Samburu National Reserve Safari Guide
Samburu is the most popular reserve in northern Kenya. Wildlife viewing is good, and most big safari animals are easily spotted. The arid environment is home to a variety of north Kenya specials – both birds and mammals. A village visit to a nearby Samburu homestead is a worthwhile activity.
Pros & Cons
Excellent wildlife viewing
Four of the Big Five are easily found (rhino excluded)
Interesting mammal species restricted to the arid north
Beautiful barren scenery
Excellent birding with many dry-country specials
A good range of accommodation catering to different budge
Very hot and dry
Wildlife & Animals
Samburu offers great wildlife viewing, and good densities mean that most safari animals can be seen within a couple of days. There are several habituated leopards, and sightings are not unusual. Elephants are plentiful, and there is a variety of antelope, including both the greater and lesser kudu, with their impressive horns. Only rhino is absent from the Big Five.
Several dry-country adapted mammals that don't occur in most Kenyan parks can be found here. The reticulated giraffe has a more striking pattern than the common Masai giraffe. Beisa Oryx is particularly well adapted to arid conditions. The gerenuk, with its elongated neck, is able to stand on its hind legs to reach sparse leaves. Both the common Burchell's zebra and the bigger Grevy's zebra are found alongside each other.
There have been more than 390 bird species recorded in Samburu and Buffalo Springs national reserves. The reserves protect a variety of habitats, home to different bird species including arid acacia savannah, scrub and gallery forest alongside the Uaso Nyiro River. The dry, open country offers very rewarding birding opportunities and boasts a number of northeast African dry-country species shared with Ethiopia and Somalia, such as vulturine guineafowl, Somali bee-eater and golden-breasted starling.
Best Time to Visit
Samburu can be visited year-round, but wildlife watching is usually best in the dry months from June to October and December to March. It is wise to avoid the height of the Wet seasons (November, April and May). During these months, spotting wildlife (which has spread out anyway with the availability of water) in the long grass is more challenging.
June to October – Dry Season
Best time for wildlife viewing with animals attracted to water sources
Almost no rain and plenty of sunshine
Malaria is almost absent
Very dry and dusty
Not as scenic with hazy skies
November to May – Wet Season
The leafy scenery is lovely
April to June is low season and lower rates may apply
Plenty of animals around despite wildlife viewing being better in the Dry season
Best time for birders with the presence of migratory birds
Road conditions can be bad in April and May
Rain can cause havoc with your plans in the peak rainfall months, especially April
Weather & Climate
During the day, Samburu’s climate is hot and dry, although it cools down at night. The daytime temperature is usually in the region of 32°C/90°F, while the average at nighttime is 15°C/59°F. It is a good idea to bring warm clothing for game drives in the early morning. The rains peak in April and November, but annual rainfall is low.
Dry Season – June to September
This time of year is marked by hot and sunny days with almost no rainfall being recorded.
June & July – Hot and sunny conditions. Afternoon temperatures are in the region of 31°C/87°F.
August & September – Daytime temperatures are on the rise before the rains cool things down. September’s average temperature is around 32°C/90°F, although it peaks much higher.
Wet Season – October to May
The Wet season is defined by the ‘short rains’ followed by the wetter ‘long rains’. The months of January and February are a dry period that separates the shorter and longer rains.
October, November & December – November is the wettest month. It rarely rains all day, but storms do occur in the afternoon. The daytime temperature is around 32°C/90°F, although it climbs higher before rain and falls when the showers have cleared.
January & February – A dry spell that falls between the short and long rains, though it is difficult to predict the exact timing. February is the hottest month. Average temperature in the afternoon is 33°C/91°F, but it can get much hotter.
March, April & May – Short afternoon showers are usual during the long rains, which typically break in late March. April is the wettest month, and driving on deteriorating roads can be challenging. Temperatures in the latter part of the day are around 32°C/90°F.
Samburu is located 355km/220mi north of Nairobi. Self-drive to the reserve is an easy option and the driving time is about six hours. There are also daily scheduled flights from Nairobi to Samburu’s airstrip.
Driving from Nakuru NP is also an option. The distance is about 300km/190mi and the driving time is roughly five and a half hours.
Safari-goers flying from Europe or North America to Kenya usually arrive at Nairobi – it’s the largest hub for most transport (including flights) in the region. The main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), which is located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), which is 9km/6mi west of Mombasa.