A cool, mist-shrouded rainforest in Kenya? And only a short drive from the coast? Absolutely!

This is Shimba Hills Nation Reserve, where you can view wildlife amongst the waterfalls and wafting sea breezes. Just about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from your Diani Beach or Mombasa coastal resort, Shimba Hills offers an easy day trip to view its massive population of elephants, as well as the only place in Kenya where you can view the elegant sable antelope. The reserve is one of the largest coastal forests in East Africa.

Its cool climate is a welcome relief from the hotter temperatures of the coast and other game parks. And though the park is small, it offers its fortunate visitors a rich variety of wildlife, birds and even butterflies – 300 varieties. As the cool winds drift off the nearby ocean you can enjoy the sights of the elephants. The park has the highest density in Kenya.

Look for some of the bigger game like lion, leopard, Masai giraffe, buffalo, zebra, impala and gazelle. Traveling on safari through the morning mists in the reserve’s forest you may find yourself gazing upon vervet monkeys, baboon and bushy tailed mongoose. But the most unique animal here is the sable antelope. The reserve hosts about 100 of this last breeding herd in Kenya.

Randu Kenya Safaris will guide you to the hidden spots in search of these elusive animals with their distinctive and majestic horns. The over 230 species of bird life in this small jewel of a park, such as African hawks, guinea fowls, eagles, falcons and hornbills, will keep you actively engaged.

The high elevation (400 m) of Shimba Hills and its rain forest climate create an environment of wonderful plant diversity – over 1100 species, many of them rare or endangered, like the cycad and orchids. And if the rain forest climate and wonderful wildlife at Shimba Hills weren’t enough of an attraction, you’ll also find sparkling waterfalls here to add a refreshing note to your visit.

Shimba Hills National Reserve is just 320 square kilometers (123 sq. miles) in size. It is an equatorial rain forest with cooler temperatures than most areas in Kenya.

Location: The reserve is 30 km (18.5 miles) southwest of Mombasa on the coast. This coastal proximity makes it a perfect 1-day getaway from the beach resorts.

Climate: The climate is moist with sea breezes and early morning mist. Temperatures average 24oC/75oF.

When to go: The park is open year-round and always accessible.

Best time to visit: The best wildlife viewing is during the dry season (June – October). There are usually some rains along the coast year-round, but the stronger rains in April, May and November can limit game drives and hikes.

Getting there: By road – the principal road is from Diani and Mombasa.

Things to do and see

For Kids – This is one of the easiest parks to visit and very close to the coast. There are lots of trails and gentle hills for kids to traverse. The climate is mild and comfortable for hiking making it a popular park for families. The trails offer sightings of plenty of wildlife including giraffe, buffalo and the elephants.

Sheldrick Falls – An easy walk brings you to this 21 m (60 ft) spectacular falls. Draped in vines and greenery, the falls are a relaxing respite in this carefree park. Have a picnic, swim in the natural pool or just laze about on this easiest of safaris.

Elephant Hill – A high point both literally and figuratively – this is the best viewing site in the reserve. From this summit look for Shimba’s many elephants and picturesque vistas over the valley and out toward the ocean. Rangers will escort you to the top.

Sable Antelope – This is the only place in Kenya where you can view these beautiful creatures. The females gather in small groups and are easier to observe than the males.

Marere Dam – A busy watering hole. Look for the larger animals including elephants. This is also a great spot for birdwatching.