Fears aside: Isiolo is where to experience nature at its best


Mention Isiolo and what comes to many people’s minds is a remote, marginalised, arid and banditry-prone town.

Isiolo is 273 kilometres north of Nairobi. It came about after the First World War when Somali ex-army officers were settled in the area by the British.

Stereotypes and fears aside, the town is lively, welcoming and safe. It has an estimated population of 80,000, most of them living on its outskirts.

The town is a cultural melting pot. Borana, Somali, Meru, Samburu, Turkana and Indians live side by side.


It can easily be reached by road and air. Isiolo Airport is being upgraded to promote tourism and trade.

Most residents are Muslims but there are Christians too. Jamia Mosque and the Catholic Church’s bell towers are the landmarks of Isiolo.

In the pre-independence days, it was mandatory for visitors to carry special passes because the town was the headquarters of the volatile Northern Frontier District.

Isiolo rose to prominence when Daisy Waugh in her 1994 book A Small Town of Africa, described it through her experiences when she lived there for six months.

Residents pass time by chewing miraa and drinking.

The town has good hotels and lodges. It is also a 24-hour economy and is a favourite stopover for travellers.

Isiolo is famed for exuberant wildlife and an amazing landscape. From the Big Five, Isiolo has it all. The best places to watch the animals are Buffalo Spring and Shaba National Reserve, made famous by Joy Adamson and the lioness Elsa, subjects of the 1966 film Born Free.

Also the third season of the American reality TV series Survivor: Africa was shot in the reserve.

These places teem with wildlife and offer visitors opportunities to experience nature.

Borana and Turkana women weave baskets and make jewellery, which they sell to tourists.

The town is becoming a centre of interest because of its new status as a resort city. Samburu and Shaba game reserves have become preferred destinations after the world famous Maasai Mara.