Africa Vacation Kenya North – Spots, Places, Highlights

Camps in Northern Kenya

Northern Kenya is a vast expanse of scrub desert extending north from the foothills of Mt. Kenya to the emerald waters of Lake Turkana. It is also a magnificent wilderness with dramatic rock formations, towering mesas, and surprising green slashes of riverine forest to break the rolling flow of endless sun-scorched plains. This area begins at Isiolo where the tarmac ends: the paved road goes from Nairobi to Nanyuki at the foot of Mt. Kenya. From there it climbs through the mountain ranch lands of Timau, then across the northern shoulders of Mt. Kenya to plunge 900 meters in the 40-kilometeredescent to the desert and Isiolo, where the unpaved highway north begins. Unlike the more-traveled Samburu area, the rest of northern Kenya is seldom included on safari itineraries. The distances are great, the roads are rugged and there are few places to stay. Traveling in this area requires a major time commitment and serious preparation. The stunning scenery is worth the effort.

Samburu National Reserve

About 65 kilometers beyond Isiolo on the eroded dirt surface of the northern highway to Marsabit are the Samburu, buffalo springs, and Shaba national reserves. As these reserves are essentially one area, you can make game drives in all three no matter where you stay. However, each has separate park fees.

Samburu National Reserve extends for an area of 105 kilometers north of the meandering Ewaso Nyiro or “brown” river. It is part of a lava plain that includes a varied landscape or red dirt, thorn scrub, broken volcanic rock, dried river beds, steep hills, and rocky outcroppings, some large enough to be called mesas. Following the river curves, a riverine forest of doum palms, acacia, and tamarind is a magical contrast of cool green. It is attractive to the region’s wildlife and visitors alike. There are elephant, hippos, crocodiles, and leopards, as well as plains game, other small mammals and birdlife. The region is home to the rare grevys zebra with large ears, gerenuk antelope standing on hind legs to feed, Somali ostriches with their distinctive blue legs, and the shy oryx beisa. Most of these can be seen near tourist lodges and camps that have been built close to the river.

Larsen’s tented Camp-Samburu

Larsen’s is a small, luxurious, tented camp set in lush lawns at the edge of the muddy river. Everything is green canvas: tents, reception, bar, dining-room. However, the grounds give a sense of permanence and order; clipped and watered lawns stretch between the tents and down to the river; well-kept paths meander among the tall trees; and spacious tents sit on raised wooden decks.

Larsen’s was named in honor of Eric Larsen, a pioneer of camping safaris and founder of the United Touring Company. The present Larsen’s was rebuilt in 1988 by the camp staff. The first was washed away during severe floods only moths after its initial construction. Those difficult days forged a strong bond among the staff. Together they provide efficient, personal, and friendly service. On arrival, you are greeted with cold drink under the trees while the manager briefs you on meal times, hot water times, and game –drives.

Staying at the Larsen’s is a relaxing and private experience. With only 17 tents, there are no crowds, and children under 10 years are not allowed. There is a feeling of peace and tranquility-the main sounds are birdsong and the flowing f the river.

This is camping in high style, a casual colonial elegance. Toweling gowns are in your tent, the safari chairs have maroon leather seats and complimentary sherry is served from a decanter at dinner. Brass mugs gleam above the bar, Eric Larsen’s old cabin trunks and pith helmet add authenticity, and there are stacks of games and wildlife books. At night you can sit companionably around the campfire listening to the sounds of the night bush, gazing at the Milky Way. In the heat of the day you can relax on your private deck looking towards the river-monkeys play in the trees around you, and you might see animals drinking on the opposite banks.

The mess tent, open on three sides, faces the river. Larsen’s takes pride in its high quality cuisine. Dinner is served by candle light. Tables are set with silver and Larsen’s china. The food is good and elegantly presented. Breakfast and a barbeque lunch are buffet style, dinner a set menu with choice of entrée. Lunches are packed on request; dinner can be served in your tent.