With the office shut down for the holidays and Amarachi travelling for work, I loaded the car with camping and hiking equipment and set off on a 2,000 km Kenya road trip. I was accompanied for most of the trip by a friend, Carson, who lives in Rwanda.
My only resource for planning was the Camping in Kenya Facebook group. I did very little planning, keeping Ralph Pott’s advice in mind: “Whatever the original motivation for going someplace, remember that you’ll rarely get what you expect when you go there – and this is almost always a good thing”
Route: 13 Day Kenya Road Trip
Nairobi – Sabache Camp/Mt Ololokwe – Buffalo Springs/Samburu National Park – Nanyuki/Ol Pejeta – Mt Elgon – Kisumu – Lake Nakuru – Navaisha/Elephant Hill – Nairobi
Distance Traveled: ~2k kilometres
Duration: 13 days
Vehicle: 2014 Nissan Xtrail
What to Pack for a Kenya Road Trip
- Back pack (big one for packing up all your stuff and small one for short hikes is ideal). I just have my Hyperlite and a gonex duffle bag for keeping all my stuff
- Tent with a good footprint
- Camping pillow
- Sleeping mat
- 0 degree sleeping bag
- 3 kg gas cylinder
- Cooking attachment to put on gas cylinder (available at carrefour)
- Camping cups
- Spoons and forks
- Powerful flashlight (for spotting lions that may wander into your campsite at night)
- Water Blatter(s), like a camelback
- 4 containers of water
- Hiking shoes and sandals/flip flops
- Pocket knife
- Ziplock bags
- Camping chairs
- For hiking
- 2 shirts
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 long pair of hiking pants
- 2 pairs of socks
- Rain jacket (frog tog is my favourite)
- For sleeping
- Comfortable sweatpants
- Two pairs of Comfortable socks
- Comfortable shirt
- For hiking
Kenya Road Trip – Nairobi to Sabache Camp
We took the A2 highway through Nanyuki to Sabache Camp, located at the base of Mt. Ololokwe. The trip took roughly 8 hours.
We stopped in Nanyuki for lunch and to stock up on camping & hiking food and materials. If you like to eat fish, Trout Tree Restaurant in Nanyuki is very tasty. Other places I recommend for lunch include One Stop Nanyuki, Barney’s Bar and Restaurant and Shop 14.
For shopping, we went to Food Plus in Cedar mall. Indomie, apples, mangoes, breakfast bars, snickers. We bought a 3kg cylinder of gas at the total station down the road.
Sabache Camp is advertised as “one of the last iunspoiled African wild places”. A funny comment I read on Facebook about Sabache Camp before going was that you should only go there if you want to see “goat herders herding their goats”.
I found it somewhere in between these descriptions: some goats, but also a tranquil, remote spot between two massive mountains out in the Samburu plains. We were the only ones camping there. We met Jenifer at the reception and paid 1,000 ksh pp for a conservation fee and 500/1,000 ksh for resident and non-resident camping respectively.
Hiking was 1,000 ksh for the guide and another 1,000 ksh pp for a hiking fee. Jenifer had a fridge stocked with Tuskers, so we had a few while the sunset. They also have a restaurant there, but we didn’t order any food since we had our gas cylinder to cook ours.
Note on fires and night security: this seems to vary at each campsite. At some campsites, they make a fire for you at no cost and there is someone assigned as the lookout at night. Other campsites charge a fee. At Sabache Camp, they made a fire for free. There may have been someone on the lookout nearby, but we didn’t ask.
Camping was uneventful. After reading so much about camping in Kenya, I was expecting to be attacked by baboons at some point. I never saw a single Baboon at a campsite over the 13 days though.
Hiking Mt. Ololokwe
The next morning, we woke up at 5 am, made some cowboy coffee and ascended the sacred Mt. Ololokwe with Jackson. The hike up was moderately difficult. Jenifer said it typically takes 3 hours to get to the top, but we ascended in around 2 hours.
Cloudless skies allowed for a panoramic view of the pristine Samburu plains and Matthews Mountain Range. We also got an unexpected aerial show from some magnificent turkey vultures.
Kenya Road Trip – Buffalo Springs & Samburu National Reserve
After descending Mt. Ololokwe, we drove to Buffalo Springs National Reserve for a game drive. I’ve read some debate whether Buffalo Springs is better than Samburu National Reserve for seeing wildlife. Buffalo Springs is usually recommended.
Quick background: Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserve are essentially the same reserves. Paying the entrance fee to one allows you entry into the other. They are however separated by the Ewaso Ng’iro River and there is no way to cross over within the reserve.
There used to be a bridge that allowed you to cross the river, but it’s been out of service for a while. We drove around both reserves and I wouldn’t recommend one over the other.
The main appeal of these reserves is the wildlife that can’t be seen in other parks: grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and the gerenuk. We saw all three, and lots of Beisa Oryx, Elephants and dik-dik as well.
Entrance fees for residents were 1,000 ksh and $70 for non-resident. Camping fees were 500 ksh for residents and $30 for non-resident. I forget if they charged for the car, but the park fee charges sign said the car fee is 1,000 ksh.
We set up camp at the public campsite on the Samburu National Reserve side. This was my first camping experience inside a park, so I wasn’t sure how it worked. We were told at the gate that there would be rangers at the campsite (at no extra cost), but when we arrived, there was no one around.
We drove past the campsite a bit and eventually found the house where the rangers were staying. Two armed rangers were assigned as lookouts. When we got back to the campsite, some guy came over and asked for 500 ksh to collect wood and make a fire. Carson gave it to him. The guy collected a few pieces, then ran off before making the fire.
In retrospect, we probably didn’t have to pay, but at the time, we didn’t know how anything worked. The rangers winded up collecting better wood on their own and making the fire. We made some Indomie, watched the full moon rise over the river, and marvelled at the fact that camping inside a reserve with lions, leopards and elephants is allowed.
I slept peacefully until Carson woke me up at 5 am. He said the rangers weren’t around and he was clearly worried. It turns out the rangers were just patrolling around the campsite. We packed up, thanked the rangers and spent the next few hours patrolling the river (unsuccessfully) for some cats. We left the reserve around 9 am and headed back to Nanyuki.
Kenya Road Trip – Nanyuki to Ol Pejeta
We got an Airbnb on the outskirts of town for hot showers and so Carson could work for the next 3 days. I was trying to decide between camping in Mt. Kenya National Park or Ol Pejeta for 1-2 nights. I decided on Ol Pejeta since I was told I needed a guide to enter Mt Kenya National Park, even just to explore and camp at the base.
Feeling refreshed from 1 night at the Airbnb, I drove to Ol Pejeta in the morning. The drive takes around 30-45 minutes from the town centre. Ol Pejeta is not run by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS); it’s a cattle ranch turned not-for-profit wildlife conservancy in the early 2000s.
It’s well known for housing the two remaining northern white rhinos in the world, who Amarachi and I met last year. It also boasts the largest black rhino population in East Africa and is the only place in Kenya to see Chimpanzees.
Total fees came to 5,800 ksh: 2,600 for entry, 2,600 for camping and 600 for the car. A ranger costs 5,000 ksh extra per night. I opted not to have a ranger.
Camping at Ol Pejeta
Ol Pejeta has 5 campsites, but they are private (i.e. the campsite is all yours for 2,600). There is no public campsite. I didn’t know that, but fortune favoured this ignorant camper and one was unreserved that night: Mbogo.
The Mbogo campsite is on google maps, but I took a wrong turn at one point. I ran into a family of elephants on a narrow trail. When I tried to pass, mama elephant, who was somewhat hidden behind a tree on the side of the trail, was not happy.
Her ears flew up and she started charging at the car. My heartbeat skyrocketed and my foot floored the gas pedal. Content with scaring me off, she stopped charging and crossed the road to join her baby.
I passed by some rangers and they showed me where the campsite was. I had seen photos from Ol Lerai and Hippo Hide campsites, which are located along a river. Mbogo, however, is in the bush, surrounded by raw nature on all sides.
The campsite had a water bowser, latrine and firewood. I made a large fire and started cooking Indomie on my gas stove. As the sunset, the same family of elephants I ran into before emerged into the open field across from the campsite. I threw a few more logs on the fire since the ranger in Samburu told me elephants don’t like fire.
Shortly after, the elephants scurried away. Jurassic Park movies taught me that this only happens when a larger, scarier animal is about to enter the stage. As I moved to jump into the car, 6 giant black rhinos appeared in the field. They inched closer and closer over the next 30 minutes, grazing on the tall grass.
Finally, they turned right and disappeared into the bush as the sun disappeared on the horizon. As I went to stoke the fire, a lion roared and I jumped back in the car and locked the doors.