Kenya is full of hidden gems that we keep discovering and we want to show our visitors all of them! We recently camped at Suswa Caves, one such hidden gem. Sometimes you just need to get off the beaten track, and although the road through Suswa is the well-beaten track to the Maasai Mara, the diversion to Suswa Caves is very unbeaten. So, at the risk of making Suswa Caves Kenya’s hottest destination, I’m going to tell you about our weekend there and how you can enjoy your own adventure.
Eight of us headed to Suswa loaded up with camping gear, food and water. Laura and Moses came from their camp in the Maasai Mara with their friend Helen who was visiting from the UK. Kip, Leonie and their daughter Fleur came from Nairobi, like us. We arrived at the turnoff to Mt Suswa Conservancy at the same time as Moses and Laura so we set off together into the conservancy. The road was so dusty! We had to keep almost a kilometre between our vehicles so the ones behind didn’t get lost in the cloud. On their way in, Kip and Leonie got stuck in a dust drift – that’s how bad it was!
After we entered the conservancy we had to find the campsite and set up camp. It wasn’t the easiest to find, but some of the local Maasai who take care of the conservancy found us, waved us down and gave us directions. We were pleasantly surprised to find something resembling a toilet block – a hole in the ground surrounded by a structure with the doorway facing away from the campsite. There are two campsites in Mt Suswa Conservancy: one is on the rim of the crater (I forgot to mention that Mt Suswa is an extinct volcano) and the other is next to the caves. We were at the one near the caves. Apart from the crumbling buildings around long drop toilets, there is no other infrastructure at the campsites so you must bring everything. Fortunately we are all ex-overlanders so we are used to spending a couple of nights in the bush and had all the requisite supplies for such an adventure. For a fee the Maasai brought us firewood, but it most likely wasn’t environmentally sustainable firewood.
Maasai water harvesting
The next morning we hiked. We found a guide to take us up to the crater rim of Mt Suswa. On the way he showed us the ingenious method the Maasai have been using to harvest water. Mt Suswa sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of several volcanoes that caused the Rift Valley to exist; Mt Kilimanjaro and nearby Mt Longonot being two others. This volcanic activity means there are hot springs and geysers throughout the area. In fact this activity has resulted in Kenya Power building a massive geothermal power plant in Hells Gate National Park, which is spitting distance from Mt Suswa. Anyway, the Maasai have put pipes over steam vents in the mountainside in a way that directs the steam down the mountain. By the time the steam has travelled down the pipe, it has condensed to water and drips into a large jerry can. Anyone can come and take water from this source. On our way back to camp after visiting the crater rim, we stopped by the main water collection point and our guide doused each of us in cold water harvested from the steam vents. It seemed a bit extravagant given the dryness of the landscape, but it was also very welcome as it was so hot.
On our hike we saw rabbits and shy vervet monkeys, a rare species as most vervet monkeys are very cheeky and not at all shy. We also saw plenty of birds which Kip was thrilled about as he is an avid birder.
In the afternoon, our guide took us to (and through) the caves. I would never have guessed how extensive they were and how large. Some were just massive holes in the ground, which might prove a hazard if you weren’t looking where you were going! Others were narrow passages which weren’t so much my cup of tea. There were a lot of bats, and I didn’t fancy coming across one trying to get out while I was trying to get in! We were shown one chamber that was known as the leopard’s eating cave. I’m not sure if it was true or not, I preferred not to think too hard about it as our campsite was quite close. One large cave was called the baboon parliament as it is a favourite gathering place for troupes of baboons. The rocks were shiny and smooth from the baboons sitting on them so much.
Next time we go, I think the campsite on the crater rim is preferable to the one near the caves, if only for the view. Hikes need to happen in early morning and late afternoon with a siesta to pass the heat of the day. Conservancy and camping fees are quite reasonable and the man who collects them is very good at knowing that you are in the conservancy – so even if the entrance gate is unmanned, you will still have to pay as he comes to the campsite to check on you. Keep your receipts though, so you can prove payment in case another administrator comes around to check/collect.