From Hemingway’s ‘Green Hills of Africa’ to Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’, Kenya has long been recognised as the most romantic of all safari destinations, and having just returned from some of Kenya’s top safari camps our love for the country has certainly been reignited. Read on to see who we have lost their hearts to…
Campi Ya Kanzi, Chyulu Hills
We’re delighted to report that our stay at Campi Ya Kanzi surpassed all of our expectations. The scenery is a mix of the bright green Chyulu Hills with her “Cloud Forest”, black lava fields, savannah, baobab trees, and acacia-filled plains – lush green or red and dusty depending on the season. Owners Luca and Antonella Belpietro have lived in Kenya nearly 20 years and have raised 3 children here – Campi Ya Kanzi is their home (guest accommodation is in 6 tented cottages raised on stilts with private verandahs). We walked up one of the nearby hills for sundowners (Okoikuma, pictured above) and were rewarded by breathtaking 360 views with Kili to the south and Chyulu Hills to north. We also really enjoyed our morning hiking in the hills through the Cloud Forest up to the peak to look over into Tsavo National Park, Yatta Plateau and the plains where Ernest Hemingway used to land his planes. You can visit the nearby school where there are 12 children including Luca and Antonella’s boys. Whilst you don’t necessarily see prolific numbers of wildlife here, we still saw hartebeest, giraffe, zebra, dik dik, silver-backed jackal, impala, buffalo, eland, Grant’s gazelle, and elephants. For families with young children it is perfect, with the added benefit of being malaria-free.
Why we love Campi Ya Kanzi: Luca and Antonella genuinely put the Maasai’s culture, conservation and their local communities’ future over profits and the set up here is proof that wildlife and people can co-exist peacefully…As for the FOOD – home-cooked Italian food paired with wines from Antonella’s family wine estate – delicious! When we left it felt like we were leaving family, “Ciao famiglia”.
Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills
The suites at Ol Donyo Wuas are all open plan with views out across the plains to Mount Kilimanjaro – some have private plunge pools and steps up to the rooftop terrace for those who wish to sleep out under the stars. Our dinner was served by the fire, very atmospheric, and the food was delicious – fresh fish, salads, steak – compliments to their Relais & Chateaux chef. There are heaps of activities on offer – on our first day we did a short afternoon walk up Staples Hill for sundowners, on the second day we hiked up Ol Donyo itself which took us 45 mins, – quite steep and rugged with no clear path but again those fabulous views of Kilimanjaro and the Chyulu Hills. We also went horse riding – there are 25 horses to choose from, all beautiful and well-behaved so we felt very safe as we rode alongside giraffes, impala, oryx and jackal. We finished with breakfast in the bush which was set up complete with white tablecloth, chef station and waiters ready to serve. We also had a great time mountain biking but didn’t get as close to the game as we had on horseback.
Mara Plains, Olare Orok Conservancy
Located close to the Mara Reserve boundary, Mara Plains is a very pretty camp, set in riverine forest and overlooking the plains, which during our stay (December) were filled with wildebeest and impala. For game drives the camp has access to three Conservancies and the Mara Reserve itself – we saw plains game, buffalo, lion (the infamous Monaco pride of 30!), and leopard. The huge open plan suites are all done in a classic colonial style complete with deep copper baths and spacious decks looking out over the plains or the river (two of the suites are attached which is perfect for families). The service is fantastic here and all geared to having no set schedule – you set off on your morning game drive, and if you see something you like then there’s no need to go back to camp, the team will happily send another vehicle out with lunch/ refreshments.
Why we love Mara Plains: We loved the little touches, the ponchos provided for chilly mornings, the land cruisers kitted out for photographers with sockets, beanbags and rests for cameras, the Canon camera provided for each room.
Richard’s River Camp, Olare Orok Conservancy
We loved our stay at the newly upgraded Richard’s River Camp which is sandwiched between the Olare Orok and Mara North Conservancy. Accommodation is in 8 suites, they also have 1 family tent which is two tents joined together sharing a central sitting area. Excuse us for sounding a bit girlie but this camp is definitely one of the prettiest we have seen. The colours throughout are white, pastel greys, blues – the tents themselves are large and light, and the fabric on the ceiling feels fresh and creates a really relaxing atmosphere. The white wooden furniture is all made on site, and there are cream sofas with soft pastel throws and the main mess tent is open-sided to maximize the river views when the weather is good. During our stay we saw elephants, lion (pride of 25), plains game, hyena, giraffe and warthog. In addition to game drives, Richard’s River Camp also offer walks (we did a short walk to a hyena cave) and night drives.
Why we love Richard’s River Camp: We appreciated the authentic touches as well as the beautifully revamped camp – the family tent is particularly beautiful (NB parents – as owners Richard and Liz have brought their kids up here – now 3 and 5 years – the staff are very adept babysitters!). We loved waking up with morning coffee and soaking up the views over to the river, as well as after dinner drinks down by the fire.
Giraffe Manor, Nairobi
Built in the 1930s by the Mackintosh family, Giraffe Manor was taken on by Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville who turned it into their home and refuge for the endangered Rothschild giraffes (there are only 700 left in the world). The atmosphere of the manor house is summed up quite well by a quote in the visitors book – “like Downton Abbey with giraffes”. There are pre-dinner drinks around open fires, lots of areas to sit and read/ play cards and candlelit dining rooms. The giraffes come up to the house around 06.30am for their treats/breakfast – we spent over an hour photographing the giraffes eating out of our hands. The giraffes head down to the Giraffe Centre (open for the public) around 10am and are back near Giraffe Manor in the afternoon. Located in the quiet leafy suburb of Karen, close to Wilson Airport, Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage (15 mins) and Karen Blixen House.
Why we love Giraffe Manor: Where else in the world can one start the day with a big giraffe smooch?!