A Guide To Samburu National Reserve Kenya
Rich in flora and fauna, Samburu National Reserve Kenya lies on the flood plains and bottom land of Waso Nyiro drainage system. The reserve features the rare northern specialist species such as the Grevys Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Reticulated giraffe, Gerenuk and the Beisa oryx (also referred to as Samburu Special Five).
Samburu National Reserve is situated within the Rift Valley Province of Kenya. Measuring approximately 104sq. kilometres (approx. 65sq. miles) in size, this unfenced savannah grassland is roughly 350km (217 miles) from Nairobi. It is relatively small in size compared to other Kenyan parks, such as Tsavo or Masai Mara.
Samburu national reserve Kenya derives its name from the Samburu people of Kenya who have lived in the area for many years.
The Uaso Nyiro River cuts through this reserve, drawing a big population of Kenya animals to the park. The river bustles with activity from its huge population of Nile crocodile.
The reserve’s topography is mainly open savannah (grassland) with clusters of acacia trees, forest, thorn trees and grassland vegetation.
Samburu National Reserve was one of the two areas in which conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness. Their story was made famous by the bestselling book and award-winning movie “Born Free”.
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Samburu National Reserve – The Painted Desert
Hot and arid, Samburu National Reserve lies on the fringes of the vast desert that was once known as the ‘Northern Frontier District’, whose heat-scorched scrublands extend all the way to the jade-green waters of Lake Turkana and beyond. An evocative cocktail of uniquely contrasting habitats, Samburu’s landscape veers from stark cliffs and boulder-strewn scarps to lush swamps and muddy sandbanks; and from bone-dry bush to fronded riverine forests.
A painted desert of brilliant colours, often set against dramatic skies, this is the realm of the indigenous succulent known as the ‘Desert Rose, which bursts into exotic pink bloom amid the golden rocks and otherwise uniform khaki scrub.
Known by the local nomadic tribe, the Gabbra, as ‘the Plains of Darkness’, Samburu is essentially a lava plain theatrically punctuated by dry riverbeds (wadis), steep-sided gullies, rounded hills and harsh outcrops of ancient basement rocks, which form into isolated inselbergs. Roughly in its centre rises the stark outline of Koitogor Mountain.
The lifeblood of this dust-dry desert region, the Ewaso Ng’iro River meanders in mud-brown loops throughout the reserve and is home to plentiful pods of snorting and chortling hippos. On its raised sandbanks immense Nile crocodiles bask, remaining stock still, utterly camouflaged and menacingly patient. Amid the dense riverside thickets impala, common waterbuck and buffalo lurk.
Prey to the harsh dictates of a dry country ecosystem, the reserve is prone to large variations in the animal populations as they move about in search of water and pasture. However, elephant encounters are common as large herds roam the reserve and they are best seen crossing the river, or returning to its banks at dusk to bathe.
Samburu National Reserve holds healthy numbers of lions, leopards and cheetahs as well as spotted and striped hyenas, bat-eared foxes and common genets. In the heat of the day, droves of banded and dwarf mongooses scurry in voracious hunting bands; at night golden and black-backed jackals prowl and aardwolves are occasionally seen.
Samburu is one of the few areas in Kenya where one can view the Grevy’s zebra, which with its rounded ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears is notably different from its more common cousin, the Burchell’s zebra, which also populates the reserve. Other browsers of the thorny shrub include the increasingly uncommon reticulated giraffe and the rare Beisa oryx, as well as elands, impalas, Bright’s gazelles (the pale northern species of Grant’s gazelle) and gerenuks. Elsewhere rooting warthogs and Kirk’s and Guenther’s dik-diks can be seen, and in small numbers both lesser and greater kudus.
Samburu’s birdlife is so abundant that over 100 species can be spotted in a day. Perhaps most noteworthy of the sightings is the rare blue-shanked Somali ostrich; the most memorable, the flash of coral rump that flags the flight of the white-headed buffalo-weaver. Secretary birds are plentiful, as are bands of bustling helmeted and vulturine guinea fowls.
Along the river, storks feed and sand grouse congregate at dusk. Both red-billed and Von der Decken’s hornbills are common. The Reserve’s characteristically rugged cliffs and starkly rising inselbergs provide the ideal habitat for raptors, which range in size from the tiny pygmy falcon to the giant martial eagle. Verreaux’s eagle owls also hunt the rivers.
Facts About Samburu National Reserve
Altitude: 850-1,230 meters above sea level.
Area: 165 sq km.
Location: Samburu District, Rift Valley Province.
Distance from Nairobi: 320 km north-east of Nairobi.
Gazetted: The reserve was established in 1948 as the Samburu-Isiolo Game Reserve, part of the once extensive Marsabit National Reserve, and became a National Reserve in the 1960s.
Climate: The reserve lies in a hot and dry semi-arid area.
Traditionally the long rains fall March/April and the short rains October/November.
Vegetation: The vegetation of this outdoor wilderness varies between acacia woodland, bushland and scrubland and narrow riverine woodlands.
Wildlife Includes: Elephant, cheetah, reticulated giraffe, oryx, gerenuk, vervet monkey, zebra, buffalo and crocodile.
Birds: Over 380 species have been recorded on the wilderness trails.
Roads: 4WD is recommended for the journey to and within the reserve although 2WD vehicles with good ground clearance can be used outside the rainy seasons.
Gates: In addition to the main Archer’s Gate, there is Uaso Gate which leads to Buffalo Springs Reserve, and West Gate which leads to Wamba.
Activities: this unique wilderness park offers; wilderness camps, wilderness trails, unique Kenya wildlife, safari lodges and perhaps one of the most unique wilderness adventure ‘holiday Kenya’ experiences available amongst the many African tours on offer.
The game reserve is renowned for its rare species of animals unique to the park, namely: the long necked gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and Beisa onyx. The elusive Kenya leopard is often known to visit the park, especially in the evenings.
Birdlife is as plentiful as wildlife at Samburu National Reserve, which boasts over 350 different species of birds including vultures, kingfishers, marabous, bateleurs, guinea fowl, Somali ostriches and others.
Samburu National Reserve weather and climate
The climate in Samburu is hot and dry during the day, and cool during nights and evenings.
Average maximum temperatures are around 30°C (85°F) with minimum tempatures of approximately 20°C. Most rain falls between March and May, with short rains falling from November to December, recording a total maximum rainfall of 350mm. July through October and January through March are mainly hot and dry.
How to get to Samburu National Reserve
By Road: Use your own vehicle, take public transportation, or book an open-topped minibus or safari van tour with a tour guide. The park is located about 345km (approx. 214 miles) from Nairobi, or about a five-hour drive. The roads and tracks to the park are all weather. The reserve is accessible by road via Isiolo and Archer’s Post.
By Air: The game reserve is accessible by air and there are daily flights from Nairobi to Samburu that you can book online. Travel time is about 45 minutes and the flights land at the park’s airstrip. Private charter flights are also allowed to use the airstrip.
A Map of Samburu National Reserve
What to see and what to do in Samburu National Reserve
Game Viewing: In the southern part of the park, you are guaranteed to see most of the Kenyan animals found in Samburu, namely: cheetahs, lions, leopards, impalas, buffalo, hippos, and dik-diks, as well as the native gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and Beisa Oryx. You are guaranteed to see most animals during the dry season as they converge at the Usaso Nyiro River, their main source of water during the long dry weather. Elephants are also spotted during this time, and you can watch the Nile crocodiles swim in the river.
Bird Viewing: Samburu National Reserve is a paradise for bird lovers, with over 350 species of birds already recorded. You can enjoy a colorful assortment of birds such as vultures, kingfishers, marabous, bateleurs, guinea fowl, Somali ostriches and many more.
Samburu Cultural Tours: Visit the local Samburu villages where you get a chance to interact with the colorful Samburu people in their traditional setting and experience their culture. This is a good opportunity to purchase traditional Samburu souvenirs, art and collectibles.
What To Do At Samburu National Reserve
Samburu National Reserve offers haven like no other for bird watchers
The park is home to more than 360 species of African and exotic birds. Buffalo Springs National Reserve is just 20 kilometres from Isiolo Town and is easily accessible by road.
The reserve is home to hornbills, weavers, plovers and spur fowls, which come from northern Tanzania. They easily adapt to northern Kenya’s climate.
The many trees in the reserve attract a variety of birds, some which cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
It also has fine Safari lodges and camps, built using traditional materials.
One can have a view of the plains, animals and birds while in one of these lodges.
However, the Samburu-Simba Lodge offers the perfect location to watch the birds, especially the rock trush bird, which can play up to 16 tunes.
The lodge overlooks the Buffalo Springs and the River Ewaso Ngiro. The cool breeze from the river soothes one as he or she watches hundreds of birds feeding.
The world’s heaviest flying bird — the Kori Bustard — is rarely found anywhere else on earth. They are plenty in the reserve.
Yellow golden palm weaver, rock trush and the vulturine Guinea fowl are among the most loved birds by tourists and ornithologists.
The view of the stunning plains and the sunset can offer a relaxing feeling while one listens to melodies.
Sometimes, one need not go on a game drive around the park since the restaurant, bar and rooms overlook the river where tens of elephants, crocodiles, reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s Zebra, Beisa Oryx, hippos and monkeys can be seen.
The lodge also nestles unobtrusively into the landscape, making it an unrivalled location that can offer a variety of adventures.
The Samburu-Simba lodge offers a perfect venue for any event and one can enjoy a special touch for food and beverages.
Accommodation And Hotels At Samburu National Reserve
Kenya safari lodges in Samburu include the Samburu Sopa Lodge, Samburu Serena lodge, Samburu Game Lodge,Sarova Shaba, and Samburu Intrepids Camp, as well as the luxurious and eco-friendly Larsens Tented Camp.
Campsites: Four campsites are available but most of them do not have any facilities, with the exception of the Buffalo Special Campsite, which has toilets and showers. You must provide all of your own camping gear.
Samburu Sopa Lodge
Located inside the Samburu National Reserve in Northern Kenya, Samburu Sopa lodge is built atop high ground allowing panaromic views of the vastness of Samburu shrub land and the hills beyond.
The lodge is built to reflect the architectural heritage of the local communities whose sons and daughters make up the majority of the work force at the lodge. Fifteen cottages, each with two bedrooms are built in an arch formation on either side of the public areas to surround the waterhole but leaving a wide gap to allow the animals free movement to the water.
Samburu Serena Lodge
Samburu Serena Lodge is located in the heart of the semi-arid Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya’s Northern Province. Situated on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River with its crocodiles and leopards, the lodge offers rustic luxury with elegant rooms.
Samburu Game Lodge
Samburu Game Lodge is a modest 61-room value accommodation for your economical tour of Samburu National Reserve. The lodge is located within ten acres of forest along the Ewaso Nyiro River, so you have fine views of fish-eating birds skimming the surface and elephants bathing, all from the seclusion of your distinct patio or balcony. Each room features en-suite bathroom, some of which have a bathtub, as well as personal safe, writing desk, chairs, wall fan and more. In the evenings, staff places mosquito netting around your bed as part of the turn-down lodge service. Several family rooms are available, as well as themed rooms that are known to treat children to an especially delightful holiday in East Africa. Samburu Lodge also has one room that is designed to fit the needs of an AfricanMecca guest with limited mobility. From your room, you may observe many animals at the river that are also spotted by your guide during your photographic safari in magical Kenya, such as baboons, giraffes, monkeys, elephants, buffalos and other grazers and foragers, as well as ferocious crocodiles and other predators. For your security, staff escorts you at night between common areas and your room. Due to the remote location of Samburu Game Lodge, electricity is available at certain times, and the schedule is relatively convenient for most guests.
Sarova Shaba Game Lodge is located in a natural oasis in the heart of the Shaba Game Reserve or “Born Free Country” that Joy and George Adamson called home for many years.
The lodge is 314 km from Nairobi, a 45 minute flight from Nairobi to Shaba or Samburu airstrip or a picturesque 5 hour drive through the curving roads around Mt. Kenya crossing the equator at Nanyuki.
It is set along the bank of the Ewaso Nyiro River laid out around the natural springs that flow into the river. The Lodge has a virtual mini forest of indigenous trees, a fish pond and a large free form swimming pool.
Samburu Intrepids Camp
Samburu Intrepids Camp is a lush oasis on the banks of the great Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu Game Reserve. The tented luxury camp is a delight to be in – cooled by the river breeze and the forest. The camp sits on raised decks overlooking the brown river. Elephants sometimes make an appearance or the crocodiles come out to lounge by the river’s banks.
The Camp is set in the Kenyan semi arid north, offers 28 modern and refurbished tents with a private view over the wildlife-rich banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River. Each tent sits on a raised deck overlooking the brown river. This is where the elephants sometimes make an appearance or the crocodiles come out to lounge by the river’s banks.
Larsens Tented Camp
Set in a rugged landscape with a backdrop of jagged mountains, Samburu National Reserve is host to indigenous animals unique to the region. Explore the reserve from the luxurious, five star Larsens Camp, named after the famous adventurer Eric Larsen and built in the exact place the explorer first camped.
Your exclusive tent is secluded and private, the perfect place to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the Ewaso Nyiro river during the Kenyan night. Facing the river and shaded by palm trees you can watch the sun rise from the porch of your tent.
When to visit Samburu Rates and Fees
The months of December through March and July through October are dry, making them by far the best months to visit the Samburu National Reserve. April through June are also good months but might be rainy.
Park schedule and rates
The park is open all year round.
Park entrance fees – you can view the latest entrance rates for both citizens and non-citizens. Samburu National Reserve is managed by the county council of Samburu.
Where to book your Safari tour to Samburu National Reserve
Booking a wildlife safari, bird watching safari or scenic safari to Samburu is easy. You can book the safari onlineyourself to travel individually or as a group. There are also reputable travel agents and Kenya tour companies who will book a guided, all-inclusive Kenya safari tour for you before your arrival.
One of the option we recommend our visitors is to book these Kenya tour and travel safari packages which normally include accommodation, travel to the park, park fees, English-speaking tour guides, food and other activities to capture that memorable experience in Samburu National Reserve and other safari parks in Kenya.
Samburu National Reserve Contacts
Attraction Type: Wildlife
Category: Game Reserve
City / Town: Samburu
Road / Street: Isiolo – Marsabit road
Telephone: 254 65 2283
Entrance Fee: Yes