Offering tranquility in the desert
Cruising along the Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale road has now become a thrilling and exciting experience, thanks to the newly built 750-kilometre Isiolo-Mandera tarmac road juxtaposed with yellow markings.
As you drive along the road, one cannot help, but notice the beautiful scenery of valleys, acacia trees, savannah grassland and shadowy hills that hug the landscape.
A few years ago, no one would attempt a journey on this road due to its rough terrain, which demanded tough travellers.
The only means of travel from Nairobi to Marsabit was to, on occasion, catch a lift with Government of Kenya (GOK) 110 Land Rovers or lorries transporting livestock to Nairobi and bringing back consumer goods to Marsabit.
But that has since changed. The road has opened up the region and boosted tourism in Northern Kenya.
The visible increased level of economic activities along the road from shops, residential houses as well as hotels, which are quickly sprouting by the highway signify how tourism has taken a precedent change in the region.
One such establishment is El Boran Resort and Spa, whose beautifully designed and landscaped pathways are a sight to behold.
Situated along the highway, about four kilometres from Isiolo town and 32 kilometres from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the two-year-old resort has opened up the region in terms of visitors streaming in from neighbouring counties, such as Meru, Laikipia, Marsabit and Samburu.
The four-star hotel is established in a cool setting, away from the noise and distraction of activities in the cosmopolitan Isiolo and in a serene environment covered with both natural and exotic trees.
“The major advantage we have is that the hotel is near game reserves, such as Shaba National Reserve, Buffalo Springs National Reserve and Samburu National Reserve, which are all less than five kilometres from the hotel,” says Peter Mutuku, the resort general manager.
Due to its close proximity to the reserves, including the nearby Meru National Reserve, visitors are able to visit and go for game drives, which can be facilitated by the resort on request.
With the recent Sh81.3 billion loan by the World Bank put on the Horn of Africa Gateway Development Project (HoAGDP) for the upgrade of the highway and the laying of the fibre-optic cable, hoteliers in the region have expressed optimism that the development will spiral provision of basic social services, attract investments, facilitate regional and domestic trade, create jobs and improve information sharing and access to internet-based opportunities.
Enhance a sense of equity
The transformative project is also expected to integrate the North Eastern region and enhance security, inclusion, and a sense of equity, and will also provide basic socio-economic infrastructure for communities living along the corridor as well as emergency response measures in case of a disaster or catastrophe during the life of the project.
A past retrogressive issues, such as illegal settlements in game reserves and along wildlife migration routes, poaching, charcoal burning, environmental degradation, lack of support from local communities and conflicts issues affecting the tourism sector have been nipped in the bud by the county government through stakeholders engagement and employing preventive diplomacy.
In most of these reserves, the scenery is beyond your expectation. Adorable Ewaso Nyiro river with sources from Aberdare Ranges meanders along within the reserves thus attracting the Grevy zebra, oryx, Somali ostrich, lion and reticulated giraffe.
The game reserves house the Sarova lodge, Simba lodge, Bisanadi lodge and tented camps.
Shaba National Reserve is highly recognised as a leading filming site in Africa where movies such as the Queen of Sheba and the Survivor series have been shot.
The sleeping Lion and Tortoise hills are among the adorable feature, because of the surrounding short and evergreen shrubs giving them an eye-catching beauty.
There are over 21 springs in the reserves with varying characteristics. For instance, once you swim in it, the Buffalo Spring is therapeutic as it can treat skin-related infections.
Among other exciting highlights of Isiolo county are the establishment of Isiolo as a resort city, the Lamu-Isiolo-Juba and Nairobi-Isiolo-Ethiopia superhighways, Isiolo artificial lake, the Isiolo film industry and Isiolo tourist villages.
Besides, the discovery of mineral resources in Isiolo has attracted local and international interests, the latest being the Sericho meteorites stone.
Both gemstones and economic minerals are of large deposits in this region, and for the last three years, thousands of miners have thronged into Isiolo in search of this rare commodity.
Halima Abgudo, the Isiolo County Executive Committee member for Tourism, Wildlife, Trade and Cooperative Development, says the tourism sector in the county has witnessed far much improvement from the previous years, thanks to the numerous tourists visiting the region.
“The Isiolo-Moyale highway has really opened up the region and attracted investors who have opened up employment opportunities and revenue for the government,” she says.
“The highway has also led to improved security in the region and the roads are now accessible unlike in the past.
Improved roads within the national reserves and projects, such as the Isiolo International Airport, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project caused an influx of people in the county and has given tourism a boost,” adds Abgudo.
Last year, the county government advertised 60 positions for rangers and once recruited, these rangers are expected to boost security in the parks and reserves hence give visitors some sense of confidence.
Activities such as the Shaba Challenge and Desert Wheel Race, which took place in 2019 placed the county in the limelight and there are hopes that once the pandemic ends, more of these activities will be taking place. Several tourism policies and bills have also been implemented.