Looking for adventure? Try Kenya. Seeking a soulful sojourn replete with unforgettable memories? Choose Kenya. Wishing to be in the center of another world, where animals rule and humans are merely spectators in a most beautiful juxtaposition? Yes, that would be Kenya. I’ve just returned from a visit that has refreshed my field of view with new experiences and opportunities to see some amazing product.
It’s a long flight, no matter which way you cut it and though there are no non-stops from the US, there is a wide variety of easy connections over Europe (think London, Paris, Zurich), the Middle East via Dubai or Cairo, and even through South Africa via SAA. So, when you arrive, it’s best to take a day or two to adjust and chill out. Nairobi, where international flights fly into, is the capital of Kenya – it is massive, a bit chaotic with its own signature charm, it’s loud at night, imposing yet at the same time a soulful exciting blend of sounds and sights. For guests that wish to stay among this type of atmosphere, there are plenty of business-quality hotels in the city near the center of the action with the clubs, bars, restaurants and more. What’s interesting about Nairobi is as expansive and populated as it is, it still retains its serene roots, for just 20 minutes from the city center is Nairobi National Park which is filled with zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, cheetah and more. However, if you want to start to blend right into the surroundings and ease into the relaxation mode, it’s recommended to perhaps move outward to the suburb of Karen. Overall, when considering Kenya, it’s best to think of a 7-10 night minimum, as there is so much fascinating ground to cover.
We stayed at the Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens. Did you ever see or read Out of Africa? Yes, that’s indeed the Karen Blixen- this is a charming intimate boutique hotel with individual bungalows offering a pleasant retreat for the evening. It’s just a few minutes from downtown yet feels quite far away and retains a beautiful historical story. The historic Swedo House at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden & Cottages was actually the original hunting lodge built just after the turn of the 20th century, and from here you’ve got the Karen Blixen Museum which is interesting during the day – the staff here are pleasant and welcoming, eager and happy to please and this serves as a great base to get your feet under you for what will undoubtedly be an adventurous week.
A natural move forward would be to Samburu, which is a gorgeous reserve and home to various species not commonly found anywhere else in Kenya- such as the Gravy’s Zebra, reticulated giraffe, Beisa Oryx and Gerenuk. The game we saw was fantastic, and yes- lions were part of that mix!
Ashnil Samburu Camp is one solid choice here in the area. Rooms are somewhat bungalow-esqye yet with the feel of a tent, and well appointed- there is an electric fence just outside of the small balconies on each room where elephants and other forms of wildlife pass quite close to, providing interesting up close views. There’s a main restaurant here, a very expansive public space and pool and lots- I repat lots of monkeys roaming around.
Samburu Simba Lodge is relatively new, and also located in the vicinity. All rooms and public spaces have views of the river and nearby waterhole where where large herds of elephants and other wildlife come to drink. The lodge has two luxury swimming pools, a restaurant and bar, curio shop and expansive conference facilities. Enjoy unobstructed views of game along the river banks and the waterhole from either your room terraces, at the lodge, or from restaurant.
We stayed at Elephant Bedroom Camp which was…an experience. The tents are fantastic, most are raised up where one must climb several steps to reach the patio, yet other tents are level to the ground. This camp is right on the Ewaso Nyiro River and literally is what it says- a roaming ground for elephants who gently walk, graze, traipse all day long- and all night. For those staying in a tent, they will likely feel the trunk of an ellie grazing against the vinyl at night, or the startling sounds of branches breaking while they grumble and stomp along moving gracefully from one area to another. It’s a unique sensation not easily explainable nor duplicated. The staff here is tremendous, eager to please and the chef takes such pride in his multi-course ever-changing menu that you just want to soak up every morsel and ask his secrets for just about every dish.
For a bit of a luxurious twist, consider Larsen’s Camp- named after Erik Ole Larsen, a legendary Dane credited with defining the luxury safari under canvas. The camp is bordered by the Uaso Nyiro River on one side; there is nothing to see but pristine nature on the other three. With just 20 tented accommodations, our all inclusive adventures offer distinct luxury African safari experiences. The tents are very charming, with lantern-esque lamps, beautiful little touches such as the gorgeous bath amenities, and so on. It’s a member of Small Luxury Hotels as well.
Leaving Samburu, our next stop was the Ol Pejeta Conservancy which offers magnificent views of Mount Kenya. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000 acre wildlife conservancy. Situated on the equator, in the Laikipia District, between the foot hills of the Aberdares and the gorgeous snow capped Mount Kenya, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy boasts an astounding variety of animals. At Ol Pejeta you will see the big five; elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, lions, leopard and cheetah. Optional night game drives are also offered thanks to the Conservancy’s private status. Hosting the Largest Population of Black Rhinos in East Africa, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to more than 85 black rhinos and plays a significant role in the conservation of this species in the region.
This is a beautiful region, about 2 1.2 hours drive south from Samburu so it’s closer to Nairobi, another option would be to move guests from Nairobi here- and if this was the only game park they traversed through, they would not be disappointed. It’s an easy drive and the accommodation variety is plentiful.
Sweetwaters Tented Camp is great for those that want something a bit larger- it’s got 39 luxury tents, each with its own private veranda overlooking the water hole. The central Rhino Restaurant is housed in the former manager’s house of this once colonial farm, and offers both regional and international cuisine. Also within the house is the Kashoggi Bar and lounge, which centres on a blazing log fire. The Waterhole Bar, built in the style of a game-viewing hide, overlooks the waterhole and offers unrivalled wildlife-watching.
One hugely pleasant surprise was Kicheche Laikipia Camp- it’s only 6 tents run by the most adorable, sweet couple that exude their passion for the wilderness. Each tent is custom designed , beautifully appointed and totally green. This was the first lodge I saw where there weren’t tons of bottles of water everywhere, begging the question about recycling and caring for the environment. Instead, they had beautiful urns replenished frequently with filtered water, and adorable thermoses that one can take with them when going out on an excursion. Very green and innovative in quite a few aspects, they are to be commended.
Porini Rhino Camp is also in the area, hidden in a secluded valley and set amongst shady acacia trees on the banks of a seasonal river. The camp consists of six spacious guest tents, each comfortably furnished with en suite bathrooms. Game drives are taken in the camp’s 4×4 safari vehicles with qualified safari guides. Guided walks are taken on the open plains escorted by Maasai warriors. Night drives are also taken to see the nocturnal animals.
Ol Pejeta House was also a wonderful surprise- this is an actual former home of an Arab Sheik and his family, so the rooms maintain a sort of 80’s colonial feel as nothing has been changed in order to preserve the feel. Furniture is large and grand, the staff is quiet and discreet, and there’s even a delightful woman who is still there back from the days of the family so she’s got interesting stories to tell.
And yes, of course, there’s the famed Mount Kenya Safari Club, one property almost everyone is familiar with and certainly worth stopping by if one can’t stay a night, though I highly recommend they do! The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club straddles the equator in a glory of luxurious cottages and elegant buildings set amid manicured lawns and decorative ponds high on the slopes of Africas second highest mountain. The clubs history is as colorful and exiting as its members and visitors – from the pioneers who made the homestead and the farm their own, through its conversion into an upcountry hotel, to the uproarious narrative of the three hell-raisers who bought it on a whim and launched a legend. There are traces of luxury everywhere- in the service, accommodations, food, gardens and overall experience.
Aside from game drives and bush walks, you may want to also consider the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary for an afternoon. Opened in 1933, it comprises of over 250 acres. It started off with just 3 chimpanzee orphans and is now home to 26 contented, well looked after chimps. Lonrho Africa, the Jane Goodall Institute and Kenya Wildlife Services established this facility to receive and provide sanctuary particularly to those chimps who are orphaned or abused. They are then introduced, rehabilitated and taught to fend for themselves, just as they would have to in their natural habitats. The story of this sanctuary is one of real success, and is a delight to visit.
Lake Nakuru National Park is a few hours drive from here to the west, and another option for some magnificent rare sightings. This is a shallow alkaline lake that is world-renowned for its huge concentration of flamingos; at times, hundreds of thousands of these birds give the lake a pink shimmering glow. Game viewing at the park. The park boasts a huge variety of animals, including leopard which is often found snoozing on the branches of the magnificent yellow-barked acacias, lion, buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, warthog, baboon, the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe only found in this park in Kenya, white rhino and the rare black rhino which is protected and guarded here.
Sarova Lion Hill Lodge here in the Rift Valley is charming and large enough to accommodate groups with 64 rooms, several suites, a main restaurant and private dining options, pool and spa. Built in a natural dais, overlooking one of the world’s greatest ornithological spectacles, the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge impresses every guest with its panoramic view of the pink shoreline created by the numerous flamingos on Lake Nakuru. The Lodge is situated within the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley, nestled on the banks of one of East Africa’s most famous soda lakes, and surrounded by natural flora and fauna in its beautiful grounds. Excellent facilities for children as well- if you were to arrive from Nairobi, it would be a short 2 hour drive more or less, or if one wanted to fly, it’s just 30 minutes from the park’s airstrip which is accessed via private charter.
Here in the Rift Valley you also have the option of Mbweha Camp which offers beautiful mountain views and 10 gorgeous cottages built of lava stone and thatched roofs which give it a beautifully authentic feel. It’s a truly serene atmosphere here, only 15 minutes away from the gate to Lake Nakuru National Park which makes it quite convenient. The Conservancy is home to over 300 species of birds, and to the majority of plains animals such as eland, zebra, Grant’s gazelle, waterbuck and impala, as well as to hardy predators such as hyena and leopard and the lodge has a very intimate feel.
In as much as all of these regions offer something a bit different than one another in experience and landscape, the Maasai Mara still stands alone as the coveted destination of choice of most travelers to Kenya for various reasons. Whatever one does not see anywhere else, it is extremely likely they will encounter. The Maasai Mara is certainly Kenya’s most famous wildlife reserve, you may remember it as the setting for the film Out of Africa. It is classic savannah – grasslands, where animals are plentiful and the vistas spectacular. In this dreamlike land, animals live in freedom, and the Maasai tend their cattle, all sharing the same land with minimal conflict. The reserve is inhabited by many of Africa’s most popular wild animals, including lion, cheetah, elephant, leopard, black rhino and hippo. There are also over 500 resident species of birds in the park including ostrich, larks and sunbirds as well as the lovely Lilac-breasted Roller.
Some properties to consider here would be the following:
Ashnil Mara Camp- whose sister property lies in the Samburu as earlier outlined. Here, you’ve got 30 tents along the river, with quite a bit of space between each , giving it a very secluded feel. Rooms have been individually styled in exuberant bush colors and feature large spacious en-suite bathrooms, walk-in closets and a sun deck for relaxation while watching game.
Tiplikwani Tented Camp is another option, overlooking the vastness of the plains- it has a very exclusive feel here as it’s only 20 riverfront tents and the service is exceptionally personalized. A unique feature here are the bathtubs, which you’ll find in every tent- a very beautiful touch!
Mara Sarova Camp is a combination of luxury and adventure,it invites you to experience the thrills and excitement of this world famous region. The location of the camp is an ideal spot to capture the true essence of the wild and experience breathtaking views of great wildlife species including the “Big Five”. It also boasts of an extensive collection of exotic birds and butterflies that have taken up residence in its lush surroundings. It’s only a 40 minute flight from Nairobi or alternatively a 3 hour drive , offering over 70 well appointed tents, a beautiful free form pool with pool bar and several dining options.
For a true classic Kenyan safari luxury twist, look at Governor’s Camp and Little Governors. Both beautiful and magical – Governor’s has 37 tents along the river yet set in the forest, offering gorgeous views of the plains with absolutely gorgeous tents. The tent bar is a fantastic place to spend some time after an overwhelming day of sightings while Little Governor’s is more intimate with just 17 luxury tents around a large watering hole which always seems to draw one creature or another to its crisp waters.
There are thousands of possible combinations when it comes to Kenya, and East Africa as a region, and PAWS can create them all, perfectly suited to exactly what your client is looking for. It’s a thrilling destination that’s a phenomenal value for the dollar, and we’re very ready to assist in creating the dream!