Up in the north of the country, in the hot, arid lowlands beneath Mount Kenya, Samburu National Reserve was set up around the richest stretch of the Ewaso Nyiro (or Uaso Ngiro) River in the early 1960s. Although the river usually stops flowing for a month or two around January, the combination of near-permanent water and forest shade on the banks draws plentiful wildlife in the dry season and maintains many of the less migratory species all year round.
While the wildlife spectacle doesn’t always match that of the southern parks, the peace and scenic beauty of Samburu is unquestionable and, in the kind of mood swing which only an equatorial region can produce, the contrast with the fertile farming country of the Highlands just a few dozen kilometres to the south couldn’t be more striking. In the background, the sharp hill of Koitogor rises in the middle of Samburu Reserve, making a useful reference point. And on the horizon, 30km to the north, looms the gaunt red block of Ol Olokwe mountain. Buffalo Springs National Reserve, the continuation of Samburu on the south side of the river, and Shaba National Reserve, further downstream to the east, are often treated as if they were just part of “Samburu”. They remain distinct reserves with their own entrance fees, but will allow common game drives across them, which means you will only have to pay $70 once. That said, the Samburu–Buffalo Springs bridge crossing near the Samburu headquarters has been washed away more than once in recent years by flooding, though it’s presently operational. If the bridge is out of action, to get into the reserve from the opposite side, you have to go back to the highway and cross the bridge there, via Archer’s Post – a 45km diversion.
Adjoining Samburu are two community conservancies supported by the Northern Rangelands Trust. To the north is the 95-square-kilometre Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy, of which a core 31 square kilometres is a crucial wildlife migration corridor, with just one, very high-end, boutique lodge, Saruni Samburu. To the northwest of the reserves lies the West Gate Community Conservancy, which covers an even larger district of semi-arid grazing land, but has a very small core conservancy area of less than 10 square kilometres around the exclusive Sasaab Lodge.