Based at the only safari lodge inside Maralal Wildlife Sanctuary, our writer explores flora and fauna at the reserve and tours the scenic Malaso Conservancy I always thought that travelling to Samburu ended with just a visit to the national game reserve and climbing hills such as Mt Ololokwe. A recent tour of the county made me discover another side of the county that is worth trying out if you are adventurous. Voted by CNN as one of the top 10 places to travel to when in Kenya, Samburu is not complete until we talk about Maralal, the home of the renowned International Camel Derby. One should at least spend a day or two exploring the remarkable attractions of the capital of Samburu\u2014including a tour of Maralal Game Sanctuary. This small hilly town began in the early 1920s as a market for the Somali traders who travelled all the way just to trade with Samburus and Turkana in the region. Today, Maralal streets are forever busy with passing business people, families and morans with their livestock. It\u2019s usually the logistic port-of-call for travellers heading further north, to restock food, water or petrol. Here, Samburu hawkers scramble to serve travellers. It took us seven long hours to cover the 360km Nairobi-Gilgil-Nyahururu-Maralal road to our destination. About 70km of that distance is agonisingly dusty and bumpy. All this is soon forgotten as picturesque landscape, wildlife and Samburus donned in beautiful regalia, come into view. Maralal airstrip services charter flights to Nairobi or other tourist destinations. There are many affordable guest houses in the area, but I opted to stay at Maralal Safari Lodge, 2km away from the town. The lodge is at the centre of Maralal Game Sanctuary and it was quite scenic meeting impalas on our way to the hotel. Impalas blended with zebras, warthogs and baboons. The rooms (ranging from Sh9,500 single to Sh20,500 triple) are on footpath for wildlife and are constructed with local cedar and cypress wood, which blend in with nature. Comfy beds too, shaded patio decks, hot showers and a fireplace lit every night to keep guests warm. And WiFi... The lodge\u2019s assistant manager James Matu said the lodge was built in 1975 by a Briton who passed away in the early 1990s and bequeathed it to his grandchildren. Being too young, inexperienced and not keen to run the hotel, they sold it to the county council that now leases it to investors. After three years of inactivity, the lodge was re-opened this year under new management. \u201cWe have done a lot of renovations since it\u2019s a revenue source for the county government and the community,\u201d Matu said. As wildlife quench their thirst at the waterhole a few metres from the restaurant, guests can access the only swimming pool in town. The restaurant offers sumptuous meals with a fireplace where one can warm up on chilly nights. The wildlife sanctuary now attracts campers and hikers who desire to escape from the hustle and bustle of the cities. One of the oldest in the country, its main challenge is encroachment as villages expand. As a result, five natural game corridors have closed. A nature walk with Mike Lesil, a ranger and the cultural ambassador of Samburu county and Virginia Siebele, the county\u2019s sales and marketing officer, offered a refreshing insight on the sanctuary. Nice place for hiking, I thought. \u201cBuffaloes used to roam here, but left because of encroachment. People have settled and fenced the land, blocking wildlife corridors. Still, elands come to breed here as it\u2019s a safe haven for them,\u201d explained Mike. The highest point The sanctuary also offers a great bird watching experience for guests. In addition, one can enjoy scenic views of Maralal sub-county from the highest point. Another attraction is the Malaso Conservancy, about an hour\u2019s drive from the lodge. One morning, we braved the cold, rainy weather. Ikept my fingers crossed hoping that the mist would clear up so that I could take great photos. We passed through vast fields of wheat and finally arrived at the peak of the conservancy\u2019s highest point, 2,012 feet high with the backdrop of a valley below. For acrophobics like me, looking down from tops of buildings or hills means butterflies in our stomachs. I kept on taking photos and checking out some of the best positions where I could get my perfect shot. Birdwatchers too will be fascinated by this place as it is said to host hundres of bird species such as vultures.