Here at ExpatBuddy we’re popping the expat bubble and showcasing a slice of real life abroad. Nadine is a travel obsessed Buddy based in Kenya. Here she shares her tips for the ultimate non touristy African adventure ― wild camping in Kenya.
Nadine Murphy Kenya travel blogger
For a county teeming with wild animals there is a surprisingly large number of intrepid explorers that choose to spend the night in the wild with their clawed compatriots.
Wild camping is big in Kenya, we camp in the parks and game reserves, we camp on the beach and dried up riverbeds, we camp wherever we can find a spot. And in those places too, do the wild animals roam. Here are my top 5 places in Kenya to go wild camping…
Top 5 places in Kenya to go wild camping
Lake Magadi is at the very southern point of Kenya, almost touching Tanzania. This is Maasai country, a dry, barren place where hot springs bubbled and sulphurous lakes ebb and flow. Through the heat of the day, the eye-burning vista is broken only by the sinuous lines of the Ewaso Ngiro River, one of Kenya’s largest and the lifeblood of the people and animals that live here.
The Ewaso Ngiro’s cappuccino brown waters are filled with crocodiles and hippos. Its banks are lined with acacia trees, some of the oldest in the country, mammoth branches stretch across the river and hide leopards and marabou storks. On the plains outside the shaded river are hyena, buffalo, zebra and giraffe.
The River Ewaso in Magadi is one of the most thrilling places in the whole of Kenya to camp. Only the Maasai come here, there are no signposts or roads, shops or conveniences. Pitch your tent under the shade of the trees and debate long and hard whether to swim in the river… it’s 40 C degrees out here even in winter. Wild camping at Magadi is utterly terrifying, ridiculously thrilling and as wild as it gets.
Ol Pejeta is one of Kenya’s best-known game parks. Home to all of the Big 5 including the only two Northern White Rhinos in existence it’s a real African safari experience.
Nestled under the watchful eye of Africa’s second-highest mountain, Mount Kenya, it is a beautiful place to camp. 360 km sq of rolling fields of green grass, forested riverine valleys, acres of savannah and marshland, the park provides habitats for all of Kenya’s indigenous animals.
To camp at Ol Pejeta, you need to book a campsite (there are 3) through the Kenyan wildlife service. The camps come with firewood and a long drop toilet and nothing else. That’s right, no fences in one of Africa’s premier parks, it’s just you and the animals come night time. Nothing can compare to hearing a lion roar next to your camp, or waking up to an elephant family having a bath in the river opposite you.
In the uttermost north of Kenya, near the Ethiopian border, is the searing hot Chalbi Desert. The desert is home to nomadic pastoralists and the occasional oasis bound permanent community, a camping trip to Kenya’s Northern frontier is not for wimps.
There is the option to camp in the backyard of a women’s church group in Kalacha town, but for those intrepid adventurers, you can rock up, pick a dry river bed or convenient patch of flat sand and make your home under the stars. There are a few concerns: scorpions in the sand (so I suggest you bring a raised camp bed), the ongoing conflict between Kenyan and Somalia but you‘d have to be pretty unlucky to be found so far away from the Somalian borders, and the occasional hyena.
The Chabli Desert is not the rolling dunes of the Arabian Nights, rather it’s a harsh, unforgiving, former sea bed, the salted sand peppered with old seashells. In places, green oasis’ provide water for the people and their camels, and if you reach the Huri Hills the landscape is greener and more forgiving. It’s wildly remote, strangely romantic and the stargazing is second to none.
The beaches of the Kenyan coast are some of the best in the world. Over 500 km of white sands, fronting the piercing blue of the Indian ocean and peppered with nodding palms. Houses along the coast are either million-dollar mansions or handmade mud huts and in the middle of all this beauty and beachside saltiness there is the option to camp.
On Tiwi beach (my favourite beach) there is a little known, but much-loved campsite. You can pitch your tent right on the beach, at night, with the pounding ocean, the rustling palms and the scampering monkeys you feel a million miles away from the rest of the world. The campsite is basic, but there are toilets and showers which makes this the most luxury option of the five.
Tsavo National Park
Another National Park, this one the largest in the country. Tsavo National Park is over 4000 sq km, a behemoth of volcanoes, lava flows, red soil and baobab trees and in the far distance Mount Kilimanjaro. This huge park hosts all the big five and notable for its elephant families and the gorgeous Galena river which flows through the east part of the park.
Camping is possible in Tsavo in KWS campsites. These sites have basic facilities: toilet blocks, a bush kitchen and some have showers, but they are unfenced and accessible to all of the parks four footed inhabitants. Camping in Tsavo is a hot, dusty and exhilarating experience. When we last camped in Tsavo we witnessed a leopard fight a family of baboons and at least one hundred elephants.
Kimana is a lesser-known, and off the beaten track, conservancy next door to its famed and illustrious cousin Amboseli National Park. Both parks are overlooked by Kilimanjaro and both are known for their abundance of elephants, including the Big Tusker elephants whose tusks can grow to such huge proportions that the tusks drag on the floor.
Kimana is smaller and quieter than Amboseli, with far fewer tourists and far more likelihood of experiencing the conservancy all alone. Campsites in Kimana number two along the gently flowing river and one further out in the savannah.
We camped riverside and were surrounded at all times by animals: zebra, giraffe, impala, eland and monkeys were our constant companions. And then there were the elephants, often seen strolling through the bush, one time walking upriver and, in the deep of the night, felling a tree close to camp. At night the camp is alive with the yip of hyenas and the call of bush babies.
There are no fences, but a long drop toilet and a safari-style bucket shower are provided. It’s one of my favourite campsites in the whole country. If you’re looking to try wild camping in Kenya, Kimana is an absolute must!
Nadine blogs at The Expat Mummy. Go deeper & travel Kenya smarter with her in depth destination guides and local secrets.
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