A Guide to Samburu National Reserve in Kenya

The morning after we’d seen the women of the Samburu Tribe and scared ourselves silly going for a wee in the middle of the night, we took a drive through the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya – one of 34 protected areas in the country. It was my first ever safari.

Samburu National Reserve

We’d all come in the hope of seeing African animals in the wild, especially the Big Five – elephants, buffaloes, leopards, lions and rhinos.

Would we see them today?

Samburu National Reserve Oryx

The animals that we saw first and most in numbers were antelope. Impala, waterbuck (below), Kirk’s dik-dik (which are teeny weeny – like the size of a dog), Grant’s gazelle and my favourite the East African oryx (above).

Samburu National Reserve Female Waterbuck

Samburu National Reserve was much quieter than any of the other safaris we did during our trip, and we barely saw any other vehicles. It was the dry season and the land was very dry. The Ewaso Ng’iro (sometimes spelt and pronounced Nyiro) River running through it provides a lifeline to the animals and people in the area.

Camping near to the river the previous night, Moses had warned us there were crocs and hippos nearby so we weren’t to go near it. Taking my (cold) shower that evening in the dark , in the open air shower block, with the stars overhead,  I could hear the hippos grunting softly in the distance, even if I couldn’t see them. They were making their usual grunting noises, which sound like a cross between a sea lion, a cow and a duck. It’s a strangely nice sound.

Hippos, whilst generally quite docile, are extremely dangerous, killing more people than any other large animal. I wasn’t going to risk a midnight swim.

Samburu National Reserve Giraffe

We then saw giraffe. Reticulated giraffe to be exact. Which, if you follow my Instagram (@helenwonderlust), you’ll see is different from the Thornicroft’s giraffe from South Luangwa in Zambia.

Samburua National Reserve Giraffes

The thing that struck me first is how prehistoric they look. They are so strangely fascinating you can barely take your eyes off them. And if you see them drink water or run – you’re in for a treat!

Samburu National Reserve Reticulated Giraffe

We caught a glimpse of the first of our Big Five, a buffalo. Their appearance is deceptive. No larger than a really big cow, they look calm, but their eyes tell a different story. They look mean. Yeah, grumpy, mean big brown cows.

The Big Five are so called not because they are the biggest animals, because the giraffe would win that one. They are called that because back in the day, when hunters went out on foot, these were the most dangerous and difficult to catch.

Samburu National Reserve Buffalo

Did you ever see the video of The Battle at Kruger? A group of female lions catch a baby buffalo, but whilst doing so accidentally knock it into the river. Whilst they were trying to pull it out, a crocodile joins in, wanting his share of the feast. A dramatic tug of war between the lions and crocodile ensues. Eventually the lone crocodile gives up and the lions pull the baby on to the bank.

All the while the other buffaloes are hatching a plan. In a unified attack, they chase off the lions one by one, even tossing one high into the air. The last remaining lions let go of the baby, who runs back into the safety of the crowd. Quite possibly the most dazzling display the animal kingdom has ever seen.

You DO NOT mess with a buffalo.

Samburu National Reserve Grevy's Zebra

Then there was a Grevy’s zebra. One of three main types of zebra found in Africa. You’d be surprised at how well black and white stripes can hide amongst the greens and browns of the plain. Perfect for avoiding predators.

Samburu National Reserve Zebra

Then, we saw them. The one we’d all been most keen to see – elephants. There were a few, quietly munching on some very dry looking tree branches.

Samburu National Reserve Elephant

Both male and female African elephants can grow  tusks, which are actually just two of their teeth. Although due to ivory poaching, tusks are becoming much less common amongst elephants.

Amongst them were three tiny little baby elephants.

Samburu National Reserve Elephants

The smile on my face says it all. There were 20 other people on that truck with matching grins.

Samburu National Reserve Elephant

African elephants are bigger than Asian elephants, and have much bigger ears. Their ears are multi-purpose, acting as both a warning device to others (to back the hell off), listening for predators, and as a cooling device. When an elephant feels angry or threatened, it’s ears begin to twich. Trust me, if you are doing a self-drive and you see that… back away slowly. Unless you want this to happen – see how his ears come forward? If these people had a guide, I will eat my hat! They were far too close.

We saw an abundance of birdlife too… but they’re a whole different kettle of fish! Believe me, Africa will turn you into birdwatcher.

We didn’t see any big cats or rhinos that day, but with two months left on the truck, and quite a few other national parks to visit, I was hopeful I’d still see them.

Samburu National Reserve African Sunset

The sun set, casting a glow of orange over the landscape, as far as the eye could see. We were truly in Africa.

Essential Info:

  • I did my trip as part of an overland trip with Absolute Africa. They offer tours of various lengths, from 1 week – 11 weeks. All fees were included in the overall price of the tour.
  • Samburu National Reserve is around 5/6 hours from the capital, Nairobi by road. You will usually arrive through Archer’s Gate.
  • There are several safari camps and lodges both inside and outside the park, all of which can organise safaris for you.
  • Tribal visits are also easily arranged whilst at the park – ask at your accomodation.
  • You can self-drive (4wd is usually necessary for long overaland drives in Africa) at Samburu National Reserve, however I recommend you get a guide a) for your safety b) the safety of the animals and c) so the guide can help you spot the animals.
  • Park fees: $40 per adult, $20 per day child, per day – check with your accomodation. If on a tour, this will usually be included.

Have you been on safari? How did it make you feel? Or would you like to go?

About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!


  • Britney McSweeney
    January 17, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Your photos are just stunning. I’ve lived near Denali NP in Alaska and they have their own “big four” animals, the ones everyone comes to see. I felt lucky to stay for a few months and get a chance to see all of them, because on tours focus on animal sightings it is always hit and miss. I like that you suggest getting a guide, an obvious choice for safety, but also for animal sightings. They do it every day, they know what to look for, as a visitor it makes for a much better chance of seeing animals!

    • Helen
      January 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Thank you so much! Wow, you lived in Alaska! Somewhere I would absolutely love to visit!!! Yeah, I think it’s so much better to have a guide. And they can tell you so much stuff! And spot all the beautiful birds hidden in the trees!

  • Lindsay
    January 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    I think the oryx are my favorite too. The dik-diks are too cute, though. I’m curious about Absolute Africa… I’ve only ever used G Adventures, but this seems like a great company!

    • Helen
      January 18, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Hi Lindsay, the oryx seem a little magical don’t they? I think some of the tribes I’ve met think they are too. Aw, dik-diks! My friend always had a theory that one day they would turn savage and kill us all! 🙂 They are just the cutest little things. They son’t look real because they’re so small.

      Absolute Africa were great. I can’t recommend them highly enough. It’s a while since I did my trip, however, on my recommendation, quite a few friends have gone with them recently and I only hear good things still!

  • Rebecca
    January 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Your Africa posts always make me yearn to go. I’m actually seriously considering changing my plans to three months in Europe(to get into a routine and because there’s a festival I want to go to) then into Africa for a year and a half to two years before seeing the rest of Europe. I blame you.

    I also agree about the Orynx. Such a beautiful and majestic creature. As far as African animals in general, elephants are really high on the list too.

    • Helen
      January 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Ha ha, Rebecca. I don’t mind if you blame me… it’s my aim! 🙂

      I am going back soon and I can’t wait! Elephants! I love them! Your Europe plans sound good too though!

      A year and a half to two years in Africa… ah amazing!!! Where would you go??

      • Rebecca
        January 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm

        Right now the best plan looks like Morocco-Mauritania-senegal-guineabissau-guinea-sierra leone-liberia-guinea-mali-burkina faso-ghana-togo-benin-nigeria-cameroon-gabon-congo-DRC-zambia-zimbabwe-botswana-namibia-south africa(lesotho swaziland)-mozambique-malawi-tanzania-rwanda-uganda-kenya-ethiopia-sudan-egypt.

        Will it take longer than I anticipate? Maybe. I’m not going to rush myself, and I have to get visas for most of the west African countries. Certain areas there I have to keep an eye on for safety, but it looks doable as of now, except perhaps for the Kenya-Ethiopia boarder, which was still dangerous last I checked. And some areas have very few people who have done it in a car let alone a bike(Western Sahara and DRC anyone?) and I’m absolutely going to end up in the rainy season somewhere, even if I tried not to, but I suppose that’s why it’s an adventure.

        Where are you going this time?

        • Helen
          January 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm

          Wow, that sounds amazing! Have you been to Africa before? Are you cycling or motor biking? Are you going completely alone?

          I reckon you could do it in a year for sure, would be quite the adventure. But, there are a few countries on your list that I would keep a very close eye on… Mali for instance. Just be prepared that you may have to re-route a lot!

          I need all the details! 🙂 Will email you!

  • Colleen Brynn
    January 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    These photos and this experience… wow!!! Don’t knock your pics – they are superb! Also, I’m in the middle of watching Battle at Kruger… how have I not seen that yet. Eee!

    • Helen
      January 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      Thanks Colleen!! 🙂

      Ooh, Battle at Kruger! Very intense!!! Love that video! Just sad I wasn’t there.

  • Arianwen
    January 25, 2014 at 6:25 am

    My safari in Africa was one of the best experiences of my life. This looks amazing. I’m off to read your story about the wee in the night now. Think it might be similar to something I experienced in Tanzania too! 😉

    • Helen
      January 26, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Yes, couldn’t sgree more. I love being on safari! cAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK. Hopefully later this year…

  • Renuka
    January 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Lovely photos! i love the one that shows a little elephant with his mommy. so cute.

    • Helen
      January 27, 2014 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Renuka! I know, that is one of my favourite ever photos… well, that I’ve taken anyway! 🙂

  • Denis Micheni
    April 10, 2018 at 6:08 am

    Great post. Landed on it while I was searching for some info about Samburu on Bing and for sure this was a superb post. Your images are stunning. Also kindly correct the park fee part. For Samburu it is 70 USD for adults and half for children.


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