Sabuk Lodge: Our full report
Sabuk Lodge is a rustic and compellingly sited safari lodge, built on the edge of a remote gorge in central ...... Laikipia, through which rushes the Ewaso Nyiro River. While not principally a wildlife-viewing base, the area around Sabuk is bursting with birdlife, and elephants can sometimes be seen crossing the river. It’s best thought of as an adventurous retreat, offering plenty of activities as well as the privacy to completely unwind.
Unfortunately Sabuk closed indefinitely in 2022, with no scheduled date for re-opening. Please contact us at Expert Africa for any updates.
Arriving at Sabuk Lodge you drive down towards the river valley through the trees and park in the shade. Veteran safari guide Verity Williams, who usually hosts guests here, will come out to greet you. Immediately before you, you get your first views of the Ewaso Nyiro river valley from the open sided communal dining and lounge area. It's a comfortable setup with plenty of seating, quirky ephemera, photos and safari books and a huge, main dining table.
The manager's office, together with a souvenir and curio shop and the best spot for picking up a cellphone signal, are just a few yards away.
Sabuk is one of the oldest lodges in Laikipia: Helen Douglas Dufresne (of Wild Frontiers Camel Safaris) and Simon Evans leased the land here in the 1980s, to use as a base for camel safaris. It was later bought outright, and the rooms and communal areas have been evolving organically ever since. The present lodge has been in operation, with Verity Williams at the helm, since 2005.
Verity is very much the heart and soul of Sabuk. She loves and cherishes the lodge – evident in every aspect of its running and infrastructure, and in the warm attention to detail that you'll notice everywhere, from the hanging bird tables in the arrivals area to the beautifully finished wood fittings that grace every room and cottage, to the gentle engagement with her staff.
At an altitude of 1,520m the air here is often cool at night and in the early mornings, while the river, always audible in the background, and swimming pool are bracingly chilled – perfect on a blazing hot afternoon. The swimming pool is just to the north of the main area and spa.
RoomsThere are eight spacious, but rustic stone built rooms and cottages, including a double and a triple cottage with their own plunge pools. On the north side of Sabuk, beyond the spa and swimming pool, is the first cottage, known as the family house, featuring a fireplace, 3 downstairs single beds, safely protected from the cliff by meshing, a huge double in the main bedroom and a further bed that can either be a large single or a very small double. This house has one shower and bathroom on the main floor.
Immediately south of the main central area of the lodge (usually known as the 'mess') is the family room, which has a double bed, two singles and a further single.
Southwards, in sequence are room 2 (a good honeymoon room with a fireplace, and an additional 'star bed'); room 3 (a cosy, private room that makes a good single, or is ideal for teenagers, with a 'star bed' option and bathroom at the back – the only room at Sabuk with no view from its bathroom); room 4, which also has a small star bed and can be either a double or twin; and room 5, which is basically a double, but has a loft area that is ideal for a child or even two children.
Sabuk's two, more modern cottages are at the southern end of the property beyond the original rooms. Eagle Cottage 1 is strictly for couples or singles (it features an unprotected dropoff on its front side, so is also unsuitable for children or sleepwalkers) while Eagle Cottage 2 is perfect for a group or family, and has a screened frontage facing the river, making it safe for younger children. Its own pool and private dining area (the 'pool mess') are accessed down a path.
ActivitiesAlthough only a small concession of land around the lodge is fully protected, this is wild animal country, as we quickly discovered on our last trip there in November 2018. We were returning at dusk from our sundowner drinks nearby to see flashing lights in the distance. Camp staff were out with torches to warn us of a lone bull elephant half way between us and the lodge and we had to make a quick detour! On a previous trip in 2017, on a gentle walk down to the river, a buffalo was startled as we rounded a large boulder and we didn't need the prompting from our gun-bearing scout to scamper up it. The buffalo thundered past us 20 metres away into thicker bush. The experience was typical of the kind of chance encounters and little adventures that pepper every stay at Sabuk. Such excitement means that even a short walk down to the river to swim and sunbathe has to involve a gun-bearing scout and a guide to go with you.
Apart from such bush walks, which can include drinks and picnic meals depending on your preference (they are always accompanied by a guide and gun-bearing scout), one of the key activities at Sabuk is camel-assisted bush walks. These typically last a morning or an afternoon (morning is usually better as it's cooler) but can also last for a full day, with a suitable shady break in the middle) or even several days, while fly-camping overnight in simple dome tents.
Samburu camel saddles are solid constructions, but don't have much padding, so while you won't fall off, you may not be very comfortable. It's entirely up to you whether you ride or walk alongside, and you'll usually be able to hop on and off as you choose (obviously with assistance).
As well as the camels, Sabuk has a stable with a few horses of various temperaments. You need to be at least slightly experienced to take a pony out on a guided trek, however novices are welcome too.
We did a morning loop around the lodge, with one camel and a couple of horses, following the river, stopping for breakfast at a high vantage point, and then returning back to the lodge a few hours later.
Back at the lodge, if you need your saddle-tenderised parts massaging, Sabuk's spa will do the necessary. It's run by a member of the housekeeping team, herself well trained by a qualified Dutch masseuse. Half-hour sessions cost US$30 and one hour costs US$40.
Depending on availability, you can also avail yourself of a guide and one of Sabuk's vehicles for a game drive or to ferry you part out or part back from a walk: it's up to you. Game drives sometimes take place in the neighbouring Loisaba Conservancy (entry fees extra), which has more reliable concentrations of wildlife. For stays of three nights or more this activity is included in your stay.
Sabuk is a charming, quirky camp, bursting with character, and warmly and intelligently hosted by a highly experienced safari guide. It manages to be great for fun-loving families as well as dishing out the romance to wilderness-seeking couples. And the food is excellent. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed both our stays here.
- Laikipia, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- Usually 3 nights or more
- Most guests arrive at the public airstrip at Loisaba, about 45-60 minutes drive from camp, depending on whether you see any interesting animals en route. If you drive up from Nanyuki, which has a small airport, it takes 2.5 to 3 hours.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Meals at Sabuk are wholesome, tasty and ample, and based very much on what can be procured locally or grown in their own gardens.
During our stay here in November 2018, we arrived in time for lunch, which was a buffet, and had pasta carbonara and a selection of three salads, carrot salad, beetroot salad and a green salad. This was finished off with a very tasty fruit ice cream.
For dinner that evening we had butternut soup, followed by a lovely beef goulash with mushrooms served with mashed potato and a selection of mange tout and cauliflower. A very tasty chocolate mousse rounded off this lovely meal which was shared with Verity.
- Dining style
- Mixture of group dining and individual tables
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Drinks included
- All house drinks (soft and alcoholic) are included, and Sabuk doesn't have a wide variety of special tipples that you'd have to pay extra for. If you want to order something special, ask us in advance when booking and they could get it in for you at extra cost.
- Family holidays
- An excellent choice for adventurous, outdoor-loving families, Sabuk's funky setup appeals to children of all ages. Lots of energetic options include horse- and camel-riding, bush walks and river activities, all accompanied by friendly guides.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Attitude towards children
- Children are welcome, but parents must accept full responsibility for them. This is quite a demanding environment in some ways, and not ideal for toddlers.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- No special services, but plenty of activities, from table tennis to riding (horses and camels, with guides) to river-swimming and tubing.
- Cots and high chairs are available.
- The children will love the swimming pool however parents must be around to supervise them at all times. The pool is unfenced and there are a few drops from some of the rooms and the main areas
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Sabuk Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Sabuk Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- There is a backup generator, but it's rarely needed. Wood boilers (kuni boilers) using local deadwood are used to heat water for showers. Although each room and cottage has power points, your batteries are best charged in the mess. Hairdryers can't be used here.
- The camp has WiFi in the main area, but the cellphone network is poor.
- TV & radio
- The manager has a TV for those important events and occasions, but it's rare for guests to watch it.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Water is pumped from the river to settling tanks, after which it it is treated and filtered. Bottled water is used for activities.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- A first aid kit is available to treat minor injuries and illnesses. The guides are first-aid-trained. There's a clinic at Ewaso centre (7km) and a good hospital at Kimanjo, 2.5 hrs drive away. Helicopter evacuation is possible.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- By day the camp doesn't have specific security, but people are always about. At night, askaris patrol the grounds.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers and sand buckets by every room and cottage. Fire inspections are done every six months.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included in the rate and done daily, subject to weather. It's hand-washed and line-dried. Ladies underwear is not accepted for cultural reasons and soap is provided in the rooms.
- There are lock-up safes in the rooms.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash (US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenya shillings) or bank transfers are accepted for extra payments. Card payments are not possible.
Other lodges in Laikipia
Alternative places to stay in this same area.