Samburu County

Discover Samburu County

 Sacred Mount Ololokwe in Samburu County.  Image Courtesy of All Events
Sacred Mount Ololokwe in Samburu County.  Image Courtesy of All Events

Brief Overview of Samburu County

Surrounded by mountains and woodland, and spectacularly known as big game country, Samburu County is a seriously indulgent ‘wilderness’ instantiated by diverse landforms and wildlife. Most prominent of its pleasant stretching range of mountains which dominate the north and eastern areas are the Nyiru Range, Ndoto Mountains and Mathews Range. The Kirisia Hills form a similar range in the western area. These ranges are surrounded by gullied and craggy footslopes, often of dramatic dimensions, which pieces a jaw-dropping landscape in almost every direction you take – including to the much-liked Sacred Mount Ololokwe.

The whole western frontier of Samburu County is marked by the wondrous Rift Valley, best sighted at the Losiolo Escarpment and which is within an afternoon excursion from Maralal Town. Here, the land dramatically drops into a 20-30 kms wide strip of step-sided hills, plateaus and volcano foot-ridges to compose one of the most breathtaking landscapes in Kenya. For hundreds of feet below, stretching as a far as the eye can see, the floor of the Rift Valley transforms itself with each changing season. Inaccessibility is a major downside of its undersell, yet, it is satisfactorily incredible and well worth all the difficulty of getting there.

To put it briefly, Samburu is scenically-splendid, wild and savage, with plenty of wildlife concentrated along River Ewaso Nyiro.  And the excursion to Samburu is no less interesting. The newly built A2 Road, connecting Nairobi and Moyale, and traversing Samburu, is a joy to drive on.  If all the above were not sufficient, the appeal of this area is capped by the authenticity of its Samburu Community. Adorned with painting, scarring, colorful regalia and ornaments, the Samburu People are as distinct and they are unique. Their believes, morals, customs and other flairs splendent when observed at close quarters. Most akin to the Maasai.

Salient Features of Samburu County

  • County Number 25
  • Area – 21,000 km2
  • Altitude – 2,000 ms 
  • Major Towns – Maralal, Archer’s Post, Wamba, Baragoi
  • Borders – Laikipia, Isiolo, Baringo, Turkana, Marsabit

Brief History Samburu County

The arrival of the British drastically changed the nomadic ways of the Samburu Community who comprise 80% of the population. The British Administration introduced grazing schemes in the 1950’s, against the proclivity of the Samburu Community, as a way to safeguard land that had been previously over-grazed.  Also, some forests were demarcated by the new administration, where grazing was completely forbidden. In the 1970’s, post independence, the Government of Kenya helped to establish some of its group ranches as a way of re-demarcation. And thus the land ownership was transferred back to the Samburu Community.

View of the Ndoto Mountain Range.  Image Courtesy of Samburu Primate Research
Ndoto Mountain Range.  Image Courtesy of Samburu Primate Research

Places of Interest in Samburu County

1. Shaba National Reserve

Most travellers to Northern Kenya take in a tour of the famous Shaba National Reserve, either on their way to Marsabit and Sibiloi National Parks or from Samburu National Reserve – which it is linked to by a causeway across River Ewaso Nyiro. Gazetted in 1974, this exotic 60 km2 park, located east of River Ewaso Nyiro, does indeed, offer endless wildlife excursions. It carries a similar fare to that of Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserve; that of a superb ever-changing sweep of scrubland only interspersed by acacia and distinctive rocky uplands. That is to say, its relatively flat terrain makes it easy to drive across and easily spot game. On the flip side, this does make it harder to spot game, because one can hardly see more than the length of the savanna glades. “Historically, Shaba National Reserve had gained unwelcome notoriety as the place where Joy Adamson was murdered while trying to release a leopard back into the wild, but fortune and fate have favoured Shaba since.”  The Sarova Shaba Lodge and Joy’s Camp, both rated up-market safari resorts, are the chief accommodation options at the Shaba National Reserve.  Some areas of interest around the reserve include River Ewaso Nyiro, the Magado Crater and Samburu National Reserve. Also of interest is the abutting Nakuprat Gotu Conservancy operated by the Northern Rangelands Trust and which encircles Shaba National Reserve. It is found 52 kms north of Isiolo Town and 21 kms from Archer’s Post.

2. Buffalo Springs National Reserve

The 131 km2 Buffalo Springs National Reserve, a sweep of semi-arid outback separated from Samburu National Reserve by River Ewaso Nyiro and forming part of the Laikipia-Samburu Arc, was established as a way to safeguard these wildlife plenty plains.  Much the same as Shaba National Reserve just alluded to and Samburu National Reserve immediately north across Ewaso Nyiro River, Buffalo Springs National Reserve is best-known for its spectacular game drives and the striking rolling topography. Unique to this area are the sparkling waters of Buffalo Springs where plenty of wildlife gather. The springs are on the left on the main road, travelling North, shortly before taking the turnoff to Samburu National Reserve. The Samburu Simba Lodge, Elephant Bedroom Camp, Ashnil Samburu Camp, Larsens Tented Camp, Samburu Game Lodge, and the public campsite all align with Ewaso Nyiro River (west to east) in the northern area of the reserve. From Nanyuki the A2 Nanyuki-Isiolo-Archer’s Post Road, which is in great condition and motorable throughout the year, bends and drops some 2,000 ft., down the Timau Escarpment, and provides memorable views across the plains below through Isiolo and to the turnoff into Buffalo Springs, 98 kms from Nanyuki. From the A2 it is a 10 kms drive along a goodly all-weather road.

Distance from Isiolo Town to Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Distance from Isiolo Town to Buffalo Springs National Reserve

3. Ashnil Samburu Camp

Aligning with the marches of River Ewaso Nyiro, Ashnil Samburu Camp within the Buffalo Springs National Reserve is one of the most popular middle-budget safari spots in Samburu County. Ashnil, which in the Samburu language means ‘an oasis of crystal clear water’, is centered around the jim-dandy pools of water situated at the western border. The camp is comprised of 30-luxury tents set on the banks of Ewaso Nyiro River.  Among the highlights at Ashnil are its privacy, its serenity and the unrivaled views of wildlife when they congregate to water at the bank of the river, especially at dusk and dawn. Callers to the camp can enjoy guided walks along the river or tour Samburu National Reserve.  For those who fancy hiking, Mount Ololokwe and Mathews Range are within striking distance.

Ashnil Samburu Experiential Video. Published by Backdrop Agency

4. Archer’s Post

Samburu National Reserve can be reached through the Buffalo Springs National Reserve or using the Archer’s Gate. The latter means heading out until Archer’s Post and then onto a dirt road to the reserve’s headquarter, 13 kms from the A2 Road. More strategic than charming, the dusty outpost of Archer’s Post lacks little in uniqueness and character thanks to the sentimental value attached to it by travellers to this region; it being the last outpost where they can stock up on supplies before the long and hard-push north. It was historically utilised by the British Army as a training ground. The discerning traveller may be interested to know that Archer’s Post, cardinally dissected by River Ewaso Nyiro and which sprung its origin, roughly demarcates the halfway point between its headwaters and the Lorian Swamp. River Ewaso Nyiro drains the slopes of the Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya crossing over the flush and arid Laikipia Plateau and Archer’s Post beyond which it crosses an undulating plateau where it changes to an ephemeral river to discharge its waters near Habaswein, into Lorian Swamp.

5. Chanler’s Falls

Generally speaking, the Ewaso Nyiro River flows with low water for much of the year, lowest in March and highest around May. The river often runs much faster soon after the rains in March and April, over its traditional river line, extending up to 100 yards, although this rarely causes concern or damage. After the rains, it revitalizes the small Chanler’s Falls. “Below Archer’s Post, River Ewaso Nyiro crosses an undulating plateau eastwards, descending Chanler’s Falls and then flowing northeast, spreading its waters near Sericho into the vast swamp. The upper swamp is generally called Lorian Swamp, but this narrows and continues southeast and east into Somalia. Here Ewaso Nyiro used to be known as Lak or Lagh Dera, a variant of which name is still used in Somalia”. It was named during Lieutenant Ludwig von Höhnel’s second expedition in East Africa, this time accompanying William Astor Chanler, a wealthy American, who wished to travel to Lake Rudolf. On September 18th, 1892, they set out from the coast along a slightly more northerly route than that previously traversed with Count Samuel Teleki von Szek, from 1887. On December 26th, 1892, they came upon a waterfall some sixty feet in height on the Ewaso Nyiro River, which they called Chanler Falls. Local people reported that the river emptied into Lake Lorian, and this rapidly became Chanler’s quest. He soon found, however, that the Lake Lorian was actually a ‘swamp’, that has since been known as the Lorian Swamp.

6. Umoja Cultural Village

This uniquely ‘women only’ manyatta-inspired cultural village, close to Archer’s Post, was inspired by a growing need to find creative ideas that honour the life of Samburu women and provide a self-sustaining source of income; in the male-dominated Samburu Community.  At best, Umoja Cultural Village offers a novel glimpse into the guarded ways of the Samburu Tribe – their history, rituals and intriguing cultures, like the beaded jewelry project.  Umoja Cultural Village also has middle-budget furnished bandas that are a great starting-point from where trippers to Samburu County can explore its diversity.  It is located near Archer’s Post and just 2 kms along the dirt road heading into Samburu National Reserve.

The Story of Umoja Jewellery. Published by Umoja Jewellery

7. Nashipa Eco Camp

The Nashipa Eco Camp, 50 metres before Samburu National Reserve, is owned and operated by the Samburu Community, adoringly described as the ‘Butterfly People’ by reason of their beautiful dress styles accessorized by colorful beaded jewelry. While it is one of the smaller safari lodges around Samburu N. Reserve, Nashipa lacks nothing in authentic cultural experiences and safari necessities. Those interested in taking part in community projects or simply exploring the dreamlike ways of life of the Samburu can spend time with local women to learn unique crafts like beading. “These encounters are dignified and respectful, with none of the hustle and bustle of many cultural visits in other parts of Kenya”. The overall design of the camp, along the Ewaso Nyiro River, is simple, earthy, rough and ready, and constructed entirely from local material and indigenous knowledge. It has modern toilets, running water, hot showers and electricity for convenience. The camps’ sleep two to four people, each with a slightly different experience. ‘The main house (Sampur hall) at the front of the site offers superb panoramas of the river and to Koitogor Hill where the legendary lions rock sits’.

8. Samburu National Reserve

Unofficially given the title of big game country, the 165 km2 Samburu National Reserve is aggrandized for hosting one of the largest grouping of elephants in Northern Kenya, in addition to, the respectable numbers of the other members of Africa’s high-minded big-five – lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalos. Unique perhaps to Samburu National Reserve is that it also hosts all the members of the uncelebrated special five – Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Somali’s ostrich and Gerenuk antelope – which are an unusual and select band of exotic game endemic to the northern region of Kenya. In spite of the drastic reduction in the number of elephants and other big mammals due to poaching in the 1970’s, Samburu National Reserve has turned around this calamity and it is now teemed with a spectacular variety of wildlife, that are the stuff of dreams.

Samburu National Reserve lies north of the River Ewaso Nyiro, which separates it from Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves. It is this river that offers the major attraction to holiday-makers in all these three reserves and especially during the dry season – December to March – when it adopts a shallow change in character and its wooded fringes of tall doum palms forms canopies of deep shade affording much welcome relief to man and beast. Here, one comes across, day-to-day, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, baboon, impala, serval and warthog. Also widespread and sighted frequently are zebra, grant’s gazelle, hyena and eland. The Samburu Game Lodge, built along the banks of River Ewaso Nyiro, is the anchor lodge at Samburu National Reserve. Other options include Saasab Game Lodge, Samburu Intrepids Tented Camp, Sentrim Samburu Lodge, The Serena Lodge and Samburu Sopa Lodge. Samburu Lodge is 20 kms from Archer’s Post.

Map of Samburu Ecosystem.  All Right Reserved to Expert Africa
Map of Samburu Ecosystem. All Right Reserved to Expert Africa

9. Kalama Conservancy

Formerly known as Gir-Gir Group Ranch and now run by Northern Rangelands Trust on behalf of the local communities, the eye-catchings 385 km2 Kalama Conservancy also contains a fine concentration of game and is contiguous with Samburu National Reserve along the northern boundary. Kalama Conservancy forms part of the open-borders wildlife migration corridor that links Nakuprat Gotu and Sera Conservancies with Samburu National Reserve.  Here, from the comfort of the luxurious yet kooky and locally-themed Saruni Samburu Lodge, opened in 2009, holiday-makers to Kalama can enjoy the magnificent scenery with fetching views of the fairyland forest of Mathews Range.  Also contained at the Conservancy is their community-run Samburu Bead-Works Project where one gets to mingle with the jovial Samburu Community who are in turn happy to give visitors as warm a welcome as can be had in any region of Kenya. Key wildlife species at Kalama Conservancy include elephants, Reticulated giraffes, Beisa oryx, lions, Grevy’s zebras, wild dogs, gerenuk, lesser and greater kudus, leopard, cheetah among others and a diversity of bird species. Those arriving by air land at one of two nearby airstrip or at the helipad at Saruni Lodge. By road, the entry into Kalama Conservancy is 22 kms northeast of Archer’s Post, via A2.

10. Saruni Samburu Lodge

Set roughly in the middle of the 385 km2 Kalama Sanctuary and the heart of its 3,150 hectares core conservation area sits the acclaimed Saruni Samburu Lodge comprised of 6-luxury eco-villas raised on a beautifully-appointed upland rock with unprecedented long views of the plains. This elevation suddenly gives you one of the largest and most beautiful wilderness backyards imaginable. And in the very distant rear Mount Kenya puts the finishing touch on a most glorious landscape. The emphasis at Saruni Samburu is to take full advantage of these views, which has been masterfully accomplished through its open-plan safari-style luxury set up, cozy outdoors areas and decks, and a snug swimming pool, all overlooking the wondrous views. For a more intimate encounter with these wild and savage plains, guests can explore the area on walking safaris in the capable hands of Samburu local experts, or take part in the invigorating rhino tracking safari at Saruni Rhino. Open-top games drives on a long afternoon out gives you the chance to spot the Big-5.  Moreover, this lodge is part of a four member chain of splendid boutique safari destination alongside Saruni Rhino (Namunyak Conservancy), Saruni Wild Camp (Lemek Conservancy, Mara) and the Saruni Mara Lodge (Mara North) that can be visited on a consecutive terms.

11. Westgate Conservancy

Wedged between Namunyak Conservancy (north), Kalama Conservancy (east) and Samburu National Reserve (south), this is made up of 367 km2 rangleland with a core conservation area of 9 km2 and a buffer zone of 12 km2 that was formerly the community-owned Ngutuk-Ongiron Group Ranch. Almost self-same with the surrounding conservancies, the landscape is that of the thorny acacia scrubland dotted with a great many impressive rocky outcrops. The main tree species include various Acacia and Commiphora: Acacia Species – Lchurai, Ltepes, Ildepe, Lderkesi, Sesiai; and Commiphora species including – Siokotei, Lcheningiro and Samanderi. An archetypal scenery of Northern Kenya.  Unique to Westgate Conservancy is that is hosts upwards of 500 Grevy’s Zebra, which are endemic to Northern Kenya. Other Key wildlife species include Reticulated giraffes, lions, impala, wild dogs, elephants, Grant’s gazelles, leopards, cheetah, Lesser and Greater kudu, and warthogs among others. Likewise, Westgate is one of the inspirational success story in communal integration of wildlife-land management. The only accommodation at Westgate Conservancy is the 18-bed luxury Saasab Tented Camp which is nestled on the banks of River Ewaso Nyiro (the main water source within the conservancy) and which looks out to Laikipia Plateau and Mount Kenya National Park. The main gate into Westgate is found about 70 kms from Archer’s Post. You travel north via A2 then west via the C79 Archer’s Post-Baragoi Road; that forms its northern boundary with Namunyak.

The architecture of Sasaab follows strong Moroccan design, in which African heat is of primary consideration. Each of the nine Moroccan-styled rooms is over 100m² with an enormous open-air bathroom and private plunge pool. From the veranda, guests can take in the remarkable views across the Laikipia Plateau toward the jagged peak of Mount Kenya. Its position on the river naturally facilitates watching the vast herds of elephant that come to bathe

12. Meibei Conservancy

Meibei Conservancy famous for its abundant wildlife and incredible landscape remains largely an undeveloped wilderness with decisive potential for tourism; which will, before long, become the priority for the local community working in conjunction with Northern Rangelands Trust who are implementing a grazing management program aiming to holistically involve land-use planning and new methods of grazing in the 116 km2 Meibei Conservancy. Meibei Conservancy is comprised of Ngaroni, Lpus and Barsalinga communally-owned group ranches. Found around the foothills of Matthew Range it boasts of an especial landscape.

13. Namunyak Conservancy

The intrepid who decides to travel up into Northern Kenya – it is 223 kms from Archer’s Post to Marsabit – now travels on tarmac all the way through some of Kenya’s most beautiful scenery. Also unique to the stretch of road from Archer’s Post to Merille, 104 kms, is that it cuts through two protected areas: Namunyak Conservancy (west) and Sera Conservancy (east); redolent of the surpassing 60 kms stretch of road along the A104 between Mtito Andei and Manyani that cuts through Tsavo East National Park. Founded in 1996, the 3,440 km2 Namunyak Conservancy is comprised of six Samburu Group Ranches that joined hands to better manage land and provide a safe range for wildlife to thrive. Namunyak, meaning ‘blessed’ in Samburu, is notable as the first community conservancy established in Northern Kenya and which has grown into a treasure trove for safari enthusiasts who can explore its rare and uncatalogued floral diversity and the outstanding wildlife displays. Likewise, Namunyak serves as a vital wildlife refuge for varied species and is home to plentiful populations of giraffe, gerenuk antelope, leopard, African wild dogs, impala, lion, greater kudu and elephant. Equally stirring are the landmarks and formations: Mount Ololokwe, Mathews Mountain Range and Kitich Forest. It is also home to Sarara Camp and Kitich Camp. Namunyak Trust HQ is about 80 kms northwest of Archer’s Post, via A2.

Spatial Location of Namunyak Conservancy in Samburu County
Spatial Location of Namunyak Conservancy in Samburu County

14. Mount Ololokwe

About 33 kms northwest of Archer’s Post along the A2 Archer’s Post-Merille-Marsabit Road, at the southeast corner of Namunyak Conservancy, isolated in the out-and-out plains, there’s a spectacular volcanic centerpiece. And as far as impressive mountains in Kenya go, few match the elegance and grace of Mount Ololokwe, equally breathtaking and one of the most important cultural sites in Samburu County. Rather unmistakable, its rockface and flat tabletop jut-out, in isolation, from the low-lying plains, peaking at 3,000 feet. It stands-sentinel at the doorstep of Samburu as the universal welcome to the Great North of Kenya. Likewise, Mount Ololokwe, considered a sacred mountain and locally known as Ol Doinyo Sabache, is beyond-doubt one of the best eminence from where avid hikers can relish beyond-money vistas stretching over the arid plains, Mathews Range and Mount Kenya in the background. For the strong-minded adventurer there is a camping ground at the top of Mount Ololokwe and Sabache Camp at its base. It is located 33 kms from Archer’s Post within Namunyak Conservancy.

15. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Until a few decades ago, the wildlife in Samburu had been decimated to a likely crises. The genesis and exodus, experts warned, was a lack of empowerment to local communities to take ownership of these resources; which they considered a problem they did not create and solutions they did not want to be part of. Now that has all but changed, and the local communities have taken charge of these resources, and the turn-around in the wildlife numbers a most impressive one. One of the biggest attractions of such community-led initiatives is, deservedly, Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Established in 2016 within Namunyak Conservancy, Reteti became the first community-managed and community-owned elephant sanctuary in Africa. It enkindles a modern wave of wildlife conservation that is moving-forward Kenya’s agenda of restoring its wildlife and habitats.  The very first 40 elephants at Reteti were rescued in 2016 with strong involvement from the communities living around the conservancy, who really wanted to see these elephant thrive and who were previously entangled between ‘a rock and a hard place’ on how to resolve the human-wildlife conflict. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is open to the public for 3 hour daily (between 8:30-10 am and between 11:30 am and 1 p.m. It is important that you arrive promptly at 8.30 am or 11.30 am and wear green if possible). Conservation fee is Shs. 150 for residents and USD 20 for Non-residents. It is found 63 kms northwest of Archer’s Post at Sereolipi.

One of the most beautiful things about Reteti is that it is a community-owned effort. All employees come from the local Samburu Community. Right now Reteti has 35 staff caring for 12 elephants, which need 24-hour oversight. For many employees, this is their first job. It’s a fine balance between giving elephants space and time to do what they should be doing as elephants, but to also be in tune with an elephant’s needs and behavior so that these keepers know when they need to step in and take a more active parental role. – RWS

16. Mathews Range

The glorious Mathews Range runs for 150 kms from the mid-part of Namunyak Conservancy southerly trending into Kalama Conservancy, oriented in a north-south strike. The Range is marked by a steep topography and granite outcrops that make much of the area inaccessible, its highest point (Warges Peak) rising to 2,688 ms. The forest cover is lionized for being in the best condition of all the sky island forests in Northern Kenya owing to the remote location, rugged steep terrain which precludes easy access, and cultural prohibitions or compatible use of the forest. Mathews Range was gazetted in 1956 and declared a forest reserve in 1964. “When gazetted the forest was recorded as approximately 97.4 km2 of which 25% was closed canopy forest, 50% mixed forest and 25% was shrub or grassland.” Locally known as Lenkiyio Hills, the Range is a bio-diversity hotpot that stakes a claim as one of the most beautiful sights in Kenya. As a roadside attraction, views of the Mathews Range are exceptional at the western-end of the all-weather C79 Archer’s Post-Wamba Road that travels along the boundary of Namunyak Conservancy (north) and Kalama and Westgate Conservancies (south) over the Mathews Range, to drop down into Wamba Town. It provides gratifying scenery and abundance of big game at Kitich Camp and Sarara Camp.

17. Kitich Camp

As one of two specialty safari destinations within Namunyak Conservancy, the award-winning Kitich Camp favourably set on the slopes of Mathews Range and surrounded in all directions by the beautiful forests, evokes the spirit of wild Africa, eyeing the mesmeric and scenic range which has remained untouched for centuries.  Kitich Camp is widely-lauded as one of the most luxurious camps in Northern Kenya. Each of its six-luxury-tented camps overlook River Ngeng and Mathews Range. Caller to the lodge get to explore its beauty with the help of local expert guides.  Then, there are the crystal clear rock pools, sun-downers and intimate cultural tours to some of the Samburu Villages about Kitich Camp.

18. Sarara Camp

Launched in 2005 along the eastern footslopes of Mathews Range within the Namunyak Conservancy, the prestigious ten-luxury-camps Sarara Camp is one of only three safari lodges in Kenya to receive the coveted distinction of “Unique Lodges of the World” – a global collection of about 45 unique hotels and lodges spanning six continents collated by National Geographic.  “The only permanent camp for hundreds of miles, Sarara sits on a raised escarpment overlooking the Mathews. Below their craggy, cedar-studded slopes, dry bush country unfolds. Bubbling springs rise in the hills, providing precious water to the Samburu people and the wildlife species that inhabit this ancient land”. The Camp, in a typically hot-low country is pleasantly cool and salubrious thanks to effects of the mountain and its elevation – there being over 380 km2 of backyard to enjoy some fairytale sights of wildest Africa – with all its roomy safari-style camps with grass-thatched built to take in as much of this views. There is a rock-hewn infinity pool too. Among the highlights at Sarara Camp are game drives through Namunyak, tours to Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, cultural passages into Samburu Villages at Singing Wells, bush sun-downers, evening campfires and stargazing.

One of the highlights of the Namunyak area must be a visit to the famous “Sarara” Singing Wells.   Samburu warriors bring their cattle to these watering holes on a daily basis during the dry season.   The warriors descend into the wells which can be up to 10 meters deep, form a human chain and chant traditional Samburu songs as they pass water up by hand for the cattle.   This fascinating ritual goes on for several hours a day. – Bush and Beyond (Sarara Camp).

19. Singing Wells

The relation that the Samburu Morani have with their livestock is a fascinating point in studying the Samburu Culture of Northern Kenya.  Singing is one of the vibrant forms of self expression among the Samburu Tribe and a venerable old tradition that transcends many spheres of their daily pastoral life.  With water being scarce in Samburu County, and their cattle so important, the Samburu’s ritual when they take their livestock to a watering well is at best a captivating experience.  For good living, and to keep order, each Samburu Morani sings to his own herd, and one by one his herd responds to his singing by only drinking out a designated trough – to avoid livestock from getting mixed up at the far-off and far-between watering points.  These Singing Wells rituals are centuries old. 

20. Sera Conservancy

More proper Sera Wildlife Trust, the 3,450 km2 Sera Conservancy arrays the largest widlife conservation area in Northern Kenya. Its western border runs astride the A2 Isiolo-Archer’s Post-Merille Road for 104 kms from Archer’s Post until Merille Town; extending about 30 kms at its widest easterly towards Merti and Barata. It was established in 2001 under Northern Rangelands Trust with the aim of bringing together three historically rival ethnic groups and to foster conservation and sustainable use of resources in their traditional lands. Unique to Sera Conservancy is that it is the only place in Eastern Africa where visitors can actively track the black rhino on foot, and is the only sanctuary in Eastern Africa to operate a sanctuary principally dedicated to the vital conservation of the endangered black rhinos. Despite its size, Sera Conservancy has real beauty about it, with plenty of mind-blowing landforms. The landscape is typified by a mix of bush and grassland with a few forest patches teeming with respectable wildlife. It is also well watered. Some of its perennial streams including Kisima Hamsini, Lenkolii, Lerigrig, Lontopi and Lchoro losowan. Other water sources include boreholes, hand pumps and shallow wells at Kapai, Chapulo, Lesura, Losesia, Laresoro, Lbaa Lolparuai, Sereolipi lugga, Kauro, Naitolai, Lenkaya, Lantana and Turgung. In recent times, the discovery of a ‘Rock Gong’ and ‘Rock Painting’ at Kisima Hamsini, mused to be a few thousand years old, highlighted its historic importance. Its HQs office is located about 47 north of Archer’s Post.

21. Saruni Rhino Camp

Situated deep within the expansive Sera Conservancy (15 kms east of Sereolipi and the A2 Road) and along the banks of River Kauro, the six-camps Saruni Rhino Camp was one of only three African retreats to receive the prestigious World Travel Award (2017) – for its high flown ambiance and unconventional architecture that blends seamlessly to the arid-scape of Samburu County. Set about 1.5 hours’ drive from its sister establishment Saruni Samburu Lodge at Kalama Conservancy, this also offers a singular twist on authentic safari, on an opulent scale. Here too, the luxury-camps with private verandas are set on a prominent upland rock looking-out to the knockout scenery. The wildlife move with seasonal variations and this does the element of game tracking, favouring the game-viewer exploring Sera Conservancy on open-top game drives but by no means eliminating the adventurer on its camp look-out. At Saruni Rhino Camp guests enjoy seclusion on an unprecedented scale, having miles upon miles of untouched wilderness to themselves. Other highlights include the Black Rhino tracking experience, the Samburu well-being space, and hiking Ololokwe.

Spatial Location of Saruni Rhino within Sera Conservancy
Spatial Location of Saruni Rhino within Sera Conservancy

22. Ndoto Mountains

Beyond Namunyak and Sera Conservancies and passing through Losai National Reserve between the centers of Merille and Laisamis (104 kms from Archer’s Post along the A2), the northern region of Samburu County is marked by vast alluvial inland peaks that downslope from 2,752 ms declining to crests of 400 ms as you near Lake Turkana. “These are a chain of mountains consisting of old crystalline basement rocks, mainly of extremely durable gneisses and granites”. The steep Ndoto and Nyiru Ranges, reaching up to 2,752 ms in northern area of Samburu County are the highest. Next to these, a series of volcanic peaks like Mount Kulal (2,285 ms), Mount Marsabit (1,707 m) and Huri Hills (1,479 m) in neighbouring Marsabit County tower over the inland plains. Set at the northern boundary, north of Namunyak Conservancy and west of Losai National Reserve, Ndoto Mountains overlook the broad Kaisut Desert separating it from Mount Marsabit. A dense forest clads the upper reaches although much of the deeply-gullied sides and rocky peaks of remain exposed. This contrast pieces together a striking landscape.  It tallest peak, Mount Poi, clearly rises over 700 ms over the surrounding range.  There are about a dozen or more cliffs rising over 500 ms in height, many of these reaching as high as 300 ms and 1 kms in width.  Ndoto Mountains are best seen at Ngurunit 70 kms west of Laisamis through Namarei.

23. Ngurunit Valley

The wondrous plain of the Ngurunit Valley, near Laisamis, which is encircled by the splendorous Ndoto Range with Mount Poi watching over so as to protect the low-lying foothills, is a wildly-beautiful Arcadia.  This untravelled landscape has gone unchanged for eons and is akin to exploring a mysterious and hypnotic unheard world.  The Salato Camp and Lasamu Camp that are set near Ngurunit River offer exceptional accommodation options for trippers who are interested in exploring this little-known gem of Samburu County.  Travellers can explore the Ndoto Mountains and Ngurunit River from the comfort of these two camps. 

North Kenya Expedition Part 1. Published by Routes Adventures

24. Mount Nyiru

The C77 Baragoi-Loiyangalani Road to the southern edge of Lake Turkana goes though Ngurunit, South Horr and along the eastern flanks of Mount Nyiru. From Ngurunit it’s a 161 kms journey northerly to Loiyangalani across an arid bushland and is approachable from both north and south with accommodation options on both ends. Rising to 2,752 ms, Mount Nyiru is one of the highest mountains in the Northern Kenya. The western face of Mount Nyiru is topped with dark forests and some waterfalls, filled with the outpourings of the heavy clouds which often cap the summit; the eastern side much drier with more rock exposure. Owing to its importance as a water tower, the 45 km2 forest around Mount Nyiru of which about 8 km2 is covered with true forest was gazetted, in 1956, as a forest reserve. A diversity of 448 plant species belonging to 104 families have been recorded on Mount Nyiru. The Samburu of Nyiru attribute a use to 249 species (56%) of the local flora. The adventure-lovers who hike up Mount Nyiru, in company of local Samburu guides, are rewarded with peerless cultural insights and mind-blowing vistas; Suguta Valley in the background, the Mowango Sowan Plains in the foreground, and in the middle distance sits the land which slopes towards the flat Rift Valley floor partly filled by Lake Logipi.  The rhapsodized over Desert Rose Lodge is set-up on the south-western slopes.

25. El Barta Plains

The El Barta Plains around Baragoi much like the plains between Archer’s Post and Kom is an extensive 4,435 km2 flat-to-gently undulating shrubland plain wedged between Ndoto Mountains (east), Mount Nyiru (north) and Samburu Hills (west) that range in altitude from 1,300 to 1,500 ms. While is it one of the harshest (near inhospitable) and uncharted regions in Samburu County, it lacks little in wilderscape. Set hard in the valley enclosed by the steepest section of mountain ranges, great slopes and cliffs descend nearly 1,000 ms into the dusty shrubland. For those who brave the 271 kms via the C79 Wamba-Loiyangalani Road through Barsaloi, Baragoi and South Horr, there is always a reasonable chance of sighting elephants, greater kudu and oryx. The Nachola area (west of Baragoi) marks the western margin of the El Barta Plains. Largely uninhabited and quite an eye-catching landscape, El Barta plains constitutes one of the four main ranges for Grevy’s zebra in Northern Kenya alongside Laikipia, Wamba and Laisamis. However the El Barta’s claim to fame was the Baragoi Massacre of 2012 where 42 police were killed in a botched cattle recovery mission. Cross cultural conflicts are a norm here and gun-trotting bandits sway this region. In this back-country of Samburu, charges and counter-raids are not the exception.

26. Samburu Hills

The Samburu Hills, about 30 kms west of Baragoi, lying between the higher El Barta Plains to the east and the lower Suguta Valley to the west, are precipitous mountain lands declining in altitude westwards. These are comprised of classic volcanic flows. Seen to the distant left-hand when driving through Baragoi, the precipitous hills eventually roll down to meet the Suguta Valley; a 20 to 30 kms wide gap, which is part of the eastern branch of the Great Rift System popularly known as the Gregory Rift Valley. The flat bottom of the Suguta Valley has an altitude of about 400 metres. The large scale tectonic line forming the eastern limit of the Gregory Rift Valley separates the Suguta Valley from Samburu Hills.

Spatial Location of Samburu Hill in Samburu County
Spatial Location of Samburu Hill in Samburu County

27. The Nachola Site

At Nachola Village, situated down the escarpment in the gorge which eventually ends up at the bottom of Suguta Valley and west of Samburu Hills, is a site of archaeological importance that once produced numerous fossils relating to the ‘Kenyapithecus’ species. The Nachola area occupies the western periphery of the El Barta Plains. First excavated in 1963 by Baker and later in 1980 and 1982 by a Kenya-Japan expedition, the Nachola Prehistoric Site yielded several links in the chain of human evolution, with abundant fossils important to the study of ‘Nacholapithecus’ (initially classified as ‘Kenyapithecus’ sub species). “While eight large‐sized hominoid species dating to Early to Middle Miocene (about 17‐14 Ma) are known to exist in Afro‐Arabia and western Eurasia, the facial and postcranial anatomy of these apes is poorly known. However, much has been learned of the craniodental and postcranial anatomy of ‘Nacholapithecus’ – an almost entire skeleton of a male individual exhibiting a shared derived subnasal morphology with living apes. Samburu hominoid, a late Miocene fossil was unearthed in the basal dormitory region of the Namurungule Formation about 15 kms from Nachola. The Nachola Site is situated 13 kms east of Baragoi Town.

28. Losiolo Escarpment

This is one of the breathtaking sights in Samburu County’s system of beautiful landforms and it is most accessible from Nyahururu and Maralal along the C77 Nyahururu-Baragoi Road. It is also accessible without too much difficulty via C78 Archer’s Post-Wamba-Maralal-Malaso Road on a matching distance of 198 kms that presents equally impressive scenery and set of challenges along an all-weather road that’s to be avoided over the rain season. At the moment, the C77 which is tarmacked upto Maralal just 36 kms outside of Malaso is the quickest route to Losiolo Escarpment or Malaso Viewpoint encapsulated by a sensational collection of dandy peaks, rock faces, sheer cliffs and striking jagged terraces that all roll down to Suguta Valley marked by a constellation of mud cones. It is thought that Suguta Valley was once occupied by the mythological Lake Suguta which linked to Lake Turkana.  At the Malaso Viewpoint, the beauty of the fairly relatively flat floor of the Suguta Valley that is fringed by uplands east and west rising to 1,000 ms, is a dramatic scenery. Here, for hundreds of feet below, the valley’s floor changing with each season, is more a moonscape than a landscape.

29. Emuruangogolak

Rising to 1,328 ms in the capacious floor of Suguta Valley is the active shield volcano of Emuruangogolok, which has a 4 kms caldera summit. It last erupted in 1910 – making it one of the lattter-day volcanic-activities in Kenya. To date, steam vents and fumarolic activity at the summit caldera of Emuruangogolak and on the flanks of the volcano are still active, as seen in its fissures.  There are several tiny lakes near the site that vary in size depending on seasonality of rain.

Map of the Kenya rift showing the volcanic complexes
Map of the Kenya rift showing the volcanic complexes

30. Kirisia Forest

This is found in the southeast area of Samburu County along C77 Nyahururu-Baragoi Road north of the Laikipia Plateau, east of Kisima and Maralal Towns, and west of Barsaloi. In area Kirisia is about 800 km2 and was gazetted in 1933, and one of Kenya’s foremost forest reserves. The main features are precipitous mountain country with woodland and thick gallery and highland meadows: the north facing side forming steep slopes with a handful of sheer granitic bare rock faces and deep seasonal river valleys. The northwest section ending with sheer drops makes up part of the eastern wall of Losiolo Escarpment. The southeast frontier gradually rolling down to meet the shallow flats of Leroghi Plains which extend into Laikipia County. Owing to its higher elevation, Kirisia Forest serves as a key water catchment receptacle and the headwaters for many streams that supply numerous communities including Maralal, the headquarter of Samburu County.   During the dry season, it forms an important refuge for the Samburu’s livestock as well as an important water channels to seasonal lugga’s in the areas between Kirisia and Mathews Range. Kirisia Forest is also a significant wildlife habitat and hosts species like elephant, cape buffalo, bush-buck, bush pig giant forest hog, warthog, lion, and varied monkey species. The birds and insects are seemly represented including Hartlaubs touraco – possibly the most dominant species in the forest – as well as, tambourine dove, martial eagles, and sunbirds.

31. Ngari Hill Ecolodge

Set between Kirisia Forest and Maralal atop Ngari Hill, this homey guesthouse at the heart of Samburu County offers the choice to camp or rent a neat banda.  They offers a choice of three kinds of bandas: standard, superior and exclusive. There is an option of crawl-in tents in their generous camping ground serviced with amenities like running water and washrooms; and what many say is the best way to experience Northern Kenya and delight in the warm sun.  Travellers to Ngari Hill Ecolodge can enjoy memorable camel-back safaris in the company of local Samburu guides, day excursions to the Malaso Viewpoint, exploring the low-lying Suguta Valley or hiking at Kirisia Forest.  Ngari Hills Guesthouse is located 358 kms from Nairobi via Nyahururu and 2.1 kms east of Maralal Town.

Ngari Hills Ecolodge: Your Gateway to Northern Kenya

32. Maralal Game Reserve

The defunct Maralal National Reserve which was wound down in 2014 by the Samburu Government following the eradication of wildlife by poaching has since been absorbed by Maralal Town. The area which was once the Maralal Game Reserve is still a prepossessing landscape and the Maralal Safari Lodge, located 3 kms east of Maralal Town, and fully renovated in 2015, continues to thrive.  Some noteworthy areas of interest found nearby are Kenyatta House Museum 1 kms from Maralal, and the Malaso Viewpoint 100 kms from Maralal.

33. Yale Camel Camp

The popular Yale Cultural Camp, revered both as a cultural resort and campsite, located at the heart of Samburu pastoralists community nearby Maralal, is best known for hosting the Maralal International Camel Derby.  The main interest at Yale Camp is preserving the Samburu’s cultural heritage.  For accommodation, it has a campsite and 15 self-contained cabins, with a rustic on-site restaurant, lounge and garden.  There is plenty to do at Yale Camel Camp including guided walks and camel safaris, cultural tourism, its culture museum and birding.  Yale Camel Camp is conveniently placed just 2 kms south of the main Maralal Town.

34. Maralal Camel Derby

The three day Maralal Camel Derby held yearly between August 24th and 26th is an exuberant social event and the major event on the Maralal Calendar. Now a weighty calendar event in Kenya aptly showcasing the diversity of not only the thrilling cultures in Samburu but the unexplored tourism and other economic opportunities in Northern Kenya, it held its 29th Edition at Yare Camel Camp, the traditional venue, in 2018. The showstoppers at the festival are the 10 kms camel race and the fun ‘triathlon’ of running, biking and camel riding. It was kick-started as a way of reconciling the communities in Samburu County that are constantly warring. As such, the event is also grace by traditional songs and dances. The last day the festival carries several activities like the professional camel marathon race, the black mamba bike race, and an eclat award ceremony.

35. Kenyatta House, Maralal

“It is at Kenyatta House, in what is eke-named the Runda of Maralal, the leafy suburbs of Samburu, that Independence was negotiated.” On top of that, “Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was confined here for one-and-a-half years after his arrest in Kapenguria. He lived here with his young family when the negotiations for Independence from the British rulers were being made. Mzee authored his book while facing Mount Kenya through one window there, hence the book title.” – S. Murumba. Originally built as a residence for a senior British officer working in Samburu, the 3-bedrooms bungalow set-up on 28 acres nearby Maralal became the unconditional residence for Kenya’s first president – then a detainee of the colonial forces – between April 1960 and August 1961; after his transfer from Lodwar House in Marsabit for alleged involvement with Mau Mau. In any case, the winds of change were signaling a new dawn for independent Kenya and not long after his brief stay here Kenyatta would go on to take the helm as President of Kenya, relocating to a stately mansion built at his hometown of Gatindu by the Colonial Government. It was also at Kenyatta House that Uhuru Kenyatta,  Kenya’s 4th president, was conceived.  This is located 1 km from Maralal Town.

The Suguta Valley at the Malaso Viewpoint.  Image Courtesy of WikiMedia
The Suguta Valley at the Malaso Viewpoint.  Image Courtesy of WikiMedia

Geography of Samburu County

Over 80% of Samburu County lies within the fragile and nebulous arid to semi-arid ecological zone. There are five ecological zones in Samburu County: the tropical alpine zone covering an altitude of 1,980 ms to 2,040 ms; the upper highlands covering the altitude between 2,150 ms to 2,600 ms; the lower highlands covering an altitude of 1,800 ms to 1,980 ms; the lower midlands covering the area below 1,300 ms; and the lowlands covering the areas of elevations between 600 ms and 1,450 ms.  Much of the land is mainly used as grazing range by wildlife and livestock.  Gazetted forests occupy 15% its surface.

Land Use in Samburu County

Land ownership in Samburu falls into four categories: trust land; communal land; Government land; and private land. Communal land is managed by the communities, while private land encompasses group ranches. The bulk of land in Samburu County is not registered – a situation that affects its full potential exploitation. The widespread land-use practices are pastoralism and wildlife conservation. These practices account for over 90% of its land-use. Farming is also pursued in areas of Poro in Kirisia, Baragoi, South Horr, and Tum in Nyiro.

Highlights in Samburu County

Samburu National Reserve, which hosts various lodges and game landings, in Samburu East, is the biggest revenue earner for Samburu County. The locals also have indigenous knowledge and cultural artefacts that could be tapped to promote cultural tourism. The annual camel derby, a annual tourism promotion event, has been attracting both local and foreign tourists.  There are 13 tourist class hotels in Samburu County, with a total bed capacity of 566. Most of these goings are located in parks like Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserve. 

Population in Samburu County

Samburu West has the highest population density of just 21 people / km2 while Samburu North and Samburu East reside 14 and 6 people / km2 respectively.  According to the 2009 Population and Housing Census, the sum population of Samburu County was 223,947. Given the population growth rate of 4.45% per year, the county’s population was expected to have risen to 255,931 persons in 2012 and 319,708 in 2017.  Maralal Town is the most populus urban centre in Samburu County, with a population of 17,747; while Suguta Marmar has the least population among the urban areas, with a population of just 5,958 people.

View of a Singing Wells in Samburu County.  Image Courtesy of KPBS
View of a Singing Wells in Samburu County.  Image Courtesy of KPBS

Airports in Samburu County

Samburu County has one small civilian airport utilised fairly often at Samburu National Reserve and three air strips at Kisima Airstrip (which is currently not in shape), at Buffalo Springs National Reserve and at the Kalama Conservancy. 

Roads in Samburu County

Samburu County has a total road length of 1,449 kilometres, most of which are rural access roads.  The newly built A2 Nanyuki to Moyale Road forming part of the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Corridor vertically cuts along the area covering a significant area and enhancing connectivity within Samburu County.

Climate in Samburu County

Rainfall in the Samburu County follows a fairly erratic determine which varies significantly both in temporal and spatial scale. The county experiences both short and long rains. The driest months are January and February. It has a mean temperature of 29 C, with fast blowing winds, especially on the lowlands. 

Samburu County Distance Chart
Samburu County Distance Chart

Delightful outdoor deck at Saruni Samburu Lodge.  Image Courtesy of Saruni
Delightful outdoor deck at Saruni Samburu Lodge. Image Courtesy of Saruni

National Monuments in Samburu County

  1. Kenyatta House, Maralal

Samburu County Map

Samburu County Map