You won’t find this small, endearing shrew – about the size of a rabbit – anywhere else on earth. But you will here at the Arabuko Sokoke Reserve, the last and largest tropical forest that used to cover much of East Africa. Located just minutes from the Indian Ocean beaches of Watamu, the reserve is a world away from the coastal resort scene. Here, you’ll be treated to displays of butterflies, birds and monkeys playing through the forest canopy.
Here too, you’ll find other rare and endangered woodland creatures like the Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose and Ader’s duiker. Adding to the charm of this forest glade is the Amani sunbird, Clarke’s weaver and Sokoke scops owl – the smallest owl in Africa.
But the wildlife isn’t all small scale in this reserve – you may also come upon the resident herd of full size elephants as they tromp to the nearby Sabaki river bordering the forest. And buffalo are found in these enchanting woodlands.
For those who like their nature up close, Arabuko Sokoke is a hiker’s paradise with well-marked paths, a 4 km (2.5 mi) nature trail and expert local guides who will point out the rare animals, like the golden-rumped elephant shrew.
Located throughout the woodland are its various pools – the Kararacha Pool alive with birds and amphibians, and the Whistling Duck Pool, a favorite of open-billed storks, grebes and yes, whistling ducks.
A wonderful vantage point for viewing the elephants and the dense forest below are two tree platforms which visitors can ascend. Another dramatic lookout point is the Nyari Cliff. Coming upon this place, the land suddenly drops 80 m/260 ft and offers stunning views of the forest and beyond to the ocean.
The Arabuko Sokoke holds many secrets of nature and a few of man. Here in this dense forest was a 13th century Swahili town called Gedi. The settlement thrived for hundreds of years, hidden and protected from the Portuguese as they invaded and occupied parts of the African coast. The remnants of the deserted town are still visible amongst the thick vegetation of the forest.
The reserve is 420 sq. km (162 sq. mi) of coastal forest – the largest existing area of coastal forest in East Africa.
Arabuko Sokoke lies inland between the coastal towns of Kilifi and Malinda, 110 km (68 m) north of the city of Mombasa.
The park is open year-round and always accessible.
Hot and dry except for the two wet seasons – April through June (the long rains) and November – December (short rains).
Early morning or late afternoon as this is when the wildlife is most active, emerging from their dens and burrows where they escape the midday heat.
The park is open from 06:00 hrs. to 18:00 hrs. daily.
By air – Regular and chartered flights fly to the Malindi and Mombasa airports.
The shaded canopy of the forest lends itself to hiking and guided nature walks. As mentioned, trained guides are available to get a more in-depth exploration of the reserve.
You’ll discover over 270 species of avian life here, among them the threatened Sokoke pipit and spotted ground thrush.
This is a picturesque inlet near the entrance that attracts greater flamingos, sandpipers and crab-plovers. Take the boardwalk and use the bird hide here to get closer to these migrant birds.
You’ll find 3 excellent campsites in the reserve – at the official campsite, up on the tall tree platforms, or at the Nyari Cliff, taking in a spectacular sunrise.
The forest’s shady spaces, many trails and relaxed ambiance are a prescription for an easy bike ride or picnic.
For hikers, nature lovers and those wanting to help support some very rare endangered animals and birds, Arabuko Sokoke Reserve can be a meaningful place to visit. Just a stone’s throw from the beach resorts, this coastal forest is a delightful change of pace.