With a breadth of area, from the Matthews Mountains in the north and Lewa Conservancy in Laikipia, to the magical Tsavo East in the south and finally, the world renowned Masai Mara, I was fortunate to stay in some of the most exciting new safari camps and lodges in Kenya.
I found exclusive-use safari villas and private camps that would allow for an extraordinary, private safari to Kenya with your own family or travelling companions. There were also small, intimate properties that could be shared or indeed taken on an exclusive basis for a larger group. I include my recommendations below for your inspiration…
I have previously written a whole feature on Kalepo camp, but it’s so good that I hope you don’t mind hearing about it again! Authentic, beautiful, alive and yet peaceful. The adjectives are abundant because this place is so special. This is an off-grid camp offering supreme comfort, situated in one of my favourite areas of all time, the Matthews Mountains.
One can hardly believe the camp exists. From the moment one steps out into the green forest, replete with mature trees and a cacophony of bird song, one immediately relaxes. A fabulous, warm welcome from the owners Rob and Storm Mason, their son, Angus and the wire haired daschund, Badger, makes one feels completely at home.
Walk through to the combined sitting and dining area which is open sided and surrounded by the mountain, hugging the landscape. Cream hues soothe, blending seamlessly with the vibrant green from the foliage. Walk down to a Balinese style sitting area which features a pizza oven, informal dining area and a small pool in which to cool off.
This is the perfect place to begin or end a safari. The accent is on fun, friendship and relaxation - or action - the choice is entirely yours. Spend the time walking, trekking, fly camping, mountain biking and visiting the local, nomadic Samburu tribe, engaging with them in a completely natural manner. Follow them as they cross the sandy luggas to their wells, which sate the thirst of their livestock. They sing and hum to a lilting rhythm whilst hauling water in buckets to a trough for their Boran cattle.
Or perhaps you might be fortunate enough to witness a Maasai-style Olympics, devised as an alternative method for warriors to prove their manhood. Today they throw their spears into the sand as a measure of strength, rather than slaying a lion. Cash donations are paid to the winners, as would occur if killing a lion, to maintain the incentive.
Rob is trying to arrange for wildlife and plant research to be done in the region and they are active in supporting the local community.
The four villas at Kalepo are taken entirely by a single group or family so you have the camp to yourself exclusively. They are beautifully decorated, with complete attention to detail. The views stretch across the sandy luggas to the mountains beyond, and at night one hears the elephants that inhabit this region.
The food is superb, alternating between gorgeous, home-grown, interesting salads, Ottolenghi style, Moroccan tapas and Indian curries and of course a gin bar of envy! Meals are taken on the river bed, around the pool, or in the dining room. The camp is beautiful, tastefully appointed and only surpassed by the fun and adventure that makes it so unique.
Tsavo East is Kenya’s oldest National Park and a place which I simply love. Here there is a new and exclusive experience available to just a few adventurous safari-goers that are passionate about elephant conservation.
This is a philanthropic walking safari led by one of the finest walking guides in all of Kenya, Andreas Fox. One stays in a luxury, private mobile camp which moves with you as you search for Tsavo East’s breath-taking ‘super-tusker’ elephants, in conjunction with the most fabulous conservation charity, the Tsavo Trust.
You will join the Tsavo Trust teams on foot, by game drive vehicle or by joining their aerial patrols, gaining unparalleled access to the ecosystem far off the beaten track. Their flagship Super-Tusker project sees them monitor some of the largest and last elephants alive with tusks over 100lbs.
As a result, guests have been able to get up-close and personal with these animals that reside deep off-road and are normally inaccessible. After a few successful ad-hoc trips, The Explorations Company asked them to tailor an experience that would make the safari something worthwhile.
You will experience something truly unique and sought-after as a part of your Kenyan safari, whilst making a real positive impact on the conservation of elephants by making a donation of $10,000 towards the Tsavo Trusts’ anti-poaching programmes.
This experience can be taken as a standalone product or as part of a wider itinerary exploring more of Kenya and East Africa. Combining four or five nights in Tsavo with other traditional destinations would make for a great Kenyan safari itinerary.
Alternately, following the exclusive-use format, you could take a tailored journey that goes from a seasonal camp to a mobile camp and/or includes a private house in Laikipia.
My favourite period in Tsavo East is from November through to May. The Explorations Company has placed a sand dam in Laikipia and one of our clients built a couple of sand dams in Tsavo East due to its arid vegetation. Sand dams are a true miracle maker, transforming the lives of wildlife, livestock and local communities and sustaining them during the worst periods of drought.
In the Masai Mara, there are three new camp openings and one relatively recent opening. The first is Mara Nyika and is in my favourite concession, Naboisho. With 50 000 acres and only a handful of camps which coexists with well-managed grazing from Maasai livestock, this is an area to which wildlife gravitates.
Mara Nyika is a small luxury camp belonging to Great Plains and nestles in a grove of croton bushes. The staff and management are simply superb and the food is excellent, too. Similar to its sister camp Mara Plains, but with just five tents, this camp affords intimacy and would be perfect for exclusive use, too.
The tented villas are enormous and are the size of three or more tents each, with a separate study and sitting room, an enormous bedroom and a huge bathroom with double vanity basins, a copper bath and a large, wooden shower. They also had a yoga mat, which I put to good use!
Wildlife viewing was as good as ever, as I witnessed a cheetah with two sub-adult cubs bring down a baby impala. My favourite thing about Mara Nyika is that they loan you the finest Canon camera and lenses to play with, plus a pair of Leica binoculars, so you don’t miss a thing!
In the vein of being unapologetically the most luxurious lodge in the Masai Mara, with the finest of food, Nicky Fitzgerald of Angama has done it again by introducing five gorgeous tents set away from the lodge in one of the most scenically beautiful and game-rich regions of the Masai Mara..
The new camp is ideally located in a small forest in the south-west of the Mara Triangle. It looks onto the plains and has a perfect view of the mega herds of the Great Migration for peak season months. The region boasts abundant resident wildlife year-round too, and is very private; you will have this corner of the Triangle almost entirely to yourselves from start to finish!
There are just four tents catering for a maximum of eight guests, so one can either take it over as exclusive use or perhaps spend a few nights here then end off at the main lodge for a night, especially if one would like to use the facility of the pool.
Angama Mara is very proactive within their local community; in the last six years, they have built the Angama Clinic for use by their guests, staff and 25 000 local community members. They have funded a vehicle, running costs and staff costs for anti-poaching in the Mara conservancy and work with the conservancy on human-wildlife conflict compensation.
They have also built classrooms, teacher and student accommodation and have developed an early childhood development centre, as well as fenced a school.
Located downstream and entirely separate from Offbeat Mara, Offbeat Ndoto has just four luxury double tents set beneath a sycamore fig tree. It is set on an attractive corner of Mundia’s Hill overlooking the Olare Orok Riverine Forest. The carefully selected tent positions reveal a stunning vista across the beautiful Mara North Conservancy.
The huge area of the Mara North Conservancy (approximately 74,000 acres) permits just 200 tourist beds, so enables a uniquely private experience for the discerning wildlife safari traveller.
Enhanced creature comforts await you at Offbeat Ndoto. They have huge, tastefully furnished tents with a veranda, sitting room and fully plumbed hot and cold running water. Their welcoming octagonal mess tent, set on the banks of the river, is full of charm and ambience and perfectly situated to simply ‘drink in’ the wildlife!
This is the brainchild of Tarquin and Pippa Wood. House In The Wild is another real home-from-home and is part of a fabulous project to turn a previous intensive cattlefarm over to a conservation area. They have created a new conservancy with 6000 acres and are trying to purchase another 4000 acres.
In order to fund this, Tarquin has sold off a number of 5 acre plots where one can build a house as long as it conforms with sustainable practices. They have sold around 20 plots already and the funds go into developing and managing this wildlife haven.
Their food is excellent, mostly harvested from their farm. Whilst the house is not usually sold as a private villa, it can certainly be taken for exclusive use, or indeed on a shared basis. It is very much a home from home and the perfect place for families. Conservation is being taught here and children can roam around in safety, whilst also visiting the local villages, seeing the beehives, feeding domestic livestock, and learning about community and conservation ethics.
All this in addition to going on traditional safaris in Africa’s greatest wildlife reserve! They also have a large swimming pool which is unusual for the Masai Mara and a wonderful place to cool off after a busy day on safari.
Kifaru is a fabulous, luxury, exclusive use house in the Lewa Conservancy, undoubtedly offering the best views over one of the finest wildlife areas in Kenya. Lewa is renowned for its Big 5 and especially for their black rhino population. It is a leading light in terms of conservation.
The house has an incredibly opulent, old-style African feel with an enormous room under thatch that houses the sitting room and dining room. The large, colonial style cottages are all separate and there is a huge, heated swimming pool with a deck where guests can relax. Everything exudes quality, from Ralph Lauren linens to French crystal, and the food is superb.
If you would like any more information about luxury Kenyan safaris or indeed, new and exciting experiences and properties across Africa, please do feel to get in touch. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images and video by kind courtesy of:
Kalepo Camp, The Original Kery & Downey Safaris, Angama Mara Tented Camp, Excellent Development, House In The Wild and Silverless, Mara Nyika, Great Plains Conservation, Offbeat Safaris, Elewana Kifaru House Kenya, Bobby Neptune, Tsavo Trust.