Get a wildlife conservancy all to yourself at Saruni Samburu

As our tiny plane dipped beneath the clouds and we caught our first glimpse of the arid plains stretched out below, a collective hush fell over the cabin. Before the plane’s wheels had even touched down on the dirt runway in Samburu, Kenya, we could see our guide Chris, dressed in a cerulean shuka and smiling broadly. Joining Chris in the Land Rover, we headed off to Saruni Samburu, a six-villa lodge atop a rocky hill in the Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy.

The drive from the airstrip to Saruni Samburu doubles as a game drive. Bumping along the craggy road, we ogled giraffes grazing, impala and gerenuk striding across the plains, and sparrow-weavers sitting high above the action. Chris expertly guided the Land Rover up the steep, rocky pass to the resort and delivered us just in time for lunch with the young camp manager James. Saruni’s owners are Italian and its local chef quite skilled at producing classic Italian dishes. Over two days, we happily tucked into fettuccine with zucchini and capers, risotto, and focaccia, with sides like tender roasted vegetables or a fresh avocado and tomato salad. On our first toasty afternoon, we were delighted to see staffers Kennedy and Peter emerge from the pantry bearing house-made coffee ice cream with biscotti.


Of Saruni Samburu’s six villas, four can accommodate families. The whole lodge runs in a zigzag astride a hilltop, with one villa on the descent, just down the path from the main lodge, and the rest, along with the gift shop, on the ascent. There are two pools, one on a path running down from the main lodge and one at the very top of the resort. No matter where we were on the property—whether lying in bed, soaking in the tub, or enjoying the outdoor shower—we were awed by the breathtaking views of Kalama Conservancy and Mount Kenya. All of the villas have private verandahs, ideal for sunset drinks à deux.


Saruni Samburu is the only lodge in the Kalama Conservancy, which covers more than 200,000 acres. Its list of activities reads like a summer camp brochure: bird watching, bush walking, trekking up sacred Mount Ololokwe, visiting ancient caves, bush breakfasts and, as an antidote to all that, swimming. Day-time game drives take place in Kalama Conservancy and neighboring Buffalo Springs National Park and Samburu National Park; on our second day, we were thrilled to park a stone’s throw from a herd of some two dozen elephants, watching as they cooled off in the Ewaso Niro River. Following a sundowner, Saruni runs night game drives, which are allowed only in the conservancy.

We were eager to see a school and the lodge seamlessly arranged for us to go by Kiltimany Primary School on our way to visit the village of the same name. Meeting the 200-odd students here was a wonderful experience. We kicked around the soccer balls we’d brought, played games, told jokes, and generally had a blast. Towards the end of our visit, two of the classes sang for us, which was quite touching. Saruni Samburu partners with Pack for a Purpose, so guests wishing to bring donations know exactly what’s needed and that it’ll go right to the school.


Saruni’s most unique activity is its Warriors Academy, which can run from one day to one week. Here, guests get an lesson on the history of the Samburu people, meet and shadow real Maasai and Samburu warriors, and learn from them myriad skills. These include tracking wildlife, shooting bows and arrows, throwing spears, building a fire and a bush camp, and tending to cattle and goats. Anyone with nimble fingers can try their hand at making the vibrant beaded collars the Samburu wear. For inspiration, visit to the lodge’s gift shop, where proceeds from many of the lovely pieces go back to the local community.

Off the Grid: Rustic Luxury in the Maasai Mara

When was the last time you sat down to eat with an interesting mixed group, surrounded by wide-open plains, the stars blazing overhead, and not a single distraction? This is standard mealtime at Naboisho Camp, an all-inclusive safari camp inside the 55,000-acre Mara Naboisho Conservancy, within Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.


Our safari began in earnest when, dressed in standard Maasai checkered shuka, our guides Wilson and Benjamin greeted us at the Mara Serena airstrip. Piling into the open Land Cruiser, we set off on the 45-minute game drive that would lead us to Naboisho Camp. The intimate nine-tent camp is one of just seven housed in this exclusive conservancy, which is community-owned. It’s part of the Greater Mara Region and borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Less than 10 minutes into our drive, with Wilson and Benjamin’s keen eyes on the bush surrounding us, we’d spotted a sounder of warthogs, which led us all to think fondly of Pumbaa, the flatulent warthog from The Lion King. Just ahead was a striking Acacia tree from whose branches hung a few dozen nests belonging to the social weaver. By the time we pulled into Naboisho Camp, we’d seen a few giraffe, a zeal of zebra, a gorgeous lilac-breasted roller (Kenya’s national bird), and a herd of antelope—and that was all before lunch.


Meals at Naboisho Camp are a communal affair, served either outdoors in the shade of a big Acacia tree or on a long wooden table in the dining room. There is no Internet (in emergencies, the office computer can be used) and this renders mealtimes full of good conversation. Camp managers Helen and Roelof Schutte sit down to dinner nightly with guests; on our first night at Naboisho, over a salad of snap peas and tomatoes, we learned that after college, Helen worked at Disney World, inside the Animal Kingdom park. On the second night, we spoke with Roelof about his experiences growing up in South Africa.



After dinner, our group retreated to the fireplace to continue our discussion over drinks, but guests tend to turn in early at Naboisho Camp, happily worn out from a day of game-drives. At night, a ranger accompanies each guest back to his or her tent, though tent really does not do justice to the accommodations at Naboisho Camp. This is glamping in the truest sense of the word. Each of the nine tents (two of which are for families) has a verandah with day bed, wicker chairs, and an infinite view of the bush. Ensuite bathrooms have a flush toilet and hot running water shower; towels are thick and plentiful. The plush beds are a most welcome respite after a day in the Landcruiser. Rangers patrol the property all night, and on the desk in each room are a flashlight, an air horn, and a walkie-talkie whose calls go to the staff. In the morning, we watched the sun rise over the grass, sipping coffee and munching a few biscuits that had been delivered at our requested wake-up time.


Days at Naboisho Camp start with either breakfast in the main lodge or with a morning game drive and bush picnic. Sitting in the shade of a tree, sipping Kenyan tea and coffee and tucking into a veritable feast is a lovely way to begin a day of activities. Naboisho offers game drives and bush walks and can easily arrange visits to a nearby homestead, where you can meet a local Maasai family. We had picked up a soccer ball in Nairobi, and as the sun set over the plains, we kicked it around with the half dozen kids in the homestead. It’s hard to decide which is a better way to end a day at Naboisho Camp: watching pint-sized locals trying to score a goal, or having a sundowner around the roaring bonfire while listening to the guides’ stories. Luckily, you don’t have to choose.