As our travels progress, we are drawn to the stories of places where lodges and camps are helping community development, especially in Northern Kenya.

We have enjoyed exploring some of the NRT (Northern Rangelands Trust) conservancies in the past, and this time our destination was Kalama conservancy, and more specifically Saruni Samburu, which is the only lodge in the conservancy. Their website states that they are one of the main sources of income for the communities around the area.   Since it opened, the lodge has provided jobs, income, training and guidance for the local Samburu people in the area.  Tourism directly supports conservation, and by visiting the lodge, you are directly giving back to the community who are protecting this beautiful land.  You are also helping improve their quality of life, while at the same time encouraging the purpose for conservation.

In fact, it was great meeting Tom who manages Kalama conservancy, to see how we could help in the communities there. This meeting had led to us to including Kalama Primary School in our schools program and we visited the school in May to provide exercise books, stationery to the students and cloth school bags.

Tom and Kamal at the entrance of Kalama conservancy – harmony between nature, wildlife, livestock and people

The conservancy is not far from Archer’s Post on the Isiolo – Marsabit Road and once we turned off the main road, we had a fun drive on the sandy roads towards the lodge.  

We like to be surprised by our destination, so had not looked up too much about the lodge itelf beforehand so the last stretch getting to the lodge was a surprise and a super fun drive up the rocks.  

The architecture of the lodge is fascinating, where it is built into and around a giant volcanic rock face, high up with unbelievable views.  It is open and spacious, blending into and becoming a part of the natural surrounding environment.  It is bold, dramatic, beautiful and truly unique.

Looking towards the lounge and dining area

We were warmly welcomed by the team led by Nicole and Gladys, who were the acting camp managers (the normal managers were on leave), and within minutes we were feeling at home in the open space of the lounge, which was elegantly furnished but with a design making the focus of the area on the stunning landscape views from this amazing vantage point.  

View from the fireplace which is at the edge of the spacious lounge

Nicole is a member of the local community and it was awesome to hear her story of how she started off as a cleaner and worked her way with mentoring to being at her current position.  She had a great outlook to how to make a team work, especially in an environment where women are only just starting to be leaders in the communities.  

After a short briefing about the lodge and area (remember to ask about Ugali when you visit), we walked to Villa 6A, which would be our home for the next couple of nights.  

The beautiful doors at the entrance to our Villa 6A

The accommodation at Saruni Samburu is all within 6 spacious villas.  Each villa has a lounge and dining area, balcony, bedroom and an indoor and outdoor shower.  Villa 1 has disabled access and 4 of the villas can be family villas.  Villa 2 and 6 are the only villas which don’t have indoor baths (though in these areas, I would feel guilty about the amount of water usage in a bath).  

The lounge and dining area in our villa. Can you see the water dispenser?

I was impressed to see all the measures that had been taken to reduce plastic usage at the lodge, starting from the refillable bottles and drinks in glass bottles in the fridge in the villa. A water dispenser is also provided.  Just tell the staff what drinks you want and they will be kept in the fridge for you.  Trust me, there is nothing better than sipping that cold beer while relaxing in the balcony immersing yourself in the dramatic views.  

In the bathroom, the bath and shower products are all eco-friendly in reusable packaging and even the cotton buds provided are made from bamboo.

View from the outdoor shower in our villa
Bathroom with a view – reflections in the mirror

All the villas were great with spectacular views, but I have a bias and feel like we got the best one with the most spectacular view of all (will definitely be asking for Villa 6 when we go back). I could have just sat there the whole day drinking it all in. This is just the food that my soul needed. And in case you feel more active, a yoga mat is provided in the room to get a fully refreshed mind, body and soul. Even now, I just have to close my eyes and I can picture the vistas from the villa.

It’s all about the vistas. Food for the mind, body and soul

Sitting in the balcony of our villa at Saruni Samburu, looking out at the vistas of the beautiful Mt Uaraguess and the Mathew’s range,it was clear why Kalama was one of the inspirations for some of the scenes of the new Lion King movie coming out in a few weeks and a quote from the Lion King came to mind. 

“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.”  Mufasa to Simba, from “The Lion King”

I realized how this quote rings even truer today than ever before, when we are seeing some of the “battles between men and nature”.  It was therefore refreshing for us to see the wonderful work being done in Kalama community conservancy, where this delicate balance is being put back in place to ensure that wildlife, nature and men co-exist in harmony.  

Thumbs Up – one of the inspirations for some scenes in the upcoming Lion King movie

It was approaching midday by the time we had settled into our villa and the temperatures were rising.  We pulled ourselves from balcony and headed to the pool, where the views were just as awesome (yes, it is all about the views here) for a quick refreshing dip before heading for lunch.  We loved that the lodge has two swimming pools, so that you get more privacy while enjoying the different vistas around the lodge.  The refreshing water helped cool us down, and we reluctantly came out of the pool to head for lunch. 

The upper pool – beautiful Mt Uaraguess in the background
Looking out to “Thumbs Up” from the upper pool

Dining at the lodge was a delightful experience with the communal set up.  I must admit that I was not sure about this when they mentioned it at the briefing, but we ended up having some of the best conversations with the other guests.  And the food…. Well the only word I can think of is Exceptional.

It is only when our guide, Robert, came to check if we were ready for our afternoon game drive, did we realise the time.  We went to Samburu National Reserve that afternoon, and it was thrilling to see the Grevy’s zebras and a lot of other plains game.  

The spectacular Grevy’s Zebra – there are less than 3000 of this beautiful species left in the world and they are unique to Northern Kenya
Vulturine guinea fowl – a species unique to Northern Kenya and the Tsavo ecosystems
Beisa Oryx at Samburu National Reserve – one of the Northern Five

The icing on the cake was finding some cheetahs relaxing, after which we decided to head back to the lodge.  

The beautiful cheetah checking to see who we were before going back to sleep

Dinner was also communal and I loved the idea that each dinner was hosted by one of the community staff members, who told us stories about the community life and answered any questions that we had about the area and the communities.

After dinner and discussing the plans for the next day, we headed back to our villa.  With the amazing night skies in this ‘out of this world’ location, we had to try our hand at some photos before heading to sleep.

Stairway to heaven

We were woken up in the morning with some tea and cookies being brought to our villa after which Robert took us for a game drive in the conservancy as we wanted to explore it more.  

Sunrise views from the lodge
The Somali Ostrich in Kalama conservancy

We were rewarded with the most amazing sightings of elephants, and this was made better as we were the only car in the area.  

Elephants enjoying a drink and mud bath
The elephants drinking water with the iconic Mt Ololokwe in the background

We then stopped for our picnic breakfast near a waterhole, where the cows were also coming for their morning water.  It made for an amazing breakfast experience.  

Kamal with the amazing guides and the open safari vehicle

By this time, it was getting hot, and we decided to head back to the lodge.  All the other guests had left at this point, so it was amazing to have the whole place to ourselves.  

After a hearty lunch, we spent some time downloading our photos from the morning, and then I headed for my massage (one massage per couple is included in the price). Adiela, who runs the spa has magical hands and I could just feel every part of my body relaxing even further than it already was from just being in this little slice of heaven.  We whiled away the afternoon in the lower pool (which has the most amazing views of Mt Kenya) and I truly felt that days spent at Saruni Samburu can be as peaceful or adventurous as you wish.

The lower pool. Can you spot Mt Kenya?

We had planned to have a short walk in the evening, but were too lazy for this, and so decided to head to the photography hide for some sun downers in the lodge’s car.  It was getting late, so we were able to take some more astro shots, before having a short night game drive.  

The amazing night skies – can you spot Mt Kenya?
This place is a dream for astronomers and those who like astrophotography. Trying lighting effects here – still need practice

Dinner was a private affair in our villa this evening, which is one of the things that Saruni offers for those who want a more intimate dining experience.  Though we both decided that we actually preferred the communal dining, it was great to experience this too.  The food was superb, but the cheesecake needs a special mention – it was the best cheesecake I have ever had and just melted in the mouth ( I think it got devoured before I even thought about taking a photo).

The night was coming to an end, and as my head gently hit the pillow, I could not but think about when I would come back to this magical place – a world away.

A world away

 “It’s really beautiful. It feels like God visits everywhere else but lives in Africa.” Will Smith (American actor and producer)