Listlessness. Languorous. Lethargic. Lackadaisical. Laaazy. Time has not stood still but has slowed considerably, stretched out like a rubber band. Seconds become minutes; minutes become hours. Do these days have no end? I am switched off. I am one with Sera.
Sera Conservancy Trust was established in 2001 by merging 2 group ranches with the long-term aim of linking three historically rival ethnic groups, the Samburu, Borana and Rendille, through a common objective of conservation, development and sustainable use of natural resources within the Sera area. It covers an area of 33,325 hectares set within a wider conservation area of 354,000 hectares (oooooh).
Sera is approximately 7hrs from Nairobi on the main A2 that leads to Marsabit, all this is on a very good tarmac road. At Servoloi town which is 94km from Isiolo you turn East, from here the bandas are a 1hr drive on a rough track (high clearance 4WD only, or if you have 2WD you want to write off for the insurance payout).
Sera is a long drive from Nairobi, you might want to get an early start. Or you could break the journey in Nanyuki for a morning start from there. Note: You may be asked to register with the police checkpoint at Isiolo, this is quite normal.
The bandas are fully furnished, self-catering cottages located on the edge of the Kauro lugga in the heart of the conservancy.They were built in 2006 by the BBC’s Mission Africa team (utterly random) as a way for the local community to earn revenue from conservation and tourism.
View of the lugga from the dining area and the bandas, your own private beach. The weather was surprisingly mild for this area unlike that one time i nearly melted in Bogoria.
Accommodation at Sera Conservancy consists of 2 en-suite open bandas, a dining area and separate kitchen/store. One banda has twin beds which also make a double; the other cottage has 4 beds which can be configured as singles or double beds. All beddings, sheets, pillows, mosquito nets and towels are provided. The open cottages are great for looking out and just waiting to see what comes across your view.
The bandas have ceramic toilets, plumbed sinks, and safari bucket showers (shower not working in our banda but bucket did just fine). Toilet rolls are provided but none were on our visit, carry some just in case.
Visitors need to bring ALL their own food and drinks. The kitchen has a gas cooker (gas included) and an efficient solar fridge that works best if your food items are pre-chilled or frozen. All cutlery and utensils are provided.
There’s not much to say about the indoor/outdoor mess area, except it could do with a bit more furniture. There’s only one couch that becomes very valuable real estate if you want to hang out here. There is mobile network finally available in this area (1month old!) but its spotty at camp.
When the breeze dies down in the evenings, sit round the fire in the sand lugga, listen out for sounds of silence, and admire the legendary night sky.
You can hardly tell from the photo below, but stars, thousands upon thousands of stars.
The 2 staff are a room steward and mess waiter/kitchen help, and Sera Conservancy rangers are present day and night. Kerosene for a few lamps, and washing water from a well are also provided. There is some solar lighting in the camp but was not working at the bandas, much prefer the kerosene lamps though.
What to see and do
Around 45min from the Sera bandas are the 50 Wells or Kisima Hamsini.These perennial natural springs at are a remarkable geographical feature, supporting both resident and migratory populations of wildlife.
Every morning large flocks of 40,000 -70,000 sandgrouse come here to drink. I didn’t get to see them, i was either too early or too late? Either way worth the try, with wildlife viewing you win some and loose many. However it was very peaceful sitting there waiting for them to arrive, and there were many other birds to watch. Remember to carry a breakfast!
Camping can be arranged here but there are no facilities. There are several other special campsites are available.
Walks on The Lugga
Walks on the lugga are the best way to fully appreciate the vast, pristine environment in this stunning area. This is best done in the evening and armed guards are available to escort you so your security is assured.
Sundowners at the Water Tower
The water tower is a ten minute walk from the banda area and is great for sundowners. It is situated on a few large boulders. Its not very high but due to the landscape being low-lying, and the large mountains of Longtopi, Ol Kanjau, Ol Doinyo Lenkiyo and Warges on the horizon it is well worth a visit.
According to web sources, wildlife in Sera include wild dog, gerenuk, Beisa oryx, buffalo, lion and cheetah, endangered Grevy’s zebra as well as seasonal herds of elephant. In 2008, 23 reticulated giraffe were also successfully translocated to the Conservancy.
Honestly though there wasn’t much wildlife around, i attributed this to the large herds of roaming cattle. This was later verified by the staff at the bandas. This is one of the challenges of many conservancies, balancing the needs of the residents with those of wildlife conservation.
There is good news on the horizon with the coming translocation of black rhino to a 120km2 sanctuary. The fencing is nearly complete and the residents are banking on this elevate to the fortunes of Sera in the near future.
- The camp sleeps 6.
- Make the trip to the 50 wells to view the sandgrouse flock.
- Walk along the lugga at sunset.
- Do not underestimate the heat, carry enough water for your party.
- Be sure to freeze or pre-chill your foodstuffs, an ice block or two wouldn’t hurt.
- Total cost for the whole place per night (not per person) is Ksh 15000; conservancy fees are Ksh 2500
The conservancy has outsourced the maintenance and development of new tourism products to a private company, this who you book the bandas through. Communication with this company was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone, a trying experience sure to batter the most seasoned traveller, grind them up and spit them out. This was by far the weakest link in the Sera tourism chain.
There are small maintenance issues at the bandas, nothing serious but wanting all the same. There is also a bit of room for development to make the place a little more comfortable, a bit of love and attention would go a long way here.
On conservancy fees, i felt Ksh 2500 per day for citizens/residents was a bit high considering. How these prices are arrived at and who is the target market? The average Kenyan? Not likely. Probably the reason there were only 60 entries in the visitors book over an 18 month period, you do the math. I hope the Sera board can look into this going forward, dollars are are all well and good but do not underestimate the power of the Kenyan shilling.
All in all, a great experience not soon forgotten, if you can run the gauntlet of the booking process. Alois and the team at the bandas were top notch. If you have ever wanted to experience the isolation of Northern Kenya without having to plan an entire expedition, Sera is the place to visit.
Just don’t plan on being active.
For bookings contact
Alex Hunter on +254-721-242361 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[UPDATE: A lot has changed on Sera since I wrote this article including the booking info, so head on over here to see what my latest visit had to offer.]