Nestled between rocks and rolling hills, Sarara makes great use of its natural surroundings.
Sarara: Our full report
First set up as a mobile camp in 1997, Sarara was rebuilt in 2008 as a permanent luxury tented camp. It lies on the edge of the Mathews Range in the Namunyak Conservancy, which covers more than 340km2 and has a variety of wildlife. The name Sarara means ‘meeting place’: the mountains meet here, so water is always available, and local people assemble to dig wells and collect water.
Around 60% of Sarara’s income goes straight back into the community: tourism has become essential to the survival of this wilderness area and the traditional communities living within its boundaries.
Sarara’s central areas are structured around the irregular frames of wooden branches, reclaimed from the bush and infilled with cream-coloured cement in an organic and delightfully artistic building style that is common to many lodges in northern Kenya. Most of their furniture is built from the same wood, although a limited amount of wood brought in from outside the conservancy has been used for ceilings.
There’s a very nice infinity pool below the lounge deck, built into the natural rock. And in this hot climate you’ll be glad of it – and of the comfortable loungers in the shade. In front of this pool is a waterhole that draws in elephants, usually as daily visitors. You can watch them from the pool and lounge-deck, or sneak down to the hide to watch from very close quarters.
The very large tented chalets at Sarara are canvas structures but with walls largely consisting of mosquito screen. Rugs on the floor and armchairs complete the furnishings. There’s a wall behind the beds and an indoor bathroom, with bathrobes, a funky washbasin and mirror, and a flush loo. There’s also an outdoor, open-sided shower and toilet, accessed by a short walkway, with views of the waterhole in some cases. You get hot water 24 hours a day, from solar panels.
For people staying more than three nights, Sarara often organises fly-camping in a dry river bed (when rain isn’t forecast). This needs to be booked in advance. There are six tents for this purpose (so a maximum group size of 12) but four tents is ideal, and they will even do it for one.
Sarara is perfect for people who enjoy walking and the most popular activities here take place on foot, or with the assistance of camels. That said, day and night drives are on offer as well, and the game viewing here can be good. Bush dinners in the river bed, village visits (US$10 donation per person paid to the camp) and visits to the singing wells (no photos, unfortunately) are also organised; each party of guests gets their own vehicle and guide. At the singing wells, it’s not the wells that do the singing, but local people, who assemble to form a human chain to collect water from the deep wells and sing to keep their spirits up and their rhythm constant under the hot sun.
Sarara also has a star-bed camp, located about three hours’ walk away, in a rocky area up in the mountains. If you’re staying longer than three nights at Sarara, you might choose to spend one of them here (advance notice required). This is still camping in comfort, with camels carrying all the kit. They have a simple mess tent with some lounge chairs and a bar area and there are stunning views out over the conservancy. The beds here are mosquito-netted four-posters on open-air platforms, giving you the wonderful experience of sleeping under the stars. It’s a quite heavily forested area, which is very good for birds and is home to de Brazza monkeys and a rare species of colobus monkey, the Mount Warges guereza. You can swim in the streams and natural rocks pools up here, and there’s an excellent waterhole that attracts wildlife.
Our viewWe loved Sarara. The owners clearly care a lot about conservation and the community and a stay here feels like a very worthwhile exposure to the traditional lifestyle of northern Kenya’s semi-desert regions, while striking a perfect balance with guests’ expectations. The camp is very comfortable but doesn’t overwhelm its natural environment. Nature, luxury, wildlife and conservation are all incorporated in an uncontrived package. And the hosts are charming.
Ideal length of stay: Four nights – or longer if you want to fly-camp.
Directions: The camp is 200m from Sarara’s own airstrip, which can be accessed by a charter flight (small planes only) from Nanyuki. The larger airstrip near the tarmac Isiolo–Merille road can be used for larger charter planes.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Sarara was excellent, made with fresh ingredients and with lots of flavour.
Breakfast is a hearty and varied spread of cereals, fruits, fresh bread and yoghurt. Then you order is taken for a cooked items, with eggs of your choosing, bacon, sausage, mushrooms and beans.
Lunch was a cold buffet of coronation chicken, potato salad, a delicious savory egg mousse and salad, followed by a wonderful selection of Kenyan cheeses.
For dinner we started with stuffed mushrooms with a tomato salsa, followed by roast duck with orange sauce and gravy, roast potatoes, creamed broccoli and red cabbage. Dessert was a chocolate brownie and cream.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Almost all drinks are included but there are a few special whiskies and ports that are at additional cost.
Further dining info: Room service can be organised, but must be arranged in advance.
Cultural experiences: A 20-minute drive from Sarara, Samburu warriors assemble in the dry season to form human chains, collecting water from deep wells for their livestock. Singing as they go, their tunes are rhythmic and create a hypnotic scene known as ‘the singing wells’.See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Kenya
Walking: Sarara offers some more leisurely walking in Kenya, with a well-armed guide through the rocky and forested areas of the Namunyak Conservancy. You can swim in the streams and rock pools, as well as look out for big game and birds.See more ideas for Walking in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Sarara is happy to accept children of all ages.
Property’s age restrictions: None.
Special activities & services: Women working in the housekeeping team can help with children – although we doubt any have European or US child-minding qualification. Parents can even leave them behind while they go out on game drives. The Maasai staff love taking kids out to make fire and bows and arrows etc. Football on the airstrip is popular when they have enough players – and when there’s no plane due to arrive! Sarara will also do children’s meals.
Equipment: Sarara has highchairs and mosquito-net dome tents that can be used by children, and camp beds that can be added into a parents’ room. There’s no family room as such but they do have some rooms closer together that they can put families into.
Generally recommended for children: Generally recommended for active older children who can make the most of the activities on offer.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: Sarara has no cellphone network, but there is a satellite phone and a wireless phone for emergencies. Their WiFi is quite slow but works eventually.
TV & radio: No TV or radio – this is the bush!
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is a first-aid kit at Sarara, and one manager and a member of staff are first-aid trained and have done trauma courses. There is a very good missionary hospital at Wamba, about three hours by road over the mountains. Alternatively Isiolo is about a two-hour drive south, and Nanyuki an hour further on. The lodge has links to the flying doctor service for emergencies.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Sarara normally has several scouts on site to look after the property and conduct walks – when they carry heavy-calibre rifles.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers dotted around the camp and one in every room, together with sand buckets. Staff are trained in fire drill.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included, except for ladies’ underwear. Items are hand washed and line dried, and soap and laundry lines are provided in the chalets.
Money: Sarara can occasionally exchange dollars and Kenyan shillings but the amount depends on what they have in camp.
Accepted payment on location: At present, any payments must be made in cash only, using US dollars, Kenyan shillings, British pounds, euros, and some other currencies.