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. With its combination of luxury and adventure, this is one of northern Kenya's finest and most memorable places to stay. The new Sarara Treehouses camp is nearby, nestled in the forest, with its own swimming pool and lounge with a magnificent view across the forest and mountains.
Around 60 per cent 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. It is tastefully designed with lots natural materials the open sides take advantage of the panoramic views.
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 six 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.
There is one two-bedroom family house, Loimugi House, which is located to the right-hand side of the communal area. This has been built in the same style as the main lodge, constructed from gnarled tree branches and completely open to the front. There is a tented bedroom to either side which are connected by a spacious lounge in the middle. A flight of wooden steps leads up to a private dining area and Loimugi House also has its own private swimming pool, which we were told was regularly frequented by elephants.
For people staying more than three nights, Sarara often organises fly-camping in a dry riverbed (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, although wildlife is not as prolific as in other parts of Kenya. One benefit of Sarara is that each party is guaranteed their own private vehicle and guide for the duration of their stay, giving plenty of flexibility as to how you plan your day. Bush dinners in the riverbed, village visits (US$10 donation per person paid to the camp) and visits to the singing wells (no photos, unfortunately) are also organised. 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.
Horse riding is a popular option here and when we were here in 2019 there were around 15 horses suitable for guests. Join an experienced riding guide to explore the Namunyak Conservancy from horseback. The wildlife is generally fairly relaxed around horses, allowing you to get close to species such as giraffe and zebra. The rides can be tailored to suit you, with gentle hacks for novice riders and longer, faster paced rides for those with more experience.
Sarara is around a 30-minute drive from Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, which was set up in 2016 to rescue northern Kenya’s elephant orphans. Young elephants become orphaned for a number of reasons, some fall into wells whilst others are the victims of human wildlife conflict. At Reteti dedicated keepers look after the orphans, raising them by hand until they are ready to be returned to the wild. Reteti welcomes visitors during designated feeding times, either between 08:30 and 10:00 or between 11:30 and 13:00. Chat to the keepers and learn about the elephants and how they are preparing them to return to the wild. Visits to Reteti are at an additional cost of $20 per person, which helps to support the sanctuary.
We 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.
- Northern Kenya, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- Four nights – or longer if you want to fly-camp.
- The camp is 200m from Sarara’s own airstrip, which can be accessed by a charter flight (small planes only) from Nanyuki or Wilson Airport, Nairobi. The larger Kalama airstrip near the tarmac Isiolo–Marsabit road can be used for larger charter planes.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- 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 your order is taken for a cooked items, with eggs of your choosing, bacon, sausage, mushrooms and beans.
Lunch was a buffet with a range of fresh and tasty dishes including lasagna, salads, chutneys and focaccia. Desert was a passionfruit sorbet.
When we stayed at Sarara in 2019 we had a bush dinner in the dry riverbed, with a warming fire and dances by local Samburu warriors. We started with sweetcorn fritters and a sweet dipping sauce, this was followed by a selection of barbequed chicken, vegetable and beef kebabs, rice, chapattis and salads. Dessert was a chocolate brownie and cream.
- A luxurious lodge with a natural aesthetic, totally in keeping with its surroundings, Sarara is a very special place for a honeymoon. The combination of unique activities, delicious meals and breathtaking views mean you are in for a memorable stay.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Riding holidays
- While northern Kenya is generally arid, the bushy landscapes around Sarara attract good wildlife and riding excursions offer a new perspective. Most of the plains grazers are relaxed around the horses. Gentle hacks or faster rides can be arranged.
- See ideas for Riding holidays
- Cultural experiences
- In a nearby seasonal river, Samburu people assemble in the dry season to form human chains, collecting water from deep wells for their livestock. Singing as they work, their tunes create a hypnotic experience known as the ‘singing wells’.
- See ideas for Cultural experiences
- With its famous infinity pool overlooking the sweeping plains below and a dramatic mountainous backdrop on the horizon, Sarara is a memorably located and luxurious base from which to enjoy your safari in great comfort.
- See ideas for Wellbeing
- 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 ideas for Walking
- Private villas & houses
- Sarara’s Loimugi House has two bedrooms, a private dining area, a lounge and a pool. Set near Sarara’s main communal area, you can enjoy the camp’s wonderful atmosphere and location while being able to retire to your private house whenever you like.
- See ideas for Private villas & houses
- Attitude towards children
- Sarara is happy to accept children of all ages.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- Women working in the housekeeping team can help with children – although they don't have any child-minding qualifications. Parents can even leave them behind while they go out on game drives. The Samburu 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.
- 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. Loimugi House has been built with families in mind and works well for older children.
- Generally recommended for children
- Generally recommended for active older children who can make the most of the activities on offer.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Sarara
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Sarara 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.
- Sarara has no cellphone network, but there is a satellite phone and a wireless phone for emergencies. There is WiFi in the communal area, however this is quite slow.
- TV & radio
- No TV available.
- Water supply
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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.
Guided walking safari
- 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.
- 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.
Other lodges in Northern Kenya
Alternative places to stay in this same area.