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.
Kenya is best known for the game-rich Masai Mara National Reserve which famously plays host to the epic wildebeest migration between July and October. In central and northern Kenya, the landscapes of Meru National Park and Samburu National Reserve provide a stark contrast with the Mara, with red dust roads stretching into never-ending scrubland, punctuated only by the rivers that weave through the landscape creating pockets of lush vegetation. Further north again, the untouched and seldom-visited Mathews Range runs from Samburu for around 200km into the wild lands of Northern Kenya.
There is a great deal of history in Kenya, notably from the colonial era, as well as many popular movie connections which continue to be a drawcard for visitors. But despite the high volume of visitors to Kenyan game reserves, it is still possible to enjoy secluded camps with expert guides who know where to find the game without having to join the tourist trail. As experts in specialist African holidays we know how important quality accommodation is to your safari experience – our favourite hand-picked camps and lodges are those with a story behind them and owners that go out of their way to spoil you.
THE S&A TO DO LIST
- Guests at Ngare Serian shouldn’t miss the chance for a night in ‘The Nest’, perched on a limb in a lone Warburgia tree overlooking the Mara River
- Have breakfast with a giraffe at Giraffe Manor
- Viewing game on horseback is spectacular in the Mara, be sure to check out our riding safaris page for more information
Set in a vast private concession east of the Masai Mara. Cottar’s 1920’s Camp is the oldest established family-run safari camp in Africa spanning over five generations. This camp is suited to couples and families alike - there are just ten white canvas tents in total, all furnished with original safari antiques from the ‘20s to create an essence of safari from a bygone era. As the concession borders the Serengeti reserve, the sunsets are phenomenal. For an equally authentic and more affordable option, Kicheche Bush Camp is a small and intimate tented camp located in the Olare Orok Conservancy offering vehicle and walking safaris - all guides here are silver level, testament to their superb knowledge and experience. For action-packed game viewing we recommend the stylish Naibor Camp with its central riverside location in the Mara Confluence, an area renowned for very strong wildlife year-round and for migration river crossings Jul/Oct. Seasoned safari-goers looking to escape the crowds will appreciate the privacy of the intimate Ngare Serian as well as the flexibility of having their own guide. This intimate four tented camp is in a really lovely and private position right above the Mara River and can only be reached on foot, over a narrow rope bridge. Further north, Elsa’s Kopje (renowned as one of the locations for the much-loved film Born Free) is perched on a rocky kopje with panoramic views across the undulating dust-red plains of Meru National Park, whilst Saruni Samburu Camp enjoys incredible vistas out across the Kalama Conservancy from its dramatic location astride the domed peak of a granite mountain north of Samburu. Located close to the Mara Reserve boundary, Mara Plains accommodates guests in huge open-plan suites all done in a classic colonial style complete with deep copper baths and spacious decks looking out over the plains or the river. We love the little touches, the ponchos provided for chilly mornings, the land cruisers kitted out for photographers with sockets and rests for the Canon cameras which are provided for complimentary use. Nearby Richard's River Camp is sandwiched between the Olare Orok and Mara North Conservancy. Owners Richard Roberts and Liz Fusco have brought their kids up here (so the staff are very adept babysitters!) and this camp is definitely one of the prettiest we have seen - Liz is a designer. Luxury safari camp Sirikoi is another Robert’s family special set in its own land in the Lewa Downs Conservancy - a large private reserve which is an important and pioneering conservation project with a full range of wildlife including black rhino. Sirikoi has the distinct atmosphere of a colonial style homestead, with lots of personal touches such as family photos dotted around.
Set on a private conservancy on the lower slopes of the western side of the Chyulu Hills in southeast Kenya, Ol Donyo Lodge was created by safari pioneer Richard Bonham and is now owned by Great Plains Conservation, a high-end operator with a small portfolio of top lodges across Africa. Unlike the national parks or Amboseli and Tsavo West which lie to either side, the area attracts very few visitors and therefore retains a much greater sense of wilderness, the perfect place to ease in to a Kenya safari holiday and for those seeking a 'luxury hotel in the bush' feel. The suites at Ol Donyo Lodge 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. Those seeking a room with a view should note that the lovely Swahili word ‘angama’, meaning ‘hanging or suspended in mid-air’, inspired the name Angama Mara. Perched on the edge of the Great Rift Valley this remarkable lodge overlooks the magnificent rolling plains of the Maasai Mara this is a high-design safari lodge like no other, with glass-fronted tented suites with views that take your breath away and guest areas that seemingly hang on the edge of the Rift Valley. Owner-run by the lovely Fitzgerald family this is the perfect honeymoon retreat, you can even re-create your own sundowner experience on the rock where Robert Redford himself proposed to Meryl Streep in one of our favourite films, Out of Africa. Further north, guests can have a ‘beach in the bush’ experience at Sasaab, a Morrocan-style lodge located west of the Samburu National Reserve. Set in a wild landscape on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, the lodge boasts spellbinding views towards the jagged peak of Mount Kenya and offers everything from indulgent treatments at SpaSaab to game drives, walking safaris, camel rides and fly-camping.
Finish your holiday in Kenya with some time by the Indian Ocean. Boutique beach hideaway Msambweni Beach House on the southern Kenyan coast provides the perfect spot to unwind with a 700ft stretch of beach and sun-drenched infinity pool, whilst the small and intimate family-run Kinondo Kwetu is perfect for families and those looking for a home-away-from-home feel. Set on a stretch of private white sand beach south of Diana, this small luxury resort is run by Swedish owners Ida and Filip Andersson, who live on site with their gorgeous children. Each suite and cottage is decorated in antique Swahili style, with access to the beach or gardens where guests will find two pools, a yoga platform and a sauna. A host of activities are offered, including boat excursions with a picnic lunch, horse-riding, tennis, kayaking, kite surfing and scuba diving. Considered by many as the finest villas on the East African coast, Alfajiri is a stylish retreat on Diani beach consisting of 3 luxurious private villas, the Alfajiri Garden Villa, the Beach Villa and the Cliff Villa. Perfect for families or groups of friends the villas are beautifully appointed, with wide verandas, large swimming pools, beautiful Lamu doors and unique artefacts that have been collected from all around the world. The cuisine is mainly fresh seafood with a Mediterranean touch (care of Fabrizio the Italian owner).
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 visitor’s book - “like Downton Abbey with giraffes” - there are pre-dinner drinks around open fires, lots of areas to sit and read or play cards in candlelit rooms. The giraffes come up to the house in the early morning for their breakfast treats and at this time guests can take photographs and experience the thrill of having a giraffe eat from their hands or even pucker up for a kiss! A relatively new boutique hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi, One Forty Eight (the latest project from Richard and Liz of Richards Camp in the Masai Mara) is located in the peaceful suburb of Langata, bordering the giraffe sanctuary. Formerly the private home of artist Antonio Trzebinski and his wife, designer Anna Trzebinski, we love that the hotel features original art work throughout and feels exclusively private with only eight bedrooms. Finally, those wanting to start and finish their safari in the wildlife environment they have travelled so far to enjoy should consider The Emakoko, a family-owned and run lodge artfully built into the side of a valley on the Mbagathi River, which borders the Nairobi National Park a 45 minute transfer from both airports in Nairobi city.
LOOKING TO EXTEND YOUR TRIP?
Safari in Kenya combines well with beach time on Zanzibar, northern Mozambique and the Seychelles whilst the more adventurous can head off for some gorilla trekking in Rwanda...