Isiolo County

Discover Isiolo County

Spatial Location of Isiolo County in Kenya
Spatial Location of Isiolo County in Kenya

Brief Overview of Isiolo County

As you cross the peripheral area between Nanyuki and Isiolo Towns, the line of hills extending from Mount Kenya spot a memorable view, fading away north as the road suddenly descends Timau Escarpment past the rolling farms at Timau then across the semi-arid lower area of Lewa Conservancy. Although subject to seasonality, the large scale wheat farms around Timau, about 27 from Nanyuki, marches on the surfeit of appreciable landscapes en-route Lewa to near Isiolo where the pageant of the bushy plain unfolds, and a contrasting landscape that rarely fails to impress. 79 kms from Nanyuki, Isiolo Town, the biggest in Isiolo County, is reached. This borders Leparua Community Conservancy to the west.

As you leave Isiolo Town northerly heading, the gently undulating to flat relief begins its epic domination. West of Isiolo, the hills and foot slopes also begin to disappear and, as you go further north, the large tableland stands out lordly, in the vast undeveloped flat plains, as a universal welcome to the fabled Northern Frontier District of Kenya. If you are travelling during the drier months of the year, the untenanted out-and-out shrubby wilderness plains give the miniature thorn bushes the appearance of moving game and often conceal objects in the far distance. Hot as it may be, the drive is always a wildly beautiful one. Archers Post set along the border with Samburu County and the last centre as the North beckons is 34 kms from Isiolo. It is also set along the ‘narrow foreland’ of Isiolo.

Much of the forked-fishtail shaped Isiolo County stretches east of Isiolo Town with Merti, Habaswein, Mado Gashi, Benane, and the Kora National Reserve marking its furthest boundaries. A good road from Isiolo Town through Garba Tula, Habaswein and Wajir eventually terminates at Mandera, 715 kms away, which is the outermost northeast town in Kenya. The rangeland between Isiolo and Garba Tula and onwards across the Northern Frontier District to Somalia may be one of the driest blocks of land in Kenya, yet, what it lacks in water is made up for with striking and unfamiliar horizons which are dominated by the extensive wildlife rich acacia covered plains with secluded craggy hills of ruffs. From Archers Post, the road north passes through Merille, Marsabit and Turbi before reaching Moyale – 466 kms away; the last town before entering Ethiopia.

Mount Kenya from Isiolo County. Image Courtesy of Isiolo Tourism
Mount Kenya from Isiolo County. Image Courtesy of Isiolo Tourism

Salient Features of Isiolo County

  • County Number 11
  • Area – 25700 km2
  • Altitude – 3500 ft 
  • Major Towns – Isiolo, Merti, Garba Tula
  • Borders – Marsabit, Samburu, Wajir, Meru, Laikipia, Tharaka Nithi, Tana River, Kitui
Isiolo County Map

Brief History of Isiolo County

Isiolo County is traditionally inhabited by four main tribes, the largest portion being occupied by the nomadic, pastoral Borana who are found throughout the central and eastern parts. The Samburu (closely related to the Maasai of South-western Kenya) graze the extreme south-western corner of the county, adhering somewhat rigidly to the border separating them from the Borana. In contrast, the Ameru freely intermingle with the Borana in the south-eastern part of the area, sharing the important salt supply at Magado Crater; and not as amicable with the Somali tribe who live mainly around Isiolo. Minor communities in the County are the Gabra, Sakuyu and Turkana. Although the Boranas have always been dominant in this area, they are forever weary of the Turkana, Sakuye and Somali, and they have to blows on innumerable occasions, as recent as in 2017.

During the First and Second World Wars, the Borana and Somali Communities living in Isiolo County (by extension the communities in the Northern Frontier District) found themselves on opposing sides of the war, the one supporting the British and the other assisting Italians. These two communities had always had a history of conflict but these hard-line alliances led to the perpetuated enemity between these tribes. The effects of these differences, by and large, contributed to the “Shifta Wars” of 1963 to 1969. As a result of the Shifta Wars, this region remained under a state of emergency until 1992. These also contributed to the marginalization of Isiolo County. Decades later, with the main road to the north radiating out of Isiolo Town, its importance as a hub helped its towns to thrive.

Aerial View of Isiolo Town. Image Courtesy of Isiolo Tourism
Aerial View of Isiolo Town. Image Courtesy of Isiolo Tourism
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28 Attractions in Isiolo County, arranged as one would visit these - south, north, east then north - with aid of in-depth narratives, images, strip maps and distance chart:

Isiolo Town, Isiolo Memorial, Kaita and Degushi Hills, Jombeni Range, Magado Crater, Cave Dwellings at Magado, Kula Mawe Anthills, Garba Tula, Gotu (Chanler) Falls, Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy, Merti Plateau, Ewaso Nyiro River, Lorian Swamp, Bisanadi National Reserve, Leparua Conservancy, Ol Lentille Conservancy, Oldonyiro Conservancy, Nantudu Rock, Nasuulu Conservancy, Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Buffalo Springs, Samburu Simba Lodge, Shaba National Reserve, Joy’s Camp, Nakuprat Gotu Conservancy, Sera Conservancy, Isiolo Cultural Festival, Camping in the Big North

Geography, Land-Use, Highlights, Population, Roads, Airports, Climate and National Monuments in Isiolo County