Samburu & Meru holiday highlights

In Kenya’s dry north, on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in the Rift Valley province, a 50-minute flight or six hours’ drive from Nairobi, Samburu offers a unique safari experience. Lesser visited than its more southerly neighbours, this relatively small reserve’s arid landscape is home to ‘dry country’ animals rarely found outside the park. Its ‘special five’ are the long-necked gerenuk, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, beisa oryx and reticulated giraffe.

The landscape here is arid, with open plains and clusters of acacia trees. But the river provides a life source for a number of animals as well as playing host to a large population of Nile crocodile. Lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, elephant and diverse birdlife – including the Verreaux’s eagle and vulturine guinea fowl – can all be found here. The Samburu people are a warrior tribe of farmers. Semi-nomadic and closely related to the Maasai, they live in manyattas surrounding the reserve and, traditionally, regularly relocate to find fresh grazing ground for cattle. Visit a Samburu community to meet the local people and gain an insight into their fascinating culture.

Meru is best known as the place where Joy and George Adamson released Elsa the lioness back into the wild, as recounted in the book, and later the film, Born Free. To the east of Mount Kenya, it’s an hour from Nairobi by light aircraft or six hours by road. After a period of heavy poaching and subsequent lack of tourism, the introduction of Elsa’s Kopje in 1999 has helped restore this wilderness to its former glory. But it’s still gloriously unspoilt, with dense bush, woodlands and tall grass providing habitat for lion, reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra and lesser kudu, and a rhino sanctuary is a safe home for over 60 black and white rhino. Various streams run through the park, and down by the Tana River you’ll find lakeside beaches. Take a guided bush walk to Mughwango Hill for panoramic views and visit Meru’s rhino sanctuary – a secure area within the park providing safe habitat for around 40 white rhino and 20 black rhino. The sanctuary fights against poaching and works hard to change the belief that the rhino horn has any medicinal value.