Saruni Samburu: Our full report
Saruni Samburu is a luxury lodge perched atop a rocky inselberg in the exclusive, remote, Kalama Conservancy, ...... north of the Samburu National Reserve. The lodge is in reach of the national reserve for game drives and has spectacular views overlooking this famous wildlife area and across to Mount Kenya on the southern horizon.
Saruni Samburu opened in 2008 and has been put together with designer flair. It's the sister lodge of co-owned Saruni Mara and Saruni Wild in the Maasai Mara ecoystem, and Saruni Rhino in northern Kenya.
The entire property is spread across an ochre-red mountain of solid rock with every part facing out across the plains far below. The arresting view is hidden until the last minute: you arrive by vehicle, up a steep rocky track at the rear of the lodge, and only when you walk from the car into the main lounge and dining area does the full vista open up in front of you to dramatic effect. It is truly spectacular.
The open-fronted central lounge and dining area, known as Kudu House, is partially roofed and has a few shallow steps to create a subtle subdivision between the two areas. They share a similar style with clean, whitewashed walls, polished red-cement floors and north African and Arab fittings. The homely lounge is decorated with comfortable cream sofas positioned around tables strewn with coffee-table books and the floor is studded with Persian rugs and tall terracotta pots. A further sofa and chairs are set closer to the rock edge for those who can't tear themselves away from the view. A telescope sits in one corner and if you want to try star gazing in the evening then the staff will happily show you how to use it.
Most meals are served at the communal dining table and we enjoyed some excellent, mostly Italian-style dishes, served by the experienced staff and hosted by the charming management.
Far below Saruni Samburu's main area, and accessed via a well-maintained stone pathway, is the glistening infinity swimming pool. The unusual shape seems to mimic the curves of the surrounding rocks, while the edge gives way to a steep drop onto the plains below. Parasols cast shade over the cream sun loungers making this an idyllic spot to while away a few hours. This is the first of two swimming pools at Saruni Samburu, the other being a five-minute walk further up the rock at the far end of the lodge. It is well worth the hike: this second pool is located at the highest point of the property and the views over the Kalama Conservancy from here are jaw-dropping.
If you're in need of further relaxation, head to the spa, situated below the first pool – a simple room set up for massage treatments, pedicures and manicures. This was set up in collaboration with the Italian hotel, ‘Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees’, which is known for its spa treatments, and Saruni’s therapy menu is extensive. As with the rest of the lodge, the front is open to the view. When we were last at Saruni Samburu in 2019 each guest was entitled to one free back and neck massage, with additional treatments costing extra.
Saruni's well-stocked shop sells locally crafted objects – the money from which is put back into the local community – alongside glamorous articles made in Nairobi.
The ten villas at Saruni Samburu all vary slightly in size and shape, and are spread along the front of the rock face. Some of them can be quite a long walk from the main area, with some inclines, and this is a significant consideration if your group includes elderly people or children. Take a look at the plan of the lodge's layout in our slideshow: Villa #1 is a minute or two's walk from Kudu House, while Villas #2–6 range west along the rock face, with Villa #6 taking around 7 minutes to walk to from Kudu House.
- Two pairs of villas (Family Villas #1a-1b, and #4a-4b) are large family villas, each with two en-suite double or twin bedrooms on either side of a large central lounge area. Depending on numbers and people's needs, one side of these can be offered to a solo traveller or twin travellers or a couple, though not if other people are staying in the neighbouring room. Villa #1 is the closest to the lodge's main lounge and dining area.
- There are two more double-bedroomed family villas of a similar but more extensive build (Family and Single Villas #2a-2b and #6a-6b), and these each sub-divide into two completely separate standard villas suitable for couples, solos or two people travelling together. These villas can operate completely independently of each other, each feeling very private and not overlooked.
- There are also two large individual villas – one set up as a double (#5, the Honeymoon Villa) and the other as a double (#3) that can convert to a twin with the addition of an extra bed. Both have en-suite bathrooms and dressing rooms, as well as private dining areas and verandas. The Honeymoon Villa emerges spectacularly from its rocky location and has the best views at the lodge, but is not for children or sleepwalkers as it has some sheer drops.
Saruni's bedrooms themselves are furnished with wrought-iron beds – either king-size or twin – with a nearby standing fan; a handy luggage rack; bedside tables and lamps; and a finishing touch of African art and a designer piece such as a leather bean-bag or a grand Zanzibar chest at the foot of the bed to complete the look. Each room also has a seperate area where you can unpack your clothes and store your valuables in a digital safe.
The bathrooms at Saruni are bright and spacious, with the same whitewashed walls and pale polished floors as the bedrooms. Twin basins sit in front of a large mirror, and there are indoor and outdoor showers in most of them (note that #5 has no outdoor shower). Luxurious toiletries are provided and some rooms have a bath with a view.
If you can tear yourself from the poolside and views, the activities at Saruni Samburu are outstanding. Most people tend to focus on game drives in the lodge's Kalama Conservancy or Samburu National Reserve itself. The conservancy has the advantage of exclusivity and the ability to drive off road, however the wildlife is not as prolific as it is in the reserve – particularly in the dry season. It is of course possible for guests to sample both areas, though you should be aware that it takes about an hour to drive down to the river in the Samburu reserve (the densest wildlife area) from the lodge. For that reason game drives tend to begin at three in the afternoon (an hour earlier than usual), when it is still very hot. When we stayed here in 2019 we had some excellent wildlife sightings in Samburu National Reserve, including leopard and cheetah, we were then lucky enough to see a pack of wild dogs drinking from a waterhole in the Kalama Conservancy close to the lodge.
While you can only do day game drives in Samburu National Reserve, it's possible to do night drives, nature walks and bush meals in Saruni's private Kalama Conservancy. One of the most captivating activities has to be the uncontrived village visits with the local Samburu communities who share a great relationship with Saruni. Immerse yourself for a short while in village life, milking cattle and chatting to the people in their traditionally built homes. More energetic travellers may be roped into activities such as spear-throwing competitions with the warriors who love nothing more than a bit of good-hearted competition. In 2019 village visits were at an additional cost of $20 per person.
If you are feeling particularly active you can take an all-day trip to climb the sacred mountain of Ololokwe, which is around a 90-minute drive from the lodge. Reaching almost 2,000m above sea level this is one of the highest mountains in the Samburu region and is an imposing form on the landscape. The hike typically takes around 5-6 hours and covers about 1,000m of ascent; for enthusiastic walkers this can be a fantastic experience however a good level of fitness is required. In 2019 this was at an additional cost of $150 per person.
The lodge has a photographic hide built in front of waterhole and salt lick on the plain below the lodge, where guests can spend the afternoon. At present this resembles a shipping container, however there are plans to soften the outside, helping it to blend in with the landscape. A leopard lives in the thick bush above villas #1a-1b and is often seen around the lodge, especially in the early morning.
Saruni Samburu has one of the most awe-inspiring locations in Kenya thanks to its uninterrupted views over the conservancy. The lodge makes all it can of this, and has an openness that allows for a fantastic mix of outdoors living with a high degree of style. It's a luxurious option, but is very unpretentious and has a relaxing atmosphere. This, twinned with the exclusivity of the conservancy, makes Saruni Samburu a great choice for this area. However it's worth noting that this exclusivity also means that it is quite a long drive to the best game-viewing areas in the Samburu ecosystem.
- Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 3–4 nights would be ideal to explore everything this area has to offer.
- Saruni Samburu is located 12km, or a 45-minute drive, from Samburu National Reserve's Oryx Airstrip and about 15 minute drive from the Kalama Conservancy's Kalama Airstrip. Kalama Airstrip is just a few minutes drive from the Ethiopian Highway that links Nairobi with Addis Ababa.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Thanks to the Italian owner, the food at Saruni Samburu is very good with an – expected – Italian slant and lots of fresh ingredients. The communal dining was always a convivial event during our stay, which made the meals really enjoyable.
When we last stayed in 2019, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at camp; this consisted of fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, toast and a hot breakfast with eggs cooked to order. On a previous visit we ate breakfast in the bush and were served fruit, pancakes, scotch eggs, sausages and bacon, with fresh bread rolls.
At the lodge, lunch is three courses with a pasta starter, followed by a light main course – we had a variety of salads and broccoli quiche – finished off with a dessert such as homemade creme brulee. Teas and coffees were offered at the end of the meal. However, you will often head into the main Samburu Reserve for a full-day safari, in which case you will take a packed lunch with you. This will consist of salads, cold meat, homemade bread and other tasty bites.
Dinner might be set at the main lodge or under the stars. Like lunch, you can expect a rice or pasta starter, such as creamy risotto. For the main course we had beef sirloin steak which was cooked to preference, accompanied by seasoned potato wedges and corn on the cob. For dessert we tucked in to rich chocolate tiffin with vanilla ice cream.
- Dining style
- Mixture of group dining and individual tables
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Meals at Saruni Mara are usually hosted and communal, though on request they can set individual tables. Meals can also be served privately in your cottage.
- Drinks included
- All drinks are included except for Champagne and specially imported wines and spirits. We can recommend the limoncello gin and tonics, which are a bit of a specialty here.
- An intimate lodge with spectacular views, Saruni Samburu offers a remote setting for a romantic, relaxing safari. The honeymoon villa is luxurious and has its own private dining area. There’s also a spa and two refreshing swimming pools – bliss!
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Cultural experiences
- This is a camp staffed by Samburu people who can take you to neighbouring villages to meet their community in an authentic, non-commercial manner. You can also visit the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, a remarkable community initiative.
- See ideas for Cultural experiences
- If fresh air is good for the soul, you’ll feel rejuvenated after a stay here. Set atop a rocky inselberg, it’s the perfect spot to unwind, with two inviting pools with panoramic vistas. Visit the luxury spa for further pampering.
- See ideas for Wellbeing
- Located on the private Kalama Conservancy, Saruni Samburu offers fantastic walking in the surrounding bush. Or join a 5-6- hour hike up nearby Mount Ololokwe for stunning views of northern Kenya’s semi-desert landscape from 1000m above the plains.
- See ideas for Walking
- Attitude towards children
- Saruni Samburu believe the lodge is best suited to children over the age of seven years.
- Property’s age restrictions
- All children are welcome, though this can be a tricky environment for children (and their parents).
- Special activities & services
- Saruni Samburu can arrange for special children's meals, and the guides can do special activities such as bushcraft and learning what it takes to become a Samburu warrior. Babysitting by housekeeping staff can be arranged at $10 per hour. Child meals can be arranged on request.
- They have a baby cot but no high chairs are available.
- Generally recommended for children
- We would not recommend Saruni Samburu for families with young children. The lodge is smart with a fairly adult atmosphere, and there are steep drops from the front of the rooms and some of the pathways. However, the family villas are great for groups with older children.
- Children would need to be supervised at all times at Saruni Samburu. With many drop offs from the rooms, main areas and pathways parents would need to keep a very close watchful eye.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Saruni Samburu
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Saruni Samburu 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
- Solar power heats the water and provides light and current to the villas 24/7, meaning batteries can be charged in your villa at all times. They also run a generator from 6-10am and from 5-9pm when hairdryers and the like can be used.
- There is moderate cell phone coverage at Saruni Samburu and free WiFi is available in the main areas, although ideally guests need their own laptops or tablet.
- TV & radio
- There is none.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- There is plumbed-in hot water to all the rooms.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a dispensary and medic at Archers Post, which is about an hour's drive away from Saruni Samburu, but Nanyuki Cottage Hospital is much better (2-plus hours' drive). For minor injuries there is first-aid equipment at the lodge and in the vehicles, and certain team members are trained in basic first aid. For more serious incidents Saruni Samburu have links to a flying doctors service.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- There are electronic safes in each of the rooms. Saruni Samburu also has security guards and park rangers on site.
- Fire safety
- Saruni Samburu has fire extinguishers dotted around the lodge and staff have been trained how to use them.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included at Saruni Samburu; it is hand washed and line dried. No female underwear is taken, but there is soap in the rooms for hand-washing your own items.
- Saruni Samburu cannot offer any currency exchange.
- Accepted payment on location
- Saruni Samburu can accept cash in US dollars, Kenyan shillings, euros and British pounds. They will also take Visa and MasterCard, and currently apply a 2.5% surcharge.
Other lodges in Samburu National Reserve
Alternative places to stay in this same area.