Camping in Shaba – Hiding In Plain Sight

Shaba for me has always been much like a village rumour; you’ve heard it but you don’t know anyone who personally witnessed what actually went down. As pertains to camping you kind of hear it mentioned now and again, see a picture here and there but it never coalesces into anything solid or tangible. Turns out when there’s little to no information about a place sometimes there’s (a couple of) reasons why that is…

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The Facts

Location

Shaba National Reserve is located in Northern Kenya’s Isiolo County and is part of of a larger migratory and wildlife dispersal area including Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserves. Also included are some of the surrounding community conservancies of  Sera, Kalama , Westgate and Nakuprat-Gotu.

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An overview of the reserves location. Credit: NRT

 

shaba kenya-travel.org

A bit more detail of the relationship between the reserves. Credit: kenya-safari.fr

Nairobi – Nanyuki – Shaba

Our trip begins in a wet and dreary Nairobi attempting to pack everything but the kitchen sink into the car – there is a major difference in cargo when camping with adults and camping with a child. Should the apocalypse jump off while we’re away we have enough diapers to see us through a few nuclear winters.
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The first leg of the journey is a quick 3hrs to Nanyuki where we’ll spend the night.

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Diaper stop in Kiganjo – a life of glamour.

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Nyeri Hill looking aight.

Weather eases up as we approach Nanyuki.

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“If you keep stopping to take photos we’ll never get there.”

An evening  well spent visiting and enjoying H & S’s hospitality (thanks guys) and it’s a short hop down to Shaba enjoying a clear morning.

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Probably the best photo I’ve taken of Mount Kenya  – and I’ve taken many.

We turn off the A2 tarmac just before Archers post and cross the lava fields to the main gate at Natorbe.

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I took this exact photo almost 4 years ago crossing the reserve into Nakuprat-Gotu.

Out and About

Shaba National reserve is is only 240sqkm which is quite small in comparison to others so it’s pretty easy to get around. Here’s what a typical day looked like…

Mornings are spent watching the sunrise from camp and messing around with photography.

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My super-heroes.

After a quick snack head out for a morning game drive…

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….but keep stopping to take advantage of the morning light with The Intern.

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As you drive around Mount Shaba is ever present, visible from just about any corner of the park.

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Shaba has quite a few natural springs so wildlife can be found all around the reserve – unlike it’s neighbour Samburu where a lot of the action is concentrated on the river.

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I’m quite surprised about how many Grevy’s Zebra are around at this time. One of these days I really should join the Great Grevy’s Rally, looks like good fun.

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Find this elephant family and make the worst mistake you can on safari and don’t follow them because “we’ll see many others over the next 4 days”. Do not see another elephant again.

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Game drive over its back to camp for down-time.

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We’re camping at Funan Campsite, we chose this for various reasons and couldn’t have been happier with the decision. The site is in a large grove of old acacias with a natural spring running beside it. There is a nice breeze that blows through the site – welcome relief in this semi-arid area.

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The site is nice and flat with lots of running around room.

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First time camping with a real stove – I feel like royalty.
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Fair warning though, this campsite is chock-full of bird-life and they-do-not-stop-singing (they also don’t stop pooping on your tent). I loved it.

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Locked up while lunch is getting made.

The Cookswell Safari Oven rides again! It hasn’t seen much use recently but the jiko team made a few changes to it so hoping it sees more use this year. I still think it’s a brilliant outdoor product.

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Tip: If you’re in the market for a tent for Kenya – for the love of all that is holy get a mesh tent with a rain fly add-on. They stay cool in the day with the added bonus of sleeping with the stars over-head. In rainy or colder temps just pop the rain fly on – warm and toasty.

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Evening game drives to the east of the park. Just like in Laikipia these rocky kopjes are a common feature – all I want to do is climb all of them.shaba-national-reserve-isiolo-camping-kenya-36

My mapping hobby has me plotting as many trails as I can find on my GPS tracker. I’ll be writing an article about my Kenya mapping project soon.

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Something really special happens in Northern Kenya when it rains – these wild flowers pop out all over in what seems like a day.

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The Ewaso Nyiro borders the reserve for 34km along the northern boundary so there are some really nice tracks to follow along the river.

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Mount Ololokwe is visible to the west and the river winds it’s way through deep gorges through to Chandlers Falls and finally drains into the Lorian Swamp.

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Although not clearly marked there are some safe enough areas to come out and enjoy the views.

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This is the view from the Dudubatu Campsite.

It’s the rainy season so here are storms all around us…

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…but still get some spectacular sunsets.

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This one’s getting too close for comfort.

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Racing back to camp, just before the light disappears, this young lad appears in the headlights as he crosses the road…it seems my leopard luck from Marsabit continues!

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Photo is crap but you don’t see a leopard and not brag about.

Evenings are spent how they always should be – baby in bed, a beer, a book and with lion roaring somewhere in the distance. All is as it should be.

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Snapshot

Distances

Nairobi to Shaba Nartobe Gate – 314km or 5hrs. Tarmac all the way except for the last 9km and of course inside the park.

Accommodation

Campers have a choice of 4 campsites – Dudubatu, Dakadima, Robin Hurt’s (all along the Ewaso Nyiro) and Funan Campsite (inland).

For non- campers there is Sarova Shaba Lodge or Joy’s Camp (closed indefinitely).

Need to know

  • Campsites have no facilities so you do have to be self-sufficient. Water can be topped up at any of the ranger stations.
  • Roads in the main part of the part are graded so SUV/safari van is okay, however if you really want to see all the park has to offer I recommend 4×4.
  • There is no Safaricom network in the park. Last proper reception is at the main gate.
  • Park is poorly signposted – pretty common in our parks and reserves where the assumption is everyone travels with a tour company. But as always I’ve got your back – campsites, viewpoints, ranger stations and a large number of game drive tracks uploaded to Maps.me.
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  • Should you ever come across this map in a bookshop, make the sign of the cross and back away slowly. Only useful for lighting fires.DSC_0915 (2)

Entrance Fees & Contact

Park fees (per day): Citizen Ksh500 Res Ksh1000 – This entry fee can also be used to access both Samburu and Buffalo Springs National reserves which is a good thing.

Camping fee (per day): Citizen Ksh500 Res1000

Campsite booking fee (one off – applicable to all campsites): Ksh 7500

Ranger fee (per day): Ksh1500 per ranger (you must take 2 – and yes it’s mandatory)

Contact: Mohamed +254-713-005065

***Tip: As you can see the secret to keeping costs down here in is to travel in a group and split the booking and ranger fees***

Final Words

So Isiolo County Tourism, whats going here?

  1. Why is there nowhere to get information on visiting/costs/attraction of the reserve. No website/no Facebook page? Please let’s all move into in the 21st Century together – social media is free.
  2. Why does Shaba only have special campsites that require a booking fee? At least one public campsite would be appreciated. Strange that you currently don’t have a product that would cater for your own county residents.
  3. None of the campsites have any kind of infrastructure – no toilets, no water, no dustbins, no nothing. What is this ‘booking fee’ used for?
  4. Why are rangers sent out with with no tents, no beddings, no food and no water? It cannot be ‘expected’ that visitors take care of them. If you do not care for your employees how do they take care of your clients? More work needs to be put into basic skills in guiding, communication and customer care. Rangers are your ‘front office’ – equip them with the tools to create a better visitor experience.
  5. The set-up of the park is clearly favours mobile safaris operators and that’s well and good but not everyone finds sitting in a safari van looking at wildlife interesting. Open up the park by facilitating and promoting activities like bouldering/hiking/nature walks/sundowners – anything to create more of a connection with the environment.

Here’s the rub –  if you’re aiming for a special wilderness experience the visitor experience has to be special all the way. You cannot be premium in price and mediocre in product – that’s not how tourism works. Counties have to  have to realize that they are are in competition for clients with other parks, reserves and conservancies – and it’s tough out there.

Despite my criticism, one thing that I cannot deny is just what a stunning place Shaba is  I really would like to see it return to it’s former glory and hold its own among other premier conservation areas in the country. And now I am very curious about what else Isiolo County has to offer.

Let’s get to work!

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36 thoughts on “Camping in Shaba – Hiding In Plain Sight

  1. mjmacnair

    Asante sana. I had been wondering where you had disappeared to. Now I know you have been in Shaba. Fantastic photos and great work. The wildflowers look sensational.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    what an amazing trip, aiming for the Mathews range in July with the kids, thankfully out of nappies now. thanks for the great post

    Reply
  3. Grace M

    This is awesome! I will come back for these details when I finally get round to organizing a camping trip. Very noble job you’re doing on here.

    Reply
  4. Keith Pearson

    What a wonderful informative blog! Do come and visit Karichota when you next head to Nanyuki. Keith Pearson (The Theatre Company) 0722 815 112

    Reply
  5. AxisAdventures

    A beautiful and a resourceful piece, we like it you have gotten more pictorial lately………………..

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Nakuprat – Gotu Conservancy – Northern Kenya (Part 1) | The Kenyan Camper

  7. Pingback: Camping In Samburu – Panic & Pachyderms | The Kenyan Camper

  8. richie'spad

    And once again we all see hjow we are failing to exploit our rich country. I wish guys at Isiolo county tourism desk see this post. Great job KC. Although camping with kids can bring its challenges but I see you good there.

    Reply
  9. Chris

    Awesome commentary on one of the areas I’m looking forward to start visiting soon.
    How I wish the part about the countys/KWS responsibility could land on the right ears. Currently out of the country and I’m amazed at what constitutes sights for siome countries. Basic sights and features, at equivalent of county level leave alone national, but they are so well documented, marketed and so well provided for, signed and it puts to shame whatever we (Kenya) can even say is our premium offerings. Makes even normal citizens get out every weekend just to enjoy them.
    Good work…please keep it up!

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Chris, you’ve hit the nail on the head as regards info. There is simply no comparison as regards tourist info out there and what is available in Kenya. That’s one reason the tour-guiding business is so big here, almost every single tourist has to be ‘baby-sat’ by so many layers of ‘facilitators’ all wanting a piece of the same tiny pie.

      Reply
  10. flo

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful story,photos and of course the map! and letting us know where we should improve this is very helpful…it all begin like this going towards the digital world.

    Reply
  11. Paulo

    Kenya high entry fees rates is giving more tourist to Southern African industry. 70US park fee!???
    Shame African Parks did not get the management of Shaba and Buffalo Springs. Those two reserves are a pure jewel!

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      It’s just as I said in my article – f you’re going to charge a prenium price you better be offering a premium product. Cattle in parks, zero infrastructure and doing the bare minimum just doesn’t cut it.

      Reply
  12. Gakuo

    @thekenyancamper – it’s always a pleasure to read about your camping trips. It was really good to see how green isiolo can be — i am sure the rains have done wonders for the place. I noticed, in one of your photos, there was another car in the camp site – or was it part of your party? the reason i ask – is how many other touristy/camper types did you see in the park/conservancy when you were there ? with so little “advertising” how does the place managed to exist?. Thanks again as always – your attentiveness to making things better is such an important aspect of this blog … and a lot of the rest of us to mull.

    Reply
  13. chexay (@floob13)

    Adding to your criticism of the reserve I’d like to add:
    1. I was charged 2000/ranger/day and when paid the rangers complained and told me it should be more. Interesting that you were charged 1500.
    2. The rangers are superfluous. Camping in Botswana is wilder than anything in Kenya and rangers are never involved. Adding up all the ‘extra’ charges i.e. the rangers, booking fees really adds to the cost of camping here, especially if you’re foreign and you end up paying over 100 USD per day plus food and fuel. To add to that, I didn’t appreciate their chatter all night, spitting every few minutes due to eating khat, taking our camp furniture and not returning it unless asked to, and also having to ask them to return kitchenware when we were leaving, which they had already packed into their own luggage.
    3. I second your comment about rangers’ equipment and food. When planning an overlanding trip you don’t account for the fact that you end up feeding rangers breakfast and dinner for 4 days. Isn’t this exactly what the booking fee should pay for??

    Reply

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