Our First Glimpse of Mombasa
It was a 2 day transit to get from our exploration of the Seychelles to the coast of Africa. Our first stop along the African coast was Mombasa. As the ship got close, we could see the buildings of the city. Not quite the rural Africa one might expect. We had opted for a tour out of town for our first sight of African animals.
The ship was once again docked in a container port. The locals had set up their display of goods for sale against the containers.
When we left the ship we were boarded into small buses for the 2 hour drive to the Shimba Hills Park. The bus had a roof that lifted up to let us stand when we got to the game park. This open roof would be great when we were in the park. We would not miss our first sight of African animals! But this was the only source of air conditioning for the 8 hours we would spend on the tour!
The city of Mombasa where we were docked is actually on an island. So our first adventure was to take the ferry to the mainland. Our briefing notes on Mombasa stressed that safety standards would not be at the same level that we may be used to. We would get our first taste of this when the ferry left packed to overflowing with neither the front or back gates down.
Leaving the City
It was a slow drive before we got our first sight of African animals. All along the roadside, we saw woman dressed in brightly coloured clothes. As in many of the muslim countries we had already visited, the cows walked freely wherever they wanted.
The side of the road was packed with roadside stalls and small shops selling anything you could want. While we saw the standard shops, we also saw places selling large pieces of wood furniture and an amazing number of brightly colour upholstered chairs and sofas.
Traffic was chaos. Piles of garbage were everywhere. There was nowhere along the road that I would want to stop. When we later talked to people who had visited the city, that view was mimicked again. We were certainly glad we had left town for our first sight of African animals!
Arriving at Shimba Hills Park
Leaving the outskirts of the city, we entered the country and small towns. It was a slow gradual climb to get to the Shimba Hills Park. At the steeper parts our mini bus slowed to a crawl in low gear. When we came back we would get a great view out towards the sea and realize just how high we climbed.
As we approached the first gate, we were greeted by a group of monkeys crossing the road. They mugged for the cameras before finally deciding to wander off into the woods. It was a good start to our first sight of African animals.
Most of the mini buses travelled in a convoy looking for the animals. They were in constant communication and would drive fast to a spot when someone spotted something of interest. Our guide initially followed the group but then decided to head out on his own. We would benefit from this with many “first” sightings.
Our First Sight of African Animals
As we drove about the park, everyone on board was a spotter. When we thought we saw something, we would scream “stop”. Our first “stop” caused us all to look around and wonder what we were missing. We stopped when a very large snail was seen on the road. Someone wanted to go and move it off the road but the guide was firm in keeping everyone in the vehicle. Our snail would have to keep moving at the snail’s pace! This was not the first sight of African animals that we were here for.
Simba Hills is known for the Sable Antelope. We finally found a herd of them and settled in to watch them in the field. A little later we also found the Impala Antelope.
If we drove slowly and everyone was quiet we could hear the sounds of the birds around us. Occasionally we heard the grunting that told us that some other animal was close. Our first sighting of a Wart Hog was just this dark blob bobbing in the grass. When we later found a very large Wart Hog, all of our earlier pictures could be deleted.
In Search of the Big Five
We got pretty excited about our first sight of African animals but we found even more to see. The Shimba Hills Park had Cape Buffalo and African elephants and I was determined we would see them. On our next game drives, we added African lions and rhinoceros! African leopards were harder to find.
The first group of Cape Buffalo we saw in a big herd out in the field got us excited. When our guide moved the bus, we got an even closer view.
But then we found them lounging in a pool of water on the road in front of our bus. We had such a great close view that no future sightings of buffalo would cause us to stand up.
Even though the giraffe is not on the list of the big 5, it was still on my wish list for the park. We were lucky to catch a lone giraffe far off in the field. While I could barely see him chomping on the leaves on the upper branches, David’s telephoto lens was able to capture the detail.
Finding the Elephants
After lunch we still had not seen our elephant. We had one hour to find one before we had to leave to go back to the ship. The first half hour of our drive was totally uneventful. While we did see herds of the animals we had seen in the morning, the elephants appeared elusive. Our driver was off on his own hunt when we suddenly stopped. We quickly realized that we had not one but four elephants heading our way.
We enjoyed the elephants on our own as they came a bit closer. Everyone was excited when two of them crossed the road right by our bus. One even stopped to play in the mud! But then the other buses screamed up at breakneck speed and the elephants started to back away.
A View from On High
Our trip through the park took us to the viewpoint. From this vantage point we could get a great view over the park and out over the country to the sea.
This must not have been a popular spot for animals as everyone was allowed out of the vehicles to stretch our legs and take some photos.
Animal Sightings Happened Everywhere
We stopped for lunch at the Shimba Hills Lodge. A great local buffet was served. Wandering about the resort we looked at the local art decorating the hotel.
There was a big pond behind the hotel. When the waiter threw bread, the action started. The small fish immediately moved to nibble on the bread. The eagle poised to dive. The monkey in the bush positioned himself to watch the eagle. And the Monitor Lizard in the pond started for the fish.
The eagle was faster than them all. Several times we saw him swoop in where the bread landed. We were not sure whether he went away with pieces of bread or the fish surrounding the bread.
When we were driving around the park after lunch we saw an eagle swoop in front of the van. When we stopped we could see him head to a tree and perch with the other eagles.
A Great First African Animal Experience
We were all pretty happy as we departed the Shimba Hills Park. Our first sight of African animals had been great! Reviews of the park had mixed input on animal sightings. We felt we had done pretty well given we were at the park through much of mid-day when many of the animals usually are hiding.
Future cruise excursions would add to our animal list with game drives in South Africa in Richards Bay and again outside of Cape Town. Our next port was Zanzibar in Tanzania. We opted to pass on a trip to town. Instead we headed out in search of monkeys! Our first sight of African animals had just whetted our appetite for more.
What was your first sight of African Animals? What was your most exciting? Have you seen the Big 5 African animals?