Our Travels: Samburu Reserve, Kenya

We’re now almost halfway through 2020 and, let’s be honest, this has been a pretty disastrous year for travel. The outbreak of coronavirus around six months ago not just led to the cancelling of long-standing international holiday plans, but also prevented the kind of spontaneous, last-minute travels – both overseas and closer to home – that our intrepid team of travel writers love the most. It’s been a tricky time for anybody who likes to explore the world.

Luckily, while new trips have been thin on the ground, we have a locker-full of pre-pandemic adventures to share with you through the Our Travels blog series. Regular readers will have already seen accounts of exciting recent adventures covering destinations as varied as Mexico, Lebanon and Australia. This month, it’s the the turn of our editor-in-chef Joe, who recounts his safari trip to Kenya at the beginning of the year. Scroll down to read about it…

A coalition of four cheetahs get to work devouring an impala in Samburu National Reserve.

Why I went to Samburu Reserve
My wife and I have always talked about going on safari. We’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing wildlife experiences everywhere from Sri Lanka to Costa Rica, but we always knew there was something uniquely special about an African safari… and we couldn’t resist the call of the continent any longer. While our usual preference is to travel independently (and we briefly considered hiring an SUV and driving ourselves), we realised we’d be far better off making the most of a local driver’s keen eyes and insider knowledge. So we booked an organised tour.

Our seven-day Kenya itinerary visited several of the country’s most famous national parks, including Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara. But it was the two days we spent in the Samburu National Reserve that sold us on safaris forever.

My highlight of the trip
One word: cheetahs. While we saw plenty of incredible big cats during the safari, including lions and leopards, the undoubted highlight was stumbling across a coalition (great collective noun!) of four cheetahs, who had just killed an impala and were starting to devour it. We sat there in our vehicle, no more than 10 metres away, and watched as they systematically relieved the antelope of its flesh. You could see the cheetahs’ stomachs expand with each mouthful. Despite taking regular breaks to catch their breath, the impala was stripped to the bone within an hour.

When we returned to the site the next morning, the carcass was nowhere to be seen. However, we saw a solitary striped hyena prowling nearby and licking its lips contentedly, so we have a fairly good idea what happened to it.

What else I love about Samburu Reserve
As anticipated, the safari was an incredible, one-of-a-kind wildlife experience. We got up-and-close-and-personal with a huge variety of animals, including giraffes, zebras and elephants. Watching herds of elephants crossing the river, with the little ones using their trunks to cling on to their mothers’ tails, was a truly extraordinary experience.

But perhaps the most pleasant surprise was discovering animals that weren’t even on our safari checklist. On this trip, we got to see families of tiny, long-legged dikdik antelopes; impossibly cute, nocturnal galagos (bush babies); and terrifyingly enormous Rüppell’s vultures. These unexpected ‘extras’ made the whole thing even more special.

A herd of elephants cross the slow-moving Ewasu Ngiru River that runs through Samburu.

Why you should go
While I’m not in a position to compare a Kenyan safari with one in places like Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana (those are all ahead of us!) we did visit several different national parks in Kenya. Samburu, without doubt, was our favourite. While the Masai Mara is Kenya’s most famous safari destination, we found it to be overcrowded, even in the off season, which meant that searching for big cats felt like a battle between dozens of vehicles all jostling for space. By contrast, the smaller and quieter Samburu National Reserve allowed us to get far closer to the animals without disturbing them, which made it a more rewarding and relaxing – as well as guilt-free – safari experience.

How you can visit
There are regular flights to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from big airlines including British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways. From the airport, you can connect with a driver and head straight off on a safari, or spend one day in the Kenyan capital first. We booked our trip with African Breeze Tours, and our experience in Samburu, where we had a driver to ourselves, was superb. However, we had some rather unpleasant issues later in the itinerary, so we recommend contacting drivers directly to arrange your Kenya safari.

Thirsty for more travel content on Kenya – or even the whole African continent? Then take a look our projects page. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with all the industry travel news and travel titbits.

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