WHERE IT IS
Laikipia is a County within Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. It embodies five districts that together cover an area of 9,500 km², beginning 160 km north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi and extending from the Great Rift Valley in the west to the NW slopes of Mount Kenya in the east. The high plains of Laikipia’s southern reaches lie between the Aberdare Mountains and Mount Kenya, on the Equator. To the north and NE, the region’s central plains drop away over the Laikipia Escarpment to the arid lowlands of northern Kenya.
WHERE TO STAY
Visitors to Laikipia can choose from more than 40 venues offering accommodation. Catering for all tastes and budgets, venues range from some of Africa’s most luxurious and beautifully appointed safari lodges and tented camps to ranch houses, cottages and hotels. For camping parties, there are several community-run eco-lodges and campsites to choose from. Mobile camps are the stock-in-trade of adventure safaris in the district.
Conservation fees: These vary from one conservancy to another, usually ranging from US$ 40 to US$ 100 per adult per day. The fees go towards wildlife security and road infrastructure and maintenance, while funding important aspects of community development – including education and access to clean water.
Laikipia has one of the most agreeable climates in the world – warm during the day and cool at night, with low humidity and plenty of sunshine. Mount Kenya is responsible for this moderate climate. Laikipia is on the Equator, so temperatures vary little year-round, although daily fluctuations can be marked. Mean monthly maximum temperatures are typically about 25 C, but northern areas are warmer. July and August are usually overcast and cool.
Rainfall in the district is erratic. It is highest on the slopes of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, in the SE and SW, where an¬nual means exceed 1,000 mm. In the drier north annual means drop below 400 mm. There are two main rainy seasons, one (known as the ‘long rains’) in March–May and another (the ‘short rains’) in November. ‘Continental rains’ shed by clouds bearing moisture from Lake Victoria may fall between June and October. Sporadic showers may also fall at other times of the year.
Different parts of Laikipia receive their rainfall at different times. In the west, the main rains are the long rains and continental rains, while to the east the short rains are more pronounced. Severe droughts tend to occur at roughly ten-year intervals. In some years there may be exceptional rainfall, associated with the El Niño phenomenon. Weather records kept since the 1920s show no change in average annual rainfall; only that rain now tends to fall in more intense bursts, with longer intervening dry periods. Most forecasts based on global warming models suggest that, while rainfall in northern Kenya is likely to increase, it will probably become even more erratic.
Most of Laikipia drains north¬ward via the EwasoNg’iro River, which is joined by tributaries from Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. A major tributary, the EwasoNarok, passes over Nyahururu’s spectacular Thomson’s Falls, named after the region’s first European visitor. Streams rising within the district flow only after prolonged heavy rains. Except in swampy areas, they remain dry most of the year. Boreholes are used to feed water tanks on the ranches, where in addition there are an increasing number of artificial dams.
Timing your visit: Most Laikipia tourism operations are open throughout the year. In the wettest months (usually April and November), sections of road through parts of some conservancies – those on ‘black cotton’ soils – may be closed temporarily, denying access to certain areas. Major circuits in most conservancies are murram-surfaced, however, and remain passable year round for four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Hot days and cold nights: Laikipia is warm during the day at most times of the year. Visitors may need hats and sun block, and should drink plenty of water. Temperatures may plummet in the evenings (in July–September especially), when strong cold winds often blow. It is advisable to pack warm clothing and a windbreaker jacket, and to carry some warm gear on afternoon game drives, in anticipation of the evening chill. Nights too can be very cold.
Malaria: Laikipia is malaria-free, but if on your safari you are also visiting malaria-prone regions it is advisable to sleep under a net, to cover up in the evenings and to apply some insect repellant, while remaining on malaria prophylactics.
Communications: The network coverage of mobile telephone service providers is improving all the time. At present (2011), Telkom Wireless provides the most wide-ranging coverage. The networks of both Safaricom and Airtel cover the main towns, but are accessible only sporadically elsewhere in the region.
Route maps: Road maps are posted on the websites of most Laikipia conservancies. Printed maps can be purchased at the entrance gates to some conservancies.
Guides: All Laikipia tourism establishments offer the services of experienced and well-trained guides. The hire of a local guide is recommended to all visiting parties travelling independently. Walking parties, in particular, are strongly advised to enlist the services of a local guide. Safari guides can impart a wealth of local knowledge, providing for an altogether richer and more rewarding ‘Laikipia experience’.
High levels of security are in place in conservation areas throughout Laikipia, making the area’s conservancies and wilderness environments as safe as they can possibly be for wild animals and people alike. Codes of Conduct and safety regulations within conservancies must be adhered to, however. Most conservancies will ask visitors to sign a disclaimer form either on arrival or prior to embarking on certain activities, such as nature walking or horse-riding. Visitors must remain conscious at all times of the potential dangers posed by wild animals, among other more conventional hazards.
African Air Rescue (AAR) Health Services: offers road and air rescue within Africa, as well as international insurance cover for overseas evacuations (of members and non-members alike), Tel 020 2895000.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS): Mountain Rescue, Tel 0721 294084; Laikipia Hotline Tel 0717 641900.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi): Tel 020 6612000 / 822111.
Kenya Police – HQ: Tel 020 240000 / 0721 122899.