Q. When is the best time to visit Samburu and the northern frontier areas, like Laikipia?
A. These beautiful areas just west and further north of Mt. Kenya include two actually different ecological zones, and so the answer is just a bit different depending upon which zone you have in mind.
The southern and western portion, commonly referred to as Laikipia, is still at a fairly high altitude, ranging from around 6,000′ (Ol Pejeta) to 4,500′ (Ol Mukutan). This zone is divided from the much larger which includes Samburu by a steep escarpment, and everything in this much larger zone is much lower, around 2,500′.
Both areas are semi-arid, very similar to much of America’s southwest. Most of the year it is dry, and when the rains come (late March and again in November), the desert plants like a variety of cactus and heavy-wooded bushes bloom spectacularly and it transforms in a very short time from a sort of brownish, wind-swept area into a vertible Garden of Eden.
So for both zones if you’d like to see the area at its prettiest, and when many of the birds are at their peaks, then travel just after the rains begin, either in late March or mid- to late November.
Animal viewing is great in these areas year round, but it is better during the dry seasons. This is particularly true of the southern zones, where several important rivers (like the Ewaso Nyiro through Samburu) concentrate huge amounts of game. But if you are traveling to the southern zone (Samburu, Shaba, Buffalo Springs and the Mathews Mountains) too long into the dry season and even the animals start to disappear, because these rivers dry up. So for the southern zone for game viewing I recommend December, January and the first half of February; or July and August.
The northern zone is less effected by the dry season because of its higher altitude. And so for places like Lewa Downs, Sweetwaters, Borana, etc., there is a wider window for good game viewing: December – March, and July – October.