Loita Hills is a pastoral paradise in the very heart of the traditional lands of Kenya’s Maasai people. Although Masaai culture is easily accessible through Maasai village cultural visits near the Masai Mara, those seeking an authentic and immersive experience will find the multi-day hike through Loita Hills a most rewarding experience.
“In Kenya, we say we have the big six.” Steve, our Kikuyu guide told us, as we settled around the campfire for a snack of roasted corn, freshly picked from the Maasai farm where we’d made camp. “The sixth is the Maasai traditions, for their way of life is changing fast”. I asked Steve if there are people from his tribe still living their traditional way of life in Kenya. “There are some.” He shakes his head and pokes at the fire. “But very few. It’s almost all gone now.”
Changing Maasai traditions
It’s no secret the Maasai are fiercely proud of their heritage, which they maintain through strict social rules interwoven with celebrated coming of age rituals. A well-known rite of passage is killing a lion, to mark a boy’s transition into a man. These days, it is no longer practised, as the Maasai value the conservation of these animals and their role in bringing in the tourist dollar. However, other rituals, like the piercing of ears and fire tattoos, are still observed, although even that is slowly declining as some schools forbid body modification on their students.
Starting at Maji Moto
To begin our trek, we stopped in Maji Moto, a Maasai town, to pick up our guide, an elder called Johnny. A trek through Loita Hills without an elder would be inadvisable, as he was essential in ensuring hospitality on our travels, as we would be camping near a Maasai village each night.
Johnny is a striking man – wiry in frame, dressed in the signature red of the Maasai, sporting many lively, beaded accessories. Colourful earrings dangle from his lobes, and he wore many brightly beaded bracelets on his wrists. After a quick introduction, we began our hike into Maasai land.
Camping in the Maasai Village of Narosura
We had set up camp in Narosura, an agricultural village in the northernmost point of Loita Hills for our first night. The Maasai here make a living from the maize and vegetables they grow, a change from the traditional herding of cows and goats. This Maasai village is nestled in a lush valley, and our guides make camp in a clearing covered with soft green grass.
People here rarely see visitors. Steve tells us they do as many treks up Mount Kenya in a month as they do through Loita Hills in a year. The children here watch us shyly from a distance, observing everything we do with amusement. They see that we have a camera with a long lens attached, which raises some excitement.
“Take a photo!” One of the teenage girls shouts across the distance. However, as Danny raises his lens, a young mother with a baby strapped to her chest yells, “No! No photo!”. This disagreement continues for some time, until, tired of the stalemate and not wanting to pass up on the opportunity to capture the moment, we took a few shots. With that, the excitement began to bubble up among the younger children, with some of the braver ones venturing forward to take a look.
Meeting with Maasai Morans
The next day, as we continued our hike, we came across three Morans. Despite the morning chill, these young men wore nothing but their shukas, their hair dreaded and coloured with red dye. These were Maasai teenagers, undergoing their rite of passing into manhood. The ritual of the Morani was the ceremony that involved the hunting of a lion in the past. In his mid-forties, Johnny told us his age group was one of the last ones to practice this tradition. “Back then, it was what we did.” He told us, with the help of Steve translating. “Then conservationists told us if we continue this way, soon there would be no more lions. So we stopped.”
Hiking through the Farmland of Loita Hills
The hike wasn’t strenuous, although the constant drizzle made the paths muddy, and the going slow, as chunks of mud glued onto our shoes while we walked. Steve told us the hike would be 18 kilometres today. It did not seem like much when we set out, but as the day wore on and the trail became increasingly wet and muddy, it began to feel like an eternity.
However, there were always moments of wonder. The landscape of Loita Hills is truly pastoral. The Maasai continue to live a comparatively low impact life in the countryside.
The farther we got from Maji Moto, the more remote it became. Soon, the cornfields and vegetable gardens petered out into scrubland. We were soon deep in Maasai land, where herding cows and goats is still the primary way of life.
The Maasai Village of Enkutoto
Soon, we came upon the Maasai village of Enkutoto, a village in the heart of Loita Hills. Steve stopped us and told everyone to take a break under a large acacia tree, growing on a clearing separating two collections of huts. As was the case in Narosura, all the children and teenagers of the village came out to observe us from a distance. They were as curious about us as we were of them.
As our guide went to negotiate the campsite’s price with the village elder, I sat down on a large root and sketched a little bit of the scene before me. What struck me most about the village was how well positioned it is in Loita Hills. The Maasai village is situated on top of a high ridge, overlooking a valley. The view from the village was breathtaking.
After some minutes, our guide returned with a striking lady in a bright pink shuka. Steve introduced her as the wife of the village head, who was currently not in the village. In his absence, she took care of matters like this for him.
Steve, Johnny and her had a long chat – it is how they do things here. The Maasai expect travellers to bring news the good old fashioned way. She has a mobile phone, but I suppose the Maasai living in Loita Hills do not waste precious phone minutes on small talk. However, I think the issue usually isn’t phone time but instead, battery charge. Out here, deep in Maasai land, electricity is a privilege.
After exchanging news and negotiating a night on their land, we began the last stretch of our hike for the day, making our way down to the river, where we would camp for the night.
On the banks of the Entasopia
The distance to the Entasopia river bank was not far. In an hour or so, we found ourselves leaving dry scrubland and entering thicker forest covering. A sign that water was near. We could also hear the sound of a rushing river, not too far in the distance. The air was fast becoming cool as evening approached.
There was still one more hurdle to overcome to get to our campsite – the river itself. Unexpectedly for September – it had been raining quite a bit, and the river was full and moving fast. Steve took my pack from me so that I could cross unencumbered.
It was difficult, balancing my way across a large fallen log, holding tight to the dead branches, hoping I did not make a misstep. All the while, Johnny was with me, always a few steps ahead, grabbing my hand when I needed help balancing. I am still amazed at how agile he was, having seen how he managed the crossing while burdened with our belongings.
Camping by the River that flows through the Loita Hills
Camping by the Entasopia was one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was indeed an incredible experience, sleeping under the shade of a towering acacia.
A few minutes after we had crossed, our cook, Steve, took out all his pots and pans and began making dinner. I was genuinely amazed at his perseverance. Although he had spent all day carrying a lot of gear – a tent, cooking equipment and a tin of gas, among other things, no sooner had he put down his pack did he begin chopping up vegetables for the upcoming dinner. On the other hand, I, with near-zero camping skills, stood around uselessly as the men did all the work.
And there was a lot of work to be done indeed. Our guides had our tents brought in by motorbikes that somehow braved the bumpy terrain and almost non-existent roads. They also brought in more food and drinking water for us. Happy that the porters had delivered all the provisions, Steve got everyone down to work with setting up the campsite and making a fire.
We were also waiting for our other guide (and friend from our previous trip to Kenya) Chris to meet us. He had left Nairobi earlier in the day to join us in Loita Hills. However, he did not make it that night as he’d arrived in the Maasai village of Enkutoto near sundown.
Breaking Camp on the Banks of Enkutoto
The next morning, Chris arrived, along with the first lady of Enkutoto. We had a lovely breakfast by the fire, and they told us about their night’s adventure. They’d attempted to set off for the campsite close to dusk, but the visibility had been bad as the roads in Loita Hills are mostly unlit dirt paths, and the motorcycle had tipped over. No one was hurt, but everyone then decided to spend the night in the Maasai village, and wait for the morning light.
Hiking in the Magical Forests of Loita Hills
“The hike today is going to be incredibly beautiful,” Tito, our porter, told me before we set out. “You’ll see”, he said.
He was right. As we ventured out of the thicket of trees we’d camped under; we found ourselves walking through a lush, green valley. This area of Loita Hills was different from what we had seen before.
The forest surrounding us was old and covered with a light mist, making me feel like I’d walked into the set of Jurassic Park. Creepers covered the many tall trees along the river banks, and it seemed as if the ground was rising like one giant organism. The land was enchanting.
We heard the calls of colobus monkeys from afar and strained to look at them. There were a few, although they were mostly hiding up high in the tree canopy.
Accompanying their calls was the sound of the river rushing beside us and a multitude of birds singing their hearts out. It was nature’s symphony at its best. Although we walked for hours, we did not see another Maasai village for some time.
All around us, the greenery stretched out, seemingly unending. It was a lovely day too, the air was cool and fresh, and the sun’s heat was tempered by light cloud cover—the perfect weather for hiking.
Camping in the Heart of Loita Hills
The landscape soon changed, however, and the day grew hotter. Soon, the cloud cover dispersed, and the misty green scenery turned into dusty bush. We had entered Njoroi, where the vegetation grew thick around our path.
By mid-day, the weather had become almost unbearably warm, but I had to put on my rain jacket as the scrubland around us scratched our skin. Soon, with the African bush reaching above our heads, even our guides got a little lost. Luckily, a little boy was playing in the bush. He guided us to our campsite near his Maasai village.
The child came in and out of view like a faerie, a moment he was right in front, waving us in the right direction, and a moment later, he was gone, vanished among the branches, leaves and thorns.
We walked around in circles for a while, with me sticking close to our guides and them keeping a watchful eye lest they lose sight of me. However, we were not lost for long. Soon, we found the clearing where we would camp for the night.
Hanging out with kids in the Maasai village
As with the other villages, the moment we set our bags down, we were greeted by about twenty children and teenagers, standing a distance away, curiously watching us. Even after we retired into our tents to rest, they remained there, wondering what we were going to do next.
The day was hot and humid, and our tent was incredibly stuffy. After some time, I could no longer bear to be in it. With nowhere else to go, I sat outside, by the little makeshift table our guides had set up for us.
There were tea and biscuits on it, as usual. I sat there and ate the biscuits while the children continued staring at me. At some moment, some young Maasai women with babies also joined the crowd.
Dancing in the Maasai Village
Eventually, one of the girls made eye contact with me and started dancing the Maasai jumping dance. She began chanting and making the rhythmic motions with her body and hands. Curious, I walked up to them, taking my shuka with me. The children were very excited now. She took the shuka from me, tied it around my shoulders, and then continued to chant, showing me the movements.
I did as she did, and in no time, the entire entourage of women and children were singing and chanting, performing the traditional Maasai dance. I was surprised at how even the youngest of the children, who must have been about three or four sang along perfectly, their voices harmonising with the crowd.
After it was all over, I felt that this moment was one of those moments I will take with me for the rest of my life. I had not expected to have the privilege to enjoy such an authentic, spontaneous moment in a Maasai village, certainly not one as remote as this, deep in Loita Hills.
The next morning, we began our hike up the Nguruman Escarpment. The escarpment is one of Loita Hills most incredible geological feature, overlooking the Great Rift Valley. All along the trail are breathtaking views of the surroundings, which spread out majestically below us.
We walk for miles along a path cutting through acacia forests. It was the dry season then, and I remember the forest floor covered in amber leaves. With the sunlight filtering through the thin branches above, the hike had a certain surreal quality.
Eventually, we came to the highest point on the bluff. The panorama of the Great Rift Valley that greeted us was stunning, spreading before our eyes in an unending sea of green and gold.
Having reached this incredible place, Johnny insisted that we all should take a photo, which we did. We also thought he looked very photogenic, looking out over the valley, and could not miss the opportunity for that quintessential photo of a Maasai looking over the Rift Valley of Kenya.
The Kenyan Outback – Deep in Loita Hills
We later made our way down the escarpment, heading for the Entasopia River Camp in the Maasai village of Kajiado. I thought the path downhill was quite challenging, with it being covered in scree. I did not enjoy the hike downwards as it was treacherous. Furthermore, I was put to shame by several Maasai women who bounded down the slope cheerily at five times the speed I was walking, all while carrying babies firmly bound to their backs.
Loita Hill’s Lenkototo River
Eventually, my ordeal was over, and the sight of the Lenkutoto river in the Loita Hills greeted me. I was never so glad to see a river. The day was getting very hot, and I wanted nothing more than to sit and dip my feet in its cool waters.
I was the last to arrive, of course. The rest of our guides were already cheerily seated on the river bank, chatting with some of the men from the nearby Maasai village.
The crossing of this river was not too difficult, although I had to resign myself to getting my feet wet. However, those who were more skilled at river crossings managed to get across and stay dry all at once.
Getting to the town of Kajiado
The way from the river to the town was beautiful. It was lined with green bushes and papaya plantations. There were also many empty schools along the way. Usually, these would be full, but they were unoccupied due to Covid-19. As I walked past the schools, I remembered myself thinking of how lovely it must be for children to be surrounded by nature all the time.
Soon, the bushes and plantations gave way to to a large, dusty road. There were brightly painted low buildings on either side of the road and many makeshift market stalls selling vegetables and fruit. There was a lot of papayas for sale – it seemed like it was the season for it.
The town felt a bit like a western movie, with its dusty atmosphere and oppressive heat. I was very eager to reach our next campsite and to take a much needed cool shower.
The Entasopia Guesthouse, an Oasis in Loita Hills
As one of the four buildings listed on Google Maps, the Entasopia Guesthouse is one of the town’s larger establishments. It was a relief entering this shaded oasis just as the heat was becoming almost unbearable.
My favourite part of the establishment was the large mango tree with its thick canopy right in the middle of the guesthouse. Under its shade, it was several degrees cooler. Fortunately for us, the mangoes were not yet ripe. Otherwise, there would have been many more biting insects.
We felt greatly relieved to have arrived at our lodging for the night finally. Although we enjoyed camping in or near the Massai villages the past nights, it was pleasant to have a real bed and an ensuite bathroom. Although amenities were simple, it was a welcomed change!