Explore the Magical Beauty of Northern Kenya’s Tourism Circuit

Among the most fascinating destinations to visit in Kenya as a camper or for any tourist is the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit which boasts of a hot climate and is unique for its vast desert and semi-desert landscapes. This region offers a combination of cultural, historical, and adventure tourism experiences. This area of the country boasts breathtaking sceneries, diverse wildlife, and an authentic local culture that is unique to this part of Africa.

This article is part of our series exploring Kenya’s tourism circuits including Western Kenya Circuit, Nairobi Circuit, Central Kenya, Central Rift and Southeast Circuits.

Where is the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit?

The northern region of Kenya, comprising Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, and Turkana counties is just part of the magical tourism destinations of Kenya. This region is a gateway to popular game reserves such as the Samburu National Reserve, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Shaba National Reserve, and Marsabit National Park. The area is characterized by vast savannah plains, rugged hills, mountains, and deep valleys.

3 Classes of Tourist Attractions in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit:

Wildlife:

grevy's zebra northern kenya circuit

This region is home to some of the most iconic and endangered species of animals such as the African elephant, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, and the Somali ostrich. The Samburu National Reserve is particularly famous for its large population of elephants. Reticulated giraffe, found in Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves, have a unique pattern of markings that sets them apart from other giraffe subspecies. The Grevy’s zebra is also a highlight of this region, with its distinctive stripes and presence in the Shaba National Reserve. And if you’re lucky, you may spot the rare and elusive African leopard in the Marsabit National Park.

Scenery:

Central Island National Park in northern circuit

The Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit boasts of spectacular sceneries that are unlike any other. From vast open savannahs to rugged hills and volcanic formations, this area offers a diverse landscape that is simply breathtaking. One of the must-see sights is the Chalbi Desert located in Marsabit County, which is the only true desert in Kenya. Other notable sights include Mount Kulal, a volcanic mountain that rises over 2,000 meters above sea level and Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world.

Cultural Experiences:

The Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit is also rich in cultural heritage and offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture. The Samburu and Turkana communities are the dominant ethnic groups in this region, and they have managed to preserve their traditional ways of life despite modernization. Visitors can visit local villages and interact with members of these communities, learn about their customs and traditions, taste local cuisines and even participate in traditional dances.

Parks and Reserves in Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit

  1. Samburu National Reserve: Located on the banks of Ewaso Ng’iro River, this reserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo). It is also known for its unique flora and fauna such as the Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, and gerenuk.
  2. Buffalo Springs National Reserve: Adjacent to Samburu National Reserve, this reserve is named after the springs that attract a large number of buffaloes and other animals during the dry season. Visitors can also spot rare species such as the Greater Kudu, Beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich.
  3. Shaba National Reserve: Also located in the same area as Samburu and Buffalo Springs, this reserve offers a more secluded safari experience with fewer visitors. It is home to a variety of wildlife including the Big Five, as well as unique bird species such as the Shining Sunbird and Violet Woodhoopoe.
  4. Marsabit National Park: Located in Marsabit County, this park is a haven for birdwatchers with over 300 species of birds recorded. It also has a diverse landscape ranging from mountains and craters to forests and lakes, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
  5. Lake Turkana National Parks: This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of three national parks – Sibiloi, Central Island, and South Island. It is famous for its stunning scenery and unique wildlife such as the Greater Kudu, Grevy’s zebra, and Nile crocodile. The lake itself is also an important breeding ground for birds.

Key Tourist Attractions in This Circuit:

  1. Lake Turkana: The largest desert lake in the world, Lake Turkana is a breathtaking sight with its vibrant blue-green color against the arid landscape. It is also known as the “Jade Sea” due to its mineral-rich waters.
  2. Chalbi Desert: Located in Marsabit County, this desert is a vast expanse of white sands and volcanic landscapes. It is home to the Gabbra and Borana communities who have adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert.
  3. Mt. Kulal: Rising to an altitude of 7,000 feet, this mountain is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. It is home to unique flora and fauna including the endangered De Brazza’s monkey.
  4. Lake Paradise: As the name suggests, this lake is truly a paradise with its crystal-clear waters and surrounding lush greenery. It is located in Sibiloi National Park and is an important breeding ground for flamingos.
  5. Marsabit National Reserve: This reserve is known for its large herds of elephants, as well as other wildlife such as lions, leopards, and zebras. It also offers stunning views of Mt. Marsabit – a dormant volcano with a crater lake at its summit.
  6. Loiyangalani Desert Museum: This museum showcases the culture and traditions of the local Turkana community, as well as exhibits on the natural history of Lake Turkana and its surrounding areas.
  7. Koobi Fora: Considered one of the most important paleontological sites in Africa, Koobi Fora is a must-visit for those interested in human evolution. Fossils of early hominids and extinct animals have been found here, providing valuable insights into our evolutionary history.
  8. Bongole Crater, situated in the Marsabit National Reserve, is an awe-inspiring natural wonder. It was formed through the fascinating interaction of underground water and magma. The crater floor boasts a mesmerizing lake that undergoes fluctuations in volume based on rainfall. During the rainy season, it transforms into a lush green marsh, while in drier times, it becomes a dry bed. This picturesque lake serves as a vital grazing spot for a variety of animals. Here it is on the map.
  9. Central Island National Park, located in the middle of Lake Turkana, is a must-visit for its unique landscapes and diverse wildlife. The island itself is made up of three active volcanoes and offers breathtaking views from its summit. It is also home to crocodiles, hippos, and a large colony of pelicans.
  10. Maralal Wildlife Sanctuary: Located approximately 1.5 kilometers from the heart of Maralal town, the Maralal Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses a scenic 5-square-kilometer area of rugged rocks and sprawling plains to the southwest. This conservation haven is not only a habitat for Gravy’s zebra, but also a diverse array of captivating wildlife, including hyrax, giant leopard tortoises, genets, impala, monkeys, baboons, rockhoppers, and elands.

Main Activities to do in this Circuit:

camel back safaris in northern kenya circuit
  1. Bird watching: With over 400 bird species recorded in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit, it is a haven for bird watchers. The diverse habitats of the region attract both resident and migratory birds.
  2. Cultural experiences: The Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit is home to various tribes such as the Samburu, Rendille, and Turkana. Visitors can immerse themselves in their culture by visiting traditional villages, attending festivals, and even participating in daily activities like herding livestock.
  3. Camel-back Safaris: Experience the thrill of camel-back riding safaris! Embark on an extraordinary journey, guided by the skilled Laikipia Masai trackers, as you traverse the picturesque landscapes. These majestic creatures will carry you and your belongings from one camp to another, allowing you to indulge in a unique fly camping walking safari. For added convenience, there are pack camels available to transport additional luggage. Immerse yourself in this unforgettable adventure, where every step unveils a new chapter of wonder and excitement. Read more from from this website.
  4. Nature walks and hikes: The vast landscapes of the region offer endless opportunities for nature walks and hikes. Visitors can explore the forests, mountains, deserts, and lakes while spotting unique flora and fauna along the way.
  5. Fly Camping: For the adventurous souls, fly camping is a must-do activity in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit. This unique camping experience allows visitors to spend a night under the stars in remote and scenic locations. The camps are set up by experienced guides, and visitors can enjoy traditional meals cooked over an open fire while listening to the sounds of nature. Explore fly-camping safaris in Kenya here.
  6. Game drives: The national parks and reserves in this circuit are home to a wide variety of wildlife including the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Game drives allow visitors to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
  7. Boat safaris: Some of the parks and reserves in this circuit have water bodies such as lakes and rivers. Boat safaris offer a different perspective of the wildlife and scenery in these areas.
  8. Camping: For those looking for a more adventurous experience, camping in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit is a must. From basic campsites to luxury tented camps, there are options for all types of travelers. Camping also allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the wilderness and disconnect from the modern world. In our guide on top wild camping destinations in Kenya, Chalbi Desert is among our top recommended spot to visit. Check out our camping safari packages in Kenya here

Why are Northern Kenya Safaris Expensive:

  1. Exclusivity: The Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit is known for its exclusive and high-end safaris, making it a popular destination for luxury travelers. The cost of these safaris can be attributed to the remote locations, unique experiences offered, and limited number of visitors allowed in certain parks and reserves to ensure sustainability.
  2. Community-based tourism: Many lodges and camps within the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit have a strong focus on community-based tourism. This means that the local communities are involved in the management and operations of these establishments, which helps to support and uplift the livelihoods of the people living in these areas. Visitors can also participate in cultural activities and interactions with the locals, providing a more authentic and meaningful travel experience.
  3. Conservation efforts: The Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit also plays a significant role in conservation efforts. The parks and reserves in this region are home to endangered species such as the Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, and black rhino. By visiting these areas, tourists not only get to see these animals in their natural habitat but also contribute to their protection through park fees and sustainable tourism practices.

Challenges to be aware of when planning to visit this Circuit:

  • Insecurity: Due to its remote location, Northern Kenya has faced challenges with banditry and tribal conflicts in the past. However, this issue has been greatly reduced through increased security measures and partnerships between tourism stakeholders and the local communities.
  • Limited infrastructure: The lack of proper roads and transportation options can make it challenging to navigate through the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit. It is important to plan ahead and travel with a reliable tour operator or guide who is familiar with the area.
  • Extreme weather conditions: Northern Kenya experiences harsh and unpredictable weather, especially during the rainy season. It is essential to pack appropriate gear and plan for potential delays in travel due to adverse weather conditions.

Are there Safari Packages to visit the Northern Kenya Circuit?

Kambu Campers offers two specialized packages that can be customized to include the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit:

  1. The “Wildlife and Culture Experience” package includes visits to Samburu, Shaba, and Buffalo Springs reserves in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit, as well as cultural experiences with local communities.
  2. The “Hidden Gems of Northern Kenya” package is a more adventurous option that takes travelers off the beaten path to explore lesser-known parks and reserves in the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit, such as Marsabit National Park and Lake Turkana.

If you are interested in visiting the Northern Kenya Tourist Circuit, please let us know by sending us a message at bookings@kambucampers.com and we will get back within 24 hours. Explore the Magical Beauty of Northern Kenya’s Tourism Circuit | Kambu Campers

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