The Chyulu Hills – Living In The Hiker’s Paradise

The first time I visited the Chyulu Hills back in 2012 it was with a spring in my step and and a gleam in my eye….and things did not go completely according to plan. My aim to get to the top of the hills did not happen, I had the wrong car, the weather was really bad I and had under-estimated what it would take to get up there; it was a fun but humbling experience. But since then this particular destination continued to haunt me, so I had to give it another shot and see what these hills, unimpressive from a distance had conspired to hide from me…

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Background Information

Chyulu Hills National Park is located in Makueni County in South-West Kenya and lies between the Tsavo and Amboseli ecosystems.The range is 2188m at its highest and is 150km long. Actually only the eastern side in Kamba country is in the park, the western side is Maasai-land belonging to communities such as Mbirikani and Kuku group ranches.

The Trip

So 4 years later here was another chance, this trip started in the worst way possible, the plan was to meet the VIP’s (my family +hot-shot videographer Esah) at a central point at 6.00am with the warning “Don’t be late or I’m leaving you guys”. Of course as a result, neither my or The Muse’s alarms went off and it was a very sheepish couple that showed up at the meeting point 3 hours late.

You might be aware of my allergy to Mombasa Highway so once again I use the Machakos-Wote Makindu Road. If you want the times and distance of the trip to the park gate just click the blue line and you can even share the route (pretty cool).

On Arrival

At the park entrance we have a taste of how elastic time must be in the space-time continum created by KWS when it takes 40min to process 5 adults and 2 children. If you’re experiencing deja vu it’s because I wrote about a similar experience recently.

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But life has a funny way of finding a balance, we have forgotten to buy any firewood and the rangers very kindly help us out with some of their supply so all is forgiven in the end. Esah gets the enviable job of packing it all in.

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There is a campsite next to the HQ, has shelter and long drop toilets and water is available. but this is not why were here.

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In The Park

There’s no way to sugar-coat this, if your moving on the campsite in the hills there’s a further 28kms to cover will take (2hrs) at an excruciating average of 10 km/h. The road is hard volcanic rock and twists and turns as you continually climb up the range. 4WD ONLY.

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Tip: You might want to buy a grass catcher to stop your radiator getting clogged my grass seeds and avoid engine overheating.

So after all that what do you get? From here this article will be light on words and heavy on images.

Satellite Camp

Oh my, oh my, oh my. It’s kind of hard to describe this place, even photos hardly do it justice. If this is not hiking and camping country I don’t know what is.

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You can see our campsite on the right.

Not really what comes to mind when you think of Makueni County is it?

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We find the campsite well cleared, there is another cleared site next to some water tanks but has no view so it’s a no-go for us.

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Early mornings are just a thing that happens when your camping. No one wants to miss a new day begin.

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Mornings here are misty. Quite interesting that the moisture captured here percolates through the volcanic rock for 20 years to feed Mzima Springs in Tsavo and the Galana river. 20 years is also what it seems to take to get breakfast going with the kids ‘helping’.

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Shout out to the cheese selection on this trip. Top notch.

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It gets windy up here so kites a great distraction for kids (and adults).

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Camping is no excuse to

The short hike up to Satellite hill gives some great views of the entire range.

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Esah keeps that video rolling, hopefully I can get some of the clips and share them on here later. So cool travelling with someone who shots video and me on the stills, we have some great convos on content creation as relates to marketing Kenya.

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View coming back from a hike, even with the haze you can see the plains below.

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But it’s really evening where the Chyulus come into their own, especially if you love taking photos.

chyulu-hills-national-park-camping-kenya-16Never try and get a kid out of a shot, it just makes them more determined to be in it.

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The Muse and Banana walk into the light making one of my favourite pics of the trip.

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Mama Billy does what she does best, pouring sundowners.

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And the sunset doesn’t disappoint either.

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Even while we enjoy this amazing place it’s not far from my mind how much this park is under pressure by squatters, herders and arson. We see more cattle than wildlife. How much longer will these places exist? Why does Chyulu Hills have some of the lowest visitor figures? Why is there no information for the intrepid who wish to visit? Who is not doing what?  These thoughts really disturb me about many of the places I visit.

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Snapshot

  • The Satellite campsite at the top has no facilities and requires total self sufficiency. The Kisula Caves campsite has a shelter and benches  and long drop toilets.
  • Carry your own firewood, there is none at the campsites and you might not be able to get any at the HQ.
  • It is not necessary to carry a ranger, however be aware that this is a wilderness area so they are wild animals. Exercise caution.
  • Satellite Camp has limited shade and is exposed so can get quite windy in the evenings. Be prepared.
  • For park fees follow this link. Direct contacts for the park+254-2-2626174, +254-711-574-766 or chyulunp@kws.go.ke (I would call if I were you).
  • If you like to things in a bit more style there is the option staying of at the high end Campi Ya Kanzi or Ol Donyo Lodge.

Final Words

I am really indebted to two articles that really gave me the courage and information to attempt this trip again. First one by Armchair Bushman and the other by JamboNairobi (especially for hikers). If you’re thinking of visiting the Chyulu Hills these articles are a great resource. I have uploaded the campsites and roads in the park to the free app Maps.me so you can use that to navigate within the park or to plan your trip.

So, not the easiest park to get to but really a beautiful and amazing part of Kenya. I think it was well worth the second shot don’t you agree?

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18 thoughts on “The Chyulu Hills – Living In The Hiker’s Paradise

  1. mjmacnair

    Fabulous photos. Thanks for another brilliant blog post. The Chyulus are incredibly beautiful – we once drove up to near where you camped – definitely 4×4 only! Did you see Kilimanjaro or was it too hazy?

    Reply
  2. stacey bisley (@StaceyBisley)

    Excellent article and truly magical pictures; and yes it saddens me when you write about the pressures the park is experiencing! I suppose it doesn’t help that poor visitor numbers don’t help and neither does the tour operator in shifting some of the ‘traffic’ from Amboseli etc!

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Thanks Stacey. Something not many people realize is how low visitor numbers affect ranger and community morale, the attitude is ‘why bother to protect it and no one comes anyway?’. Unfortunately many operators are still stuck in the whole Big 5 tourism model as opposed to experiences, it’s going to take some time to change that attitude.

      Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Register on openstreemap.org (the mother map), click on edit, drag your GPS track or point onto the map and trace the track using the mouse. Ensure the track is not already mapped and after tracing label it correctly. Any questions just email me.

      Reply
  3. MamaMgeni

    We finally made it to the Chyulu Hills this weekend, and the views were tremendous! Like you, we also noted the presence of cattle and herders, and the serious lack of wildlife – not even a single hyena whooping in the night. On the up side, there were FOUR other groups of campers at Satellite Camp this weekend. It was really crowded, but at least that means the visitor numbers are up! Thanks for the inspiration…

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      So glad to hear the park had visitors this weekend. Strange to think you were up there while I was seeing it from the southern side driving along the border from Amboseli to Tsavo West. We weren’t far from each other!

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Camping in the spectacular Chyulu Hills -

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