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Have you met the Samburu Five?

Have you met the Samburu Five?

Situated at the southern corner of the Samburu district in the Rift Valley province, the Samburu ecosystem comprises three national reserves: Shaba, Buffalo Springs and Samburu.  These parks are not as famous as others in Kenya, but within this ecosystem are species found nowhere else in the country, including the Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and Gerenuk.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

The landscape offers amazing variety from open savannah to scrub desert to lush river foliage, offering fantastic opportunities for excellent wildlife encounters.  Steep-sided gullies and rounded hills formed on the lava plain describe the terrain.  Vegetation in the reserve area is dominated by umbrella acacia woodland with intermittent bush-, grass- and scrub-land. Near the river, Doum Palm dominates the landscape. The fruits of the Doum are eaten by monkey, baboon and elephant.

The climate in this area is typically dry and hot.  Temperatures can reach 40°C in the day with an average low of 20°C at night.  The rainy season occurs during the hotter months between April and June and also November and December, with November usually being the wettest month.  Between January and March it is very hot and dry; July to October is also dry.  The elevation in the park ranges from 800 to 1,230 metres.

Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves are separated by 32 km of the Uaso Nyiro River, which winds its way through Kenya from the Aberdare Mountains to the Loriam Swamp near the Somali border.  The river is the lifeline of this arid region, drawing the water-dependent animals to it during the dry season.  In the Samburu language, “Uaso Nyiro” means “River of Brown Water”.

Located 345km north of Nairobi is Archer’s Gate, the main entrance to Samburu National Reserve.  Established in 1948, the Reserve is relatively small at 170 square kilometres, making animals a bit easier to find than in other parks.  Entry fees for foreigners are currently US$70 per day (2014).

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

Monkey, olive baboon, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, monitor lizard and Nile crocodile are the most commonly seen residents of Samburu.  Lodges in the reserve have attracted the normally reclusive leopards with bait for several years, so the chances of seeing one are greater than in other parks.  As well as these mammals and reptiles, there are over 300 species of birds, including large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowl.  The five endemic species to the area are: Gerenuk, also known as the “giraffe-necked antelope” as it has a stretched neck adapted for browsing high into the bushes; Grevy’s Zebra, with wide black stripes and a completely white belly; Beisa Oryx; Reticulated Giraffe; and the blue-legged Somali Ostrich.

Accommodation in and around Samburu National Reserve varies in luxury and budget.

Umoja Women’s Campsite is our favourite budget option just outside the park gate at Archer’s Post.  It is a community campsite with bandas (small huts) and simple meals.  It is attached to a women’s village that provides refuge for Samburu women fleeing domestic violence.  Proceeds from the campsite support the women, and you can visit the village to learn more about Samburu culture.  Meet the Chairwoman and Founder, Rebecca Lolosoli, in this interview:

Samburu Intrepids is an eco-friendly option inside the reserve.  They have financed the development of a school, a bee-keeping project and medical services in the community.

Larsens Camp, Samburu Game Lodge, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp are other lodges in the area.

The town of Archer’s Post has simple, budget guesthouses and restaurants.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

OTA is running a eight-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  The tour includes game viewing in Samburu, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Fourteen communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information for more information, or check the event page on Facebook

Ethnic Groups of Northern Kenya

Ethnic Groups of Northern Kenya

In June, fourteen ethnic groups of northern Kenya will come together to present the Lake Turkana Festival.  The festival is a celebration of culture and provides opportunity for visitors to learn and experience traditional song, dance, food and rituals from this remote corner of the world.  The groups that live in this region include Borana, Turkana, Samburu, Wata, El Molo, Rendille, Dassanach, Gabbra, Konso and Burji.  This article will describe a few of these main groups, their languages, religions and industries.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival 11-19 June, Kenya,

Kenya is home to 52 tribes that are descended from three broad linguistic groups – Bantu, Nilotic and Cushitic.  Bantu sub-groups make up the majority of Kenya’s population and include the largest tribe, the Kikuyu, as well as Luhya, Kisii, Kamba and others.  The Nilotic sub-groups account for about 30% of Kenya’s population and include Luo (Kenya’s second-largest tribe), Kalenjin and Maasai.  Only 3% of Kenyans are Cushitic, but greater numbers of Cushites live in southern Ethiopia.

Nilotic Groups


The Turkana are the tenth-largest tribe in Kenya with a population of 988,592, which is approximately 2.5% of the country’s total population.  They follow either the Christian religion or their traditional beliefs.  Inhabiting the north-west of Kenya near Lake Turkana, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists herding camels, cattle, sheep and goats.  The Turkana are known for their basket weaving and colourful beads.  They are closely related to Maasai and Samburu and have a reputation of being fierce warriors.  Their diet is mainly milk and blood from their cattle.  Although polygamy is normal, a Turkana wedding ceremony lasts three years, ending after the first child is weaned.


Occupying north-central Kenya around Maralal are the Samburu, closely related to the better-known Maasai.  The Samburu either follow traditional beliefs or the Christian religion.  They are semi-nomadic pastoralists, herding cattle, sheep, goats and camels.  Their diet comprises milk, vegetables and meat.  The young men wear red blankets and use red ochre to decorate their heads, while the women wear bright, beaded jewellery.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival 11-19 June, Kenya,

Cushitic Groups


The Dassanach people can be found spread across Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan.  In Kenya they inhabit the northern end of Lake Turkana.  They are also called Merille by the Turkana people.  Traditionally the Dassanach were pastoral but as they lost their lands (especially in Kenya) they also lost their herds and now try to grow crops to survive.  The Dassanach living on the shores of Lake Turkana hunt crocodiles and fish which they trade for meat.  Women wear pleated cowskin skirts with necklaces and bracelets, while men wear a checkered cloth around their waist.


The Borana are pastoralists, herding cattle and donkeys.  While they are a minority in Kenya, they are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and number about 7 million in total across the two countries.  Some Borana follow Islam and others follow their traditional religion.  The language is also called Borana.  They trade with Konso and Burji, exchanging cattle for food crops and handicrafts.  The Borana are part of an ethnic group called Galla which also includes the Wata, Gabbra and Sakuyu.


Migrating from Ethiopia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Kenyan Burji are found mostly in Moyale and Marsabit.  Most Burji however still live in Ethiopia.  It is widely believed that they are closely related to the Amhara people of Ethiopia as they have a similar language.  The predominant religion is Sunni Islam.  They are agricultural people and so became quite successful in northern Kenya, which is dominated by pastoralists, as they had something different to trade.


The majority of the 250,430 Konso live in south-central Ethiopia, with a small number in northern Kenya.  They are agriculturalists, growing mainly sorghum, corn, cotton and coffee.  They keep cattle, sheep and goats for their own food and milk.  The Konso largely follow their traditional religion and are famous for their carvings which they make in memory of a dead man who has killed an enemy.  They are erected like totems in a group to represent the man’s wives and family as well.


The Rendille are nomadic pastoralists, keeping camels as their primary industry.  They inhabit the north-eastern region concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit.  In 2006 Rendille numbered 34,700.  They migrated from Ethiopia and the northern Horn region into north-eastern Kenya.   Most Rendille practice their traditional religion while a few have adopted Islam or Christianity.

El Molo

The tiny El Molo tribe numbers 5-700 people with only a handful of pure El Molo left.  They are hunter/gatherers, inhabiting the north-eastern region of Kenya.  They migrated from Ethiopia and the northern Horn regions, but now live almost exclusively in Kenya.


The Gabbra’s primary occupation is herding camels, goats and sheep.  They live north of Marsabit, grazing their animals amongst the gravel and stones of the Chalbi Desert and Dido Galgallu Desert in the eastern region.


The Wata are one of only a few small tribes that are hunter/gatherers.  Their language is similar to that of the Bushmen found in Southern Africa.

Do you fancy meeting all these tribes in one incredible weekend?  Join OTA on their nine-day Lake Turkana Festival Tour, travelling through the region and stopping in Maralal, Marsabit and Samburu to meet communities as well as experience the three days of the festival.  Contact for more information.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour Kenya Safari

OTA’s Turkana Festival Tour – cultural engagement and safari in Kenya

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour Kenya Safari

The Lake Turkana Festival has been an annual event on the Kenyan calendar for five years but in 2014, for the first time, it is being organised and facilitated by the local government.  So come and help the local economy, engage with communities, and support cultural traditions at this spectacular festival in one of the most remote corners of the globe.

OTA is leading a tour to the Lake Turkana Festival between 11 and 19 June 2014.  The tour will travel from Nairobi to Thomson’s Falls (, Maralal, Loyangalani (the venue for the Festival), Marsabit and Samburu National Reserve (  Travelling in a comfortable safari van with pop up roof fit for photography, game viewing and touring, this is a camping trip accompanied by an experienced driver/guide and a cook.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour Kenya Safari

Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “The Turkana Festival is special in order to learn more about the cultures of people in the Turkana region. Also it’s so nice to see the lake itself in Northern Kenya, which is mostly a large desert!”

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour Kenya Safari

OTA’s nine-day Lake Turkana Festival Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional cultural experience to combine with their safari.  The tour cost is US$1157 per person (the trip will only run with a minimum of four people) inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fee to Samburu National Reserve, and an English-speaking driver and guide.  There are only six seats available so contact today to reserve your seat.

OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit for more information.

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