Meru National Park is probably most famous for as the location where conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised and released Elsa the lion and who are now all forever immortalized in books and the film Born Free.
Meru National Park was established in the late 1960s and quickly became a popular safari destination known for its lush and diverse species of animals and flora. However, it fell into neglect in the 1980s through the late 1990s and was even declared off-limits due to the uncontrollable amount of poaching in the park.
It wasn’t until the 2000s that Kenya Wildlife Services partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare that the restoration process of the Meru National Park begins. Law enforcement activities were increased to combat and abolish poaching activities in the park.
Systematic restoration of Meru National Park throughout the early 2000s was completed It was made possible by the dedicated team of rangers patrolling the park and the development of basic infrastructure including earth roads and a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate.
Today, the Meru National Park has been fully relaunched for visitors and is heavily praised for the diverse range of wildlife and flora that treats the park as home.
Where is Meru National Park?
Meru National Park is located east of the city of Meru, on the eastern side of Kenya. Also, the park is a good 350 km away from the capital, Nairobi.Meru National Park borders Bisanadi National Reserve on the North East and Kora National Park on the South East.
Among all the national parks we’ve visited in Kenya, Meru National Park is the least touristy as it’s not the most developed park in terms of flashy infrastructure for tourism but it certainly has its unique charms.
The park is not at all that popular among tourists and is probably the least visited among all the national parks in Kenya despite its restoration from virtual ruin. But this was a good thing because it means that the park’s beautiful habitat and wilderness have remained unspoiled and undisturbed by human interference.
It’s the perfect safari destination for those who want to avoid the crowd and prefer a more secluded trip to see the beautiful wilderness and wildlife Kenya has to offer.
How to Get to Meru National Park
The very first step to traveling to Meru National Park is taking a plane heading to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to arrive at Nairobi city. From the city or the airport, you can either travel to Meru National Park by road or by air.
All the easy access roads heading to Meru National Park all start at Nairobi. You have the option to take your own car, public transport, or take a safari van tour with a tour guide. The trip from Nairobi to the park takes approximately more than five hours long.
There are two routes you can take heading to Meru National Park, one is via the main road of Nyeri, Nanyuki, and Meru. The second is via the Embu to Meru road that leads to the park’s Ura gate.
From the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, you can catch a flight heading directly to Meru National Park. Travel time is approximately 2 plus hours long. There are four out of the 16 airstrips in the park where you can land from your flight: Kinna, Masanduku, Murera, and Mulika.
Other than Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Wilson Airport in Nairobi also offers daily day flights to the park.
Meru National Park Terrain
Meru National Park has relatively abundant rainfall concentrated on its northwestern side where the altitude is much higher considering that it’s sitting right at the slopes of the Nyambeni Mountain Range at the Eastern side of Mt. Kenya.
The consistent rainfall on that area creates numerous rivers and streams meandering throughout the park and ends up pouring into the Tana, Kenya’s largest river. The streams provide the park with adequate water causing its vegetation to flourish. Meru National Park has four permanent rivers and an additional ten seasonal ones.
The wet seasons where the park gets the most rain are during the months of April to June and November to December.
The park posses a diverse range of scenery from woodlands, tall grasslands, swamps, to wide plains. This diverse set of landscapes attracts hundreds of animal species and even more species of birds migrating in and out of the park each day. There more than 427 species of birds recorded in the park!
As we go farther to the southeastern areas of the park towards the Tana River, the altitude lowers and the climate becomes drier and hotter.
Admittedly, when we visited the park, it seems that it hadn’t rained for a while making the environment so dry that clouds of dust kicked off by the slight breeze became quite a problem. So remember to bring a scarf to protect yourself against the dust. Despite this minor inconvenience, the time we spent in the park is still rich with sightings of wildlife and great experiences.
What to see in Meru National Park
As stated above, the park has tons of animal species because of its relative abundance of water flowing throughout the park and different types of environment. We saw a lot of lions in the park as well as some rhinos and elephants.
The Big 5 is present in the park so keep an eye out for them! There are plenty of other games in the park from different species of antelope to herds of buffalos and hippos and crocodiles in the park’s rivers. Plus, over 400 different species of birds. It seems like they have everything in Meru National Park! It makes it perfect for bird watchers too.
The landscape is equally as stunning as the wildlife too. The huge network streaming through the park creates this lattice-like image of flowing streams creating patchworks of long ‘islands’ between the streams. You can also get a clear view of the magnificent Mt. Kenya with its snow-capped peak. It’s like something out of a postcard!
For something more heartwarming, you can pay respects to Elsa the lioness’s grave and to Joy, her human mother who is also buried at the site, at Adamson’s Falls next to the Tana River.
The Park is known for its Rhino Sanctuary
As mentioned above, Meru National Park almost became nonexistent because of uncontrollable poaching. It was so bad that the rhino population within the park became extinct.
As part of the rehabilitation process in the early 2000s, the Meru Rhino Sanctuary was established to reintroduce rhinos back into the park. The sanctuary is located at the western boundary of near the main gate covering an area of 80 square kilometers and protected by fences and dedicated rangers.
Today, the rhino sanctuary is hugely successful with over 100 odd numbers of a combination of white and black rhinos thriving in the sanctuary. It’s become one of the main draws for visitors coming to Meru National Park.
It’s quite admirable that through passion and dedication, wildlife authorities managed to increase the rhino population from zero up to over a hundred. Rhino sightings within the sanctuary are quite common and visitors can take photographs at relatively close range.
Where to stay in Meru National Park
There are various options to stay in Meru National Park. The scenic settings in the park are a camper’s dream so there are eight special campsites available in the park that has to be pre-booked to use and one public one. There are also numerous lodges to stay at including at Elsa’s Kopje lodge.
We stayed at the riverside Rhino River Camp by Porini Camps, the same company that owns the camps we stayed in at Masai Mara, and Nairobi National Park. This camp was the latest one established by the company with the same values and characteristics as the two other camps.
Like the other two camps, the Rhino River Camp is eco-friendly and is all-inclusive in its meals and activities. But the difference with this one is that there are many more convenient amenities like the availability of hot or cold showers inside the rooms. Instead of the usual spacious tents, the camp has seven luxurious cottages with their own private meditation area.
It has a more luxurious feel to it compared to the two other camps by Porini but all of them all provide as great experiences for their guests.
The camp is located within 80 acres of privately owned area at the edge of the Meru National Park with the Meru Rhino Sanctuary right at its doorsteps.
We had such a lovely experience at the Rhino River Camp. When we arrived, we were greeted at the lounge area by the staff and we’re given warm towels and fresh drinks. At the lounge, we were briefed about the itinerary for the day.
The room I got in the camp was lovely. It was elevated off the ground by wooden platforms so we were close to the leaves of the surrounding trees. I was in tent number five, just like in the Pench Tree House in India, the tents offered great privacy that no one could see me from my tent.
I have my own path leading to my tent and my own bridge to take me from my room to an adjoining area with a smaller tent, chairs, and table, which I assume is my meditation area. Or if an area where I can dine by myself if I don’t want to eat in the common dining room.
The room was also extremely spacious with a huge comfy bed. It was tastefully decorated with a wooden, tribal theme and occasional pops of colors. Plus it has hot running water for the shower and a toilet. Quite fancy I must say.
My room is fronted by a dry stream bed which is unfortunate since if the stream wasn’t dried up, the view and sounds would be very relaxing indeed.
I was pleasantly surprised when they served Italian food for our lunch. No complaints from me, it was very delicious. I learned that the previous owners were Italian so that’s an interesting tidbit.
The pool in the camp was just beautiful. Like the cottages, it was on an elevated wooden platform with the backdrop of palm groves and trees of the park. The surrounding greenery made for a beautiful contrast with the clear blue water of the pool. We definitely made use of it, that’s for sure. It’s a great dipping into it after getting back from the hot game drives. And even whenever because of Meru’s hot and dry climate.
Checking in the Rhino River Camp comes with an itinerary full of wonderful activities. The ones we participated in are as follows:
Game Drives + Picnics
Being in Meru National Park and so close to the Meru Rhino Sanctuary, of course, we’re gonna go out for game drives. Our wonderful and funny guides were Lenny and Peterson. They were the dynamic duo perfect to guide us through the wilderness of Meru. We were hellbent on spotting the Big Five but only managed to see elephants, rhinos, and lions. Gosh, there were plenty of lions in this park, let me tell you.
We may have not seen all of the Big Five but Lenny did introduce us to the Ugly Five: warthog, hyena, wildebeest, vultures, and marabou stork. It really pays off to have great guys like Lenny and Peterson, especially when the animals are shyer than normal around people like the animals in Meru.
We also have the option to have a picnic during the game drive, either a packed breakfast or lunch. Lenny and Peterson always managed to find the perfect spot to eat the deliciously packed food. It was always nice enjoying our food with the amazing backdrop of Meru.
A mini hill hike is available for guests to try but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do this as we run out of time. It would’ve been a lovely experience, I’m sure.
If you’re ever staying at Rhino River Camp, don’t miss the opportunity to meet Cora. You will love her and her magic hands! She brought her massage table right in my room and gave me a massage early in the morning. You usually have the option to be massaged outside but it was too cold for me as it was departure day so inside it is. I’m sure it would’ve been a lovely experience being massaged outside.
A great relaxing experience we did after every evening drive was sitting by the fire and talk about our day or discuss what’ll happen tomorrow while enjoying inclusive drinks of wine, soda, or tonic. It’s such a lovely way of getting to know the other guests and guides while waiting for our dinner.
Of course, I could not mention the manager and staff of Rhino River Camp who was always so attentive. All of the Porini camps I’ve been to always have a wonderful staff who knows how to give great attention and service to their guests.
All in all, the stay in Meru National Park and Rhino River Camp was an amazing experience without so many people around to compete with the views and animals. It was exciting despite the dryness and was a much quieter and more peaceful experience compared to our trip to other national parks in Kenya.
We barely saw any cars! And I found the beauty of viewing the animals in silence and experience the park without the busy murmurs of a crowd.