In the remote Samburu lands of northern Kenya, the peaks of the Mathews Range surge toward the sky, studded with forests of cycads and juniper and surrounded by vast stretches of savanna. Against this primordial backdrop, a solitary cluster of tents sits perched on a hill, their thatched roofs seeming to blend with the bush to become part of the land itself. This is Sarara, a lodge both intimate and limitless, nestled within the pristine expanse of the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy.
Sarara means “meeting place” in the Samburu language. Here, the mountains meet the desert, providing vital water sources to the indigenous people and the wild creatures that inhabit the land—elephants, leopards, giraffes, and dik-dik, to name a few. Near camp, an ancient watering site known as the singing wells draws Samburu families, who meet during the dry season to dig wells for their cattle. Sarara Camp represents a collaborative venture with the local community, and the Samburu are an integral part of daily life here, serving as guides on game drives, bush walks, and village visits. And when you’re not exploring the bush with these knowledgeable guides, the lodge beckons with its infinity pool and cozy terraces, where you can gaze out at the great amphitheater of the Mathews and soak up the timeless beauty of East Africa.
Take a dip in the lodge’s swimming pool and you may find yourself eye to eye with an elephant or two—or more. These iconic creatures, which often cluster below the pool at the camp watering hole, are more than a local attraction—they are central to the story of Sarara. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the hills of the southern Mathews Range echoed with the blasts of poachers’ gunfire; by 1985, there were few elephants remaining in this remote wilderness where they once thrived. Ten years later, the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust was established to protect elephants and local wildlife through an innovative, community conservation partnership, one of the first of its kind in Kenya. Soon after, Sarara Camp was created to help support Namunyak through ecotourism, generating economic opportunities for the Samburu community in return for their participation in wildlife protection efforts.
Piers and Hilary Bastard, the original managers of Sarara—along with other conservationists and community leaders—have been involved in Namunyak since its infancy. Thanks to their vision and dedication, Sarara has evolved from a modest mobile camp into an eco-chic retreat that attracts visitors from around the world and provides funding and resources to Namunyak. Today, the Bastards’ son Jeremy, who grew up at Sarara, manages the camp alongside his wife Katie, serving as your gracious hosts. And the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust, operating under the umbrella of the Northern Rangelands Trust and in partnership with Sarara, has become recognized as one of the most successful community conservation initiatives in Africa. Thousands of elephants have returned to the Mathews Range area and other species—including leopard, buffalo, and wild dog—are following. Perhaps most importantly, the Trust has helped to change the attitudes of local communities toward wildlife, ensuring the protection of these magnificent creatures for generations to come.
Guests who book their stay through National Geographic will enjoy an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy headquarters, located in the Sarara Valley. Get an inside look at the conservancy’s operations, including the radio room where poaching activity is monitored. Talk with rangers and learn about a variety of programs, from wildlife research and conservation initiatives to education programs, women’s groups, and a mobile veterinary unit.
In addition to offering guests an unforgettable wilderness experience, Sarara serves as a shining example of how community conservation can work. The lodge is one of six ranches within the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, whose lands are owned and managed by the Samburu community—made up of approximately 1,200 registered families. Sarara provides an essential source of revenue for the local community, with its conservancy and land lease fees paid directly to the Trust, which in turn disperses funds throughout the community to support women’s groups, scholarships for local students, and anti-poaching operations. And the Samburu are intimately involved in day-to-day operations at the camp, working as bush guides, drivers, cooks, and housekeepers.
The focus on sustainability infuses every aspect of Sarara, from the solar panels that produce the camp’s electricity to the charcoal store refrigerator that utilizes water evaporation to keep food at cellar temperatures. Fresh spring water is gravity-fed from the mountains—no pumps required—and then passed through a UV-filtration system. Organic produce is harvested from the kitchen garden, and other produce and meat are sourced from local farmers. Recycling is routine, biodegradable soaps and detergents are used, and the camp itself is constructed of naturally fallen trees and local stone.
The Safari Awards: Winner, Best Community Focused Safari Property in Africa, 2014
The Safari Awards: Finalist, Best Ecologically Responsible Safari Property in Africa, 2014 and 2015
The Safari Awards: Finalist, Most Romantic Safari Property in Africa, 2014
The Safari Awards: Finalist, Best Safari Property in Africa, 2011
Featured in The Hotel Book: Great Escapes Africa, Taschen 2013
Please note: A State Department travel warning for Kenya is currently in effect (click here to view the State Department's information page on Kenya). We closely monitor events in the region, and will alert booked guests to any significant developments.
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