Mama Flo’s 4-day road trip to Marsabit & Shaba – perfect road, wilderness, rare wildlife, adventure

Categories National Parks and Reserves

Are you in need of speed and or thrilling adventure in absolute wilderness with stunning landscape?  My 4-day road trip to Marsabit and Shaba National Reserve in Northern Kenya provided that and much more. Many tried to discourage me from this trip given the areas notorious banditry activity in the past. I am glad I did not listen and I am sure you will see why.

A ‘burned up’ landscape covered with broken lava (pumice) a couple of kilometres from Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya.  This famous reserve is a conservation gem with dramatic landscapes, rare wildlife and a dramatic past. The stones are great for scrapping dead skin on feet and are sold in many Kenyan markets.

Where is Marsabit and Shaba?

Marsabit is some 600km from Nairobi City, see Google map below. From Nairobi you can choose to drive around Mt. Kenya via Laikipia or via Meru towns. Whichever you use the difference in distance is minimal.  I chose to drive via Meru because I knew the road was in great condition. However if you choose to use this one, you need to be sober to safely navigate the infamous hairpin turns and deep valleys. You can’t escape these between Embu and Meru towns so don’t be tempted to catch one in Embu.


Day 1 drove from Nairobi to Meru; Day 2, Meru straight to Marsabit; Day 3, Marsabit back to Meru, with a 3 hour detour into Shaba National Reserve; Day 4, Meru back to Nairobi. Map downloaded from Google Maps © 2017.

This road trip gives you a fantastic cross-section of Kenya’s ecological zones. From Nairobi you climb in the eastern highlands where both subsistence and commercial (tea, rice and Miraa) farming takes place. From Meru you descend into arid and near desert lands inhabited by pastoralists.  You are spoilt for choice on which nature reserve or park to visit. Some are jointly owned by private companies and local communities, while others are under government jurisdiction. So why did I choose to Shaba?

My life-long fascination of Joy Adamson & hence Shaba

My interest in Shaba started with a hobby I held dear in my teenage years. Reading newspapers! So when in 1980 the world-famous naturalist, Joy Adamson, was murdered I did not miss that story. The article said Joy was killed by her teenage employee in the remote Shaba Nature Reserve.  It told a fascinating story of how she and her husband George raised a lion, Elsa, and later successfully released it into the wild – the first such feat in the world. Joy’s book on Elsa catapulted her into world fame in the 60’s and later was enacted into an award-winning movie, Born Free.

Joy Adamson, the world-renowned naturalist, artist and writer made this reserve world-famous by raising and thereafter successfully releasing into the wild a Lion called Elsa. Elsa’s story is told in the 60’s hit movie, Born Free. The first such release in the history of conservation.

Little did I know then that Joy’s story had sired what would be my life-long fascination with nature and its conservation. Thanks Dad for your constant supply of the Daily Nation Newspaper – that and radio opened my eyes to the world! In my twenties I was surprised to find that many beautiful paintings hanging at the National Museums of Kenya were done by Joy. They document our indigenous plants and traditional attire of different tribes. What an incredible contribution to our heritage! Since then I have always wanted to visit Joy’s world and so this road trip was a dream come true!

5 reasons for you to visit Marsabit & Shaba

This road trip offers a basket-load of reasons why you would enjoy the long drive to Marsabit. Below are some that stuck in my mind. It was difficult to rank them as each is a first in its own right. Each makes me want to go back over again. The choice is yours.

No 1: the best road in Kenya, come enjoy your machine


The road between Isiolo and Marsabit was heavenly  – I was curious to know the name of this rock outcrop but there was no one in sight to ask. With classical music in the background and gentle purring of my machine, this was pure joy. © F.Chege.

If you have a new machine that you want to test for speed, this is the best road for you! At Isiolo town you enter into a motorists paradise. Perfectly done tarmac on flat landscape, little if at all any vehicles, no sight of pedestrians. Do watch out for those on all-fours – I am sure you would not like a sticky encounter with the resilient and fearless owners. This set up may change in the near future when this road project is completed to reach Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It is expected to open up trade between the two countries and ignite socio-economic development of the area.

No 2: stunning landscapes

All along the drive and inside the reserve are dramatic landscapes such as the Bodich mountain, below. This mountain is right behind the Ewaso Nyiro River that runs along the boundary between Isiolo and Samburu Counties.  By the way, when you think of Shaba do the names Robert Redford, Meryl Steep, Sydney Pollack ring a bell? How about the movie Out of Africa or the reality show Survivor series?  Mmmh…some homework.

Bodich mountain inside Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya. The landscape provided a perfect backdrop to the movie Out of Africa and season III of survivor reality show which were both shot in the Reserve.  © F.Chege.
No.3: rarely seen plains wildlife

If you live in Kenya you will be forgiven for asking, ‘Flo, really?’ You wonder why one would drive all the way to Shaba to see the same old zebras and giraffes?’  But before I answer, let me also ask you ‘how many species (significantly different types) of giraffe and zebra are found in Kenya?’ If you said at least three, you are right!

In Kenya, this beautiful Grevy’s zebra with thin stripes and ‘cup like’ ears is only found in northern parts of the country. Most Kenyan’s are familiar with Grant’s zebra that have bigger stripes and less striking ears. A third sub-species with ‘shadow stripes’ resides in parts of southern Kenya. © F.Chege.

I was ecstatic to see for the first time, the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra and the gerenuk, pictures above and below.

3 ‘types’ of giraffe reside in Kenya- Reticulated giraffe, Maasai giraffe and Rothschild giraffe. From its pattern are you able to tell which one this is?  © F.Chege.

Why is gerenuk also called giraffe gazelle? Mmmmh? See caption below.

It was extremely difficult to take a shot of this gerenuk. For some reason it was super camera-shy. Because of its long neck this  antelope is also known as the giraffe gazelle. Its range is restricted to northern parts of Kenya.  © F.Chege.
 No.4: absolute wilderness and sense of adventure

Except for a British army truck and a Kenyan anti-poaching vehicle, there were no other man-made moving objects in sight during the 3 hour, 20km drive. The absence of other visitors was most welcome despite not enjoying ‘security in numbers!’ The army vehicle was full of young trainees and headed for one of the star hotels. I figured they were not there to keep safety. It was good to know the area was patrolled though I was not sure how I could reach the team if the need arose. Good that it didn’t.

Buffalo skulls displayed at the main entrance to the reserve, Natorbe Gate.  Do you ever wonder like me why staff at most parks like to make such displays? Not that I mind, but for some reason I never fail to take note of them.

Almost every where I looked there was some animal grazing in the golden grasses, foraging in the mangled bushes or  wandering in the riverine forests. My first encounter was the elephants below. If you have read my other blogs you know how mortified I am by the fear I suffer when I anticipate these beasts in the wild. Is this fear necessary or I am just paranoid? Later on, I came across fresh elephant dung on a narrow path and waited in abated breath to locate the owner. Luckily for me it was some meters off the road, just far enough not to disturb its peace.

African elephants walking along the Ewaso Nyiro River in Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya.  The river runs along the boundary between Isiolo and Samburu Counties. © F.Chege
No.5: cherish our national heritage

Every time I spend time in a park or reserve, I can’t help appreciating the government’s and other agencies’ efforts to preserve our natural treasures. I wonder what would have happened to our wildlife if there were no measures put in place to protect them for posterity. Once again I feel obliged to support this effort in whichever way possible. One easy way is to pay gate fees and leave as little foot print as possible by for example not littering or driving outside earmarked trails.

It’s great to visit and enjoy our national heritage sites. Road trips are an amazing way to see and appreciate our country. Like a box of chocolate, your never sure what you’ll get. Are you a teacher with a class on rock weathering? I can’t think of a better example than this pile of stones on the road side to Marsabit. It was a common sight.

The road trip – is it affordable?

The cost of road trips such as this one are determined by my choice of accommodation and the mode of transport. Like all my trips I don’t book accommodation in advance. This is partly because I may find I need to spend the night in a place I had not anticipated.  Also because in most places I will find clean and modest hotels or guest houses. Silvia Inn Hotel in Marsabit was one such place. Just round the corner I enjoyed juicy roast meat at Pale Pale Pub and Restaurant.  At Isiolo I was directed to Kithe Lodge for a similar meal though I did not venture into their accommodation facility.

I spent about KES 10,000 on 3-day accommodation with breakfast and KES 15,000 on vehicle service and fuel.  Do take note that if you are on a budget, it’s advisable to take with you snacks and water when you visit Shaba. However, there are two star rated hotels inside the reserve, the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge and Joy Adamson’s Tented Camp.

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Does this story inspire you to make a similar road trip? If you like the story click the ‘like’ button below. I will be happy to hear your feedback by leaving a comment. Kindly do share with your friends by clicking the  facebook button provided. If you would like to get an email alert whenever I post a new story (twice a month) then subscribe on my homepage . All you need to do is leave your name and email address. If you are reading on phone the subscription page is under the ‘sidebar’ button which should appear at the end of the blog. 

A ‘burned up’ landscape covered with broken lava (pumice) a couple of kilometres from Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya. This famous reserve is a conservation gem with dramatic landscapes, rare wildlife and a dramatic past.

8 thoughts on “Mama Flo’s 4-day road trip to Marsabit & Shaba – perfect road, wilderness, rare wildlife, adventure

  1. Wow Flo,this is amazing.Thank you for your Blog.I really enjoy reading about the places you visit and am inspired to visit these places soon.

    Great job.

  2. Beautiful landscapes, animals and country, thank you for your detailed account, it sounds amazing.

    1. Hi Ralph, thanks for reading the story and feedback. Next I am writing on a trip across the Aberdare Ranges in Kenya. Keep reading, best regards Florence

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