Kenya's Nomadic Northern Tribes

What can Kenya offer?
Kenya is the main economic hub in East Africa and its remote north is a last tribal frontier with a remarkable cultural diversity.
With more than 60 languages and about 40 ethnic groups, Kenya offers more than game safaris in search of the big 5. Its wide cultural diversity, shaped in part by the different ecosystems, makes this destination attractive not only for the experienced traveller but also for those who would like to learn and deepen the knowledge through direct contact with its people. Camping in the manyattas guarantees a respectful and unhurried approach to this fascinating universe.

Rich cultural diversity
Turkana, Samburu, Dassanetch, Pokot, Maasai, Gabbra, Rendille, Yaaku, El molo etc are some of the ethnic groups who inhabit the north of Kenya and make up a great cultural diversity. In the Ethiopian border one can find the most traditional societies surviving in this harsh terrain still untamed. We might live together with some of the most well-known tribes such as the Samburu or Turkana, but also with less known ones such as the Njemps and Sakuyes.

Seminomadic societies: the importance of livestock
In the past, most of the groups were nomadic. Their economy was based on cattle, and all their lifestyle revolved around their animals, which apart from being their livelihood, were also their means of exchange and for example, were used in marriage arrangements as payment. Now, due to several circumstances such as the governments’ interest in making them settle down together with the scarcity of pastures because of droughts and climate change, these societies have become semi nomadic. Nevertheless, cattle are still of great importance, and it is unfortunately, one of the main reasons for fights amongst different groups when they move around in search of the increasingly scarce pastures. Only time will decide how to solve this situation.

Ornaments, necklaces and scarification
Necklaces, earrings, anklets, headdresses, feathers and scarification, among others, are the distinctive features that each ethnic group use not only to differentiate one another, but also represent different age groups or for example, marital status within a group.

Tribal societies and environment
Visiting societies different from ours is a privilege. Witnessing their everyday life, attending their rituals and deepening into their culture and traditions. The experience goes beyond the mere moment that we share with them and transcends somehow into our lives and when we come back to “our reality” we feel the need to go further and reflect on ethnic diversity which still coexists together with ours and the way we understand social models.
Our presence, in a way, also interferes in their lives. Their daily routines are altered with our visits and they show equal curiosity towards the unknown.
Last Places is concerned in preserving and respecting these tribal societies we visit and takes good care of the environment in which they live. That’s why, we strongly recommend observing a code of conduct so the experience becomes whole, respectful and unforgettable. At the same time, during the trip there will be briefings on photography protocol and on how to interact with the locals.

Their homes: diversity of materials and styles
A quick glance at these constructions would lead us to a too simple conclusion: "They are just huts", we would think. But the truth is that these houses differ considerably from one tribe to another, and they are all very skillfully built in accordance with the climatic conditions and the natural materials available to them.

Read this post in our Blog on Traditional dwellings in Kenyan nomadic and pastoralist communities

Safaris and beaches
Despite not being the main objective in our trips, one cannot forget that Kenya has got amazing natural parks and conservancies which can very well complement our ethnographic trips. There is also a long coastal line, and Lamu Island in special, of Swahili culture with its capital a UNESCO world heritage city, constitutes a nice final ending of relax on white sandy beaches after a very intense ethnographic trip.

Tourist visa for Kenya

An online visa is compulsory to enter Kenya. There is no possibility to obtain it on arrival. Last Places can help guide on the process but it is the responsibility of the traveller to get it.

Health and compulsory vaccines to enter Kenya
The yellow fever vaccine is compulsory. We strongly recommend antimalaria prophylaxis, but best of all is to visit your GP doctor or your Health Department in advance so you can obtain the exact medical advice for the areas we will visit. At the same time, we follow WHO protocol regarding safety measures against COVID 19. At the time of writing this, a negative PCR on arrival (96 hours prior entering Kenya) and another one for departure are required. Please, check your own country regulations. Before the date of departure, we will update this information related to COVID-19 requirements and safety measures.

Security in Kenya
In general, Kenya is a safe country. Nevertheless, one must watch out in Nairobi (avoiding certain neighbourhoods at night, taking care of own belongings when visiting markets and crowded places. When driving, close windows and lock doors of vehicle, especially at traffic lights and traffic jams). It is advisable not to drive when night falls (animal crossings, little visibility etc).

Weather- when is best to visit Kenya
Last Places organizes trips to Kenya all year round, though some more remote areas can only be reached in dry season (from June to September and in January and February). Kenya, like most of other African countries, has got two main seasons: rainy and dry. It rains (short showers) from mid-October to December and again from March till June (long rains). Kenya is situated on the Equator Line and enjoys three types of weather according to the geographical area: humid and warm on the coast, mild in the west and southwest where you find mountains and the high plateau, and finally warm and dry in the north and east. The hottest period is from December to March, with temperatures reaching 25 to 29 centigrade. Nevertheless, if you are travelling in high areas, the temperature is rather chilly, especially at night.

The Kenyan Shilling (KES) is the currency of Kenya. You can bring euros or dollars likewise. There are exchange offices at the airport and there is the chance to exchange along the trip in the designated places. There are bank notes of 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50 shillings, and coins, though hardly ever used.
About 400 euros for drinks other than water, meals not included in the program and souvenirs. If you would like to buy art or craft it is advisable to bring more.
Tips: they are not compulsory, but expected and appreciated
Credit cards: they are only useful in Nairobi and even so, in many places cash is required. Do not rely on credit cards.

Kenya's Timezone
GTM/UTC +3. There is no time change in summero.

Electricity, charging batteries, cameras and mobiles
In Kenya the power plugs and sockets are of type G. The standard voltage is 240 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. To charge our batteries during camping days, there are sockets in the vehicle to charge mobiles while in route. Camera batteries and other electrical gadget will be charged at the hotels. An extra set of batteries and a power bank are recommended.

Communications / internet in Kenya
Kenyan international telephone code is +254. Wi-fi is only available in some hotels along the route and guesthouses, sometimes with weak connectivity. The traveller can buy a SIM card for connectivity along the trip, but in some remote areas it might not work.

English and Swahili are the two official languages in Kenya. But there are about other 70 languages spoken. In villages and when visiting the tribes it is difficult to find people who can speak English, that’s why we travel with a guide-interpret who will help us communicate during the visits.

Recommendations and Prohibitions - Protocol when visiting tribal societies
The majority of the following behaviour guidelines are observed in a daily basis, but sometimes, fascinated but what we encounter, one might forget them. Some recommendations are to protect their habitats and traditions..

Greetings and introduction: on arrival, and with the help of our guide-interpreter, we will encounter the chief of the community. We will introduce ourselves and explain the reason of our visit. After a brief chat, we ask for permission to wander around the village, interact with its inhabitants and take pictures. This way, the visit flows in a more natural and relaxed atmosphere

Interaction: although the chief of the community has granted us permission to visit his village, if we wish to enter inside a house or private area, we should ask explicit permission to the owner. This applies not only to buildings, but also to the lands, animals, totems and natural surroundings. Tribal life is a whole and has a much wider meaning which affects the lives of its inhabitants who live in symbiosis with their animals and nature.

Presents: We will avoid bringing clothes, footwear, toys, plastic and utensils which do not belong to their culture, because this would accelerate the global process against the preserving of their customs. Simple apparently harmless gestures, like giving sweets to the children, can have major consequences like cavities. We will bet for presents which already belong to their culture, like fabrics bought at their local markets and which are already a regular product for them. If we bring medicines, we will take them to the medical center to ensure its correct administration.

Photography: Like in many other countries in the world, it is strictly prohibited to take pictures of the police or army, and to places considered strategic, such as military areas or buildings, places of high security and governmental buildings.
When taking pictures at people in their villages (tribes), it is always preferable to start the visit by greeting the chief of the community and after the introductions are done, we can discuss and come to an agreement on the photography protocol. We will ask for explicit permission to the person or people if we wish to take a picture of them. Sometimes we might be asked to pay for the posing, so it is advisable to discuss this price beforehand in order to avoid misunderstandings.The guide in Last Places can help deal with this once in the villages.

 • Observing without judging: Despite being sometimes difficult, it is the best way to plunge into other societies. The experience of interacting and learning from cultural diversity is the best legacy that we will acquire from tribal life.

Environment: In our trips we promote the protection of the environment and try to respect the natural surroundings by minimizing our impact and leaving no trace behind.


Kenya: Nomadic northern tribes, safaris and relax at Lamu Island

In this third edition of the trip to Kenya, we would like to give it a new approach. Without abandoning the essence of the original ethnographic trip, we have added two animal safaris and an ending of charm at the paradisiac Lamu Island.

Following Last Places philosophy, “deeper and further”, Eva Colomer will guide a group of adventurous travelers to reach further than traditional safaris, plunging into a less known territory.
We will start with a unique ethnographic route, designed in search of the most remote and traditional tribes: Samburu, Turkana, Rendille, Gabbra, Maasai, Borana, Yaaku, El Mole etc, to experience their extraordinary way of life which survives in a harsh and untamed land.
Seminomadic societies, mostly pastoralist, who also combine farming with fishing, and sometimes stealing cattle from their neighbours, will amaze the traveler with their colourful traditional attire and sophisticated hairdos and body decorations.
After the direct contact with these unique peoples of northern Kenya, we will enjoy two safaris in search of the big 5 in Ol Pejeta Conservancy (the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and the only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees) and in the Samburu National Reserve (with more than 900 elephants!). The sight of wild animals is an exceptional experience which will fulfill our dreams.
To finish up, we will relax on the beaches of Lamu after having sailed in a dhow, their traditional boats. Lamu was an important commercial point between Arabia and the Far West. We will share the labyrinthic alleys with the donkeys, the local means of transport, as there are very few vehicles.
From Nairobi to the north, close to the Ethiopian border, we will discover different ecosystems which have conditioned and shaped their inhabitants. We will come across endemic wildlife, volcanoes, deserts, oases, lakes and deserted beaches. We will cross Chalbi Desert and will swim in the mythic Lake Turkana, known as the Jade Sea by the colour of its waters. With its 250 Km long and 55 km wide, it is the aquifer reserve which allows life in these territories. Finally, the warm Lamu Island, with its motto pole pole (slowly, quiet), will introduce us to the Swahili culture.
We will travel by 4x4 and combine hotels, guesthouses and catholic missions with our tents put up within the villages. We will bring our own chef and rely on local guides to facilitate communication and to take pictures. A domestic flight will take us to Lamu Island.
A great dose of patience and good mood will be required as we will travel long distances along unpaved roads, with lots of dust and heat. Also, although there are nights at hotels and guesthouses, one should bear in mind the minimum comfort in the tented nights. But the reward at the end of the journey will well deserve the effort.
Ready for adventure?

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