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Saiwa Swamp National Park

Last Refuge of the Sitatunga

About Saiwa Swamp National Park

Saiwa Swamp National Park is an outstanding little park for nature lovers, bird watchers, walkers, and photographers, all of whom will battle to find a more enticing wilderness destination explore. Delight in the chance to walk along 18km of trails through a natural wetland that is lined with lush vegetation and is just bursting at the seams with birdlife, small animals, and amazing photo ops. Due to the remote location of Saiwa Swamp, you may just be the only visitor!

This small park north of Kitale is a real delight. The swamp area is the habitat of the sitatunga antelope, known in Swahili as Nzohe, and this park has been set aside to protect it. Sadly the park has seen better days, and there are very few sitatungas left, although it is possible that some may be translocated from elsewhere. What makes the park unique is that it is only accessible on foot. There are marked walking trails that skirt the swamp, duckboards right across the swamp in places, and some extremely rickety observation towers. The park is also home to the impressive black and white colobus monkey. It inhabits the higher levels of the trees and, not having the gregarious nature of many primates, is easy to miss as it sits quietly in the heights. When they do move, however, the flowing cape of white hair is very distinctive. Birdlife within the park is also prolific. With all this on offer, it is surprising how few people visit Saiwa Swamp

When to Visit Saiwa Swamp:

Year-round destination.

Saiwa Swamp National Park – Last Refuge of the Sitatunga

Sitatunga Antelope are pretty special!  What makes them so different from other antelope is the fact that they are Africa’s only truly amphibious buck, equally at home in the water or on dry land.  They love swampy wetlands, and since this particular habitat is one of the most threatened eco-systems in Africa, the numbers of lovely Sitatunga living in the wilds is on the decline.

Saiwa Swamp National Park was specifically established in 1974 to protect one of the last remaining Sitatunga habitats in Kenya and has become the last refuge for Kenya’s dwindling Sitatunga populations.  Saiwa National Park is the smallest of Kenya’s many national parks and reserves at just 3 km sq.  (There are over 40 National Parks in Kenya, accounting for over 8% of the land-mass of the country!)  Due to its remote location close to the border with Uganda, the park is seldomly included in safari itineraries, which makes the park all the more appealing and worthwhile visiting!

Visitors who do take the trouble to make their way to Saiwa Swamp can look forward to a great day out, far from the usual tourist throng.  For a great overview of what Western Kenya has to offer, combine Saiwa Swamp, Mount Elgon National Park, and the amazing Kakamega Forest National Reserve in your itinerary. 

What to Do in Saiwa Swamp National Park

People from all walks of life come to Saiwa Swamp to revel in the wonders of nature!  

You will spend your time enjoying:

  • Walking

  • Bird watching

  • Sitatunga spotting!

  • Admiring the Flora and Fauna

  • Photography

  • Picnicking

  • Camping

Walking in Saiwa Swamp

There are very few other national parks where walking is not only encouraged, but is actually required! At Saiwa Swamp vehicles are left at the parking lot and you set off on foot to explore one of the country’s last remaining pristine wetlands. There is a network of 18kms of boardwalks and trails leading from one end of the park to the other, all of which expose you to the beautiful natural wetland landscape, and the abundant wildlife that calls it home.

Bird Watching

Wherever there is a wetland, you are bound to find a wide variety of bird species, and Saiwa Swamp National Park is no exception. Just less than 400 species of birds have been recorded here, including many interesting waders. There are four elevated observation towers spread around the park, and these make ideal bird-watching stations. Take your binoculars, all your fancy lenses, and your lunch, and while away a few hours watching some of your favourite feathered friends.

Sitatunga Spotting

The very attractive and unusual Sitatunga are the main attraction at Saiwa Swamp, and the observation platforms are also great for watching these amphibious antelope enjoying their preferred habitat.  

Flora and Fauna

Saiwa Swamp National Park encloses a veritable tropical wetland paradise. The landscape makes up a beautiful tapestry composed of wetland vegetation including sedges, reeds, and dense groves of bulrushes, interspersed by wooded grasslands and remnants of tropical forest. The forested areas contain such exotics as wild fig and banana trees, while the grasslands include the distinctive acacia trees, so symbolic of the African wilderness.

Photography 

Saiwa Swamp National Park is great for photographers. The elevated viewing platforms provide sweeping views over the wetlands and into the tree canopies, where thousands of birds, insects, and butterflies will vie for your attention.

Picnicking

There are several picnic sites situated at intervals along the various trails and walkways. You will need to bring all your own supplies, as there are no shops on site.

Camping

If camping is your thing, you will really enjoy spending a night under the stars in this beautiful and very safe national park. Just imagine – you could be sitting in one of the observation platforms to see the sun rise over the horizon and listen to the dawn chorus of birds.

What to See at Saiwa Swamp National Park

The Sitatunga!

Sitatunga Antelope are the world’s only truly aquatic antelope and have developed marked adaptations to enable them to thrive in their watery habitat. They are quite a large buck and are generally around 1.5mt tall. They have a shaggy and virtually waterproof coat and are good swimmers – in fact, they are better equipped to survive in the wetlands than on land. Their long legs and elongated hooves allow them to easily escape danger in the water, but do make them a little less swift on dry land. They have also perfected the art of hiding underwater when danger approaches, with just the very tips of their noses protruding. Mature males can have amazing twisted horns that reach one metre in length.

Besides the Sitatunga, be on the lookout for the following animals:

    • Black and White Colobus Monkeys

    • The rare De Brazzas Monkeys

    • Bushbuck

    • Otters

    • Genet Cats

    • Mongooses

There is a wealth of birdlife to enjoy, including many water birds.  See how many of the following you can spot:

    • Ross’s Turaco

    • Blue-headed Coucal

    • Yellow-billed Duck

    • Little Grebe

    • Yellow-billed Stork

    • Long-tailed Cormorant

    • Hamerkop

    • Several species of Heron, Ibis, and Egret

    • Grey Crowned Crane – Endangered

    • Wahlberg’s Eagle

    • African Hawk-Eagle

    • Black Goshawk

Where to Stay in Saiwa Swamp National Park

Due to the remote and unspoilt location of Saiwa Swamp National Park, there is not a lot of accommodation in the immediate area.  Within the park, close to the main gate, is the KWS campsite and Treetop House. The campsite is quite lovely – shaded and boasting great views over the swamp. There are two covered communal cooking areas furnished with barbecues and picnic-style tables.  There are also showers and flushing toilets, but you will have to provide your own tent and other necessities.

Treetop House is a single unit, furnished with twin beds and a kitchen, but you will need all your own cooking utensils and food.

The Barnley Guesthouse and Campsite is pleasantly situated on 5 acres of forested land close to Saiwa Swamp and features two comfortable double guestrooms in the main homestead, as well as two furnished tents and a large campsite with all the amenities you need for comfortable camping, including barbecues, electricity, hot showers and flushing toilets.

How to Get to Saiwa Swamp National Park

Saiwa Swamp is approximately 380 km from Nairobi, in the midst of the beautiful Rift Valley escarpment.  There are daily flights from Nairobi to Kitale or Eldoret, and from Kitale, you can access the park in about 30 minutes on the A1 road.  

Calling all ardent bird watchers!  Do not leave Kenya without visiting the lovely Saiwa Swamp National Park to see a great selection of birds, as well as the rare Sitatunga! Tranquil Safaris can put together the perfect Kenya birding safari to include a couple of nights spent in the heart of this most unusual and very beautiful wetland park.  Speak to one of our experts today!

Saiwa Swamp National Park Safaris

Wildlife at Saiwa Swamp National Park

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