Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve - Watamu Kenya
Arabuko Sokoke National Park Kenya is a 420 km2 tract of natural forest – the largest indigenous coastal forest remaining in East Africa and is most famous as the home of the golden-rumped elephant shrew. It’s also home to about 240 bird species, 33 species of snake, flying handkerchief butterflies, and some impressive fauna: elephants, the shy Aders’ duiker (antelope), and plenty of Sykes’ monkeys and yellow baboons. The reserve is a 2-hour drive from Mombasa and 30 minutes from Malindi, it is a beautiful and convenient natural ecosystem to visit, and an easy site to add on to before or after spending time on the beach. This is the perfect wilderness for day visitors.
There are 3 types of forests; Mixed Forest, Brachystegia Forest, and Cynometra Forest. The mixed forest is rich in plant species, butterflies, and mammals, the Brachystegia Forest offers the widest range of birds, while the Cynometra forest offers the densest growth and holds the widest range of animal and bird species. The forest is also interspersed with seasonal pools, which burst into life after the rains.
The main activities in the forest include walks led by experienced guides as you enjoy your interests, picnics at selected sites, running and cycling through the forest, and forest drives. There are over 100km of forest trails open to the public. There is also a cultural center where one can visit to learn about the Giriama community and witness traditional dance performances. Learn about the forest conservation efforts by the local community, butterfly farming, and bee farming.
Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve is not primarily a wildlife-viewing destination. Buffalo, elephant, and leopard are present, but sightings are rare. Other animals of the forest include African civets, as well as Baboons, Vervet monkeys, Sokoke bushy-tailed Mongoose, Ader’s Duiker, red, blue, and common Duikers, blotched Genet, Caracal, Bushbabies (Garnetts and Zanzibar bush-babies), Aardvarks, Sykes’ monkeys, Yellow baboons and Vervet monkeys, red-bellied coast Squirrels and red-legged sun squirrels.
Wildlife and animals of Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve include reptiles such as sand lizards and geckos while the largest reptiles are the Savanna and Nile monitors. Snakes are plentiful, mostly tree-climbers such as twig snakes, boomslangs, and green mambas. Chameleons (flap-necked and pygmy) find the habitat to their liking as do both leopard tortoises and hinged-backed tortoises. There are also 25 frog and toad species recorded, and some 263 recorded species of forest butterflies (Britain hosts only 52 species), of which at least 6 are endemic to the coast region. Indeed some 30% of all Kenya’s butterfly species are found within the forest.
Insect life is rife in the forest, especially around the seasonal pools where iridescent dragonflies and smaller damselflies congregate. At night the air is filled with the sound of cicadas, while throughout the day the leaf litter is rustled by myriad crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and termites as well as huge social colonies of tree ants, singing ants, and safari ants. Perhaps the most conspicuous insect however is the magnificent but entirely harmless millipede, which can grow up to 20 cm long and is known locally as the ‘Mombasa train’.
The Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve is located on the coast of Kenya and is the largest remaining section of dry coastal forest found in Eastern and Southern Africa and is home to four endangered mammals and six threatened birds.
This fascinating forest wilderness is nestled beside the beaches of Watamu, just minutes from the waters of the Indian Ocean. It lies a few kilometers inland on the Kenyan coast, between the towns of Kilifi and Malindi and some 110 km north of Mombasa town (along the Mombasa-Malindi highway).
It was gazetted in 1943, covering an area of 420 km2. Note, Arabuko Sokoke National Park measures 6 km square of low land and then spread over 420square km of Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve. The Arabuko Sokoke National Park is operated by the Kenya Wildlife Service while the Forest reserve is managed by the Kenya Forest Service.
Arabuko Sokoke national park is one of the most popular destinations for birding and butterfly-watching on the African continent. The park is said to host over 20% of Kenya’s bird species,30% of her butterfly species, and over 24% of endemic birds, mammal species, and reptiles.
Over 260 species of birds have been recorded in the forest including the six globally threatened ones: Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush, Amani Sunbird, and Clarke’s Weaver.
Other bird species of interest include Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Fischer’s Toracco, which are near threatened, Plain-backed Sunbird, Arye’s Hawk Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African Pitta, Scaly Babbler and are regionally threatened.
Arabuko Sokoke Forest is also home to about 33 species of snake, flying handkerchief butterflies, and some impressive animals such as the African Golden Cat, Sokoke bushy-tailed Mongoose, Golden-rumped Elephant shrew, Ader’s Duiker, elephants, the shy Aders’ duiker (antelope), and plenty of Sykes’ monkeys and yellow baboons.
Unusual reptiles include the Green Keel-bellied Lizard and the Bunty’s Dwarf Toad. The forest has over 50 plants from Arabuko-Sokoke are globally or nationally rare.
The forest is a magical place to spend a couple of hours – and a welcome refuge from the coastal heat – but don’t expect to see any of the big safari animals. The Visitor Centre at the Forest Station is open from 6 am to 4 pm daily.
The best times to discover Arabuko-Sokoke forests are the early morning hours around dawn or the early evening hours around dusk when wildlife and birds of the forest are most active. These times are also more comfortable for you because you avoid the hot part of the day.
Arabuko Sokoke forest offers beautiful rewardable walking trails and driving tracks. You can choose to drive or walk. The best way to enjoy the forest experience is to carry out a walking safari which allows one to experience more of the hidden treasures of the forest at a slower pace.
You can still explore the forest by car however you will leave out many hidden interesting species which can be viewed the one on foot. Professional guides will lead you through amazing forest walking trails. Please be aware that the entrance ticket is valid for only 24 hours.
Arabuko Sokoke Forest Climate | Best Time to Visit
Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve has the following seasons:
December, January, February & March – This is a drier spell between the short and long rains. The exact timing of the dry period is unpredictable and it can still rain a bit. These are the hottest months with average temperatures of 31°C/88°F.
June, July, August & September – It is mostly sunny. It can still rain some days, but this is the main dry season. These are the coolest months with daytime temperatures of around 28°C/82°F.
April & May – ‘Long rains’: These are the wettest months. There are many overcast days and it can rain all day. Afternoon storms are more common though. Road conditions might deteriorate. Daytime temperatures drop slightly to 30°C/86°F.
October & November – ‘Short rains’: The rain increases in October and peaks in November. It rains less than during the long rains, but November can be very wet. Afternoon storms are common, and there is a bit of sunshine around as well.
Average annual rainfall ranges from 900 mm (in the relatively dry and scrubby northwest) to 1,100 mm (in the east).
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve can be visited all year round however, the best time to visit the forest is during the early morning and late afternoon hours because, during the mid-day, wildlife tends to hide away from strong heat hence affecting your sighting.
Operating Hours: The park is open from 0600 hours to 1800 hours daily. And yes, the best time to watch birds is from 6:00 am to 9:00 am.
2024 Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve Entrance Fees
Citizen/ Resident Rate Per Person Per Day
Non-Resident Rate Per Person Per Day
|Adult||300 Kenya Shillings||25 US Dollars|
|Child||250 Kenya Shillings||15 US Dollars|
* Child refers to persons from three years but below 11 years
* Resident refers to persons of other nationalities residing in Kenya with valid documentation from the Kenyan government
* Dogs are not allowed in the forest. You can enter the forest via three entrance gates – Gede (the main gate), Sokoke, or Jilore
* Daily – Fee paid for a single entry to a national park, national reserve, or sanctuary and which shall be valid for no longer than twenty-four hours
* Citizen – A native or inhabitant of East African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan) with valid identification documents or passport
* All revenues generated by these visits go directly back to the community. The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is home to elephants and buffalo, so if you are walking, running or cycling take all precautions to avoid interaction with these species.
* Always follow rules and regulations prescribed for the forest and available at the entrance gate in Gede. Night visits to the forest are not permitted, and you shall leave the forest or reach your campsite before 6 pm
* It is forbidden by Kenyan law to use plastic bags in the country and plastic bottles in protected areas. Please bring your water in reusable containers. Don’t forget to take your rubbish out of the forest when you are finished with your picnic
Arabuko Sosoke National Park Activities
An oasis of cool tranquility, the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve boasts some fine forest trails, nature trails, and walking and driving tracks. When you visit the forest, you will get an opportunity to immerse yourself in the special dry coastal forest – a biodiversity hotspot of global importance. The forest is one of the best places to view the endangered Golden-rumped elephant shrew.
Since the reserve is only a two-hour drive from Mombasa and 30 minutes from Malindi, it is a beautiful and convenient natural ecosystem to visit, and an easy site to add on to before or after spending time on the beach. This is the perfect wilderness for day visitors.
The forest offers an exceptional birding experience with more than 482 bird species documented including endemic, rare, and endangered species such as Clark’s weaver or Sokoke Scop’s Owl.
Spend time at the Arabuko-Sokoke swamp and enjoy sightings of elephants and buffalo that come to drink at sundown and if you have time, Interact with the local Waata community and learn more about their unique way of life at a cultural center in the forest.
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Activities
Forest Drives: There are over 100km of forest trails open to the public. A 4WD is advisable in some parts especially during the rainy season – our guide will advise you on forest trail accessibility. Don’t forget to visit forest highlights such as the Nyari viewpoint where there are spectacular views towards Mida Creek and the Indian Ocean and the Arabuko Swamp, the only permanent water source in the forest where elephants come to drink at the sundown.
This national park is home to over 252 mammals,60 plant species, and 79 amphibians. These are some of the mammal species to see in the park such as yellow baboons, Lesser Galago elephants, and Sykes’ monkeys, it also houses animals like the Aders’ duiker which are ‘’small antelopes and they live in pairs’’ and the unique Golden-rumped elephant shrew.
Other permanent species of Arabuko Sokoke Forest include Clarke’s weaver, Savanah elephants, Sokoke scops owl, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose, Spotted ground thrush, African cricket, baboons, and vervet monkeys.
Butterfly Watching: The park boasts various butterfly species such as Mimetic, Baliochila minima of the family Lycaenidae, Charaxes lasti, and the Charaxes blandae of the family Nymphalidae. Other species are Danaus chrrtsippus alcipus, mylothris agathina and Amauris ochlea.
Camping: Campers need to be self-sufficient with all equipment, transport, food, and water. At the moment there are no designated campsites that offer services and there are no toilets available. Fires are NOT allowed in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and all litter must be taken out with you.
Running and Cycling: Running and cycling through the forest are also allowed. We recommend using forest parts outside of the electric fence where elephants and buffalo are not present.
Walking: Walking in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is a relaxing experience, the songs of birds and buzzing of cicadas fill the air, and a mammal may cross the track. Your guide will ensure you visit the right places, depending on your interests and physical capacity.
Picnics: Picnics in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest may be enjoyed at selected sites. Note that a picnic is defined as a small packed-snack affair for family and friends and must neither involve catering nor erecting temporary structures such as tents.
The Giriama community has developed a cultural center within the forest to share their traditions with guests. During their cultural events, you will learn about their culture and witness traditional dance performances. For organizing this unique experience contact your guide.
Waata community is in the process of developing a similar cultural site inside the forest. Arabuko Sokoke is Waata for ‘forest of the thin elephant’ (arbi means elephant, huk’o means thin, Sokoke means short trees).
What to Wear and Carry | Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Hotels & Lodges
What to Wear: Wear comfortable walking shoes or trainers and loose-fitting lightweight clothing. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen may also come in handy. It is also important to carry drinking water, binoculars, camera and wildlife books especially for birds and butterflies in addition to picnic and camping equipment in case one intends to stay overnight.
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Hotels: There are several camping spots, for those wishing to go camping or wish to stay overnight. For accommodation, you can stay in Kilifi, Malindi, and Watamu as it is an easy day trip from the two areas. There is no accommodation in the forest reserve area than camping.
Some of the hotels include Mida Creek Nature Camp, Mida Creek Eco Camp, Palm Garden Boutique Hotel, Rock and Sea Resort, Kobe Suite Resort, Temple Point Resort, Rock and Sea Resort, Palm Garden Boutique Hotel, Garoda House Turtle Bay, Medina Palms, Turtle Bay Beach Club, Mangrove View and Bamba Kofi Tented Camp.