Are you looking for an exciting and slightly challenging nature getaway from the Nairobi CBD or its environs that’s not about nyama choma or alcohol? You should go hiking Mt. Kilimambogo, in the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park.
I should know, because I have been there. Did I say slightly challenging? Scrap that! You’ll break a nasty sweat alright!
Like Mt. Longonot National Park, which we reviewed earlier, this one too is under the management of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
It is located 75KM or thereabouts North of Nairobi. You will take Thika Highway, go to Thika Town where you will join the Thika-Garissa Highway, and drive for about 32 KM to the Park.
Please note that the dirt road from the Thika-Garissa Highway leading to the gates of the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park and Mt. Kilimambogo is a bit rough, so you might want to go at a slow pace.
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park location
This park is in Machakos County. To get there from Nairobi, you will drive through parts of Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos Counties. It is a short, uneventful drive that took us about 80 minutes.
There isn’t much to see along the way. Modern building blocks run along both sides of Thika Highway. You will then get to Thika Town, a busy commercial town.
Continue driving through Makongeni on the Thika-Garissa Road/Highway A3, and some extensive pineapple farmlands.
Once you get onto the Garissa highway, there is no need to ask for directions. When you get to the Ol Donyo Sabuk Town, you will see signage for the national park.
Turn right onto the dirt road and drive for 15 minutes, perhaps more because it’s rough.
If you are using public means of transport from Nairobi, you might have to take a bus to Thika Town, alight and board another one to Ol Donyo Sabuk.
From the Ol Donyo Sabuk Town, you will catch another matatu or ride pillion on a motorbike taxi. Roughly, using public transport to and from the national park could cost you close to KSH1000.
Before you read any further, watch this video shot by Christine, about hiking Kilimambogo:
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park entrance fee
The Kenya Wildlife Service charges for hiking Mt Kilimambogo are KSH250 for each adult citizen. That is what we paid at the gate. Charges for children are KSH200.
Do not carry cash. The payment is electronic, something we found so irking because their systems were not working. We had to wait for more than 30 minutes to be cleared. Hopefully, they are going to rectify this soon.
The rangers will check your hiking backpack to see what you are carrying into the park. Weapons of any sort are not allowed.
Also, disposable water or other beverage bottles are not allowed into the park to minimize littering. Carry your water or soft drink in a reusable bottle. ‘
The KWS charges are the same all over the country for foreigners. Adult and child foreigners will pay $26 and $17 respectively.
There are no charges for parking your car.
Please note that the KWS absolves itself from any liability should you have any incident or accident in the park. They say as much on big signboards. Lookout for your safety.
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park – Things to Do
We went there to hike Mt Kilimambogo. However, there are several other activities to try.
Here are a few fun activities to do in the national park:
Hike to the summit and back
This is my favorite. It is gentle and perfect for beginner hikers. There are two ways to hike Mt Kilimambogo.
You can hike the dirt road that goes around the mountain, a gentle but gradual climb. Some people choose to drive all the way to the summit. This is a 9KM one-way dirt road. Most people choose this.
The second option is to take the roughly beaten trail, with root and rock jutting out at some points. However, it is shorter because one way is 6KM.
There is not much to see on the road or the trail. Also, hiking during the dry season is hot, thirsty work. Carry enough water. It is also dusty, so you might want to bring a hat to cover your hair.
There is a lot of bird-life, and insect life. Despite the name Kilimambogo, which is a combination of two words to mean a mountain of buffaloes, we did not see even one cape buffalo. However, the game rangers did confirm that there is a good number of these large herbivores.
The summit of the mountain is beautiful, luscious green and it gives spectacular views all around. It is at 2145 meters above sea level, and it is not too cold.
See the Macmillan Grave Site and Macmillan castle
I don’t know whether this is a fun idea, but then, what does it hurt to see where the old chap rests?
The grave site is located at a tough stretch of the dirt road, going up the hill, but this is where we rested.
Unless you go on a Sunday, you can also visit the Macmillan Castle, which has been converted to a museum. There, you can learn several things about the history of the park, and the area in general.
Ol Donyo Sabuk camping
You can also enjoy Ol Donyo Sabuk camping. I think we counted two camping sites along the dirt road. If you are going camping, the charge is slightly higher at KSH350 for locals.
You will rent a tent (if you don’t bring yours) and a sleeping bag. The tent goes for KSH500 and the sleeping bag KSH200. The tent can sleep two people.
You will probably spend your camping adventure at the Turacco Camping Site. There is a lot of wood for a bonfire, so you can make food and swap stories.
It would be better to camp with a group to feel safer. There’s safety in numbers, they say!
The nights are cold, so you can bring an extra cover to keep yourself warm. It becomes cooler as you go higher.
Team building activities
This is a perfect place for organizations to go for team building activities. The hike itself can be a good place to start and then you can have several activities at the summit.
There is a very nice resting point where the trail gets to the dirt road, so if you do not get to the summit, you can have fun there.
The national park offers outdoor barbecue spaces, right at the gate. There are fireplaces, so bring your meat and cook it over open fires.
We found some people already with a thing going, sipping what looked like booze (didn’t know that’s allowed).
You could ask about this at the gate. If you are a professional photographer or video maker, you will probably pay to capture footage in the park.
However, for personal use, just go ahead and shoot with your mobile phone. Bring a camera too if you like.
What to wear for hiking Mt. Kilimambogo
If you are going to do the trail rather than the dirt road all the way, wear a proper pair of hiking shoes, with good traction, breathability and comfort.
Some parts can be too rough!
Also, wear a hiking t-shirt and pants. These will wick the sweat away from your body, so you will stay comfortable.
Wear a good pair of socks and a jacket for the cold evening. You will need it. There is a lot of shrubbery on the trail, so long sleeves are better than short ones.
This side of Machakos County is quite dry, and hot. Do wear a pair of sunglasses for your eyes, and a large-brimmed hat. It will give your head enough shade.
There are different types of flora and fauna on Kilimambogo. Don’t eat berries, leaves or anything else. In some places, the vegetation is very thick, especially as you get closer to the summit.
What to take when hiking Mt. Kilimambogo
This is a long hike. It is also hungry and thirsty work. Therefore, pack enough food. Carry enough water too. You will need it!
If you hike the dirt road to the summit, you will be all of 6 hours on the road (to and fro). That’s many hours with the sun beating you hard. Carry enough water to stay hydrated.
It is also a good idea to pack sweet treats to give you energy to get to the top and back. If direct sunshine gives you migraines and headaches, pack some painkillers.
Remember to apply sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburns.
Best time to visit Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
Early is better, and choose a day with clear skies if you would like to take photos such as this one. The park opens at 6.00AM daily and closes at 6.00PM. It is best to adhere to these timelines.
Try to make it to the gate by 7.00AM so that you can take your time going up. The best time to start your descent from the summit is 2.00PM to 3.00PM.
Hiking Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is best during the dry season, probably June, July, August, September and October.
Skip it if there are short rains in November and December, but January and February should be perfect.
Regarding the best day to hike, Christine (you can follow her on Twitter) and I did Sunday. We found a whole lot of other people, young and old alike, hiking.
However, if you would like to pop into the Macmillan Castle, Sunday won’t be good since it is closed.
Hiking Mt Kilimambogo in Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is the ultimate challenge for a town dweller. I think it is 100 percent worth it!
My recommendation is … do not go alone. Never hike alone, especially in a forest populated by wild animals.
Keep your mobile charged. You could need it. Time yourself so that you are out of the park before 6.00PM.
Finally, if you are there solely for the hike, choose a good hiking companion. A good conversation can make the hiking feel easier.