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Your Guide to Visiting Samburu National Reserve

by Cris Puscas

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If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in Kenya which offers excellent animal viewing, Samburu National Reserve should be the one you visit.

The reserve not only offers unique experiences but it is also one of the Kenyan national parks that rarely gets crowded. Unlike Amboseli National Park, it doesn’t attract the self-drive weekend crowd, nor are the travelers flocking to see the Great Migration in Masai Mara.

Made famous by the movie Born Free that chronicles the life of Elsa The Lioness, Samburu Game Reserve is a great choice for first-time safari-goers as well as those who have already been on a safari.

Because it’s exclusive, planning a safari here may not be the easiest thing to do. In this article, we are sharing information that’ll help make your safari planning easier. Here, you’ll find insights on the best time to visit, things to do, animals to spot, and where to stay during a safari in Samburu National Reserve.


Where is Samburu National Reserve?


Located just 350km/127.5mi from Nairobi, Samburu National Reserve is the most popular reserve in Northern Kenya.

It sits on the banks of the Ewaso Ng'iro river, within the Rift Valley Province, in Samburu County. On the other side of the river is the Buffalo Springs National Reserve.



How to get to Samburu National Reserve


Safari goers who arrive from Europe or North America, typically fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). It is the most important transport hub in the area.

From here, they can either take a domestic flight into Samburu’s airstrip or self-drive to the reserve.

You can also drive from Nakuru – especially if you decided to do a multi-destination safari. It is about 300km/190mi and the driving time is roughly 5.5 hours.

Your safari organizer may also include the airport pick-up/drop-off as part of the safari package, so make sure to ask about the transfer options.


Rates and fees to visit Samburu National Reserve


If you visit the reserve as part of an organized safari, the entrance fee is (most often) included in the safari package. Else, the rates for non-residents are as follows:

  • Adult USD70
  • Child USD40

If you choose to self-drive, you also need to pay not only the car rental fee but also the entrance fee to the park for the vehicle. For a car with less than 6 seats, expect to pay 400 KES (Kenyan Shillings) or about USD4. Plus, there are camping fees that you’ll likely need to add (non-resident adult USD30 / child USD20).


Best time to visit Samburu National Reserve

Elephants crossing the river in Samburu National Resereve

Photo credit: Mark DraperTillydad

Samburu National Reserve can be visited year-round. However, wildlife watching is best during the dry months: from June to October and December to March.

Because of the dry season, the animals are attracted to the water sources and it’s easier to spot them.

It’s best to avoid the reserve during the wet season (November, April, and May) as the high grass will make animal spotting very challenging. If you are fascinated by the birds, though, the wet season is perfect to enjoy birdwatching.

Want to save some money on accommodation? We recommend planning your travels during the low season (April to June).


A short history of Samburu National Reserve


Back in the XIX-th century, Europeans were already describing the area as teeming with wildlife, especially buffalos and rhinos. Unfortunately, it quickly became a favorite hunting ground.

In 1948, the current territory of the reserve has become a protected area within the larger Marsabit National Reserve. Rodney Elliott, the senior ranger of the National Reserve, then suggested that the area north of the Ewaso Ng'iro river should be a separate reserve. Samburu National Reserve was thus established in 1962.


Going on a safari in Samburu National Reserve

giraffes in samburu national reserve

Samburu National Reserve is characterized by natural serenity thanks to being inaccessible for many years. Even now, this is still an exclusive reserve. There are fewer lodges than in other parks and the competition for animal viewing is low – which always makes for excellent wildlife spotting.

The Ewaso Ng'iro river runs through the middle of the park before emptying into the famous Lorian Swamp. In the reserve, there’s a mixture of acacia trees and riverine forest, as well as grassland vegetation.

Going on a game drive in the southern part of the park almost guarantees you’ll come across the famous Kenyan wildlife. During the dry season, the animals can be found along the riverbank. It’s very rewarding to spot elephants and you can even see Nile crocodiles swimming in the water.



Bird lovers will certainly enjoy in Samburu. About 350 bird species call this reserve home. Also, many migratory birds come here during the wet season, which is also the best time to visit for a birdwatching tour.

Much like the Masaai, the Samburu are nomadic people who live within the reserve. You may visit their villages and, unlike other parts of Kenya, there’s nothing commercial about interacting with the tribe.

The reserve is managed by the Samburu communities who do a great job to keep the balance between protecting the wildlife, tourism influx, and human habitation.

» Not sure why you should visit Samburu? Here are all the reasons why Samburu National Reserve should be on your bucket list!


Wildlife in Samburu National Reserve

wildlife in samburu

Although by no means a big reserve, Samburu offers a great variety of wildlife viewing. And thanks to the high density, you have a lot of chances to spot most safari animals within a few days.

The Big Five animals may get all of the attention in Africa’s national parks, butunfortunately, only four live in the reserve. However, Samburu is also home to the unique Samburu Special Five:

  • The reticulated giraffe,
  • The Somali ostrich,
  • The gerenuk,
  • The Beisa oryx, and
  • The Grevy’s zebra.

These species are endemic to the Samburu ecosystem.

Hippos, zebras, and elephants are abundant in the park. Occasionally you can also spot leopards and hyenas. But lions are rare and so are cheetahs.




Where to stay within and close to Samburu National Reserve

lodge in samburu national reserve

Photo credit: African Breeze Tours

Within Samburu National Reserve you can stay in safari lodges and campsites. The lodges range from affordable to eco-friendly luxury options. And there are lodges available both in the reserve and just outside of it.

As mentioned above, there are fewer lodges than in other Kenyan national parks, thus there are fewer visitors in general. This means, your experience will feel more exclusive.

Most of the campsites don’t have facilities and they are unfenced. Kindly note that you must have your camping gear. However, if you are staying in a tented camp, there will be facilities available.


Other useful information for your safari in Samburu National Reserve


Visa policy to enter Kenya

Before starting to plan your safari in Samburu National Reserve, please make sure to check the visa requirements to visit Kenya.

Your passport needs to be valid 6 months after the return trip and you must present proof of yellow fever vaccination. Visas can be obtained by requesting them online (e-visa), but they are still available on arrival at international entry points (including Nairobi’s airport).

The single-entry visa is valid for 3 months and costs USD50 (plus USD1 service fee is applying for it online) for all nationals that require a visa, including US, UK, and European Union nationals. Most nationals from African countries don’t need a visa to enter Kenya.


Cash withdrawals and use of cards within Samburu National Reserve

Most medium-size cities in Kenya do have an ATM that allows cash withdrawals. Mind the possible fees and make sure to notify your bank that you’d be making transactions abroad.

While the use of cards is getting more popular, it’s always best to ask the accommodation what type of payment they accept / prefer. And always carry some cash with you (US Dollars and Euros are fine; local Kenyan Shillings are great to have handy).


What should you bring?

It’s always a good idea to remember to pack light as there are weight limits on small airplanes. Ideally, go for a soft-sided duffel bag or a waterproof backpack.

Plan to blend in with the environment. You want to wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants in natural colors (kakis, beige). Don’t forget the hat and sunglasses. Bring your camera, chargers, and binoculars. A day pack and water bottle should also be part of your luggage.

Hero photo credit: Daniel Fafard (Dreamdan)

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