Samburu National Reserve

Samburu National Reserve

Samburu national reserve is 330 km (6-hour drive) north of Nairobi via the Thika highway, 176 km north of Mount Kenya, and 153 km northwest of Mount Meru national parks. The destination can also be reached by air through Samburu airstrip.Samburu is located in northern semi-arid Kenya and offers visitors the opportunity to experience distinctive landscapes, culture, and wildlife.

Wildlife in Samburu national reserve

Samburu National Reserve

The principal wildlife attractions are the special 5 which include the Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich. Visitors can spot leopards which are almost habituated. Only rhinos are absent among the big five mammal species. Cheetahs, hyenas, and African wild dogs can be found, however they can be difficult to spot. The indigenous Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who live in and around the reserve. They keep cattle, goats, sheep, camels, and donkeys, which they rely on for livelihood. They also grow some grains like maize, but milk, meat, and drinking the blood of cows are considered delicacies. Wildlife viewing activities are integrated into the culture of the indigenous people. The reserve offers a wide range of accommodations, each with its own special wildlife viewing opportunities like camel rides, walking safaris, and game drives.

The Maralal International Camel Derby

Samburu National Reserve

The camel festival is a great experience for those intending to immerse themselves into the firsthand culture of the indigenous nomads in northern Kenya. The event takes place in Maralal town, 186 km (2-hour drive) northwest of Samburu national reserve. The ethnic groups in northern Kenya including the Turkana, Borana, and Rendile come together to celebrate their culture. Animals are considered sacred by these groups and Camel races are organized as part of their tradition. You will also explore the traditional dressing, crafts, and jewelry locally made by them as well as livestock farming, and cuisine.

Impact of tourism on nomadic livelihoods around Samburu national reserve

Given that northern Kenya has a hot and dry climate, people and wildlife in and around Samburu national reserve depend on the Ewaso Nyiro River. There used to be competition and resource exploitation over natural resources often leading to poaching and human wildlife conflict. In order to solve the problem, the local people were enabled to approve and sustainably manage their traditional lands through the Northern RangeLands Trust partnership.

Since 2004, 43 community conservancies covering a total of 63,000 have been created across 19 ethnic groups giving jobs to over 700,00 people. A number of livelihood projects including healthcare, education and clean water programmes and ready market for livestock, arts and crafts, and agriculture produce. For instance, the beadworks online project provides jobs to over 1,200 women who make beaded jewellery and accessories, which you can obtain online or during your visit.

Samburu National Reserve

As people benefit from livelihoods and enterprise projects, it has allowed room for conservation of endangered species such as black rhinos, elephants, hilora which attract travelers leading to tourism development in and around Samburu. There are several community conservancies which you can visit from Samburu including the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy. The place contains the Reteti Elephant rehabilitation center and boosts a wide range of luxury camps. There’s also the Sera rescue sanctuary with 16 black rhinos, Westgate and Kalama and Community Wildlife Conservancies. Besides the conservancies, there are also other wildife reserves near Samburu including Shaba abd Buffalo springs national reserves.


Samburu National Reserve

Samburu national reserve covers 165 and the area lies between 800m – 1,230 meters above sea level. The landscape is mostly made up of semiarid savanna grasslands with acacia trees. There volcanic hills and caves including Ololokwe and Koitogor where cycad plant species are common. Riverine forest on the banks of the river contains doum palm tree species. The variety of habitats support a rich biodiversity including over 450 birds, 900 elephants, and buffaloes.

Big cats such as lions, leopards, cheetah are also present. There are a variety of antelope species such as impala, gerenuk, grant’s gazelle, kirks did dik, waterbucks. The riverine forests are home to colobus monkeys and in the river there are hippos and crocodiles. Enjoying a wildlife safari in Samburu would be incomplete minus spotting the Special 5 mammals, which include reticulated giraffe, East African oryx, Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, and gerenuk.

What to do and see in Samburu national reserve 

The Northern special 5 animals

Samburu National Reserve

Wildlife safari to Samburu national reserve offers opportunity to spot the Samburu special 5 including Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich. These can only be seen in northern Kenya’s reserves; they are not present in the Masai Mara or the Amboseli, making Samburu a must-see for those with a particular interest in wildlife. Besides, there are dry savanna antelope species such as impala, Guenther’s dik-dik, Grant’s gazelle, and cape hare. These angulates attract predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, bat-eared foxes, and black-backed jackals are present in the area. Hippos, crocodiles, African elephants and buffaloes can be seen in the river.


Samburu National Reserve

Samburu national reserve is home to over 400 species of birds including East Sudan biome endemics including Somali ostrich, Somali bee eater, and acacia tit. Common species in the semi-arid savanna include red winged lark, pygmy batis, red bellied parrot, back capped social weaver, northern brown bull, vulturine guineafowl, back-faced sandgrouse. Samburu and other surrounding reserves support over 30 species of raptors including palm nut vulture, red necked and lanner falcons, brown snake and western banded eagles, secretary bird, greater kestrel.

Samburu camel rides 

Camel rides are available for booking through a tour operator or lodges that provide them. What kind of journey you want to take will determine your Samburu camel trekking experience. For Samburu mobile camping trips, camel rides are perfect as there is the choice of walking or riding between camps.

Samburu cultural tour 

Samburu National Reserve

According to Kenya population census 2019, there are 342,000 people that make up the Samburu ethnic group. They have had a semi-nomadic lifestyle and take pride in the fact that their culture has not been influenced by western ways of life. A BBC documentary called “Photographing Africa”, Harry Hook filmed the Samburu people’s lives in the 1980s, but when he went back 20 years later, he discovered that little had changed. After taking a game drive, you can visit Nangida village to look into the traditional ways of life, where you will meet elders, women, and boys. Some of the unique things about Samburu culture is that they still drink fresh blood and milk from their cows. Rock art painting are still practiced and some paintings are found on Mount Ng’iro (2,848 m). The Samburu high jump dance and music is accompanied by folktales that are handed down orally from generation to generation.

Ololokwe hill

Mount Ololokwe is a volcanic plug situated in the northern part of the reserve. With an altitude of 1,230 m above sea level, those who hike to the summit get a nice view of the Mathew Mountain ranges. The day hike lasts 3 to 5 hours, depending on the walking pace. Climbing Ololokwe hill can be challenging due to the nature of terrain. Ensure to carry packed lunch, drinking water, sunglasses and hut.

Best time to visit Samburu national reserve 

Samburu and other northern Kenyan reserves are best visited between the months of June and October and December and March. Due to the drought season, the tall grass is thin and animals are grazing close to water sources. Elephants frequently come to the sand river valleys, so it’s best to book accommodations at a lodge with a view of the waterway.


Samburu offers a wide range of accommodation options including tented safari camps, lodges and private houses. There are over 6 tented camps and 3 lodges including Samburu Intrepid that stands on the banks of Ewaso river. Accommodation can also be found within the Namunyak community wildlife conservancy such as Sera tree house and camp. Booking a safari to Samburu and where to stay is available through a tour operator. Saruni is one the luxury camps set on top of a rock kopje with a breathtaking view of the wilderness.

How to get there

Samburu national reserve is 325 km (6-hour drive) north of Nairobi capital city through the Nairobi-Thika road. Along the highway you can stopover at Nanyuki for lunch enroute at Jib’s Cafe Bistoro. The Nairobi-Thika road is part of the Great North, a major transAfrican highway for overland travel. The road is in excellent condition and allows use a two-wheel drive. However, game vehicles need a 4×4 which you can organize through a tour operator or lodge. Samburu can also be reached by air through several airstrips such as Samburu Oryx airstrip found within the reserve. The flight from Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta international airport in Nairobi capital city is 45 min-flight.