The Caves of Chyulu Hills
|Distance from Nairobi||About 190km|
|Starting Point||Chyulu Hills Park Headquarters|
|Ending point||Chyulu Hills Park Headquarters|
|Walking Duration||2 days|
|Terrain||Dirt road to to the caves.|
Kenya’s highest mountains easily overshadow the crouching Chyulu Hills on the boundary of Amboseli plains and Tsavo plains. Rising to an altitude of 2188m at its highest, this 150km long mountain range situated 190km southeast of Nairobi was hived off the massive Tsavo West National Park in 1983 and its eastern slopes gazetted as Chyulu Hills National Park. What was so distinctive about it to merit this honour?
As it turns out, while its neighbour Mt Kilimanjaro about 70km southwest is the highest mountain in Africa, Chyulu Hills has the deepest known lava tube cave in the world. Some of its volcanic eruptions occurred as recently as 240 years ago, leaving behind the extensive Shetani lava flow and Chaimu Hill (and crater), both covered in black solid magna that is still barren and unweathered. Among the local community, the eruptions are still the subject of legends of evil spirits spewing fire from the earth.
The Chyulu hills are also the catchment area for Mzima Springs in Tsavo West, the main water source for the city of Mombasa down at the Coast, and Umani Spring in Kibwezi forest.
Kisula Caves Complex
Numerous lava tube caves, collectively known by the local community as Kisula Caves, criss cross the depths of the Chyulu Hills. Extensive exploration of one of these, the Upper Leviathan Cave, by the Cave Exploration Group of East Africa established it as one of the world’s longest caves with a maximum length of 11.15 km, divided into two segments of 9.15 km and 2.0 km. An international standard used by Rodney L. Crawford to rank the World’s Longest Lava Tube Caves places the Upper Leviathan Cave at third position.
These caves have put Chyulu Hills on the world map, attracting visitors coming to explore them, and hike through the stunning landscape with views of the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro in the distance. Staircases have been constructed at some of the openings into the caves making them easily accessible.
From the Chyulu Hills National Park Headquarters, you can get to one of the entrances to the Kisula caves after a 15km hike through the rugged unspoilt countryside. This should take you between 3 to 4hrs one way The route is motorable the whole way, making the caves accessible by 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Being a National Park, the area is teeming with wildlife, so you would be well advised to get armed escort from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). And while you are at it, insist on getting a KWS ranger who is familiar with and willing to guide you inside the caves. Apparently, some of the rangers are superstitious about caves, and unwilling to accompany visitors down below.
If using public means from Nairobi, take Kibwezi matatus from Gwasi Rd next to the Tuskys Building (former OTC) off Race Course Road, and alight at Kibwezi market, about 180km from Nairobi. The fare is about Ksh 500. From here, take matatus heading to Mtito Andei and alight about 1km from Kibwezi turnoff, at the sign posted junction to Chyulu Hills National Park. You’ll then walk 9km from the Mombasa Road junction to the campsite at the Chyulu Hills National Park Headquarters. Alternatively, you can hire a matatu from Kibwezi to take you to the campsite.
If driving from Nairobi, take Mombasa Road and drive past Machakos turnoff, Emali, Sultan Hamud, Makindu and the Kibwezi turnoff. A further 1km from Kibwezi turnoff, turn on to the sign posted road on your right and drive another 9km to the campsite at the Chyulu Hills National Park Headquarters. The total distance from Nairobi is about 190km.
Camping; If you have a tent, you can pitch on the KWS campsite near the Park Headquarters. Facilities at the campsite include tap water, a sheltered kitchen, toilet and a shower.