Coastal Forests of Kenya

Photo by Roman Bruehwiler.

Coastal Forests of Kenya (Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Shimba Hills National Reserve) is part of the Tentative list of Kenya in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Coastal Forests of Kenya are part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, which includes parts of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. The two Kenyan parts, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Shimba Hills National Reserve, preserve some of the few large coastal areas that are still well forested. They are both rich in flora and fauna, especially birds.

Map of Coastal Forests of Kenya

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 10-Jan-24 -

Coastal Forests of Kenya (T) by Zoë Sheng

"Thin elephant red soil", the translation for Arabuko Sokoke Forest, is in my top 3 sites in all of Kenya, and Kenya has a lot of sites/parks!! Arabuko actually means nothing but was taken from a hunter's tribe language that came through and must have seen thin elephants. Red soil is the soil you will see in the park beyond the gate. I spent a full day here and I highly recommend you do the same. I did not visit the small Shima Hills as it was not my way.

The park opens at 6am and if you are interested in birds that's when you want to head in. Stay at the Mida Creek camps for quick access. There are freelance guides thay work from 6am to 5pm (wow!) and my guide Kalama had perfect English and French, birding and nature knowledge. The fee is also super low. The park costs almost nothing ($4 and car is free!) and depending on your time in the park you make a deal for the guide fees. I entered the northern gate by the way. This is one of the only parks not paid via eCitizen.

The best part in my opinion is the hike and it's just near the gate. You will generally walk through mixed, replanted and primal forest. As soon as we stepped around the corner we spotted the famous elephant shrew so that took care of one of the "mini 5" in the park (named after the "big 5" but I only spotted 3 including the leopard turtle). I was lucky to see the shrew so early but there is a lot of foliage and it likes to disappear quickly. It luckily has a short term memory meaning if you interrupted it digging around then you just wait 10 minutes and it will forget there was danger around the corner, come back and not even notice you standing there. Well, unfortunately it didn't come back to our spot. You can find their nests all over the place but usually they are empty and the guide didn't seem so keen to dig around for tourists (too right). There are also owls near the gate quite often. As I said at 6am you'll see lots and when the hours pass it gets quieter. Maybe that's common birding knowledge but for me it's a good reminder.

Birding/bird watching is the best part of the park and when he said there are 200+ bears in the park, wait, Africa has bears?! Oh he meant species of bIRDs, so yeah plenty to discover. The guide also uses an app to mimic bird songs and they will come over to check, lovely. Silly male birds expecting a female huh, but once we called over a male, then a female joined and they left together so the Matchmaking Award if this website for 2024 already goes to me!

Second biggest animal type in the park are butterflies and I love them so and I learnt a lot from the guide. You will see them all the time and often uncommon ones. Third type would be snakes but I didn't spot one and don't feel sad because hiking with snakes around isn't so my thing.

Before moving on I will talk about one of the negatives of the park. Locals are allowed to farm butterflies and snakes, even medicinal plants from the park. It may be somehow limited and collecting butterflies is done manually so it keeps the numbers in check. Still though, this doesn't seem quite kosher that locals can pick'n'mix goodies from the park. The guide explained this enables them to earn a living and stops them from doing it illegally. They sell dead souvenir butterflies to collectors. Shocking in my opinion but I try to understand the balance of having locals get shut off from their livelihood and the government needing to spend sh*tloads of money on security in return.

The early sections of the forest were previously used for businesses. A dutch businessman would export the fabcy sand, locals would harvest ebony (now protected). After the park was established it is no longer allowed. Previously the forest would stretch down from here to Shimba Hills and the small regions that remain are not able to sustain itself well. I actually find the park borders must be extended and ideally stretch across to Mida creek where elephants used to go swimming in the dry season. Now the dry season is poor habitat and they all survive at the waterhole pumped by the park management - that's not good. On the drive past I only saw ducks because it rained almost every day in January. The rest of the gamedrive took me to the lookout in the center where you can overlook the entire forest. Lions would sometimes come in from the west but they do not enjoy staying in the forest and only if water is required they would make the journey.

Elephants are no longer able to exit the park due to electric fences. Small animals will just pass through the gates if they want. This is to protect the locals as well ad elephants going wild. I still find it shockingly enclosed for them and in dry season they tend to hang around the waterhole, eat all nearby vegetation and rub their asses on trees ( that....!) Like some parks that are enclosed and has elephants breed rather than spend time migrating or fighting for survival in the vast savannah they will soon reach a high number the park cannot sustain just like in Malawi and there needs to be solution.

Back to the hike. Fourth most popular species in the park are spiders. One of the mini 5 is the rhino spider (pictured) and they are found all over the place, so much even that you will catch many in your face as you hike around. They are not dangerous. Smart buggers will spread their web across paths with markings on the base webs so fliers will try to avoid the markings on those and have a 50-50 chance to fly to right into the web. 

With this much diversity it will be a shoo-in to be described if they can work out the issues with farming creatures. If you are interested to see these you can buy a ticket with the Gedi ruins (snake park, butterfly house). I also wish they would increase the park size but that's probably wishful thinking.

Highly, very highly recommended and overall the Mida Creek area is a bit of a hotspot for activities so if you happen to come here to enjoy the Kenyan beach near Malindi then you don't have far to go plus another hour to more sites in Kalifi as well. Excellent trip and this is the highlight of the east coast.

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Full Name
Coastal Forests of Kenya (Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Shimba Hills National Reserve)
Natural landscape - Forest
2023 Revision

Successor to "The Eastern Arc Coastal Forests (Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Shimba Hills National Reserve)" (2010-2023)

2023 Added to Tentative List

The site has 2 locations

Coastal Forests of Kenya: Arabuko Sokoke (T)
Coastal Forests of Kenya: Shimba Hills National Reserve (T)


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