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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2019 (85) > Forever free

Forever free

Once one of Kenya’s most visited parks, Meru is now seldom included on safari itineraries. Yet it has been revived, and is once again that rare and revered thing that most wildlife-lovers yearn for: a vast, untamed wilderness in which to lose yourself. The sort of reserve we think you should be seeking out. By Lizzie Williams

My safari started long before I reached Meru National Park, as I’d opted to drive from Nairobi instead of flying; spending a few days circumnavigating Mount Kenya’s ‘ring road’ in a clockwise direction through the Central Highlands. I weaved through colourful, animated towns, shambas (small plots) and superbly picturesque ‘up-country’ scenery, from richly cultivated terraced farms to foggy mountain slopes thickly cloaked in well-watered forests.

This route, increasingly becoming popular as a self-drive circuit or organised safari from the nation’s capital, followed the A2 via Nyeri and Nanyuki up to the Isiolo turnoff in the north, and looped back on the B6, via Meru and Embu towns to re-join the A2 at Thika. And there are plenty of parks, reserves and private conservancies to stop at too. After exploring both the excellent Ol Pejeta and Lewa wildlife conservancies, Meru National Park was in my sights — and only a doable day’s driving distance to get there on this circular route around Kenya’s lofty highest peak.

Turning off the B6 at the thriving trading centre of Meru town, I headed eastwards and down Mount Kenya’s lower shoulders to the park. On the way were fantastic views of its jagged summits breaching the clouds, and the fertile patchwork of small-scale farms making the most of the mountain’s nutritious volcanic soils. Vegetables, tea, coffee and cotton, as well as the mild, though controversial, stimulant miraa are grown in this region.

Arriving at Meru National Park’s Murera Gate, the tar road stopped abruptly — as did the steady stream of matatus, trucks and wobbly bicycles precariously-laden with people and produce. Suddenly I found myself driving from a densely-populated agricultural region into a vast and timeless wilderness of thorny scrub, wooded grassland and seemingly endless savannah, dotted with clusters of volcanic rock and surrounded by distant shimmering hills.

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Africa's changing cultural landscape • Safaris for body and soul • Top spots for you to go this year • Nature's Best Photography • Likoma Island • Jackals • Travelling with teenagers • Skeleton Coast lions... and much more!