Shimba Hills National Reserve Safari Guide
Shimba Hills protects one of the last large coastal rainforests in East Africa. It is a stronghold for the rare subspecies of sable antelope: Roosevelt's sable. This is not a Big Five reserve, but several of the usual safari animals, as well as some interesting forest animals, can be found here.
Pros & Cons
Rare coastal rainforest habitat
Rare forest wildlife
Little visited and it never gets busy
Guided walks available
Excellent birding with forest specials
Easy daytrip from Mombasa and beach resorts
Limited variety of the usual big game animals and few predator sightings
Only one lodge inside the park
Wildlife & Animals
Shimba Hills has a big population of elephants. They disappear easily into the forest and close-up sightings are not guaranteed, but an eagle’s eye view over the forest from one of the lookout points – especially Elephant Hill – often proves productive. Other common mammals include buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe and bushbuck.
Shimba Hills is a sanctuary for the endangered Roosevelt's sable antelope. Several primate species can be seen including yellow baboon, Sykes monkey, vervet monkey and the beautiful Angolan colobus monkey. Charming nocturnal greater galagos (or bushbabies) are regular visitors to Shimba Hills Lodge, and their piercing cries can be heard at night. Two other species of galago occur here: the small-eared galago (or lesser bushbaby) and the tiny Zanzibar galago.
Over 200 bird species have been recorded in Shimba Hills NR, including several coastal endemics, restricted to the area, such as the east coast akalat. Although forest birding is notoriously difficult, it is worth the effort here, as birders are rewarded with many interesting species. Non-birders will most likely enjoy some of the more easily observable forest avifauna, such as the trumpeter and silvery-cheeked hornbill.
Best Time to Visit
A visit to Shimba Hills is usually best in the drier months from June to September and December to March. Although the reserve can be visited year-round, visits during the rains are more challenging. The vegetation is thicker in the wet months, which makes animal spotting difficult, and the abundance of water means wildlife tends to be more dispersed.
December to March & June to September – Dry Season
Mostly sunny without much rain
Animals are easier to spot because they gather around water and the grass is shorter
The park never gets very busy
Resort hotels, which can be used as a base, get very busy
Scenery is drier and haze in the sky detracts from the views
April to May & October to November – Wet Season
Everything is green and lush with many flowers
There are very few other tourists
The park never gets very busy
Overcast days and rain can interfere with your activities
Animals are dispersed and the vegetation is thicker, making them difficult to spot
Weather & Climate
Although cooled by strong breezes, misty mornings and clouds, Shimba Hills has a hot and humid coastal climate. Temperatures are around 29°C/84°F in the afternoon. It cools down a bit at nighttime, but it’s still warm at around 20°C/68°F. Rainfall is common year-round, but peaks during the ‘short rains’ (October to November) and the ‘long rains’ (April to May).
Dry Season – December to March and June to September
December, January, February & March – When the dry period actually hits is difficult to predict, but it usually falls in these months. Although it still rains a little, these months are the hottest with temperatures averaging around 31°C/88°F.
June, July, August & September – Sunny conditions prevail with little rain. It’s the main Dry season, though showers are still around on some days. These months also represent the coolest time of year with daytime temperatures of 27°C/81°F.
Wet Season – April to May and October to November
April & May – ‘Long rains’: Plenty of rain around during these months – the wettest of the year. Although showers are possible all day, storms in the afternoon are more likely. Expect an average of around 29°C/84°F in the daytime.
October & November – ‘Short rains’: Although it rains less than during the ‘long rains’, November, especially, can be very damp when rainfall peaks. Overcast days and afternoon storms are common, although sunshine does break through the clouds.
Shimba Hills is an easy daytrip from Mombasa, Diani Beach or any of the other beach resorts south of Mombasa. It is also possible to stay the night in Shimba Hills Lodge located in the reserve. Many hotels in Mombasa or Diani offer daytrips to Shimba Hills, or you could rent a vehicle for the day.
Most people fly from Europe or North America to Kenya via Nairobi. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa. From Nairobi you can take a domestic flight to Mombasa or Diani, which can be your base for Shimba Hills.