Floating a misty-cool 400 metres above the palm-fringed beaches of Kenya’s glittering coastline, the Shimba Hills National Reserve offers a unique blend of wood-cloaked downs, wandering elephant, breeze-fanned hills, plunging waterfalls, liana-strung jungle and the primeval stillness of one of the last remaining coastal rainforests on earth. Famed as the only Kenyan habitat of the rare and magnificent sable antelope, this unique Reserve is within thirty minutes of the beach, commands panoramic vistas over the Indian Ocean and plays host to one of the most enchanting tree hotels in Kenya.
What to do and see
After the blazing brightness of the beach, these coastal hills promise cool and shade. They also offer some truly panoramic picnic sites with views stretching down the forested flanks of the escarpment to the hazy blue of the Indian Ocean. On a clear day you can also see the imposing mass of Mount Kilimanjaro rising behind the Taita Hills to the west.
The ancient culture of the sacred kayas
Deep in the ancient forests are a number of sacred ‘Kayas’, the ancient spiritual centres of the Mijikenda people. Originally fortified residential sites, the ‘kayas’ are now largely uninhabited but still widely used for sacred ceremonies and burials.
Visits can be arranged by consulting the Warden.
Walk in the wilderness and bathe at Sheldrick Falls
For the more energetic, the trail leading down through the lush woodlands to the spectacular torrents of the 21 metre high Sheldrick Falls offers a scenic walk, a plunge in the pool or a picnic by the cascades. You may also see blue monkey, buffalo and elephant on the way. Walks take place at 4pm daily and take around 30 minutes to descend and 45 minutes return. All walks must be accompanied by a KWS Ranger.
To join the walk, please contact KWS Headquarters on the outskirts of Kwale town.
The forests of the Reserve hold substantial numbers of elephants, which may be seen to unique advantage against the unusual backdrop of gentle downs and leafy woodlands. Herds can be found all over the Reserve but Elephant Hill is a good place to start.
Last sanctuary of the magnificent sable antelope
The Reserve offers sanctuary to the last breeding herd of indigenous sable antelope in Kenya. Perhaps the most beautiful of the large antelopes, the hard-to-spot, solitary, territorial males have a satin-smooth, jet-black coat and majestic sweeping horns while the dark reddish-brown females congregate in groups and are thus more easily spotted.
Although one of the smallest Reserves in Kenya, Shimba also protects the bulk of Kenya’s black-and-white colobus population while providing shelter to a number of translocated Maasai giraffe and plains zebra.
An ornithologist’s paradise
More than 230 species of bird have been recorded in the Reserve, which also offers sanctuary to 13 rare or restricted bird species. The Reserve also hosts Palaearctic birds during late March – early April.
The last of the coastal rainforests and home to some of the oldest plants on earth
The Reserve hosts one of the largest areas of coastal forest remaining in East Africa. It is also home to some of the oldest plants on earth, many of the massively buttressed forest trees being centuries old. Older still, in origin at least, are the fern-like cycads, age-mates of the dinosaurs that first flourished on earth some 200 million years ago.
The Reserve is host to about 35% (300 species) of Kenyan butterflies including the rare Acraea aubyni and Npetis rogersi and the endemic Charaxes acuminatus shimbaensis. Butterflies are best observed in the Longomwagandi Forest and the Makadara Forest.
Reserve of rare biodiversity
A total of 1,100 plant species have been recorded in the Reserve, around 280 of which are endemic to Shimba Hills and nearly one fifth of which are considered globally rare.