I loved Hells Gate National Park in Kenya for the simple reason that it provided me with a very different sort of safari experience.
And it can for you too!
Yes if like me, you want to get a bit closer to the amazing African wildlife than the opportunity sitting in a 4wd often provides and you want to the chance to stretch your legs a bit and feel the wind in your hair while listening to Elton John’s amazing Circle of Life soundtrack… this is the place to do it!
Yes what makes Hells Gate National Park in Kenya such a unique experience is the fact you can enjoy a walking and a cycling safari here, getting up close and personal with the animals and breathing in all that amazing scenery.
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What Makes Hells Gate National Park Special?
The opportunity to watch African wildlife just metres away from you without the barrier of a vehicle or a pane of glass is exactly what make Hells Gate National Park so incredibly special.
If you want to hear the zebras munching or admire the graceful walk of giraffes completely immersed in the elements of nature, then this is the place!
But don’t worry, you won’t get eaten!
Due to the lack of major predators here such as lions and leopards, Hells Gate is safe for you to access without a vehicle and this makes it very unique indeed.
To be away from any motorised noise and pollution and to totally gain a sense of freedom in the breathtaking Kenyan landscape, is a rare experience and the primary reason why Hells Gate is so special.
So if it isn’t already clear, the sense of closeness you get to the animals in Hells Gate National Park is definitely one reason why you should visit this park.
Another is the spectacular landscape it provides.
A geothermal hotspot, filled with volcanic activity, the scenery here is breathtaking and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen in Africa.
In fact, it far more closely resembles 2 places I’ve visited in Australia – namely Karijini National Park and Windjana National Park – both situated in Western Australia and renowned for their incredible rock formations and gorges also created by tectonic activity.
The cliffs and gorges of Hells Gate are just as spectacular as these 2 Australian greats and here in Kenya, like Australia, you also have the opportunity to hike in them.
This means you can see the boiling hot spring water still being pumped naturally out of the ground here and to marvel at the greatness of the previous lava flows that shaped this dramatic park.
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#1 Headtorch – Required for those all too often power cuts, I love my Black Diamond Storm, which has come to the rescue on many occasions!
#2 Insect Repellent – Malaria is a big risk in Kenya, so cover up at night and pack a 30% DEET product.
#3 Good Camera – An absolute must if you’re looking to capture the incredible landscape of Hells Gate National Park. I love my mirrorless Sony A6000, which is light, compact and robust – ideal for Africa travel.
#4 Sarong – Whether it’s covering yourself from the dust on safari, using as a pillow on long bus journeys or making into a beach dress, this is a great multi-purpose travel item for Kenya. 1 World Sarongs have a lovely collection if you’re looking for some inspiration.
#5 Kenya Lonely Planet – Incredibly useful for the maps and background info, the Kenya Lonely Planet is a must-have.
Why Hells Gate Ranks as One of My Top Safari Experiences
With the ability to get this close to some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife and the scenery on offer, it’s no surprise Hells Gate ranks as one of my top safari experiences in Africa.
It was actually beaten to first place however by another of Kenya’s amazing national parks. Find out which one here.
I also really loved the chance the Hells Gate gave me to clamber out of a 4wd in Africa and to get some exercise in!
All that driving on hot bumpy roads can take its toll and to be able to enjoy a day of cycling and hiking (aka a bit of physical exertion) felt really good after almost 2 months in an overland truck!
This park was also fantastically peaceful and the savannah grass looked stunning in the early morning light.
READ MORE: 14 Best Things to Do in Kenya
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Cycling in Hells Gate
The cycling trip to Hells Gate is normally a half day affair.
I highly recommend starting early in the morning so that you miss the main heat of the day, which is key given the lack of shade you’ll encounter!
The bikes are mountain bikes, but not in the best shape … of course!
That said, they are generally good enough to get what you need out of them.
You can hire bikes easily at the main entrance to the park – Elsa’s Gate – and from there enjoy the 8.5km cycle downhill to the gorge via a couple of nice lookouts.
On the way, you also have every chance of spotting groups of zebra, giraffe, antelope and warthogs, among other creatures – another reason to go early in the morning as the wildlife is more active when it’s cooler.
We set off around 7am and were delighted to find the park to ourselves and no one else here yet – I guess the early bird does catch the worm!
Once at the gorge, you can then hike down into, along and back up this geothermal creation.
The climbing is mild, but fantastic and I really enjoyed it.
That said, there are some scrambles and rope climbs in parts, so it’s a good idea to bring a backpack containing your snacks and sunscreen to Hells Gate National Park as this will enable the use of your hands to climb.
After about a 1.5hr long walk through the gorge, via the natural hot springs, you climb back up the other side to pick up your bikes and cycle the 8.5km uphill to the park entrance.
All in all, it’s about a 5-hour round trip.
You have to take a guide of course and pay a national park entrance fee, so I think the trip amounted to around $50 USD.
I was initially sceptical about spending this much on a half day excursion, but looking back now, I’m so glad I did, as it provided a safari experience like no other.
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Where is Hells Gate National Park?
Hells Gate National Park is located in the west of Kenya, near the town of Naivasha.
It’s easy to get a bus here from Nairobi – taking you around 2-3 hours – otherwise many Kenya tours will include this park as a stop.
READ MORE: Top 10 Things To Do in Nairobi
If you book a cycling tour to Hells Gate – offered by nearly all accommodation providers in the area – your guide should pick you up and sort out the bike hire for you.
You will then be dropped back to your accommodation when you’ve finished.
Otherwise, if you’re doing it independently, local matatus that pass by Lake Naivasha can drop you at the Elsa Gate junction (along Moi South Lake Road) where bikes are also for hire – although you’ll have a 2km uphill cycle to the gate from here!
Given this, bike rental costs are slightly cheaper at the junction, but do check your brakes and gears!
Where to Stay?
There are several camps within Hells Gate National Park itself, which would be ideal if you wanted to soak up its splendour for longer.
Otherwise, the town of Naivasha has some good budget accommodation options, with lots of amenities if you need money or food, although besides this it’s a fairly drab town.
I stayed on the shores of Lake Naivasha – only 4km from town, but closer to Hells Gate and in a beautiful peaceful setting.
Marina Camp offered good camping rates and had a nice grassy setting, although upgrading to a room was ridiculously expensive.
If you don’t have your own camping gear therefore, Fisherman’s Camp might suit you better, as it offers lakeside rooms at far more reasonable rates!
READ MORE: The Perfect Kenya Itinerary
Lake Naivasha National Park
The other advantage of staying at Lake Naivasha is that you’ll get the chance to enjoy a sunset cruise on this gorgeous body of water too – essentially another national park (aka 2 for the price of 1!)
The highest rift valley lake in Kenya, Lake Naivasha boasts some fabulous birdlife and hippo inhabitants.
It makes a great add-on to Hells Gate National Park and both activities can easily be enjoyed in a day if you’re short on time.
SAVE THIS TO PINTEREST!
So that’s why I really think Hells Gate National Park offers a unique safari experience.
Hiking and cycling in this beautiful landscape really was one of the highlights of my overland trip with Absolute Africa and I’d highly recommend you get it on your list too!
Have you visited?
What did you think?
Let me know in the comments below….