Staking its claim on the edge of northern Kenya’s arid savannahs, Samburu National Reserve is the breakout star of the three reserves that cluster around the life-giving Ewaso Ng’iro River. Between its first-class game viewing and cultural significance, Samburu National Reserve remains a draw just as much to the safari novice as to the Africa veteran. Plus, the fact that it served as the home of two of the world’s most famous lionesses—George and Joy Adamson’s Elsa, made legendary from the best-selling book and award-winning film Born Free, and the beautiful Kamunyak, a lioness renowned for adopting oryx calves—certainly doesn’t hurt its appeal.

Even without its celebrity lions, Samburu National Reserve stands on its own for its rare and diverse big game. This is where people come to see the unusual animals they can’t find in the more popular reserves, most commonly referred to as the “Samburu Big Five” of Grevy’s zebra, long-necked gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, and Beisa onyx. It also boasts all of the big cats, especially the elusive Kenya leopard, and acts as a haven for rare populations of buffalo, hippo, wild dog, a large number of elephant, and up to 450 bird species. Today, a visit to Samburu National Reserve is a chance to not only witness one of the highest and most diverse concentrations of creatures on the continent, but also discover a place where the native Samburu people have lived alongside the wildlife for many years. Happening upon a Samburu village is an opportunity to interact with their colorful character and learn about their remote, pastoral, and nomadic way of life.

Nearby, Samburu’s twin sister, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, sits on the opposite bank of the Ewaso Ng’iro River and offers a wide variety of animal encounters without the distraction of safari-going crowds. Camelback safaris hosted by the park’s Sasaab Camp are an unforgettable and unreal adventure into the wild, while the steep ravines, rocky kopjes, and natural springs of Shaba National Reserve next door provide by far the most beautiful landscapes of them all.

No matter the destination, this triumvirate of national reserves is insurmountable in both gorgeousness and game. Whether tracking a pride of lions, stumbling upon the Hardwood family of elephants, visiting with a group of Samburu warriors, or witnessing a leopard cross your path, Samburu National Reserve and its sister reserves of Buffalo Springs and Shaba are an essential stop on any Ker & Downey Kenya luxury safari.