Since 1989, the dusty, rugged plains of Samburu have hosted one of the most distinctive races in the world – the Maralal Camel Derby. Amateur and professional camel riders, handlers and spectators throng Yare Camel Camp for this annual thrill.
A road trip from Nairobi takes you through the lush plantations of Nyandarua County into the dry shrublands of Laikipia and Samburu Country. As you drive deeper into the sun-scorched plains of Rumuruti, the vegetation changes from shrubs of acacia trees growing along the road to thin lone acacia trees that can be felled by the lightest of storms.
You occasionally spot a moran grazing a herd of cattle in the middle of nowhere. The social spots along this road are the pools of water collected in murram mines left by the ongoing road construction activities. In such abandoned quarries, you will spot cattle grazing around the rim, boys bathing in the muddy waters or a solitary boda boda rider washing his bike close to the road.
Where to Stay in Samburu
Looking for accommodation when travelling from Nairobi, with little to no information on the internet, is tiresome. The influx of visitors attending the Maralal Camel Derby sees accommodation prices shoot up from KSh 500 full board per night to about KSh 3, 000 a night.
Stay within the Maralal Camel Derby grounds, at Yare Camp. This budget camp provides timbered cabins( with a shower and toilet), and a campsite with self-catering quarters. Yare Camp is also ideal for guests exploring the surrounding Kirisia Hills. Camel safaris at the camp are inclusive of guides, porters and a cook. Currently( 2016), a guided camel ride or walking safari to Samburu manyattas( traditional homestead), the forest or to Kenyatta House costs USD 15. An overnight trip to Kirisia Hills inclusive of a cook, a camel handler, food and security costs about USD 120.
In addition to Yare Camp, another accommodation spot near the venue of the Camel Derby is the Red Rock Resort. Alternatively, drive to Maralal Town( about 10 minutes away) to stay in guest houses like Sunbird Guesthouse, which is just metres away from the town.
How to Get There
The Great Rift Valley is a distinct feature along this route. When using a self-drive vehicle, you can stop over at the Great Rift Valley Viewpoint for a few photos. In Nyahururu, the main attraction is Thomson’s Fall. Another attraction along your way is Lake Olbolosat, which is over 70km from the main road. On this side of Samburu, you can hike Kirisia Hills.
Public transport is available from Nairobi to Samburu. There are several ways to get there. You can board a matatu from Nairobi to Nyahururu and then take another matatu from Nyahururu to Mararal. Alternatively, board a matatu from Nairobi to Maralal.
Nairobi-Nyahururu – Maralal is the best option because there are more people travelling to Nyahururu from Nairobi, and you will find even a bigger crowd moving from Nyahururu to Maralal. Therefore, the waiting time for a 14 seater matatu to fill up is about 30 minutes. The downside of Nairobi – Nyahururu – Maralal is that matatus stop and pick up passengers in almost every bus stop.
In Nairobi, Nyahururu matatus are stationed in Nyamakima area( downtown) on Cross Road. The fare is between KSh 350 and KSh 400 from Nairobi to Nyahururu, and KSh 500 from Nyahururu to Maralal. In Nairobi, matatus plying this route include Nyamakima Line and Nuclear Investments.
If you leave Nairobi at about 7 a.m., you will be in Nyahururu by 11 a.m. However, this depends on the traffic when leaving the city, on the Nairobi – Naivasha Highway, as well as the number of drop-off and pick-up points of the matatu. When you get to Nyahururu, the Nuclear Investments bus stage is just opposite the main stage. The Nyahururu – Maralal matatus may drop-off passengers at Suguta Marmar and Kisima so expect to spend some more time on the road.
Leave Nairobi using the Nairobi – Nakuru Highway( A104 Road). About 1 hour and 40 minutes later, turn right to exit the highway and drive along C77 Road towards Gilgil Town( shortly after the Gilgil weigh bridge). About 20 minutes later, bid Nakuru County goodbye and enter Nyandarua County.
Drive along C77 to Ol Kalou and Ol Joro Orok to get to Nyahururu Town. Proceed out of Nyahururu Town along C77 towards Rumuruti. It will take about an hour to reach Rumuruti. The Rumuruti – Samburu Road is under construction( 2016). There are a few diversions through rough patches in the bush where the construction work is ongoing.
You will drive through kilometres of uninhabited land as far as the eye can see. Two major roadside towns along the Rumuruti – Samburu Road are Suguta Marmar and Kisima before you get to Yare.
Fueling stations are mainly along the Nairobi – Nakuru Highway. Fuel up and buy supplies in Nyahururu Town before heading towards Rumuruti.
What to Carry
- A camera
- A warm jacket( gloves can come in handy too)
What to Wear
Contrary to popular belief, this side of Samburu is hot during the day only. When the sun sets, the cold sets in. Carry both a pair of light clothes for the day and a jacket for the evening. Yare Camp was exceptionally cold even for me( someone who’s lived on the foothills of Mount Kenya for over a decade).
The Maralal Camel Derby has camel races, bike races and marathons. Camel races are KSh 8,000 per participant ( 2016). See what went down in Maralal Camel Derby 2016, in 20 pictures.