A few years ago, in one of my first articles for this column, I described the magic of a walking safari. I also suggested that this was a tourism niche that Kenya had not yet taken advantage of, falling well behind southern African countries.
In the years since, I’ve been fortunate to run my own walks in Kenya, but also find out more about the few specialist operators that exist here.
Karisia Walking Safaris is one of them. For a while, I had planned to get in touch – I had seen lots of exciting social media posts – photos of viewing elephants on foot, camel treks and rock-climbing the “Dragon’s Teeth” outcrops in the Aberdares. Coincidentally, I bumped into the owners, Kerry Glen and James Christian at the Great Grevy’s Zebra Ball in February.
There aren’t many female guides in Kenya, and there are even fewer specialist walking guides. Naturally, I was intrigued by Kerry’s operation, bucking many safari stereotypes.
In October, I got to work with their team on a guiding refresher course. Based out of a parcel of Laikipia called Tumaren, this unique operation is named after the Karisia Hills that can be seen on the horizon, looking north from one of the many rocky outcrops.
The ranch is a two-hour drive from Nanyuki, past Ol Jogi and through Mpala. It has frontage along the Ewaso Nyiro River, a magnet for thirsty wildlife. If your vehicle can’t get you there, transfers can be arranged from Nanyuki or a variety of airstrips on nearby properties.
There is a permanent camp here, with vast tents that can easily be adapted for families. The camp overlooks a grassy clearing where a salt-lick and a waterhole attract a whole host of wildlife. Mount Kenya and the ‘Mukenya’ rock outcrops dominate the horizons.
There are no rhino here, but lion, wild dog, Grevy’s Zebra, numerous elephants and hundreds of bird species. It’s a “bare-foot luxury” base for the 3,000-acre ranch, from which walks and game drives can spider out.
This is exactly what I and the local Maasai guides, Gabriel, Rana, Ntiemu, Joseph and Ndorobo tracker, Olekeshine, did. We spent our walks discussing trees, birds and reading the tracks and signs left by animals the previous night.
We managed to safely sneak up to elephants on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro and even tried to lie down and stay hidden from an oblivious warthog that walked straight up to us. You’re far more connected with wilderness when out of a vehicle.
Only when we climbed Tumaren’s “kopjes’” did I really start to picture Karisia Walking Safari’s distinct difference. The guys began to describe the vast landscape that they have walked with guests. It’s the mobile operation, particularly camel-assisted trips that they specialise in: multi-day trips into the Mathews Range, Karisia Hills, Mt Kenya, Aberdares and the private and community conservancies across Laikipia and Samburu-land.
The typical trip involves moving the tented camp each day, with the camels and a team heading off to set up the next night’s camp. The guests, guides and a few riding camels, explore new areas, focusing on local highlights, be it cultural exposure, tracking wildlife or enjoying dramatic landscapes. Each trip can be run differently too, with varying locations, numbers of nights and camels, depending on the group’s needs.
They also have different camp styles to choose from, depending on budget and desired levels of luxury. All trips come fully catered, but luxury and classic trips include alcoholic beverages and feature larger tents. I particularly like the playfully titled Air BnC concept – Air-bed and Camel.
This lightweight camp distills the camel safari concept to make the adventure more affordable.
Most of the safaris, including use of the permanent Tumaren camp, or a satellite camp that stays put in seasonal spots for the duration of a safari, are booked on an exclusive basis.
This ensures privacy and means per person costs come down for families or friends. However, there are some group departures each year that offer the solo or couple travellers a more affordable way to experience such a trip.
If there’s another reason to find out more and plan a trip with them, it’s that they have just won the coveted ‘2017 Safari Award - Best Walking Safari in Africa’.