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…
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.
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.
The first leg of the journey is a quick 3hrs to Nanyuki where we’ll spend the night.
Weather eases up as we approach Nanyuki.
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.
We turn off the A2 tarmac just before Archers post and cross the lava fields to the main gate at Natorbe.
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.
After a quick snack head out for a morning game drive…
….but keep stopping to take advantage of the morning light with The Intern.
As you drive around Mount Shaba is ever present, visible from just about any corner of the park.
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.
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.
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.
Game drive over its back to camp for down-time.
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.
The site is nice and flat with lots of running around room.
First time camping with a real stove – I feel like royalty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Something really special happens in Northern Kenya when it rains – these wild flowers pop out all over in what seems like a day.
The Ewaso Nyiro borders the reserve for 34km along the northern boundary so there are some really nice tracks to follow along the river.
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.
Although not clearly marked there are some safe enough areas to come out and enjoy the views.
It’s the rainy season so here are storms all around us…
…but still get some spectacular sunsets.
This one’s getting too close for comfort.
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!
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.
Nairobi to Shaba Nartobe Gate – 314km or 5hrs. Tarmac all the way except for the last 9km and of course inside the park.
Campers have a choice of 4 campsites – Dudubatu, Dakadima, Robin Hurt’s (all along the Ewaso Nyiro) and Funan Campsite (inland).
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.
- 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.
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***
So Isiolo County Tourism, whats going here?
- 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.
- 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.
- None of the campsites have any kind of infrastructure – no toilets, no water, no dustbins, no nothing. What is this ‘booking fee’ used for?
- 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.
- 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!