At the heart of the Kenyan Rift Valley sits Mount Suswa – a remarkable volcano, virtually untouched by the outside world. With a unique 12km double crater system, this volcano is one of the most spectacular mountains of the Rift Valley. The exterior though unimpressive, belies the spectacular views you encounter up close.
Mt Suswa is home to a group of Maasai pastoralists who graze their herds on the flat crater floor. There are no permanent streams or lakes anywhere inside the crater, and with a six month dry season keeping a constant supply of water for both domestic use and feeding cattle can seem insurmountable. However, the Maasai have an ingenious solution to the problem – they use a system of metal pipes that condense the steam from the volcanic vents.
Mt Suswa is a double crater volcano with a shield-shaped cone. At its centre, steep cliffs plunge more than 500 metres into a ring shaped Rift Valley in miniature. The inner crater comprises of a unique circular moat that encloses the lava plateau two miles across. It is covered with wild tangled shrubs with some parts still smouldering as a result of the underground volcanic activity. The smoke can be seen drifting slowly into the atmosphere, creating something akin to a miniature lost world. The Maasai consider this part sacred where no hunting or grazing is allowed.
Mount Suswa volcano is believed to have last erupted a couple of hundred years ago. Once the volcano stopped erupting and the lava drained away, it left behind a vast network of caves. The caves comprise of lava tube systems. Lava tubes are relatively rare, and are totally different from the more common limestone caves.
There are over 30 entrances, most of which are collapsed roofs into these caves. These caves are impressive, some 10m high and wide in many places. Over six miles of tunnels have been mapped so far by cave explorers. Large areas of this cave system remain unexplored.
One interesting location in the caves is the ‘Baboons’ Parliament’. Naturally baboons roost in treetops to avoid night prowling leopards or lions. But in Suswa, troops of baboons take shelter at night from their predators in an underground chamber known locally as the Baboons’ Parliament. This is a series of small ledges high up on the cave wall. Safe beyond the reach of predators and protected by a roof of solid rock, the cave dormitory stays warm and dry even at the height of the rainy season. It is said that if you were to go in the cave early in the morning, you would find the troop’s leader perched on a pile of rocks at the centre of the chamber, seemingly addressing the rest of the troop.
The baboon troop’s arrival in the evening coincides with the departure of the local bat colonies. The caves at Suswa are believed to be home to the world’s largest colony of giant mastiff bats. As the last light fades from the sky, the bat exodus intensifies, their sheer numbers creating a spectacle to behold.
As dawn breaks over the volcano, the inverse of the previous evening takes effect. The baboons leave the caves in their numbers and the bats return home to roost.
The entire area of the crater can be hiked, including the inner crater rim and the bottom of the inner crater.
If travelling by car, it is advisable to park the car on the edge of the inner crater, then follow the paths, sticking as close as possible to the crater rim. The walk up to the main summit starts from the viewpoint. It takes about one hour to get to the first summit (2,250m), and another hour to get to the higher second summit. The ridge leading to the main summit has no established trails and is quite rough, making this section more difficult and slower.
For the more adventurous who prefer to circumnavigate the inner crater, the trail is 22km long and can take you half a day or longer depending on your pace. This option is very tedious. Besides a 1,380m elevation gain it involves some very tedious blocky lava crossings in the south-east section of the crater.
There are a number of isolated camping spots in the Suswa conservancy, the more spectacular spots being at the edge of the inner crater. The area has a considerable amount of wildlife such as giraffe, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, hyena, and leopard. You are not likely to encounter the large mammals, but you will come across lots of rock hyraxes, snakes and small antelopes grazing peacefully on the slopes.
Why visit Mount Suswa
Mount Suswa is definitely a hidden gem and despite its grandeur, it is still relatively unknown and one of Kenya’s most under-appreciated treasures. It is only 50km from Nairobi and often described as one of the best day trip from Kenya’s capital. Bountiful Safaris is on hand to offer you the best tailor made camping and hiking safari at this remarkable destination.