Many people simply regard the entire Samburu Eco-system as one large game reserve, and the name is used rather loosely to refer to both Samburu National Reserve and the entire area. In fact, this northern traditional homeland of the Samburu tribe is home to 3 separate and fairly distinct protected areas, which lie along an extensive stretch of the Ewaso Nyiro River. Passing through arid, semi-desert territory, the Ewaso Nyiro is the absolute life-blood of the region. It provides an almost year round permanent source of water (sometimes it does dry up briefly between January and February) and feeds the riverine forest that covers both banks, which in turn provides both food and shelter from the blazing African sun for a wide variety of wildlife.
Samburu National Reserve is located north of the river, covering an area of approximately 104km², while Buffalo Springs National Reserve is on the south bank of the river and is a little larger, at 131km². Further east, on the southern bank is Shaba National Reserve, the largest of the 3 protected areas. Although the three reserves are separately operated, one entrance ticket to any of the three reserves entitles you to visit all of them within the specified time frame. In 2010 huge floods washed away the main bridge which linked the two reserves; visitors were forced to make a 2-hour detour via Archer’s Post in order to visit both sides of the river. The great news is that the bridge has been re-opened in February 2015, making it ever so much easier to explore the entire protected area.
A safari in Samburu National Reserve is all about seeing Africa’s magnificent wildlife in their natural setting. Activities do vary somewhat according to which camp you choose, and can include some or all of the following:
Escorted Game Walks
Camel back safaris
Bush breakfasts and Al-fresco dinners
River Rafting on the Ewaso Nyiro (seasonal!)
Cultural Visits to a Samburu Village
Visits to the Singing Wells
Game drives are the main activity at any of the camps or lodges in Samburu National Park. The best time to see wild animals on the move, especially the predators, is in the cooler hours of the day at dawn and dusk. Temperatures in Samburu regularly reach 40⁰C in summer, and most of the animals will seek shelter and shade during the mid-day hours. (We suggest you do the same!)
A safari in Samburu National Reserve is an entirely different experience! The wildlife is mainly concentrated in the riverine forest along the banks of the river, making it easier to spot many varieties within a relatively small area, and there are seldom any other safari vehicles jockeying for position at a good sighting! Pure wilderness, pure bliss!
You will be accompanied by an armed Samburu guide, who will be only too willing to share his extensive love and knowledge of the reserve with you. Learn all about the traditional use of plants in herbal medicines, take note of all the smaller creatures that you would never see from a vehicle, and ask your guide to look out for the fascinating and critically endangered Pancake Tortoise.
The very unusual vegetation of the riverine forest and the contrasting habitats of rocky cliffs, pools, swamps and sandbanks ensure that Samburu is home to an estimated 450 species of birds. In addition, the reserve is also on the migration route of several palearctic visitors, so you can be assured of some superb bird watching in this reserve. Dedicated birding walks and drives can be arranged with local Samburu guides who will help you spot many of the endemic and globally threatened species.
If you choose to splash out and stay at the very impressive Sasaab Lodge on the western boundary of Samburu National Reserve, you have the chance to swop your late afternoon game drive for a camel-back adventure through the reserve. (The local Samburu people have been Camel herders for many years, as these “ships of the desert” are perfectly adapted to cope with the arid environment.)
At most of the camps and lodges you will be able to enjoy bush breakfasts in remote and beautiful corners of the reserve, and dinners are regularly served outside in the boma, under the starry African sky.
As a general rule night drives are not allowed inside Kenyan National Parks and Reserves. However, the community concessions that border Samburu National Park do allow night drives. Availability will depend upon which lodge you are staying in. Night game drives are an excellent opportunity to see some of the shy nocturnal animals, such as Leopard, on the move.
What could be more exciting than exploring the heart of the Samburu Reserve from the water? Short rafting trips on the river are available at various camps, but for the really energetic there are also 3-Day (seasonal) River Rafting adventures through Samburu National Reserve. If you are interested, get in touch and we will organise it all for you.
Learn all about the everyday life of the Samburu tribe as you visit one of their villages and get an opportunity to see and buy their crafts.
Observing the local Samburu people go about their traditional pastoral lifestyle at the Singing Wells is an experience unique to Samburu. Read more about the wells in our Buffalo Springs Reserve Page here: Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Samburu National Reserve is one of the few remaining protected areas in East Africa that can truthfully call itself a Big Five reserve. The sad truth is that Rhinos, (both Black and White) have been systemically poached to the point of near-extinction of the species over the last few decades. The good news is that progress is slowly being made to halt the massacre, and there are a few places where Rhinos have been sufficiently protected to enable them to once again walk unhindered through their ancestral home. Lewa is one such success story! Read more about Lewa here: Lewa Wildlife Conservancyl
Although Rhino have been regionally extinct in Samburu for many years, a group of Rhino were re-introduced to Samburu from Lewa Conservancy in 2015, and the reserve can once again be called a Big Five reserve. In addition, Samburu and its neighbouring national reserves are also home to the Northern Five, a group of animals that are only found in the north of Kenya. Look out for the following on your game drives:
Black and White Rhino
Somali Ostrich – with bright blue legs!
Gerenuk – the long necked gazelle that thinks it is a Giraffe!
Crocodiles – there is a high concentration of Nile Crocodiles in the river
Many species of antelope
Bird life is prolific, with over 350 recorded species, including some regionally and even globally threatened species and many raptors. Some of the most regularly spotted birds include:
Vultures – Egyptian and Lappet-faced, among others.
Martial Eagle – (the last five are all considered to be vulnerable species)
Although Samburu is not overrun by visitors and still provides a tranquil game viewing environment, there is good infrastructure and a great selection of accommodation options to suit most tastes and budgets. At the top end of the spectrum, two particular lodges stand out as having amazing locations and brilliant accommodation.
Elephant Bedroom camp is small and exclusive, situated within the reserve, right on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro river. There are 12 luxury tents, to give guests the ambiance of a true Kenyan “under canvas” safari adventure, but with added luxury extras such as private plunge pools and superb views over the river. Bush breakfasts and sundowners are part of the package!
On the extreme western border of the reserve, in the Westgate Community Conservancy, Sasaab camp offers similar luxury facilities with a Moroccan flair. This camp is also built overlooking the river and offers facilities such as camel walks and even the opportunity to go fly-camping in the reserve.
Read about more accommodation options in the Samburu region here: Samburu Hotels & Lodges
Samburu National Reserve is fairly easy to access by road from Nairobi in about 6 hours. If you dislike long road journeys you could break up the drive by stopping overnight at Mount Kenya National Park.
It is also possible to fly to Samburu from Nairobi – there are as least two scheduled daily flights from Nairobi Wilson Airport, (or you could arrange a charter flight if you would like to combine Samburu with one of Kenya’s other amazing safari destinations). Flight time from Nairobi varies between 50min and 1hr 20min, depending on the aircraft.
Kenya’s wild and wonderful trio of northern circuit national reserves are just waiting to enchant you with an incredible wildlife experience far from the crowds. Let Africa Point put together the perfect Kenya safari experience to suit your individual tastes. Come to Samburu National Reserve, cross the bridge to Buffalo Springs, and then visit Shaba National Reserve to complete your northern wildlife adventure.
Find out all about a typical day on safari here: A Typical Day on Safari
See what other wildlife treats Kenya has to offer here: Kenya Safaris