Kenya Trip Report – The Contemporary African Safari

Kenya has always offered an incredible wildlife and safari experience. There’s a new class of camps and lodges making Kenya one of the world’s best destinations right now.

In Kenya, a safari is not just for adventurers. It’s easy and comfortable for everyone. Our Marketing Director Stephen Bailey just returned from Kenya and reports back on his itinerary.

Stephen on a Masai walk in Laikipia

Fly to Nairobi

Nairobi is a misunderstood city. It is big and busy, but you don’t see that as a tourist. I explored a Nairobi that’s home to over 100 rhinos and giraffes who peer through the room window.

Most flights land late at night so I recommend two nights in Nairobi. It gives some flexibility and you have time to relax before the safari.

Hemingways is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

I liked Hemmingways hotel, which reminded me of a typical Four Seasons property – spacious suites with massive bathrooms, good service, a grand style and nothing unorthodox. It’s perfect if you’re new to Africa.

A guest room at Giraffe Manor.

Overall, I think Giraffe Manor is the best hotel in Nairobi, even if the rooms are smaller than at Hemingways. However, availability at this 12-room property is a real challenge, especially for a two-night stay.

Restaurant at Giraffe Manor’s new Retreat

I don’t think the famous giraffe encounters are special – it’s like being at a restaurant in a zoo. My recommendation is to try for Giraffe Manor but don’t worry if it’s unavailable. Giraffe will be so plentiful on your safari that you’ll stop noticing them.

Start Your Safari in the Masai Mara

In the Masai Mara you don’t only see lions. You experience natural lion behaviour, like eating this warthog.

On a full day game drive in the Masai Mara I encountered over 30 lions. There were lions mating, lions hunting, lions eating, lions fighting, lions just hanging out, lion cubs and lions close to our camp.

How many elephants do you need to see before it becomes normal. I’d say about 100.

Plus hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, jackals, vultures, many different eagles and a lot more. Forget the famous big five (buffalo really aren’t very interesting). What the Masai Mara offers is abundance and scale.

The Masai Mara deserves its fame as one of Africa’s ultimate safari destinations. I recommend to start your safari here, with the big unbelievable wildlife experience.

Angama Mara has loads of secret sundowner spots to enjoy.

I spent four days in the Mara and would recommend four to six, spread across two different camps. Angama is family owned and operated and I love their attention to quality, community and sustainability. Their two properties are a complementary contrast.

View onto the Masai Mara from my tented villa at Angama Mara

Angama Mara is an opulent tented lodge overlooking the plains. It’s spacious, relaxed, elegant and full of things to do. Like a spa, swimming pool, photography studio, walks with the Masai and picnic spots for a lazy afternoon.

Compare the style to the more rustic Angama Safari Camp

Angama Safari Camp is an exclusive-use mobile camp, located in the most game-rich areas of the Masai Mara. It’s a very intimate and powerful experience, where everything revolves around the animals.

Lunchtime at Angama Mara

Both are very comfortable. Angama Mara is one of the most luxurious properties I’ve experienced in East Africa. Angama Safari Camp is simpler but more rewarding for wildlife. That’s why I recommend the combo.

Lunchtime during a full day game drive from Angama Safari Camp

Then Do a Completely Different Experience in Laikipia

Start a safari and there’s a little internal edginess. Will I see this animal? What about that animal? For me that completely disappeared after one day in the Masai Mara. After four days I was so relaxed and at one with nature.

Laikipia is significantly drier so can’t sustain the same amount of animals as the Mara

That laid-back feeling is essential for doing a safari in Laikipia. It doesn’t have the same concentration of animals, nowhere does, yet the overall experience is more exclusive and you get closer to wildlife and culture. I stayed at Ol Lentille and was warned not to expect animals.

Setting off on a nature walk I rounded a corner in the riverbed to find a cheetah on a rock staring back at me, barely 20 metres away.

My room at Ol Lentille, where there are just four exclusive-use villas

Ol Lentille is amazing for cultural experiences. It’s a 50,000-acre conservancy and guests are invited to do whatever the local Masai are doing that day. In my case it was joining in a dance thanking higher powers for sending the rain. Then later an hour of dancing and jumping with 20 young Masai warriors.

These Masai women invited us to join their celebrations.

A recent renovation has really elevated Ol Lentille. I love the contemporary styling and how it stays true to Africa. You look out over this remarkable landscape and realise there are no other guests in the entire 50,000 acres.

A breakfast in the bush at Ol Lentille

Laikipia is a patchwork of exclusive conservancies, each with a slightly different offer. One is great for rhinos, another has just one exclusive-use villa on an entire wildlife conservancy. Whereas in the Mara you’ll see other vehicles, in Laikipia you have a private nature experience on an incredible scale.

Ol Lentille is a relaxed destination with more downtime than a typical Mara safari.

End Your Holiday on an Indian Ocean Beach

Don’t forget the beach. Kenya has over a thousand kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline, most of it as white and turquoise as anywhere in the Maldives. On previous visits I’ve stayed in Lamu and Kilifi, both destinations I still recommend. My first preference is Diani Beach, mostly because of a new property I discovered, Alfajiri Villas.

My villa at Alfajiri Villas on Diani Beach

Owned and operated for 40 years by the same Italian family, it’s made up of three exclusive-use villas. While the largest Garden Villa can accommodate eight adults, Cliff Villa and Pool Villa can be booked as a couple, at less than USD 2000 per night.

My suite in the Cliff Villa

Diani Beach is for downtime. Think of a pool overlooking the ocean, lazy lunches of seafood and pasta, opulent dinners with more seafood and pasta, concierges continually pouring drinks and gorgeous views to end a trip.

I loved the hosts and the informal Italian-home atmosphere they created, on the Indian Ocean.

Fly Between All Your Destinations

We chartered a Cessna Grand Caravan with ten seats for an air safari between destinations

Angama Mara, Ol Lentille and Alfajiri are part of a new brand of properties in Kenya. Their quality rivals the best I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.

Kenya’s other game changer is in aviation. There are direct scheduled flights between Nairobi and most safari destinations. The pilot first does a flyover to check for runway for stray wildlife.

We travelled by private charter with Scenic Air, on their ten-seater Cessna Grand Caravan. You only need to have six people to make this great value. Flying directly between safari destinations saves a lot of time. It helps you enjoy a complex holiday full of varied experiences, in a short amount of time.

Want to go on Safari?

Make Kenya Your 2023 Destination

Photo taken from the Ol Lentille mountain in Laikipea.

Kenya has changed a lot since my last visit in 2015. Forget the old image of safari, of khaki colours and recreating some explorer who died in the 1930s. With new accommodations and better aviation, Kenya is the contemporary safari destination.

Thanks to conservation, there are more animals and larger protected areas than only a decade ago. And there’s a new level of exclusivity to satisfy the most discerning of travellers.

Don’t miss Kenya. Ask us about your safari options and how to make your safari dream reality.

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