A wet Samburu safari

bull elephant

Anwar, a collared bull elephant, grazes by the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu.

Photo credit: Jan Fox | Nation Media Group

‘For me, this is one of the most magical places in Kenya.’ Carmen Gomez beamed, admiring the broad acacia canopies above us and the fast-flowing Ewaso Nyiro River below.

We were chatting over a cup of coffee on the main wooden deck of Elephant Bedroom Camp ­– an intimate tented hideaway in the Samburu National Reserve that Carmen has managed since February 2020.

A unique draw of the property, and the inspiration behind its name, is the absence of a perimeter fence, inviting a handful of habituated elephants (and other wildlife) to wander freely into camp and hoover up fallen doum palm fruits.

‘If you are calm’, Carmen said, ‘and allow the elephants to be relaxed, they will stay a while, eat and even sleep next to the terrace. The whole camp has been built to consider the movement of elephants – the paths they like to use and the trees they like to rub up against.’

With no fence, the camp feels a part of its wild surroundings. Each of its 14 luxury tents is elevated on stilts on the northern bank of the Ewaso Nyiro, with views across the river to the Buffalo Springs reserve, where giraffes occasionally browse within thickets of acacias and troops of baboons bark and groom.

Mongooses and monitor lizards burrow and bask among scattered doum palm fronds on the riverbank, and a tame impala called Tamu enjoys a cuddle with guests along the path to the rooms.

The many birds around the lounge and restaurant – red-billed hornbills, superb starlings, white-browed sparrow weavers – are also very bold and comfortable around humans, hopping onto tables and pecking at dropped morsels.

We shared their enthusiasm for the food, which was varied and delicious throughout our two-night stay. A highlight for me was our second dinner on the deck beneath the stars, with a salty, crispy potato skin and salsa starter, followed by a rich matar paneer curry and papadums.

We spent the mornings and late afternoons out on gamedrives, searching for big cats and elephants. ‘It’s an easy park for self-drivers’, Carmen told me. ‘It’s not as demanding as other parks where you often have to drive for a whole day to find the wildlife. Here, the animals are usually just around the corner. Sometimes I check the reports of our guides and see that they have only driven for three kilometres!’

We didn’t have to travel far either. The long rains had finally arrived and the reserve was green and full of life. We braved the muddy tracks through the riverine forest along the bank of the Ewaso Nyiro, where we got stuck on our final drive and were rescued by a passing safari vehicle.

But it was worth venturing close to the river for a couple of great elephant sightings: first of Anwar – a 33-year-old bull that was recently collared and is being tracked by Save the Elephants – and then of a big herd crossing the river at sunset.

 We spent the rest of our gamedrives crawling along the rocky tracks at the base of the slug-shaped Koitogor Hill at the heart of the reserve, which we were told by the camp guides was lion and leopard territory. A fresh lion footprint in the road confirmed that tip and we carefully scanned our green surroundings for the flash of a sand-coloured coat.

We eventually saw it, but the coat had spots ­– it was a female cheetah watching over her four young cubs. The cubs were curious and confident, play fighting with each other just yards from our car until an authoritative chirp from mum forced them to behave.

By the end of our short trip, I shared Carmen’s opinion of Samburu: that it is a truly magical place. And I have no doubt that you will be enchanted by the Elephant Bedroom Camp, too.

 For more information, head to www.atua-enkop.com.