How Kenya’s Chalbi Desert is giving Dubai a run for her money and proving why Kenyans don’t need to ‘burn’ thousands to travel to Dubai

A local Kenyan tourist captured at Chalbi Desert. (Twitter/@Kiyaavic)
  • Welcome to the Chalbi Desert, a small desert located East of the famous Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, that is now giving Dubai a run for her money.
  • Despite the sophistication of Dubai, Kenyans who have  both experienced desert safaris say Kenya’s Chalbi desert experience is unrivalled.
  • Besides sand dune racing, in Marsabit, there is the thrill of finding a picturesque oasis with palm trees in the middle of nowhere and interacting with locals, learning their way of life.

For years, Kenyans have been raking in thousands of miles travelling to Dubai to go experience desert safaris and spending a dime in the process.

Kenyans, however, don’t really need to through all that much hassle and can atually experience all that Dubai has to offer and more at half the cost and without suffering from jetlag.

Welcome to the Chalbi Desert, a small desert located East of the famous Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, that is now giving Dubai a run for her money.

A new wild adventure at the magical desert of about 100,000 square kilometres is slowly emerging and drawing hundreds of Kenyans to Marsabit.

“When you get there, the view can only be described as amazing. The sand dunes are many and it is as if you are in another world. Even the photos we took there are unbelievable,” says Stephen Karanja, an ardent traveller, who is one of the few tourists who have experienced the thrill of a desert safari and chasing sand dunes in Kenya.

Despite the sophistication of Dubai, Kenyans who have  both experienced desert safaris say Kenya’s Chalbi desert experience is unrivalled.

Besides sand dune racing, in Marsabit, there is the thrill of finding a picturesque oasis with palm trees in the middle of nowhere and interacting with locals, learning their way of life.

I got a chance to race on sand dunes on a dirt bike. When I went swimming, the sand dunes were right next to the lake. They are breathtaking. When I took photos, my friends asked me why I went to Dubai without them,” he says.

And then there is the matter of cost, travelling to the Chalbi Desert won’t cost you your kidney since it is very affordable compared to travelling to Dubai.

“I paid about Sh20,000 for three days, that is not even half the transport cost for Dubai,” Mr Karanja says.

A trip to Chalbi Desert costs about Sh25,000 to Sh90,000 depending on the number of days paid for and accommodation while a Dubai trip which includes a desert safari ranges from Sh60,000 onwards.

According to Lamech Magaki, the founder of African Suburbs Adventures, a desert safari experience in Marsabit is very different from Dubai’s.

In Marsabit, you will have a combination of wildlife and desert safari which makes it very unique,” he says. So far, he has organised trips for about 80 travellers, mostly locals.

“Last year, we started doing overland truck tours. We wanted people to discover new activities. We first started with taking people to Turkana but it was expensive because of the long distance, which meant that we had to charter planes. We decided to do Marsabit instead and discovered Chalbi, a destination that is gaining popularity because the county is marketing it,” says Mr Magaki.

From Nairobi, the journey to Marsabit on an overland truck takes eight hours. After the safari, tourists sleep in tents by the edge of the desert. Come the next day they do visit Lake Paradise, which has nothing apart from wild animals that roam occasionally. Sunset is a perfect backdrop as the group sits by a campfire.

“The best thing is that you meet people you would never have gotten to meet. You build a campfire and it is advised that you do not go to bed early,” Mr Karanja says.

It is advisable to travel to Chalbi desert in February, March, April, May, November and December for the best experience.

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