Wildly different, the northern circuit of Kenya offers a great safari getaway off the beaten track. Regional highlights include Samburu, Buffalo Springs, Shaba and Laikipia which all share aspects of the Ewaso eco-system.
The waters of the Ewaso Nyiro River flow through all 3 of these great reserves, sustaining a range of wildlife and various communities in an otherwise arid region between Mount Kenya and the vast lowlands of the Northern Frontier.
These reserves are popular due to the diversity of free-ranging wildlife which is uncommon in other safari regions. Large Elephant herds (about 1 000 strong) and Lions frequent the lush riverside in Samburu while the plains are favoured by Cheetah.
Wild dogs on the move also pass through these lands. Unique or rare species found in this area include the Somali Ostrich, Gerenuk, Pancake Tortoise, Grevy's Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe and the Beisa Oryx as well as Williamson's Lark.
The verdant riverine forest is the preferred habitat for Leopard and abundant birdlife including 2 local species. In all, there are more than 400 bird species - the Taita Falcon, Palm Nut Vulture, Great Egret and Yellow-billed Oxpecker to name a few, have been recorded here.
Kamunyuk the Lioness is a famous resident of Samburu due to her adoption of an orphaned Oryx. Shaba is associated with Joy Adamson (author of Born Free), who spent her last years in the reserve returning a Leopard into the wild.
The book Queen of Shaba is about this experience. Shaba has also been the site for a Survivor Africa programme. Umoja near Archer's Post (on the way to the Samburu Reserve), is the site of a ground-breaking and now famous women-only village.
Game viewing is the primary activity via game drives and walks, also birding and lodge activities. Cultural interaction with the fascinating Samburu people who are linked to the Maasai is also offered. Sometimes you can go river rafting in Samburu when the waters are high.
These reserves can be accessed all year round by road or air. From Nairobi on a self-drive itinerary the journey takes at least 6 hours and you travel via Nanyuki, Isiolo and Archer's Post. For fly-in safaris, the Samburu and Buffalo Springs airstrips are served by scheduled connections from Nairobi and private air charter flights. These reserves can be linked to other top destinations by air.
Laikipia is a celebration of biodiversity and ranks second in importance to the Maasai Mara. The Ewaso eco-system supports the greatest range of large mammals in Kenya, including huge numbers of Elephant and at least half of the Black Rhino population amongst many other endangered species. There are 7 heavily protected sanctuaries for Rhinos in this region.
Laikipia offers wide open spaces and beautiful views from the highlands. Visitors always comment on the sense of freedom to be found here. Conservation and ranching go hand in hand in Laikipia.
Loisaba Lodge (link) is a luxurious safari lodge with excellent facilities and a range of exciting activities to enjoy - the sky is the limit. The lodge has a private airstrip / helipad and is also accessible by road.
Wildlife is abundant and what you see will depend on where your safari takes you in this region. You could see Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Hippo, Wild Dog, Lion and Leopard plus plenty of plains game. Specialities include Lelwel Hartebeest, Grevy's Zebra and Reticulated Giraffe.
There is a Chimpanzee Sanctuary at Ol Pejeta which provides care and protection for rescued Chimps from the bush meat and pet trade.
There is plenty to do in this region. Safari activities include game drives and guided walks plus Camel safaris. Other options would be scenic flights, quad biking, horse riding and mountain biking, fishing and climbing.
This area is made up of mostly private ranches and it would be best to have a reservation so that you can gain access and make the most of your stay. Self-drivers can get to Laikipia from Nanyuki, Baringo, Eldoret and Isiolo. Most ranches have their own airstrips for fly-in itineraries. Alternate gateway airstrips for scheduled flights and connections to other areas such as Samburu, are Nanyuki and Lewa Downs.
by Heather Willowmore