Although Shaba National Reserve is remote and rarely features on the mainstream tourist radar, this must-see northern-circuit gem is not totally unknown or undiscovered! In fact, when you take a closer look at the stunning quintessentially African landscape you may find something a little familiar! This may be due to several different reasons, mainly depending on when you were born and which movies and TV series you have watched!
Shaba National Reserve was gazetted as a protected area in 1974, but the area had been made famous long before that, when the renowned conservationist Joy Adamson chose this spot to release the lioness Elsa, of “Born Free” fame, back into the wilds (1966). Several years later (1985) parts of the movie “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep were filmed in the reserve, and more recently, in 2001 “Survivor Africa”, the third season of the American Survivor TV series was staged in the reserve. (A large portion of the reserve had to be fenced off for 4 months to protect the contestants from the wild animals!)
Shaba National Reserve is situated east of Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserve, on the southern bank of the Ewaso Nyiro River, which carves a swathe of cool green through the hot and arid surrounding landscape. Shaba National Reserve is the largest of the three protected areas, (239km²) and curiously it is also the greenest, boasting even more wetland and swamp areas than Buffalo Springs! Although the three parks are run as separate entities, and each have their own gates and boundaries, a single entrance ticket bought at any of the reserves will entitle you to explore all three, within the stipulated time frame of the ticket.
Shaba has a dramatic landscape composed of rocky gorges, scattered woodlands, dry grasslands and lush springs, with a good number of Africa’s iconic flat-topped Acacia trees dotted all over. To the south, volcanic Shaba Hill stands guard.
Visitors to Shaba National Reserve come primarily to enjoy the amazing peace and tranquillity of this off-the-beaten-track reserve, and activities rightfully revolve around providing them with an exceptional game viewing experience. Look forward to enjoying the following highlights:
Bush Breakfasts, Dinners and Sundowners
Relaxation at your camp/lodge
Samburu Cultural Visits
Visiting the Singing Wells
Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to go on a game drive, so we suggest you request an early wake-up call and set off just after dawn. In the cool of the early morning or late afternoon, you have the best chance of coming across predators on the move. Most guests spend the hot midday hours relaxing around the pool, but if you would prefer to spend every last minute game watching you can ask your lodge to arrange an all-day drive and pack you a picnic lunch to enjoy in the bush.
Pulling on some comfortable walking shoes and setting off to walk in the wilderness is the best way of seeing the smaller creatures and learning about the interesting indigenous plants. You will be accompanied by an armed Samburu guide (for your protection) who has an intimate knowledge of the reserve. Here you can learn all about the many plants used in traditional medicines, sample the “toothbrush” tree and treble your knowledge of the African wilderness.
Give your legs a rest and set off into the reserve on a guided camel-back safari as a thrilling alternative to the regular game drive.
Both the lodges in Shaba National Park know just how magical it is for guests to experience the ambiance of dining in the bush. You can enjoy a proper cooked bush breakfast, dinner or evening sundowners in amazingly attractive locations overlooking the river. Refreshing cocktail in hand, this is the all-time best way to watch an African sun-set!
You will have great bird watching opportunities every time you set off for a game drive, but to fully engage with some of Shaba’s rare bird life we suggest you set off on an accompanied birding walk. The amazing Samburu guides will thrill you with their knowledge of all the local species.
Don’t underestimate the lure of relaxation at your lodge! Both of Shaba’s lodges offer guests the perfect environment to while away the hot midday hours of the day around the pool or on your private balcony. If you wish, enjoy a marvellously relaxing massage at the spa.
Take the time to learn about the traditions and cultures of your local hosts, as you visit one of the nearby Samburu villages. You will be treated to local dancing and song, and see just how important tourism is in the lives of the community. You will also have the opportunity to buy some of their unique crafts.
Get an intimate glimpse into the ancient and traditional lifestyle of the Samburu herdsmen, as you visit the unique Singing Wells. Read more about this excursion here: Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Like the other two reserves that make up the Samburu eco-system, Shaba National Reserve is home to the rather special Northern Five – five rare animals only encountered in northern Kenya. Look out for these during your game drives and walks – you won’t see them in any of the southern protected areas:
Somali Ostrich – this one has bright blue legs!
Gerenuk – the long-necked antelope that enjoys standing on its hind legs to feed on the juiciest leaves at the top of the trees – just like a Giraffe!
With the exception of Rhino, which you can now see in Samburu National Reserve, all other members of the big five can be spotted in Shaba. There are plenty of Lions, Buffalo and Elephant, and Leopard are very well represented too, especially in the vicinity of Joy’s Camp where they are perfectly at home in the hilly landscape, often hunting the sure-footed Klipspringer antelope.
Other animals that you could tick off your list include:
Aardwolf – (nocturnal)
Shaba National Reserve is very richly endowed with birds, which find the many lush areas surrounding the fresh-water springs irresistible! The reserve also lies on the migration path of several Palearctic migrants, which pop in for a refuel from time to time! Shaba is also the chosen home of one of the rarest birds in the world, the William’s Lark, which is found nowhere else on the planet! Keep your eyes peeled for the following:
Vultures – several species
There are two lodges inside the reserve and several more accommodation options bordering Shaba or in the neighbouring Samburu and Buffalo Springs reserves.
Sarova Shaba Lodge is picturesquely situated on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, and features a deck overlooking a favourite Crocodile basking area, where these giant reptiles are fed every night. The Lodge has 85 modern, chalet-style rooms and suites, all with private balconies and views over the river. The Lodge offers a pool and a full range of activities, including camel-back safaris, bush breakfasts and dinners under the stars.
Joy’s Camp stands on the spot where the legendary conservationist Joy Adamson set up camp more than 40 years ago. If you prefer a more exclusive, intimate Shaba experience, you need look no further. The 10 under-canvas suites are decorated with handmade local décor to provide an authentic ambiance, and provide the last word in luxury. Each suite measures 100m² and has an en-suite bedroom, sitting area, and private terrace. There is also a pool and wellness area, and the camp offers all the activities you could wish for, including night game drives.
Find out more about other camps and lodges in the Samburu area here: Samburu Hotels & Lodges
Shaba lies approximately 300km north of Nairobi and is easily accessed by road in about 6 hours. If you prefer to fly in there are at least two daily scheduled flights from Nairobi Wilson, to either Shaba or Samburu airstrips. Flying time is about 50-70min (depending on the aircraft). It is also possible to charter a flight between Shaba and any of the other amazing Kenyan national parks and reserves you may have on your wish-list.
Some visitors to Shaba National Reserve report that they spent 3 days of amazing game viewing in the reserve without once spotting another game-viewing vehicle! If this sounds like your idea of heaven then stop dreaming and get planning! Africa Point will put together the perfect itinerary to suit your budget and your special interests – contact our local experts now: Contact Us
Find out more about the other sensational destinations in Kenya here: Kenya Safaris
Find all you need to know about Kenya here: Kenya Country Factsheet