A GUIDE FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Shompole is a hidden gem off the beaten “safari track” just south of Nairobi (2 hours by road or 45 mins by air). This is a new find for us and we are tipping it to be the next big destination in wildlife photography in East Africa. It’s a short flight from the Maasai Mara National Reserve so the perfect add on to a Mara photo safari. Equidistant to the South is Amboseli National Park.
The Shompole Conservancy is owned and run by the Maasai community of around 2000 members and there is a beautiful symbiosis between the wildlife and the Massai people who inhabit the land.
Our private tented camp of choice is Shompole Wilderness which is a great location for groups of photographers wanting to book the camp exclusively.
Photographic Highlights at Shompole
The lakes are probably one of the biggest photographic draw cards for Shompole with all the flamingoes and pelicans. Lake Magadi is a shorter drive from Shompole Wilderness than Lake Natron and so it is possible to get there by dawn to make the most of the morning light and the reflections of the birds in the water. Being soda lakes the water is more viscous and so it has a greater reflective property.
Night drives at Shompole are very special with lots of activity. We have seen plenty of nocturnal predators like Genet, White-tailed mongoose, lots of African wild cat and on occasion Serval, Leopard and Striped Polecat.
Amazing Birding at Shompole
As mentioned before the bird walk along the Ewaso Ng’iro is very special and productive. Even the most ardent non-birder will be converted. Tonnes of Kingfishers, Fish eagles, Goliath Herons and lots of species that will swell your life list.
The riverbank by the camp is also home to a rowdy and active family of baboons and further down you can see Colobus monkeys leaping across the river from branch to branch.
For cultural photography then a walk with the Maasai and their cattle back to their boma is a must. This is a very genuine cultural experience and in no way staged. Amazing dusty backlit photography in the afternoon setting sun.
Photo Safari Activities in Shompole
Game Drives at Shompole
Game drives take place across the river in the Conservancy. You are transported across from Shompole Wilderness by a small flat bottomed boat. The Maasai guides will be on hand to help you in and out of the boat.
Game drives are in the enclosed East African Land Cruisers generally with pop up rooves and plenty of bean bags. The area can get quite dusty in the drier months so this is a great option for keeping gear dust free when driving between sightings.
Aerial photography by helicopter
For an additional fee, we can arrange that Peter (our Mara pilot) brings his R44 down to Shompole with the doors off of course. He will then take you on scenic flights over the lakes and along the cliff faces of the South Rift.
This will afford you lots of opportunities to photograph the flamingos and pelicans from the air along with the bright reds and greens of the soda lakes. The helicopter can take three guests at a time each with their own window seat. Peter is one of Kenya‘s top pilots with a great eye for upcoming photo compositions to navigate towards.
This is very special at Shompole Wilderness. The Maasai people here see fewer tourists than the populations in the Mara and so have maintained their pastoral way of life. It is a rare privilege to join the Masai warriors and herders as they return their cows and sheep to their bomas after a day of grazing. It is a scene that has plaid out for countless generations without change and makes for amazing photography.
You are then invited by the elders into the boma to meet the family and see how they live.
With the river running through Shompole there is lots of water around and the birdlife is abundant in the trees on the banks. A bird walk along the river with a Maasai guide is a real highlight of the stay at Shompole Wilderness. There are around 450 bird species in the ecosystem. There are so many kingfishers that you will fill your memory cards in no time!
Lake Natron and Lake Magadi are both alkaline lakes. Here there are large flocks of pelicans and lesser and greater flamingoes. This is a real bucket list experience. Rarely are the greater and lesser flamingos seen in such numbers as well as the abundant pelicans.
The plains game is plentiful. Lots of antelope from Gerenuk, Thomsons Gazelle, Dikdik to less exotic but no less photogenic impala.
There is good big cat activity. Lion and leopard present as well as serval and caracal seen on occasion, mainly on game drives at night.
We have had excellent elephant and giraffe sightings on the open plains and with the escarpment as a backdrop, it makes for compelling wider shots.
One big surprise is the number of larger birds including Kori Bustard, Grey Crowned Crane, Ostriches and Secretary Birds which always make for great subject matter.
The Shompole Conservancy is approximately 62,000 hectares (155,000 acres) with Lake Natron to the South and Lake Magadi to the North. Completing the borders on the East and West are The Ewaso Ngiro River and the magnificent Ngurameni escarpment, part of the Great Rift Valley, respectively.
The conservancy is a mixture of open grasslands dotted with acacia trees. There are thick riverine bush along the banks of the Ewaso – along with some stunning giant fig trees. There are also some of the largest termite mounds we have ever seen some of which can be over 5m tall.
When travelling with a group it is often more economical to fly straight from the Masai Mara to Shompole on a private charter. The ultimate way to get to Shompole, however, is by helicopter incorporating a turn or two over the lakes as mentioned above.
To save some money (when travelling with a smaller number of people) getting back to Wilson and then transferring by road (2 hours) is very easy. This has the advantage of a stop off at Lake Magadi on the way down.
Shompole is a year-round destination. The hottest months happening around October and November as well as February when the long and short rains are happening. During these times the grass and foliage are higher but that also makes for more pleasant images most times. Additionally, this is the time when the birdlife is more prolific as all the migratory species are in residence.
Please contact one of our travel planners to discuss your photographic needs and we will tell you when will be the best time for you to visit Shompole or any of our other destinations.