Just north of Laikipia, Kenya's huge northern deserts begin. Safari Guru loves this area. It really is a fascinating land, hot, dry desert, and the traditional nomadic Samburu people's home. These peoples are the Maasai cousins. Despite the dry arid landscape, the Samburu herd their camels, cattle, goats, sheep, and plentiful wildlife because of Kenya's biggest and least seasonal river, the Ewaso Nyiro. The area makes a wonderful complimentary change to the Coast, the bushy green Mara, and Laikipia, and gives you a real sense of northern Africa. This is a stunning landscape in which to safari and indeed a place where you'll be able to get some sun!
Where to stay? Here are two of our favourites:
In one of the most awe-inspiring locations in Kenya, Saruni Samburu is sheer luxury perched atop a rocky koppie in the exclusive, remote Kalama Conservancy, just north of the Samburu National Reserve. The lodge is a 25-minute drive of the national reserve for game drives and has jaw-dropping views overlooking this famous wildlife area to Mount Kenya in the distance.
Opened in 2008, with pure designer flair, Saruni Samburu has sister properties in the Mara and in northern Kenya, which can be combined for an interesting view of the country.
The entire property is spread across the solid ochre red rock, with every part facing out across the plains far below, from where you can see sheep/goat herders and hear the bells from the animals. Arriving by vehicle to the rear of the lodge up a steep rocky track, the stunning view is hidden until you walk into the main lounge and dining area, where the full vista dramatically opens in front of you.
The lounge and dining area is partially covered and open-fronted with clean, whitewashed walls, polished red-cement floors, and a north African and Arab vibe. All rooms are spread across the stone outcrop and are accessed by stone pathways. Far below Saruni Samburu's main area is the beautiful infinity swimming pool, with the edge overlooking a steep drop onto the plains below. But this is only one of two swimming pools. The other is located at the highest point of the property, with yet more stunning views over the Kalama Conservancy.
Saruni Samburu has ten villas which all vary slightly in size and shape and are spread along the front of the rock face. Each of these villas is light and airy with whitewashed walls and ceilings, with green walls and terracotta gently rounded roofs and made of canvas and stone. The front's gauze screens can be opened in the day giving access to an open plan concept and then zipped back up at night. Everything is designed so guests may constantly marvel at the outstanding surrounding scenery. The villas are luxurious and large with separate living areas, bedrooms and have inside huge bathrooms and outdoor showers also taking in the views.
There is a spa which the Italian owner set up in collaboration with the Italian hotel, 'Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees,' known for its spa treatments.
There are fantastic activities at Saruni Samburu if you're able to tear yourself from the poolside and views! Game drives can be taken in the lodge's own Kalama Conservancy (where off-roading and night drives and bush meals are allowable) or in the game-rich Samburu National Reserve - about 50 minutes drive.
The lodge also has a photographic hide on the plain below the lodge in front of a water-hole/salt lick. Here guests can spend the afternoon, and at the time we visited, the lodge had a 'resident 'leopard who lived around Villa 1!
Saruni Samburu is just a stunningly different lodge, with Samburu National Reserve on its doorstep, offering much wildlife. This lodge works well with Saruni Rhino to go black rhino trekking and see more of the Samburu are and when combined with Laikipia or the Mara.
A splendidly luxurious and romantic lodge in the Westgate Community Conservancy, a 45-minute car ride west of Samburu National Reserve, set high on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River with beautiful views over the river and surrounding mountainous landscape.
Sasaab is beautifully built in an Arabic style to keep off the heat; the property has whitewashed stone floors under the large thatched roof, walls with Moroccan style colourful arches and rugs, and low coffee tables and chairs.
The U-shaped communal bar and lounge areas, where meals are taken, capture the breeze. Just below these is a huge infinity-edged swimming pool, with great views of the river and elephants, with gorgeous shaded areas with sun loungers. All in all, this is very welcome here as the temperatures can get very high year-round.
However, each of the nine huge tented rooms has its own plunge pools with a view and reclining chairs. Each is very private and well spaced out along the hillside, with varying views of the river below and surrounding hills –. They have the same feel as the main areas, with whitewashed stone floors and thatched roofs,
and canvas walls. A four-poster Zanzibari bed stands in the middle, and each of the rooms has an enormous en-suite huge white stone with twin basins, a shower, and a toilet.
There's a spa and gym equipment, and massage and other beauty treatments (at additional cost) available.
Sasaab offers many activities. Game drives in the Samburu National Reserve and the adjoining Buffalo Springs National Reserve - both of which require a drive, typically going out in the morning where your guide will cook your breakfast and return to the camp for lunch. Walking with an experienced guide is also possible, varying depending on how energetic you're feeling in the heat!
At Sasaab, you can also ride camels, go quad biking on the river bank and/or visit a local village. Bush dinners and organised dance performances or fly-camping may also be arranged in advance.
Sasaab is a stylish and relaxing luxury lodge. The game around the lodge is not prolific, but Samburu National Reserve offers much wildlife, and this lodge works well to see a different (more Arabic, desert-like) side of Kenya and when combined with Laikipia or the Mara.
Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills
Breathtakingly beautiful is one description of this oasis of green in the shadows of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro. This is not one area but several, grouped here for ease of explanation. The emphasis here is on plains game and elephants, including the iconic big tuskers. It is a land of dramatic landscapes and beautiful lodges for relaxation.
The Chyulu Hills are one of the least visited parts of this amazing country. A lava ridge of hills - with plenty of plains game in the woodland savannah on the western, lower slopes; eland, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, elephant, and buffalo. The top of these hills is a birders paradise, covered by cloud forest.
Where to stay? One of our favourite places is:
Ol Donyo Lodge
Uber luxurious Ol Donyo Lodge is a base for many activities, including horse-riding, cycling, bushwalking, and game drives located on the south-western flank of the volcanic Chyulu Hills facing Kilimanjaro across the savannah.
The lodge is surrounded by dry woodland. The central guest area focuses on the sweeping panorama overlooking several water-holes and with views across to Kilimanjaro with a magnificent lounge, bar and terrace, and indoor dining room. Just below it is a breakfast terrace and swimming pool with similarly impressive views across the bush and water-holes.
There are ten very spacious suites at Ol Donyo Lodge in six separate 'villas.' Each with its own lounge and veranda, indoor and outdoor showers, a bath, loo, and twin washbasins four of which have their own plunge pools. One unique aspect of the villas is that each has a stone staircase leading up to a rooftop sundowner terrace with a sleeping platform, complete with a mosquito-net-covered four-poster 'star bed'; so you can sleepout, star gazing and listen to the hyenas and lions moving around!
Ol Donyo Lodge is proudly one of only two Relais & Chateau properties in Kenya (the other is its sister property in the Mara) and is typical of the gorgeous camps of Great Plains Conservation - meaning incredible style, luxury, and service. This lodge has a luxurious yet rustic vibe. The villas have three separate areas, a sitting area, huge beds and bedrooms, bathrooms with stand-alone baths and washbasins, huge rainfall showers, all with swing glass doors out to a large terrace, and an outdoor shower. The lodge is designed so that each room has its own view 'to the soul of East Africa' looking out over the plunge pool, over the rolling plains, and to Mount Kilimanjaro.
All areas are decorated with dark woods, African safari-style wicker chairs, and beautiful cushions. The curved walls are decorated with large wildlife prints. To add to this stylish area, the ground around the property is the natural black, volcanic gravel of the region.
Ol Donyo Lodge has many, many activities included in its rates; along with game rides, guests are able to go mountain biking (accompanied by a pedalling armed guard!), go on bush walks (again always accompanied by at least one armed guard). There's an open-air hide below the lodge where you can often watch the big tuskers visit and other big game as they drink at one of Ol Donyo's water-holes. Ol Donyo Lodge's stand-out activity is horseback game viewing; with a stable of 20 horses, it caters to all riding abilities. If you're a more experienced rider, the lodge now offers a fly camp option on horseback. This is a lodge that most embraces community, and its guides will take you to their village and show you authentic life-changing experiences.
The service, food quality, and wine selection are what you would hope for from a Relais & Chateau property - and the lodge does not disappoint. The service, food, and overall experience really just cannot be beaten.
"Wild and beautiful." Meru national park was made famous by the book and film Born Free and is where Elsa, the famous lioness, was released by George and Joy Adamson, all three of whom are buried here within the national park. Once incredibly popular, this park fell into the hands of poachers and disrepair in the '80s and '90s. Thankfully, it is now rejuvenated, thanks to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with the support of the EU, and a newly dedicated force of rangers led by the son, Mark Jenkins of the original warden Peter Jenkins'. There is a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate, which is home to both white and black rhinos.
Still a rarely visited park, t is certainly worth the time to explore for its memorable landscape, enormous diversity of habitat, and increasingly abundant wildlife. This is lion and elephant country, but also Meru has many rare species, including caracal, the beautiful Lesser Kudu, aardwolf, and over 400 species of birds.
Where to stay - Elsa’s Kopje
Elsa's Kopje is named after the famous orphaned lion raised and set free by the Adamsons and immortalised in the film "Born Free." The camp is set - some say sculpted - into a granite hill. The camp is above the site of George Adamson's original camp, where he raised and released orphan lions in the days long before conservation became fashionable. The camp is most certainly in one of the most spectacular locations in Africa.
The design is also spectacular. Elsa's is built around the Mughwango Hill, with each cottage individually designed around the natural curves, rocks, and trees on the hillside to take advantage, as ever in Kenya, of the stunning views. It is designed in typical Kenyan style - with the cottages and main buildings being thatched, the walls whitewashed with exposed wooden beams, and the floors are all wooden or polished stone - giving a cosy, cottage homey look. From below, you can barely see Elsa's Kopje, as it is tucked perfectly around the rocks and trees; not a single indigenous tree was cut down during its construction. It offers a great degree of unpretentious, relaxed comfort and style. The bar and lounge area has a homely collection of low-slung wood-and-cushion chairs and sofas, safari chairs, leather stools, and floor cushions, with the bar itself being a stunning piece of natural polished wood, complete with wrought-iron bar stools. It's furnished with bronzes of animals, black and white wildlife photos, Persian rugs, and polished wooden floors. The overall vibe is of a laid-back, convivial colonial African home with friendly managers and staff.
Each of the 10 cottages has a large bedroom, open sitting room, veranda, and spacious bathroom with breathtaking views of the Menu, an authentic African landscape.
Guests will enjoy inimitable seclusion in this vast expanse offering a thriving rhino sanctuary, and is famous for large elephant herds, hippo, lion, and birdlife; Meru National Park is recognised as having more diversity of animal species than any other park in East Africa.
The lodge also has a swimming pool across a lawn, with, of course, spectacular views across the plains of Meru National Park, which is surrounded by terracotta flagstones, sunloungers adding to the colonial style of Elsa's Kopje. An adjacent spa area, also open at the front to take in the views, offers a variety of massages and other treatments.
Activities at Elsa's Kopje focus on morning and afternoon safari drives around the national park; one must do this to visit the rhino enclosure, which is home to a healthy population of white and black rhino.
Perhaps interestingly, the lodge can be credited with single-handedly saving the rugged and remote Meru National Park, which was almost poached out of existence. The park had suffered from little or no income from visitors, and before the opening of Elsa's Kopje and its subsequent guests and income, there was talk of the government de-gazetting the park and turning the well-watered fertile land into rice plantations.
With the exception of Cape Town, few of Africa's cities are known as destinations in their own right. Nairobi, however, is one of Africa's largest and most interesting cities. Once a frontier town, it is the safari capital of Africa. Nairobi is a thriving place with boundless energy, where all of human life can be found. The 'town' retains its sense of the past, with an excellent museum and the historical home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, open to visitors and the area of Karen with its colonial vibe.
Bordering the city, almost part of it is Nairobi National Park, 113 sq. km of plains, cliffs, and forest. Rhino, zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Giraffe and cheetah, and many lions are all found here, living wild basically within 20 minutes of the city centre. What you won't see, though, is elephants - for this, you'll need to visit the Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage to see the rescued ellie babies being cared for and fed!
Nairobi does its very best to keep its visitors safe. We know of no other major city where cars and luggage are security scanned on entry to swish hotels.
There is more than enough to entertain you while you recover from your long-haul flight or wait to go into the bush or to the beach. Daphne Sheldrick's famous wildlife refuge/elephant orphanage, the rare reticulated giraffe centre, the national park, local craft shopping, and international and local restaurants and bars all vie for your attention and give you a real taste of the Kenya to come.
As you might expect, there are various accommodations, safe, luxurious overnight stops to colonial luxury hotels - but there are also the unexpected safari camps in the National Park. Nairobi, expect the unexpected...
Many people come to Nairobi to transit onwards to the bush and stay for one night. But it does make a good stopover on the way through to get over a long flight and visit the spots mentioned above or on the way back to unwind at a spa after a safari.
Where to stay? There are many international/airport options, but here below are three of our favourite places to stay in Nairobi, each offering a very different experience in Nairobi:
"The most unforgettable bucket-list breakfast in the world"!
One of the World's most sought after and photographed/Instagrammed hotels or experiences in the World….!
This exclusive, slightly eccentric boutique hotel, owned by The Safari Collection, is set in 12 acres of private gardens of indigenous forest in an exclusive upmarket area of Nairobi. Undoubtedly, Giraffe Manor is one of Nairobi's most historic and iconic buildings. It has a stately, manor house appeal, old-worldly charm, and elegant interiors and terraces with plenty of beautiful gardens and gorgeous courtyards.
The real drawcard here is the ability to breakfast or afternoon tea while feeding any of its resident herd of Rothschild's giraffes who may visit morning and evening. They wander along from the adjacent forest sanctuary and poke their heads through the windows in search of treats that are on hand to be fed directly to the giraffes from the helpful staff.
Many guests say that being in the manor is "like walking into the film Out of Africa."
This unique manor house was built in 1932 as a private home and became a hotel in 1984. There are six original all named after the family or giraffes; Betty, Daisy, Jock, Lynn, Marlon, and the Karen Blixen Suite. The rooms have been updated and remodelled to keep their1930s character and charming history. Each has a beautiful original art deco bathroom and antique furniture. A new wing was created in 2011, named The Garden Manor, adding six further beautiful guest rooms sitting right next door.
Built very much with the same ethos, from reclaimed artifacts and materials from the original era such that it completely replicates the main house, although the bathrooms in the Garden Manor rooms are more modern in style than those in the main house, with glass-walled walk-in rainfall showers and features such as Kitengela stained-glass windows and skylights. Each of these lovely guest rooms also has a name, evoking the history of the property; Salma, Edd, Arlene, Helen, Kelly, and the Finch Hatton Suite.
Certain of the rooms can only be booked with other safari collection properties, and certainly, some rooms are better than others for giraffe interaction - so contact us for more information. It should also be noted that the hotel is not open to non-residents. The hotel has featured in many television programmes and has a huge appeal and so is often booked up years in advance. So book early to avoid disappointment!
The Emakoko is, indeed, a very special place to stay in Nairobi. Set deep into the south of Nairobi National Park, by the gorge of the Mbagathi River, it is owner-run and managed by Anton and Emma Childs. Anton, Emma, and their team are very welcoming, knowledgeable (about the Bush, Kenya, and travel arrangements), and good fun, so this really is an excellent and unique option for a stay in Nairobi.
The Emakoko opened in 2012 and spreads along the base of a steep cliff, such that some of its large cottage-style rooms have bird's eye views, and some are set low near the bar, restaurant, and swimming pool in a truly beautiful spot. This is a safari lodge in the only national park next to a city - and one that is, frankly, underestimated for its viewing.
Once you've made the short, bumpy descent from the main park road, you access the lodge by walking across a beautiful wooden footbridge to its thatched open-fronted reception, terrace and dining room, bar, and lounge areas. All of which are beautifully styled with African furniture, polished wooden floors, and fires, which are lit in the evenings or on cooler days.
There is also a good-sized swimming pool is a good size with sunloungers and umbrellas, to relax by in the heat of the day.
Each of the ten rooms are huge with large bathrooms and their own private veranda/terrace. There is also a private house, which has two double bedrooms, a private dining room and its own small pool - perfect for families or groups travelling together.
The Emakoko rates include morning and evening game drives and Nairobi National Park entrance fees, as well as all food, drinks, and laundry, and the food here really is excellent.
Although night game drives are not permitted in Nairobi National Park, transfers to and from the Emakoko / airport are allowed after dark, as are sundowner excursions at dusk.
As well as visits to the park, Nairobi, and the other suggestions above, Emakoko guests can take escorted walks around the lodge and gorge with lodge owner Anton Childs; he is Kenya's most experienced herpetologists (reptile specialist!) with a particular interest in snakes!
Hemingways is a luxurious 45 suite hotel in Nairobi's upmarket suburb of Karen. Built-in a luxurious, modern, yet colonial style. Service is white glove, with a large reception hall and beautiful terrace, swimming pool and restaurant. Each of the huge suites, named after a famous person or place associated with Kenya, travel, writing, and exploring, is set around the gardens, and you'll be ferried to and from them by friendly staff in golf carts.
Each comfortable suite is traditionally furnished, with polished wooden floors, black and white photographs, lovely linens, and African furniture. Each has an extremely large bathroom with a separate tub, walk-in shower, two sinks, and a separate loo. The suites have separate dressing and sitting areas and desks, and each has its own terrace.
The restaurant, named the Brasserie, is nicely furnished but surprisingly unfussy for this type of hotel and serves international and Asian cuisine for lunch, dinner or late snacks, high teas, and breakfasts.
This is a lovely spot to unwind in comfort after a long flight - or rejuvenate in the spa and swimming pool after being out in the bush!
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