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Luxury Travel to Kenya: An Insider Guide

Written by
Anton Noll, Angela Thomas, Jonny Humphreys

Kenya is a magical place. It’s not just the incredible diversity of the wildlife and spectacular African sunsets, the awe-inspiring landscapes and rich culture. It’s not simply the call of a lion echoing across the plains as you drift off to sleep, and the early morning mist that hangs in the air when you wake up.

It is all of this put together alongside its people whose love for their country, and its future, is incredibly strong. This is what makes Kenya so incredibly special. Here's our ultimate guide to experiencing the best of this unique country.

See
the Big Five
Follow
the Great Migration
Meet
the Maasai

Why travel to Kenya?

The wildlife

The concentration and variety of wildlife in Kenya is astounding. It was where the concept of the safari began over 100 years ago, and its popularity has never waned. Vast open plains teem with animals, including Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – as well as over 1,000 species of bird and hundreds of species of mammal.

Female cheetah stalking in early morning light - Masai Mara, Kenya

As with many countries in Africa, conservation in Kenya is a priority. Protecting endangered animals and helping both the wildlife and local communities thrive in areas where their paths cross, are issues that come into play every day. Travelling responsibly to Kenya helps ensure the survival of its majestic animals.

Elephants Tsavo East
The Great Migration

Every year between July and October, 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra follow the rains through the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The Mara River on the border between the two countries marks the most treacherous point of the journey.

Tanzania Kenya Wildebeest Migration

Here crocodiles lurk beneath the surface of the water, waiting to pick off the weaker members of the herd. The sound of hooves thundering across the plains and the spray of the water as they crash through the river is an incredible sight and one of Africa’s premier wildlife experiences.

masai-mara-wildebeest-crossing
Incredible landscapes

There are few countries with landscapes as diverse as Kenya. From the Great Rift Valley and its network of lakes, to forested volcanic cones and dusty plains that stretch as far as the eye can see, there is a myriad of different environments and ecosystems to explore.

Lions, Kenya

Mount Kenya, with its glacier-clad summits and densely forested slopes, is Africa’s second tallest peak, and nestled to the west is Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake that spreads across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. To the east, the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean lap against Kenya’s shores.

Zebra and rhino, Solio, Kenya safari
Culture

There are more than 40 ethnic groups in Kenya and much of the country’s land is shared between the animals and these communities. Tribes such as the Maasai and the Samburu are pastoralists, following the rainfall in search of fresh pasture and water for their cattle, camels, goats and sheep.

Maasai warrior Kenya

The Maasai reside in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania while the Samburu tribe can be found across Kenya’s northern plains. Both tribes are speakers of the Maa language and are noted for their traditional dress – colourful wraps and stacks of beaded jewellery are a common sight while on safari in Kenya.

Maasai guide with couple, Kenya

Where to go in Kenya

Kenya has some of the world’s most famous national parks, but instead of making a beeline for the big names, we’ve pulled together our favourite locations for a much more exclusive experience.

Three cheetah in open plains, Maasai Mara, Kenya
Nairobi

Most trips to Kenya start and end in Nairobi, but unlike other destinations, you don’t need to waste precious time in airport hotels. A short 20-minute drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport brings you to the eastern gate of Nairobi National Park and immediately your African adventure begins. The wide grassy plains are home to lions, rhinos, cheetahs and giraffes, Nairobi’s skyline looming in the distance.

Lone giraffe against backdrop of the Nairobi city skyline – Nairobi national park, Kenya

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a must when visiting Nairobi. Dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of Kenya’s wildlife, at its heart is its orphan’s project, an elephant and rhino rehabilitation programme that looks at releasing animals back into the wild.

Elephants, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Nairobi, Kenya

There is no need to stay in the city, either. Giraffe Manor is a boutique hotel located within 12 acres of private land in the Langata suburb of the capital. The property dates from the 1930s when the first Europeans flocked to East Africa to safari and is home to eight endangered Rothschild giraffes that make daily visits to the house.

Giraffe, Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

Located within the park itself, Emakoko is a great option with just ten rooms, each featuring a private verandah looking out over the plains. It is then a short drive to Wilson airport where you can travel onwards to your next safari camp or lodge.

Bedroom interior, Emakoko, Nairobi, Kenya
The Mara Conservancies

Not ones for sitting still, much of Kenya’s wildlife lives outside the borders of the National Parks and Reserves. These areas belong to landowners, either an individual or a community, and often encompass important migratory corridors. Conservancies are areas of land co-managed between tourism partners and the landowners themselves, which in this instance is the Maasai.

Desert elephants in an African safari landscape

Land is leased from the Maasai and the funds generated by tourism are fed back into the community – a model that protects the ecosystem and benefits the landowners. A safari in the Mara Conservancies is an unforgettable experience with visitor numbers far fewer than in the neighbouring Maasai Mara National Park.

Hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara
Balloons over the Maasai Mara

The famous river crossings during the great migration take place within the Maasai Mara National Park, and you may well want to cross over to witness this phenomenon. However, be aware that it does get very busy and staying in the Conservancies provides a welcome retreat to come back to.

Wildebeest river crossing, the Great Migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
Chyulu Hills

North east of Amboseli, you’ll find the rolling green hills and volcanic cones of Chyulu Hills. They are some of the world’s youngest volcanic hills and underneath them lies a vast network of lava caves, which can be explored on foot. This very important ecosystem is protected from farming and home to some of Africa’s giant elephant bulls.

chyulu-hills-maasai

Chyulu forms an important corridor for animals living in Tsavo and Amboseli and as a result, offers wonderful game viewing. The hills are quieter than nearby Amboseli and home to some incredible luxury lodges.

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Chyulu Hills, Kenya
Samburu

Samburu, the homeland of the Samburu people, lies further north and is very arid in comparison to Kenya’s other parks and reserves. A real have for wildlife lovers, the park is home to species you won’t find anywhere else in Kenya.

Samburu tribal dance, Kenya

Keep your eyes peeled for the Grevy’s zebra, a larger animal with thinner stripes that go all the way down their hooves; the Gerenuk antelope which eats on its spindly hind legs; and the Somali ostrich with its distinctive blue skin on the neck and thighs.

Samburu people in the water, Kenya
Solio Private Reserve

Located between Mount Kenya and Aberdare National Park, Solio Private Reserve is recognised as the most successful private rhino breeding reserve in Kenya. The reserve was established in 1970 after the Kenya Wildlife and Conservation Management Department approached the owner of the existing ranch and a portion of the land was set aside for conservation.

Rhinos, Solio Private Reserve, Kenya

The breeding programme has been so successful that rhinos bred here are transported to other national parks in Kenya. As well as sightings of white and black rhino, you can expect to see buffalos, zebras, giraffes, leopards, lions and cheetahs.

Leopard, Solio Private Reserve, Kenya

Where to stay in Kenya

Tented camps are a great option while on safari. But if you thought that meant wrestling with poles and hammering pegs into the ground, then think again. Luxury camps are a wonderful way to connect with your surroundings and experience the true spirit of the African bush.

Exterior view of Sala's Camp, Kenya

Hearing the melodic chirping of the birds, the rush of the river, and roars that travel for miles across the plains is a really special experience. Some tented camps can even be packed up and moved to wherever is best for wildlife at that particular time of year.

Evening by the pool at Sala's Camp, Kenya

The other option is to stay in a luxury lodge. These tend to have more facilities as well as air conditioning in the rooms, great for those that worry about the heat. There are camps and lodges perfectly suited for families, with private plunge pools and activities tailored towards children, and others that offer the privacy sought after by honeymooners.

sasaab-verandah-kenya

All will offer morning and evening game drives, as well a range of activities such as birdwatching, visits to local villages, horse riding and guided bush walks. Some even offer spa treatments. Our Travel Designers have hand picked their favourites, chosen for their location, service and unfaultering commitment to conservation.

Massage by the pool at Sasaab Lodge, Kenya

What to expect on a Jacada safari

Heading out into the wild, not knowing exactly what lies around the corner, makes going on safari an exhilarating and hugely rewarding experience. We work with some of the best guides and trackers in the business who know the local area like the back of their hand.

Jeep Safari Lions

The day starts early out in the bush, but biscuits and a cup of steaming coffee delivered to your tent make sure you’re off to a promising start. You’ll then head out on your morning game drive, which lasts around three hours. Animals tend to hunt under the cover of darkness and the morning after the night before is (usually) more dramatic than it is for their human counterparts.

rekero-camp-maasai

You could happen upon a pride of lions feasting on a carcass, or a leopard nestled in the nook of an acacia tree, devouring its kill. But even if you don’t – one kill will usually last around five or six days – this is still a great time to observe animals rising from their slumber. Setting out early means you also beat the heat of the midday sun. Jacada vehicles are kitted out with water, radios for keeping in touch with other guides and trackers, as well as blankets and sandbags for cameras.

Leopard resting after eating

Breakfast is then enjoyed back at camp followed by some time spent reading, lounging by the pool or simply gazing out across the incredible landscapes that unfold before you. At around four o’clock you will head out on an evening game drive, stopping for a sundowner before making your way back to camp for dinner and drinks under the stars.

Sala's Camp jeep, Safari, Kenya

Special safari experiences

Kenya has so much to offer and a safari in this beautiful country is everything an African wildlife adventure should be. For those looking for something a little bit different to make their trip truly unforgettable, there are a number of experiences to choose from.

Maasai Mara Hot Air Balloon, Kenya

One way to really connect with your surroundings is on a walking safari. This could be anything from a three-hour hike that starts from your camp to an epic multi-day adventure that involves pitching a new camp every night and cooking on an open fire. This is a simple but incredible experience. You’ll see game, but it’s much more about noticing the little things.

Loita walking safari, Kenya

You’ll be picking out and identifying tracks, observing animal dung and spotting the ‘little big five’ – elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver and leopard tortoise. A walking safari offers something completely different to a game drive, and is also great for active people with ample opportunities for rock climbing.

Maasai guide walking with kids, walking safari, Maasai Mara, Africa
Hot air balloon ride

Take to the skies on a hot air balloon flight and enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding landscape as you drift quietly through the air. The landscape is bathed in the early morning light and you’ll see animals begin to stir as the sun’s rays signal the start of a new day.  The experience ends with a champagne breakfast on the plains.

Hot air ballooning
Scenic flight

Another way to get great aerial views is on a scenic flight. With Tropic Air Kenya you can fly over the Great Rift Valley, Mount Kenya and the Great Lakes in a helicopter or a fixed wing plane and truly appreciate the vastness of this country’s epic landscape.

Tropic Air helicopter flight, Mount Kenya
Camel rides

Camel rides are a wonderful and different way to explore your surroundings and can be done through Sasaab Lodge in Samburu. The lodge has five resident camels and guests can ride them, alongside a guide, to a scenic spot for a sundowner.

Camel ride, Sasaab, Kenya
Horse riding

Riding these beautiful animals is a great way to connect with your surroundings. Spotting game while on horseback is a totally unique experience and offers something very different to game drives. There will always be horses suitable for different abilities from novices to more experienced riders, and most excursions end with a delicious breakfast or picnic in the bush.

Horse riding, Chyulu Hills, Kenya

Our top Kenya example trips

From
 
Community and Conservation in Kenya

While we strive for sustainability in all our luxury safaris, we’ve singled out these award-winning ecolodges not only for minimizing their environmental footprint, but also for their pioneering wildlife conservation projects and, importantly, support of and cooperation with local communities and culture.

Begin the Samburu region and the gorgeous Moroccan tents of Sasaab Lodge. The river that runs by attracts rich game and northern specialities such as Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Gerenuk antelope and Somali ostrich, as well as local Samburu herders and their flock. The Samburu here own the land on which the lodge is sat, earning an income in a way that encourages the protection of the landscape. The majority of staff and guides are also local, so you can be assured of an intimate and genuine cultural experience on village visits, camel rides and walks – a truly special introduction to Kenya.

Next, head south to the green Chyulu Hills at Campi ya Kanzi, the only safari lodge on a Maasai-owned reserve spanning 283,000 acres of pristine wilderness back-dropped by Mount Kilimanjaro. The luxury here comes from sharing the vast landscape – dotted with wandering elephant, lion and giraffe – with just (at most) 15 other guests, and from the unforgettable experience of tracking wildlife with a Maasai guide through his own land. Preserving wildlife, wilderness and culture has been central to the lodge for years.

End on the iconic plains of the Masai Mara at the unique Cottar’s 1920s Camp. Family run and on community owned land, the Cottars work in partnership with the Maasai here and have funded a number of projects including a school, footbridge and anti-poaching efforts, protecting a vital corridor for the great migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra between the Serengeti and the Mara’s plains. Witnessing this incredible spectacle is the greatest finale to any Kenyan safari.

Explore this trip

Talk to one of our expert travel designers and start creating your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Kenya.

Call: 866 610 1533or ENQUIRE ONLINE

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