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Shimba Hills National Reserve

About Shimba Hills National Reserve

Last of the coastal rainforests…sanctuary of the sable antelope

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 see & do

The pick of the picnic sites:
The Shimba Hills offer some well-sited and 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.

Makadara picnic site: offering magnificent views down the forested slopes to the Indian Ocean.

Ocean View: A spur of land jutting out beyond the forested bluffs, this spot offers a large, stone-built picnic shelter with picnic tables and latrines. It also offers magnificent views across the undulating coastal lowlands to the Indian Ocean.

Longandani Forest: A dense tropical forest, which is also a sacred ‘Kaya’ of the Mijikenda people, the forest offers an idyllic shaded picnic spot.

Pengo Hill: Offering neither shelter nor seating this spot has stunning views to the west and makes an ideal ‘sundowner’ spot.

An adventure walk to 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.

A unique elephant habitat
The forests of the Reserve hold substantial numbers of African elephant, 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.

The only habitat in Kenya of the 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.

Unique wildlife
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.

Butterfly haven
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.

The Sacred Kayas of the Shimba Hills
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.

Further information can also be obtained by contacting the Coastal Forest Conservation Unit,

PO Box 86 Ukunda. Tel +254 (0)40 2518.

Email: cfcu.kwale[a]

“Fact file”

Altitude: 120-450 metres above sea level.

Area: 250 sq km

Location: 35 km south-west of Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast.

Opened: September 1968.

Climate: The normally hot and humid coastal climate is cooled by strong breezes and morning mist and cloud.

Plants: Coastal rainforest and grasslands interspersed with woodlands and coastal bush.

Mammals: There are 35 species of mammal. Indigenous mammals include; antelope, buffalo, waterbuck, reedbuck, hyena, warthog, giraffe, elephant, leopard, baboon, Sykes’, vervet and colobus monkey, serval, duiker, suni and bush pig. Introduced species include; Maasai giraffe, zebra and ostrich.

Birds: A total of 111 bird species have been recorded in the Reserve, of which 20 are coastal endemic. There are 295 species of butterfly in the Reserve, which account for 35% of Kenya’s total quota of butterfly species.

Roads:The bulk of the 153 km tourist circuit is well-maintained and signposted ‘murram’ or dirt road, which is easily accessible by 2WD vehicle.

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