Saruni Samburu

Saruni Samburu: Our full report

Rooms
6 cottages
Traveller's rating
Excellent (96%) From 9 reviews
Children
Best for 6+
Open
All year

Saruni Samburu is a luxury lodge that sits atop a vast red rock in the private Kalama Conservancy, north of the Samburu National Reserve. It's the sister lodge of co-owned Saruni Mara. In easy reach for game drives and with spectacular views overlooking this famous wildlife area, Saruni promises real exclusivity to its guests.

Saruni Samburu opened in 2008 and has been put together with designer flair. The entire property is dotted across a vast ochre-red rock with every part facing out across the plains below. The arresting view is hidden until the last minute: you arrive by vehicle 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. We found this really spectacular!

Saruni’s open-fronted lounge and dining area has a partial roof and a few shallow steps create a subtle subdivision between the two. They share a similar style with clean, whitewashed walls, polished red-stone 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. There is also a further sofa and chairs set closer to the rock edge for those who cannot tear themselves away from the view.

Most meals are served at the communal dining table and we enjoyed fantastic meals served by the well-trained staff.

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. Bedouin-style sails cast shade over the cream sun loungers making this an idyllic place to spend a few hours.

Those in need of further relaxation should head to the spa – a simple room set up for massage treatments, pedicures and manicures. Like the rest of the lodge, the front is open to the view. When we were last at Saruni Samburu each room was entitled to one free spa treatment; any additional treatments incurred an extra cost.

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 six Villas at Saruni Samburu all vary slightly in size and shape, and are dotted along the front of the rock face.

  • Two are large family villas, which each have two adjoining en-suite bedrooms and share a large central lounge and dining area.

  • There are two more family villas of a similar build, but these can also be sub divided into four separate and private Standard Villas.

  • Then finally there are two large individual Villas – one set up as a double (the Honeymoon Villa) and the other as a twin that can convert to a double. Both have en-suite bathrooms and dressing rooms, as well as private dining areas and verandas.
All of Saruni Samburu’s rooms are carved into the rock on three sides, with whitewashed walls and ceilings. At the front, are heavy gauze curtains that can be pulled across at night to keep out insects and wildlife, and pulled open in the day to allow guests to make the most the open-plan nature of the bedroom and views from the veranda. Everything is engineered to encourage guests to constantly marvel at the outstanding surrounding scenery.

Saruni’s bedrooms themselves are furnished with a wrought-iron, four-poster 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 to complete the look. Each room also has an 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 polished floors as the bedrooms. Twin basins sit in front of a large mirror, and there is an indoor, as well as an outdoor, shower. Luxurious toiletries are also provided and some rooms even have a bath with a view.

If you can tear yourself from the poolside, the activities at Saruni Samburu are outstanding. Most people will tend to focus on game drives – and you can either head into Samburu National Reserve itself, or stay in the lodge's Kalama Conservancy. The conservancy has the advantage of exclusivity and the ability to drive off road, and the game is increasingly prolific here with leopards and lions seen near the waterhole. It is of course possible for guests to sample both areas, though you should be aware that in practice it takes about an hour to drive down to the river from the lodge.

While you can only do day game drives in Samburu National Reserve, on Saruni’s private conservancy it’s possible to do night drives, nature walks and bush meals. 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, chatting to the people in their traditionally built homes, or the more athletic may be roped into activities such as spear-throwing competitions with the warriors who love nothing more than a bit of good-hearted competition!

Our view

Saruni has to have one of the most incredible locations in Kenya thanks to its phenomenal uninterrupted views over the reserve. 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 and calming atmosphere. This, twinned with the exclusivity of the conservancy, makes Saruni Samburu a great choice for this area.

Geographics

Location: Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: 3–4 nights would be ideal.

Directions: Saruni Mara is about an hour’s drive from Mara North airstrip.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: The food at Saruni Mara was good when we last visited in January 2014. Strongly influenced by its Italian owner it has lots of flavour and especially excellent pasta dishes. Both Saruni Mara and Saruni Samburu operate a shared weekly menu in order to avoid repeats for guests staying at both.

We experienced both a bush breakfast, and breakfast in camp. The option will depend on your individual schedule, usually decided with your guide the day before. When we were out in the bush, our picnic site was on a plain under the shade of a tree with a view of grazing zebra in the background. We were offered stools for seating and a Maasai blanket was thrown over the hood of the car as a table. Cereal, muffins, fruit, toast were on offer, together with cold sausage, bacon and boiled eggs, with tea, coffee and juices to drink.

Breakfast in camp comprised a variety of cereals, a fruit platter and a selection of baked goods, followed by freshly cooked eggs or your choice with bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and toast.

Possibly our favourite meal at Saruni Mara was the lunch we had in camp: a set menu served to the table. Our starter, of delicious rigatoni (oversized penne) in a rich cheese and tomato sauce, was followed by a tasty avocado and feta salad with a spinach quiche, and finished with a raspberry fool. Saruni also arrange packed lunches for guests heading out on safari for the whole day.

Evening dinner at Saruni Mara starts with nibbles around the fire; on one evening we had pizza slices, on another little salmon rolls. Then as a starter you can expect something like soup or a pasta dish; we had a pea soup one night, and lasagna the next. A main course of steak with pepper sauce and vegetables stuck in our memory, although the chicken and pesto dish was a little more forgettable. Dessert options might include a mango cheesecake, sorbet or peach amarettis.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All drinks are included except for premium wines and spirits, and champagne.

Further dining info: 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.

Special interests

Honeymoons: An exclusive lodge with breathtaking views, Saruni Samburu offers an opulent, romantic and relaxing safari honeymoon to Kenya. The honeymoon villa is luxurious and has it’s own private dining area. There’s also an idyllic spa and a lovely swimming pool – bliss!

See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya

Children

Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at Saruni Mara.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: For the 6+ bracket, the ‘warriors for a week’ programme introduces Maasai boys from the local village to visiting children.

Equipment: There is a baby cot but no highchairs.

Notes: Housekeeping staff will sit with babies and children, and askaris are close by in the evening. It is important to note that none of the staff are specifically trained in childcare.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Combination of power

Power supply notes: Saruni Mara relies mostly on solar power for the lighting and kuni-boosters for the hot water, though they do have a back-up generator. The cottages have 24-hour power and plug points for charging batteries. Hairdryers can be used when the generator is on, often from 7.00am to 1.00pm.

Communications: There is a good cellphone signal at Saruni Mara and limited WiFi at the office/shop and around cottage numbers 2 and 3.

TV & radio: Staff quarters have a TV for the odd big match or special event.

Water supply: Transported in

Water supply notes: Hot water is available most of the time but as the kuni-boosters needs to be lit, guests will need to ask the night before if they want hot water in the early morning. Bottled drinking water is supplied.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Most guides are first-aiders at Saruni Mara, and Aitong Clinic is not far away. In an medical emergency, medical-evacuation helicopters can land nearby.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Askaris are on patrol all the time at Saruni Mara and Mara North rangers are usually around the area.

Fire safety: Saruni Mara has fire extinguishers in every cottage and most other buildings, and most staff are trained in their use. There’s a firebreak uphill from camp where forest fires would be most likely to come from.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Machine-washed and line-dried laundry is included in the rates, but in common with most camps, ladies' underwear is not accepted for cultural reasons. Washing powder is provided in the bathrooms for hand-washing any items.

Money: There are safes in each cottage at Saruni Mara. Currency exchange is not offered.

Accepted payment on location: Cash payments in all major currencies are accepted at Saruni Mara, as are MasterCard and Visa credit cards, for which there is a 4% surcharge.

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