Find paradise in the drylands in Samburu National Reserve. Samburu lies at the start of the former Northern Frontier District, Kenya’s vast northern desert and semi-desert country.

Set against a mountainous backdrop, this dry and harshly beautiful wilderness depends on the perennial flow of the Ewaso Ng’iro river for its existence. The river sustains a wonderful number and variety of African animals, with about 900 elephants roaming the reserve. The doum palms and acacia thickets lining its sandy banks and shallows give Samburu a unique character.

The abundant game includes species adapted to life in the northern drylands – Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, and beisa oryx with their magnificent sweep of horns. Blue-legged Somali ostrich strut the plains with bustling flocks of vulturine guineafowl, their capes of glossy hackles half covering their bright blue breasts. Birders will enjoy seeing many other birds on their game drives. The three Big Cats – lion, cheetah and leopard – also inhabit the area.

The most famous of these was the lioness Kamunyak (‘The Blessed One’) who adopted an oryx calf in 2002, chasing off any predators who came near. The calf did not survive and Kamunyak went on to adopt five more. Naturalists are still baffled by Kamunyak’s undeniably maternal behaviour.

The reserve is named for the people of this region, who were also drawn here by the Ewaso Ng’iro. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists, closely related to the Masai. They are proud of their own distinct traditions and culture.

Good things come in small packages: this is a relatively small reserve, which makes it easier to explore and to spot wildlife. But everyone loves more packages to unwrap: Buffalo Springs National Reserve lies on the southern side of the river and Shaba National Reserve abuts Buffalo Springs on the other side of the highway. Together the three reserves form a large protected wilderness and Samburu is an excellent base from which to explore all three. A bridge across the Ewaso Ng’iro links Samburu and Buffalo Springs and visitors can move between the reserves on the same day pass. Elephants need no pass – huge herds are often seen crossing the shallow river.

Conservancies to the north and west of Samburu extend the range for wildlife to roam and visitors to explore. Ownership by the local pastoralist communities gives them a source of income other than the fluctuating fortunes of cattle herding. The conservancies are all members of the Northern Rangelands Trust, which supports sustainable conservancies which benefit the local people and preserve wildlife.

Samburu National Reserve

Things to do in Samburu National Reserve

Rhino tracking on foot

Quadbike rides

Camel rides

Game-viewing drives

Cultural visits

Accommodation in Samburu National Reserve

Saruni Samburu Lodge

Saruni is in the Kalama Community Wildlife Sanctuary, less than 10 kilometres from Samburu’s northern Kalama gate. Large herds of elephants traverse Kalama as they migrate back and forth from Samburu to reserves further north. Many other African animals may be spotted in the conservancy while guests regularly gasp at sight of the leopard resident in the bush near the lodge, and game drives to Samburu with its greater concentrations of game are sure to thrill. The lodge’s location on a rocky volcanic hill gifts guests with sweeping views of the beautiful arid terrain. Saruni’s architecture and decor is a…

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Accommodation in Samburu National Reserve

Sasaab Lodge

Located west of Samburu and close to Buffalo Springs in the Westgate Community Conservancy, Sasaab employs Moroccan style with a touch of Swahili influence to excellent effect. The tents are designed to deal with the African heat and offer superb views. Colourful rugs and cushions and low tables carry the North African theme through to the decor of the large rooms, each with its very own private plunge pool and sumptuous open-air bathroom. Poised high above the Ewaso Ng’iro, guests can watch herds of elephant bathe and frolic in the river while drinking in the fantastic views across the Laikipia…

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