Samburu, Kenya


Samburu is a county in the former Rift Valley Province of Kenya. It covers an area of over 21,000 kmand is mainly habited by the Samburu people. Samburu’s heart is the Ewaso Ng’iro River which meanders throughout the county. The water of this river forms an oasis of lush vegetation on its banks that draws animals in huge numbers.

The Samburu National Reserve is located 350 km from Nairobi along the Ewaso Ng’iro River just to the north of Mount Kenya. The reserve is county run and not overseen by Kenya Wildlife Service, as the national parks are in Kenya. Covering an area of 165 km² it boasts some of the most diverse wildlife in the country. Known for its high elephant numbers and the rare dryland fauna of northern Kenya – the ‘Samburu Five’ are made up of Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich. There are also over 50 species of larger mammals in the reserve including lion, leopard, cheetah, warthog, and even wild dogs. Samburu also boasts an abundance of birdlife with over 450 species recorded including the African darter, great egret, white-headed vulture, martial eagle, and yellow-billed oxpecker.

Beyond the Samburu National Reserve, the county also hosts a number of other conservancies and reserves which protect the flora and fauna of this unique region. These include the Shaba National Reserve, Maralal National Sanctuary, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, and Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy. For further details check out this guide to Samburu County.

Average rating: 4.0 (very good)

Average cost: the entrance fee to Samburu National Reserve is around $70. Accommodation can range from camping – $30 per person per night (self-catered) – to luxury lodges which can be up to $700 per night (all-inclusive).

Best time to visit: the best time is the dry season which starts in late May and goes up to early October. During this time large concentrations of wildlife are found in the reserve due to availability of lush vegetation along the Ewaso Ng’iro River, the main source of water to the reserve and nearby communities.

How to get there: driving from Nairobi takes around 5 hours along a scenic route taking in views of Mount Kenya (weather permitting!) on good roads. It’s possible to self-drive or to arrange a driven safari through an operator. There are five gates to enter Samburu National Reserve. Archer’s Gate is the main gate near Archer’s Post, just a few kilometres off the Marsabit highway. West Gate is at the western border of the reserve with West Gate Community Conservancy. Kalama Gate is in the north at the border with Kalama Community Conservancy. And Waso Bridge Gate which is used when crossing the Ewaso Ng’iro bridge coming from Buffalo Springs National Reserve. When arriving by air, you can find gate services at the central airstrip. The airstrip is served daily to Nairobi by Air Kenya and Safarilink or private charter flights.

Typical activities: 4×4 safari, animal watching, guided walking safari

Number of reports: 2


According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:


leopards samburu wildside world wild webWhile we didn’t see any leopards when we visited Samburu, it’s actually recognised as one of the best places in Kenya to see these beautiful cats. The arid woodland dotted with rocky outcrops and the thick riverine bush is perfect leopard habitat. That said, spotting them is still difficult (as we discovered). To boost your chances it’s best to go with a local guide as their daily routines are reasonably predictable. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest that Saruni Samburu is an excellent place to stay if you want to see leopards. With an individual named Ugali living nearby, who is often seen and heard near the camp.

African elephant – 100% OF VISITORS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS

african elephant samburu wildside world wild webThe Samburu National Reserve is one of the best places in Kenya to see African elephants. Whether you’re on a guided tour or a self-drive safari, your chances of encountering an elephant are high! Surveys of the population show an increase of around 11% from 2012 to 2017. It’s good to see elephant populations recovering after the Kenyan poaching crisis from 2010 to 2012 killed an estimated 100,000 elephants. The success is due in part to the work of Save the Elephants and the local Samburu tribe who have been working together to protect these incredible animals.


cheetah wildside world wild webAccording to a 2004 – 2007 National Cheetah Survey, Samburu was estimated to have the high­est abun­dance of chee­tah tracks and sight­ings in the coun­try.  However, by comparison to other areas, relatively little is known about the cheetah population in Samburu. Action for Cheetahs in Kenya started working in the area in 2009 and estimate a population of between 20 and 50 depending on the time of year and the weather conditions. For the best chances of seeing a cheetah, go with one of the experienced local guides. They will know roughly where they are based on previous sightings. They are also able to exchange information with other guides.


warthog wildlife in wildside world wild webWarthogs can be seen throughout the area year-round. They are conspicuous and easy to spot with their upright tails, erect manes, and regal bearings. Warthogs are herbivores that spend most of the day foraging for food. Their keen sense of smell allows them to uncover roots, plants, and bulbs. Between 2007 and 2014 the warthog population in Kenya experienced a steady increase up to 16,000, before nose-diving to 13,500 following a prolonged dry spell.


zebra wildside world wild webSamburu supports both plains zebras and the endangered Grevy’s zebra.  Sightings of zebra are common in the park although Grevy’s can be harder to spot. You can distinguish them by their large ears, narrow stripes, and ‘mohwak’ style manes. Since the 1970s, Kenya’s Grevy’s zebra population has declined from around 14,000 to 2,400 individuals. The Samburu Reserve has been actively working to protect this species through habitat restoration, grazing managing, and population monitoring. Surveys by the Kenya Wildlife Service have found that area is home to more than 95% of the total Kenya population – and that populations are on the rise.

Photo credit: alexstrachan under a Creative Commons license from Pixabay

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