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Isiolo Town Kenya

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Isiolo Town Guide

Isiolo Town is a town in the Eastern Province, Kenya, in the Upper Eastern sub-region and lying 285 kilometres north of Nairobi, the Capital City of Kenya. Isiolo town grew around the local military camps, much of the population being descended from former Somali soldiers who had fought in World War I and the other cushitic pastoral communities.

Isiolo Town Climate and Geography

The county has three climatic zones, semi-arid  and very arid. The characteristics of these zones are as follows:

  • Semi-arid zone : This covers the Central and Kinna divisions (about 5 percent of the total area of the county). Rainfall here is 250-650mm per annum.
  • Arid Zone: This covers Central Gerbatulla divisions and is 30% of the area.

The rainfall here is between 300-350 mm per annum and can only support annual grasslands and a few shrubs.

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  • Very Arid Zone :This area covers Merti and Sericho divisions which is nearly 65% of the county area. The rainfall here is between 150 and 250mm per annum.

The county is predominantly flat with low lying plains that rise gradually from an altitude of 200m above sea level at Lorian Swamp in the north to about 300m above sea level at Merti Plateau. Ewaso  Nyiro River dissects the county into two. To the north is Merti plateau and to the south are the plains that rise to an altitude of 1000m above sea level with some inselbergs towards Nyambene Hills.

Isiolo Town History

Isiolo town is the Headquarter of the county and the gateway to the northern half of the country. The town has an estimated population of 80,000 people, most of them living in the rural outbacks of the County. There is an increasing urban population in the recent years, especially from as far as Moyale, Marsabit and mandera. The Isiolo town is also becoming a centre of interst because of the of its newly acquired status as a resort city cashing in popular Samburu and Shaba Game reserves which have become preferred destination after the famed Maasai Mara. Isiolo lies along the long A2 Road, leading towards Marsabit and Moyale much farther north. The town is served by Isiolo Airport, which is set to be upgraded to serve tourism and local exports.

Isiolo hosts a mix of tribes including: Boran, Somali, Turkana, Samburu and Rendille (all traditional pastoralists) and the Meru (agro-business), with a number of other tribes from all over Kenya also being present (due to military bases located in the vicinity). The town of Isiolo is small but cosmopolitan. With a scenic beauty including an eclectic mix of peoples and cultures, Isiolo is home to the Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan-speaking Ameru, Samburu and Turkana, as well as the Cushitic-speaking Rendille and Boran. The large Somali population is mainly the result of retired Somali soldiers who settled in the area after World War I.

Isiolo is set to become a major part of Kenya’s economic development plan Vision 2030. The plan calls for Isiolo to become a tourist center that will include include casinos, hotels, upscale retail outlets, a modern airport and transport facilities.

Isiolo town was designated as the Headquarters of the Northern frontier Countys by The British East Africa Protectorate in 1922, until the North Eastern was curved out as a separate province in 1963 following the Lancaster House Constitutional conference. Some parts of the countys were lost to the larger Meru County in 1960s during the Shifta war at the instigation of the then powerful Meru minister of Lands, Jackson Angaine. Some of the famous grazing land such as Bisaan Adi and Bisaan Gurach became part of Meru National Game Reserve and Mulika Lodge. Isiolo is also known for its large market, while jewellery making is a local industry. The Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves lie north of the town, while Lewa Downs reserve is located south of Isiolo. The Meru National Park lies in the North East of the town.

Economy Activities in Isiolo Town

Camel milk production and marketing in the periurban areas of Africa is an emerging innovation with development potential. Pastoralists are increasingly producing milk for the market as well as for subsistence, contributing to the growth of a production subsector with notable resilience to climate variability and change. In Kenya’s Isiolo County, the subsector is not yet fully developed and remains highly informal, with mainly women trading raw milk between families and clans. The Agricultural Sector Development Programme has recognised the camel milk value chain as one of the three most strategic value chains in Isiolo County.

Places to Visit and Things To Do in Isiolo Town

Tourist  attraction places in Isiolo Kenya

A visit to Isiolo would not be complete without a visit to the nearby attractions. In terms of tourisms, Isiolo like Nanyuki is a base to explore the vast grater Laikipia county with its private ranches and luxury accommodation.   The nearby ranches include:-

  • Lewa Conservancy

The lewa conservancy is a private ranch and a breeding ground of the Black Rhinos.  Lewa Rhino sanctuary has recorded the largest number of Black rhino calves in the recent past.  Lewa is famous for lion and rhino tracking.  Accommodation at Lewa conservancy is provided by Lewa House (USD 460PP per night), Lewa Safari Camp and Wilderness Trails.  The Lewa conservancy hosts the annual Safaricom Lewa Marathon (June), where participants run among the big game.  It is one of the most adventurous in the world.

  • Borana Ranch

On the banks of Ngare Ndare lies the famous Borana Ranch.  Named after the Zebu cow, Borana Ranch is an active cattle ranch that incorporates wildlife conservation.     Borana ranch is famous for its horse stables.  They have horses to cater for all riders.  Big game watching on the horse back is one of the unique activities at Borana. Guests are free to ride horses among the giraffes, hartebeests and impalas.  On horseback, guests can also explore the nearby Ndare Ngare forest and the moorlands of Mt. Kenya.   At Borana, guests can watch game game on mountain bikes.  Also on offer are ranch activities where guest learn about ranching among wildlife.  At Kisima the lodge keeps a stable of Polo ponies. At Borana ranch accommodation is available at Borana Lodge and Laragai House. Borana lodge has 8 luxurious appointed bedrooms with panoramic views of Mt. Kenya, Lewa Plains and Ngare Ndare forest.   The luxurious Laragai House is the private house of George and Lucilla Stephenson.  Laragai is a house of spectacular beauty and can sleep ten guests in extreme comfort. The house has a heated swimming pool.

  • Ol Pejeta Ranch and Sweet waters Game sanctuary famous for its chimpanzees, night game drives, sundowners and picnics.
  • IL Ngwesi  Group RanchThe Il Ngwesi group Ranch belonging to the Mukogodo Maasai.  Accommodation at the ranch is community managed Il Ngwesi Lodge, run and managed by the locals.  The eco-lodge has won international awards as the best run and managed eco lodge.  All the proceeds from the lodge are utilized in local community projects like schools, dispensary, water and conservation.  The main activities include Honey Moon Specials, hiking Olmaroroi hill, game drives,  visits to the rhino sanctuary, Bush dinners, Picnic breakfast, nature and bird walks visit Maasai cultural bomas.  The Il Ngwesi Lodge is luxury class with six bandas and a beautiful swimming pool which seems to overflow into the plains.  The lodge has won the following awards
    • British Airways award (1999) – “Tourism for Tomorrow Award” 2nd position in Africa.  Travel news (1998, 1999, 2001, 2003) – “Quest for the best Awards” voted as best self-catering camp by readers of travel news.
    • Harpers & Queen travel awards (2002) – “the 150 best places on earth”
    • David Sheldrick’s Awards – “Conservation Endeavour” voted as best conservation biodiversity.
    • UNDP Equator initiative conservation Award (2002),
    • First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards (2006) In Association with:, The Times, World Travel Market, Geographical Magazine, Voted Winner “Best Small Hotel”
    • Global Vision Award – Winner green/eco Hotel Initiative. By Travel & Leisure.

Access to the private ranches is by 4WDs.

National Parks and Reserves

From Isiolo one can easily explore the following National Parks and Reserve

Tourism in Isiolo Town

Isiolo is surrounded by three National Parks: Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs, as well as Lewa Downs Conservancy and Il Ngwesi and is known for its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. It has been targeted in Kenya’s Vision 2030 plan as a high-end tourist resort city complete with an international airport, casinos, and an increased number of safari lodges.

Isiolo has a long history of conflict usually due to traditional battles over grazing lands and water rights, though all too often inflamed or encouraged by local politicians, including the tribal clashes of 2002.

Isiolo is surrounded by three National Parks: Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs, as well as Lewa Downs Conservancy and  Ngwesi and is known for its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. It has been targeted in Kenya’s Vision 2030 plan as a high-end tourist resort city complete with an international airport, casinos, and an increased number of safari lodges.

Isiolo has a long history of conflict usually due to traditional battles over grazing lands and water rights, though all too often inflamed or encouraged by local politicians, including the tribal clashes of 2002.

Tourism will be the leading sector in achieving the goals of the vision where it is aimed that the country will be among the 10 long haul tourist destination in the world, offering a high-end, diverse and distinctive visitor experience that few of her competitors can offer.’’ In Vision 2030, the Government plans to focus on three specific areas to achieve the goals for 2012: to quadruple tourism’s GDP contribution to over Ksh80 billion; to raise international visitors from 1.8 million in 2006 to three million in 2012 while raising average spend per visitor from the current Sh40,000 to at least Sh70,000 and; to increase hotel beds from 40,000 to about 65,000, combined with an emphasis on high quality service.

The establishment of the three resort cities—two at the Coast and the other in Isiolo–is classified as tourism’s flagship projects. One resort will be located at the North Coast while the second one will be at the South Coast. The third in Isiolo County will be located just on the outskirts of Isiolo town. The Government has already opened discussions on the project with the Isiolo County Council. About 1, 000 hectares needs to be allocated for the resort project. Developed on the model of South Africa’s Sun City, each of the resort cities in Kenya will be allocated enough hectares of land to enable the facilities have casinos, golf courses, restaurants and discotheques among other features. Isiolo, as part of Kenya’s safari destination, was picked because of the fame acquired by Shaba Game Reserve that had attracted filmmakers from across the globe.

‘’It is Joy and George Adamson who made Shaba famous. As a result, many major films have been shot here. We have a scenery that rivals Hollywood right here.’’ The Adamsons reared lions starting with lioness Elsa and later released them into the wild. Joy died at Shaba, while her husband was killed at neighbouring Kora National Reserve. Movies shot at Shaba over the last two decades include Born Free, Out Of Africa, To Walk with Lions and CBS TV blockbuster series, Survivor Africa.

How to Get Isiolo Town

There are matatus from Nairobi to Nanyuki, from there onwards to Isiolo. Matatus to Nanyuki can be boarded in the River Road area of Nairobi.

Accommodations and Hotels in Isiolo

1. The Rangeland Hotel & Camp Site

It’s located in a serene environment in the outskirts of Isiolo. its 8kms(5miles) from Isiolo town and offers an exclusive touch in service.the food, rooms and camp site are wonderful. the services are fairly priced and will leave you with lasting memories of the hotel.

2. Transit Hotel

It’s located in the heart of the town. It has fairly clean and quiet rooms.

3. Bomen Hotel

It’s in down town isiolo and has a fairly modern pool bar. The hotel has clean and quiet rooms.

4. The Roots Restaurant

its also called the ‘steak place’. its a must stop for everyone on transit to northern Kenya. get a taste of Nyama Choma (roasted meat) done by real proffesionals. The restaurant has a fully stocked sports bar and wonderful service.

5. Frontier Club

This is the hottest night spot in town. They play latest music and have a full bar. Only 18yrs and above are allowed in the club.

6. Gaddisa Hotel and Safari

Transport in Isiolo Town

This is where the tarmac road ends and the frontier town marks the start of Kenya’s north-eastern area of desert scrub, mountains and Lake Turkana. This is the last place you will find a bank or petrol (except for at the Samburu Lodge), before Maralal or Marsabit. This is a good place to buy food before going north and it has a market for fruit and vegetables. The area north is home to the Samburu, Rendille, Boran and Turkana people. The town has a large Somali population after ex-Somali soldiers were resettled here after the First World War.

Geographically, the town is at strategic position, being less than 300-km from the capital city.

The town, which is also some few kilometres from the foot of Mt Kenya, also borders the economically vibrant Meru and Nanyuki towns.

The famous Great Northern Road passes through Isiolo, linking the country with other African states like Ethiopia and Sudan and Egypt.

Successive regimes in Kenya promised to tarmac the road up to Moyale Town. However, the promise is yet to be honoured.

It is quite sad and tragic to note that, even the roads within the town centre are in pathetic and sorry state.

The current government had a noble idea of upgrading the Isiolo airstrip. The merits of this need not to be overemphasized. But the sad part of it is that the plan has been shelved. The town has a county council that receives millions of shillings from tourists who visit the local game reserves.

This is in addition to what the council receives from the central government. The irony is that the impact of the huge vote head of the council is not being felt in the entire county.

Education Institutions in Isiolo Town

There are no proper schools. Garba Tulla, which was the only national school in the region, is decaying.

Universities being awarded to different corners are a distant dream to a region without polytechnics. There was a long-term plan to build Dabasso Wabera Polytechnic in Marsabit. Of course, it never took off.

Religion in Isiolo Town

Since 1995, the town has been the seat of the Vicariate Apostolic of Isiolo. On July 14, 2005, Bishop Luigi Locati, who represented the Roman Catholic Church in Isiolo, was murdered. The town is nearly half Christian and half Muslim.

Isiolo Town

Isiolo Town Kenya- Photo

Isiolo Town Kenya- Video