Sarara and the Namunyak Conservancy
This wonderful place lies in the north of Kenya in Samburu County at the base of the impressive Matthews Range mountains. Below is a snapshot of my short stay here without going into too much detail and spoiling it for you!
Sarara is a fairly different and progressive concept for Kenya, the conservancy is community owned which is nothing new but the lodge itself is also community owned but then run by an experienced family owned and run safari operation. The family involved are in their fourth generation and have been the driving force behind the way in which this arrangement has been developed to benefit the local people and to protect this special wild area.
The location, experience and feeling of Sarara is completely different from anywhere else that I have stayed in the past 10 years of doing this. Having had only a whistle stop stay I am totally sold on this property and think that for people looking for a culturally interesting wild experience with loads of things to do this is the place!
In many places the relationship between nomadic pastoralist tribes and tourism organisations is strained to say the least, here the Northern Rangelands Trust and Sarara (run by the Bastard family) have created a symbiotic relationship which benefits all parties and aims to break down barriers between the surrounding Samburu people and any objections to protecting the land and conserving wildlife.
The Namunyak Conservancy is 850,000 acres of wild space that is as scenically stunning as it is varied. This part of Kenya is home to the Samburu people, peaceful yet fierce with a sense of duty and tradition that exists more here than in many other indigenous groups. The Samburu generally do not want to relinquish their way of life, to see their traditions and values be swallowed up and replaced by a western way of living. This can be both a positive and a negative from a conservation perspective but with the help of organisations such as Sarara it is becoming more achievable for the goals of both to be realised. This really is the future in terms of how a community owned conservancy property should be run.
From Sarara there are some great activities, in the short stay that I had here I was able to visit the wonderful Reteti Elephant Sacntuary, a rescue centre that is once again owned and run by the community with the support of the NRT, Tusk and a number of other organisations. This is a really interesting place to visit to learn about elephant behaviour, why these babies have been rescued and how they plan to release them back into the wild. This really is an awesome and different place to visit and it is so great to see so many of the local people completely dedicated to saving, rehabilitating, rearing and releasing these wonderful animals.
Culturally Sarara is one of the most fascinating places to visit for me, my guide was Mark, a Samburu elder who has been working in tourism for a long time and is articulate, intelligent and fantastic at explaining the intricacies of the balance between tradition and tourism. I found it so easy to ask questions and to learn more about the people that call this land home, not only that but because of the way Mark interact with me I found I thought of more and more questions, there are also the Singing Wells which are a culturally significant and sensitive experience.
There are also incredible bush walks, a trek up Ololokwe, fly camping, light aircraft flights and more to be done here. While the wildlife is not hugely dense there are good herds of elephant that during the dry season can be seen from if not at the camps gorgeous pool as well as a really healthy Leopard population.
For me this is the perfect place to combine with either the Masai Mara for first time visitors or somewhere like Laikipia or Lewa to combine a wilderness and cultural stay with something more wildlife focused.