade center with Asia and the Middle East, primarily exporting ivory, gold, and spices. Vasco Da Gama, the first European to visit, arrived in 1498. After his return to Portugal, Mombasa drew Portuguese interest, leading to its capture in 1593 and the construction of Fort Jesus. Mombasa was then ruled by the Sultan of Oman until 1837 when it was annexed by the Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Said, until 1898 when the British took over, making it the capital of British East Africa. Mombasa became a key terminal for the Uganda Railway under British rule, exporting coffee, cloves, and cotton. Today, Mombasa is a vibrant melting pot of cultures and one of Kenya’s top tourist destinations, famous for its pristine white sand beaches and rich history. A visit to Shimba Hills Reserve can be complemented with a tour to Mombasa to enjoy a variety of activities.

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