Africa Destinations: Samburu National Reserve

Samburu National Reserve is a captivating wildlife sanctuary situated in Northern Kenya, approximately 350 kilometers (220 miles) from Nairobi. Established in 1962, this reserve spans an area of around 165 square kilometers (65 square miles) along the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River. Its rugged landscape showcases a mix of arid savannah, scrubland, and acacia woodland against a backdrop of stunning mountain ranges, including the Koitogor and Ololokwe mountains.

The park is renowned for its unique and diverse wildlife, harboring species not easily found elsewhere. Visitors to Samburu have the chance to spot the Samburu Special Five, a group of animals endemic to the region, which includes the Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, and the gerenuk, known for its elongated neck and standing on hind legs to feed. Additionally, the reserve is home to other iconic African wildlife such as elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles, and a rich variety of birdlife. The Ewaso Ng’iro River serves as a lifeline for the park, attracting wildlife to its banks, making it an ideal location for game viewing, especially during the dry season when animals congregate around water sources. Samburu National Reserve offers a distinct and rewarding safari experience, showcasing the unique beauty and biodiversity of Kenya’s northern wilderness.

Things to do in Samburu National Reserve


Samburu National Reserve offers a variety of activities that provide visitors with an immersive and thrilling safari experience amidst the stunning landscapes and unique wildlife. Some of the key activities to engage in while visiting Samburu National Reserve include:

  1. Game Drives: Game drives are the quintessential activity in Samburu, allowing visitors to explore the reserve’s diverse habitats and encounter a rich array of wildlife. Skilled guides navigate the park’s trails, maximizing opportunities to spot the Samburu Special Five (Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, and gerenuk) along with elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffaloes, and numerous other species. The reserve’s landscapes offer dramatic backdrops for incredible wildlife sightings.
  2. Birdwatching: Samburu is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, boasting over 450 bird species. Birdwatching tours provide opportunities to spot an impressive variety of avian species, including vulturine guineafowl, secretary birds, hornbills, and numerous raptors. The diverse habitats, especially around the riverine areas, attract a profusion of birdlife, making it an excellent destination for birdwatchers.
  3. Cultural Visits: Engaging with the local Samburu community offers a chance to learn about their traditional lifestyle, culture, and customs. Some tours or cultural experiences organized outside the reserve allow visitors to interact with Samburu tribes, witness traditional dances, and learn about their crafts and way of life.
  4. Nature Walks and Bush Walks: Guided nature walks within the reserve or adjacent areas offer a closer look at the flora, smaller wildlife, and the unique landscapes. Bush walks, accompanied by armed rangers or experienced guides, provide an opportunity to appreciate nature’s finer details and learn about tracks, plants, and the smaller inhabitants of the reserve.
  5. Sunset/Sunrise Viewing: The picturesque scenery of Samburu National Reserve, especially around the Ewaso Ng’iro River, presents breathtaking views during sunrise and sunset. Observing the sun paint the sky with vibrant hues while wildlife roams the landscape creates unforgettable moments.
  6. Photography Safaris: The diverse landscapes, unique wildlife, and captivating scenery in Samburu offer excellent opportunities for photography enthusiasts to capture stunning images of African wildlife and the natural surroundings.

When visiting Samburu National Reserve, engaging in these activities ensures a memorable and enriching safari experience, providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of Kenya’s northern wilderness and its remarkable biodiversity.

Wildlife Encounter


Samburu National Reserve is home to a diverse array of wildlife, showcasing an assortment of species adapted to its semi-arid savannah, scrubland, and acacia woodland. Here is a comprehensive list of some of the wildlife commonly found in Samburu:

  1. Samburu Special Five (Endemic Species):
    • Grevy’s Zebra
    • Reticulated Giraffe
    • Beisa Oryx
    • Somali Ostrich
    • Gerenuk
  2. Large Mammals:
    • African Elephant
    • Lion
    • Leopard
    • Cheetah
    • Buffalo
    • Hippopotamus
    • Crocodile
    • Grant’s Gazelle
    • Impala
    • Common Zebra
    • Waterbuck
    • Eland
    • Dik-dik
    • Greater Kudu
    • Warthog
    • Bushbuck
  3. Primates:
    • Olive Baboon
    • Vervet Monkey
  4. Predators:
    • African Wild Dog (Rarely seen but present)
    • Spotted Hyena
    • Black-backed Jackal
  5. Birds:
    • Vulturine Guineafowl
    • Secretary Bird
    • Martial Eagle
    • African Fish Eagle
    • Superb Starling
    • Hornbills (various species)
    • Kingfishers (various species)
    • Bustards (various species)
    • Sunbirds
    • Raptors (various species)
    • Owls (various species)
  6. Reptiles:
    • Nile Crocodile
    • Various Snake Species (including Python and Cobra)
    • Monitor Lizard
    • Agama Lizard
  7. Small Mammals and Others:
    • Rock Hyrax
    • Bat-eared Fox
    • Aardvark (Rarely seen)
    • Pangolin (Rarely seen)
    • Various Rodents and Hares

Please note that wildlife sightings can vary depending on factors such as seasonal changes, the availability of water, vegetation density, and individual luck during game drives. This list provides an overview of the diverse and fascinating wildlife that can be encountered within Samburu National Reserve.

Best time to go


The best time to visit Samburu National Reserve in Kenya largely depends on personal preferences, wildlife viewing opportunities, and weather conditions. However, here are some pointers to consider:

  1. Dry Season (June to September): This period corresponds to Kenya’s dry season, offering excellent conditions for wildlife viewing. The vegetation thins out, making it easier to spot animals congregating around water sources such as the Ewaso Ng’iro River. Wildlife tends to be more active during this time as they gather around limited waterholes, making it an ideal time for game drives and safari experiences.
  2. Shoulder Months (January to March and October to December): These transitional months between the wet and dry seasons can also be a good time to visit. The weather is generally pleasant, and wildlife sightings are still favorable. The landscape is greener after the short rains in November-December, offering lush scenery, and birdlife tends to be more abundant.
  3. Wet Season (April to June): The long rains typically occur during these months, bringing heavy downpours. While the lush vegetation is picturesque, the tall grass and dense foliage can make wildlife sightings more challenging. However, this time of year can be rewarding for birdwatching enthusiasts due to the increased bird activity.

Factors to consider when planning a visit to Samburu National Reserve include:

  • Wildlife Activity: During the dry season, animals are often more concentrated around water sources, making them easier to spot. However, the wetter months offer lush landscapes and the opportunity to witness newborn animals.
  • Weather Preferences: Dry season months (June to September) generally have cooler temperatures and minimal rainfall, offering comfortable conditions for outdoor activities. However, if you enjoy the verdant landscapes of the wetter months, visiting during the shoulder months or early wet season might be preferable.
  • Crowds and Rates: The peak tourist season often coincides with the dry season. Consider visiting during the shoulder months to avoid crowds and potentially find more affordable rates for accommodations and tours.

Getting there

Samburu National Reserve can be accessed by various means, primarily by road or by air, depending on your starting point. Here are the main ways to access Samburu National Reserve:

By Road:

  1. From Nairobi: The most common route is by road from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, which is approximately 350 kilometers (about 217 miles) away. The journey takes about 5 to 6 hours by car, depending on road conditions and traffic. The road trip offers scenic views of the Kenyan countryside.
  2. From Isiolo: If coming from Isiolo, it’s a shorter distance to the reserve, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles). Travelers can hire a vehicle, use public transportation, or opt for a guided tour that includes transportation.

Public Transportation:

  1. Buses and Matatus: Public buses and shared taxis (matatus) operate between Nairobi and towns close to Samburu, like Isiolo or Archer’s Post. From there, travelers might need to arrange further transport to reach the reserve’s entrance.

By Air:

  1. Charter Flights: For a faster and more scenic option, some tour operators and lodges offer charter flights directly to airstrips near Samburu National Reserve. Charter flights can be arranged from Nairobi or other airstrips in Kenya.

Important Tips:

  • Ensure you have a reliable map, GPS, or directions, especially if driving independently, as signage might be limited once you leave major roads.
  • During the rainy season, road conditions may deteriorate, making certain routes more challenging. It’s advisable to check road conditions before the trip, especially if self-driving.

Upon reaching the reserve’s entrance gates, visitors need to pay park fees, register, and receive any necessary information before entering. Some lodges and tour operators within or near the reserve may also offer pick-up services or guided tours that include transportation to and from Samburu National Reserve.

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