Experience the Classic Kenya Safari
The world’s most famous and revered wildlife destination, a safari in Kenya is a step back in time to a world inhabited by characters that are larger than life, from famed explorers and big game hunters to presidents and Hollywood stars.
Adventure in its purest form, Kenya safari tours are imbued with more than a century of nostalgia, steeped with tales of romantic journeys, perilous expeditions and pioneers of conservation. Add to this the modern principles of sustainability and community involvement, as well as Kenya’s warm and welcoming people, and you are virtually guaranteed a holiday filled with unforgettable moments and extraordinary adventures.
From the craggy majesty of Mount Kenya to the sultry white beaches of the Swahili coast and the sweeping plains of the Masai Mara to the rugged scenery of the Rift Valley, even Kenya’s landscapes appear surreal and dreamlike, as though conjured from sheer fantasy by a magician. In the Laikipia district deep in the heart of Kenya, cattle ranchers and tribal elders work shoulder by shoulder, united by a passion to preserve Africa’s precious wildlife. The open, sweeping lands of the interior welcome the adventurous at heart, who set off into the wilderness on foot, accompanied by a camel train carrying their mobile camp and led by Samburu warrior-guides who know every inch of the land with the sure certainty of someone who has walked it since birth.
Sharing unfenced borders where wildlife wanders free, the linked parks of Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs are home to the unusual variety of species known as the Samburu Five, showcased against the backdrop of their striking scenery. Famed for its heart-warming story of Elsa the Lioness, Meru boasts rich birding and rewarding game sightings. Further south, the lush mountainsides of the Mathews Ranger invite hikers to lose themselves in tranquillity. In nearby Sarara a ritual older than Kenya itself takes place as half-clad warriors dig for water in the dry riverbanks, summoning their cattle down to drink with ancient songs, each herd responding to the individual melody and voice of its owner. Critically endangered black rhino roam the plains in safety in the picturesque sanctuary of Lewa.
As magnificent as they are, none of these other nature sanctuaries can compare to the fabled Masai Mara, home to swaggering lion, elusive leopard and stately elephant, where vast herds of antelope stretch as far as the eye can see and birds of every shape, size and colour dazzle with their plumage. Home to Africa’s Big Five, this is also the land of the Maasai, regal overlords and striking custodians of an ancient culture. As endless as they appear, for a few months each year the Mara’s wide open spaces are thronged with the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra that make up the Great Migration, known as the Greatest Show on Earth. Whether from an open safari vehicle, close enough the taste the dust and hear the grunts of the jostling beast or encountered from a different angle while serenely gliding above in a hot air balloon, the Migration is a sight never to be forgotten.
Great glistening mirrors of water, Lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, Elementaita and Baringo are scenic havens for big game, as well as the backdrop for pink swathes of stately flamingos. Just south of the border yet still clearly visible, snow-capped Kilimanjaro, towers over the open plains of Amboseli, with its mighty elephant herds. Guided horseback safaris pick their way through the twisted volcanic rock of the Chyulu Hills, taking your breath away with the striking contrasts in the constantly changing landscape and the intimate game encounters. A truly enormous wilderness area, Tsavo sweeps towards the coastline, a remote and lonely landscape inhabited by elephants painted red by its ochre dust.
What to expect on safari in Kenya
Home of classical safari, Kenya combines some of the richest Big Five areas on the planet with landscapes that are truly grand and iconic. The Kenyan safari experience is highly developed, with a wide range of tour operators, lodges and transport companies welcoming thousands of visitors every year. For the budget conscious there are overland tours in modified trucks or minibus taxis, as well as large hotel-style lodges offering competitive rates and standard accommodation. For those who can afford it, Kenya boasts a number of camps that rival the world’s top boutique hotels in terms of service, location and dining, offering experiences tailored to the exacting standards and tastes of their high-end clientele.
Kenya’s varied landscapes offer a multitude of thrilling safari activities. Guests can walk through some of the most remote and isolated regions in the world guided by tribesmen for whom these natural wonders are an ancestral home. Helicopter flights that reach the pristine shores of the high-altitude lakes around Mount Kenya can take keen trout anglers to spots rarely ever touched by man. Traditional morning and evening game drives unveil a host of rich wildlife, rounded off with scenic sundowners and superb dining. Fly-camps made up of small tents set up in the bush or bed set up on high platforms in the open invite guests to enjoy a night directly beneath a galaxy of stars.
A safari in Kenya can take place on foot, on horseback, by bicycle, by boat, on a quad bike or in a customized open safari vehicle. Keen nature photographers can set off with specialized guides who combine knowledge of wildlife and photography. Those looking for a more active thrill can run with Maasai warriors or hike up some of Africa’s highest mountain slopes. Birding enthusiasts can lose themselves in plethora of resident and migrant species found in Kenya.
One of the most thrilling natural spectacles in the world, during the late winter months the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra crosses into southern Kenya from Tanzania, with vast herds of animals plunging across rivers and braving the jaws of some of Africa’s biggest crocodiles. Predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and the occasional cheetah follow the Migration, their watchful presence heightening the drama as they wait and watch for the weak, sick or simply unwary. Hundreds of vehicles enter the Masai Mara daily, seeking to witness a lion kill or a dramatic river crossing. This is one of the most sought-after times to travel and accommodation must be booked far in advance. While tourist numbers are high and sightings are almost always shared with a number of other vehicles, the wildlife viewing during this time is truly spectacular. Smaller and more intimate camps set on exclusive concessions or deep in the remote reaches of the national parks can lessen the impact of other tourist while still providing an exceptional wildlife experience.
While the Masai Mara is a definite highlight of any journey in this country, most Kenya safaris will visit several different areas, travelling either by road or by scheduled light aircraft flights. It is possible to include a number of experiences in any itinerary, from exploring the vast Laikipia plateau on foot to seeking out unusual species in Samburu. A relaxing spa or yoga retreat might be the ideal way to end your itinerary, while you could also choose to spend some time delving into Kenya’s fascinating colonial history or discovering its conservation heroes, such as the Adamsons and their famous lions. Indulge in a round of golf on a verdant fairway that straddles the equator at the base of Mount Kenya or saddle up to ride through the stark Chyulu hills, camping out beneath the stars along the way.
Why choose Kenya?
Immortalised by the tales of colourful characters and adventurers such as Karen Blixen and Ernest Hemingway, Kenya has become synonymous with safari. Steeped in history, its wide array of landscapes and ecosystems is home to varied wildlife, as well as a multitude of cultures. A safari in Kenya could take you through sweeping savanna, explore lush groves of high-altitude forest, delve deep into tropical jungle or traverse the burning desert, all in the space of just one week.
Seemingly untouched by time, safari in Kenya lulls visits with a sense of utter authenticity and a feeling that time has passed the country by, leaving the wide open spaces untouched. Much of the country remains unchanged from a time before there were roads and towns. Vast areas still provide grazing for the shaggy cattle belonging to the semi-nomadic tribes who have made this their home for hundreds of years. Wildlife moves freely along unfenced migratory routes, tracing and retracing ancient patterns determined by rainfall and driven by sheer instinct. A country that cuts deep to the heart and soul, it is not uncommon for first-time visitors to Kenya to come back time and time again, leaving a bit of themselves behind every time.
The sheer variety of experiences is incredible and, in the space of one trip, it is possible to walk the plains with the statuesque Samburu or the proud Maasai, watch a pride of lion on a hunt, glide over the Mara in a hot air balloon and even battle a might sailfish in the depths of the Indian Ocean. While the variety of adventures is endless, the only constants are the epic landscapes, the abundant wildlife and the warm-hearted welcome. A safari in Kenya lends itself to superlatives, but much of it is warranted – guests can enjoy breakfast with inquisitive giraffes leaning in through the open windows, have lunch in the cool shade of a spreading tree surrounded by zebra and gazelle, sip on sundowners on the ridge where the closing scenes of Out of Africa were shot and sit down to dinner beneath stars – all in just
Who is it for?
With a variety of accommodation options and vast differences in landscape, wildlife and culture, safaris in Kenya can take many forms. First-time visitors can enjoy an easy introduction to the wonders of Africa while even the most hardened safari-goers can find an undiluted experience guaranteed to thrill. Enshrined in history and celebrated in film and literature, Kenya is a logical first choice for an African safari and is renowned for delivering on the experience that it promises. Well-known nature areas such as Samburu, Meru, Lewa, Amboseli and Tsavo are reliable destinations for wildlife viewing, while the Masai Mara is virtually guaranteed to deliver sightings of the Big Five, particularly for travellers with limited time.
Much of the terrain in Kenya, including the Masai Mara, consists of wide open spaces. Not only does this make for astonishing scenery but it makes the abundant game easier to locate and view, particularly in the peak season winter months when vegetation is sparse. During the so-called green season, which is from November to June, heavier rains and denser vegetation may discourage some travellers. However, many of the lodges and camps run at far lower occupancies during this time, which means lower rates and less crowded viewing in the wildlife areas. This makes this a good time for travellers who would like to enjoy a more leisurely experience that does not necessarily include the Great Migration but still includes the exceptional wildlife that is resident in these areas year-round.
The same desire for unhurried, uncrowded safari experiences draws visitors to areas like Laikipia and the Northern frontier. While these areas don’t have the concentrated big game density of the Mara, they make up for it with wide open spaces devoid of people, authentic and unforced cultural experiences and rewarding sightings of endemic and endangered species. The areas in and around Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs parks in the north are known for the Samburu Five – the reticulated giraffe, endangered Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, gerenuk and Beisa oryx. Lewa boasts some of the best rhino viewing in Kenya, part of its proud legacy of rhino conservation.
Another benefit of the highly evolved Kenyan safari industry is the wealth of options that it offers different types of travellers. Couples seeking privacy and romance can find solitude in small, intimate camps, while solo travellers will find it easy to join groups or set departures. Families with children can book private vehicles and guides, as well as making use of sole-use safari villas that allow them the freedom to share the wonder of their first wildlife sightings as a family.
A well-developed network of roads and flights makes it easy to access even the most remote areas. Guests looking for a Kenyan safari will find a number of tried-and-tested options that make it simple for even first-time travellers to get around the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Where to go on safari in Kenya
With its wide variety of landscapes and attractions, each part of Kenya has something special to offer. The key to planning the perfect Kenya safari is to find the right mix to cater for your particular interests and expectations.
The Masai Mara
Kenya’s most famous national reserve, the Masai Mara runs along the country south-west border with Kenya, just across the border from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. This gigantic ecosystem is shared by the two countries and protected with a combination of national reserves and community-run conservation areas.
Apart from its picturesque scenery and regal Maasai people clad in striking red garb, the Mara is best known for the annual Great Migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra.
Following the rains, the vast herds arrive from Tanzania sometime between August and November each year, crossing some of Africa’s most famous rivers. The multitudes of snorting and cavorting animals, the heart-stopping tension of the river crossings and the sinister patience of the predators that follow the herd all combine to form an epic life-and-death saga that plays out beneath Kenya’s vast skies.
The Mara offers a wide choice of accommodation, ranging from tented camps to luxurious lodges. Some are located within the borders of the national park, while others are on conservancies that surround the park. Those located on private conservancies offer the added lure of activities not allowed within the park itself, including night drives, nature walks, off-road driving and the opportunity to enjoy dining out in the bush. The reserves are not fenced, meaning that game moves freely between the reserves and the conservancies, creating one vast wildlife area. During winter (June to September) and the migration months, the Mara becomes very busy and wildlife sightings become very crowded, with vehicles gathering for a lion kill or potential river crossing. During the quieter summer months and the green season (when there are heavy rains, particularly between March and June), the reserve is much quieter and visitors feel as though they have the Mara to themselves. Although the big herds of the Great Migration have moved off by this time, the abundant resident game can still be seen and wildlife sightings still rival anywhere in the world.
Learn more about Masai Mara National Reserve.
Laikipia and the Northern Frontier
Running from the rugged slopes of Mount Kenya in central Kenya and extending to the north-west, the area known as Laikipia is a patchwork of fenced cattle ranches, tribal land and community-run wildlife conservancies. This wide open landscape lends itself to safari experiences that break away from the traditional and allow guests to spend time outside the game vehicle.
These wide open spaces boast the highest diversity of large mammals in Kenya. Laikipia is the perfect playground for those looking to feel the ground beneath their feet, to walk in the wild and spend time with the Samburu and Maasai people who call it home. It is the home of extraordinary experiences like camel-back safaris, week-long walking safaris, sleep-outs beneath the stars and horseback safaris.
Further north, the Mathews range offers unforgettable hiking in pristine mountain forests, while the Sarara Singing Wells give guests a glimpse of a culture still untouched by the modern world. Just north of Mount Kenya lies the rhino sanctuary of Lewa, with Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs just a little further north. In addition to the usual big game, this area is home to the unusual species known as the “Samburu five” and most of the big five, although rhino sightings are scarce. These are parks where the focus is on a remote and unhurried safari experience, sharing a sighting with only your guide and companions, spending endless hours simply taking it all in and enjoying the time to notice the million little details of the bush that often go overlooked in the more crowded parks.
Learn more about Laikipia.
The Rift Valley Lakes
With their almost mystical appearance, the tranquil rift valley lakes of Nakuru, Naivasha, Baringo and Elementaita are home to large flocks of pink-feathered flamingo. In recent years changing water levels have affected the populations of algae that the flamingos feed on, so they move between the lakes seeking the best places to feed. Apart from the flamingo, the shores of all of the lakes are home to wildlife and between them they offer a number of different safari experiences.
While Nakuru is situated in a national park, private conservancies around the other lakes offer the freedom to explore different safari experiences, like full-day nature walks and bush dinners, a round of golf on a quirky 9-hole ‘bush course’ or even playing hide-and-seek with young anti-poaching bloodhounds!
Amboseli and Tsavo
Situated toward the south and south-east, Amboseli boasts magnificent views of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, which lies on the other side of the border. The park is known for its great elephant herds and the guides are experts at teaching their guests about these animals’ complex social interactions.
Covering a combined area larger than the island of Jamaica, Tsavo is home to high populations of game, although its sheer size makes every wildlife encounter rewarding. One of the area’s most special sightings is its red elephants, dyed by the ochre-rich soil. Learn more about Amboseli National Park.
The Swahili Coast
The Kenyan coast is known for endless, dazzling white beaches, warm Indian Ocean waters and pristine marine reserves.
The scuba diving, snorkelling and tag-release sport fishing here is among the best in the world. The area’s secluded resorts and villas are the ideal place to relax after the rigours of a Kenyan safari.
How to get there and how long to stay
With a number of airline connections, Kenya is comparatively easy to get to. Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a hub for East Africa and most international flights will land there. Several transport options exist from there. Local airlines offer daily scheduled light aircraft flights to most areas, meaning one can have breakfast in Nairobi and lunch on safari, be it in the Masai Mara, looking out over a Rift Valley lake or deep within tranquil Samburu National Park. For those that don’t want to fly, overland safari in Kenya is a wonderful way to get a feel for the country. Road networks are sound, though in places the going may be a little slower and bumpier, especially in more isolated areas. Private vehicles with a driver-guide are a good option, although it’s important to book with a reputable company as there are unprofessional operators that take advantage of the uninformed.
Kenya is developed enough that a shorter safari is logistically viable, but safaris are usually between a week and ten days minimum. There is far too much to see to cram into a short trip.
When should I go?
Kenya is a year-round safari destination. It is busy during the dry season from June to October, when the sparse vegetation and limited water causes game to gather around water, making them easy to find and to view. However, this is the most crowded and busy time to go on safari, especially in the Masai Mara from the latter half of August to October, when the Great Migration usually arrives.
Safaris cost a premium during this time and the whole of Kenya is busy as guests do full safari circuits, combining Meru, Lewa, Samburu, Laikipia, the Rift Valley lakes and the coast into itineraries that can last as long as three months.
During the rest of the year, higher rainfall makes the vegetation thick, green and lush. The wildlife areas are uncrowded and most animals give birth to their young during this time. Lower rates mean longer and more leisurely safaris become feasible. However, when the rains really get heavy, usually between April and May, roads and airstrips become unusable and some lodges close until things dry out.
The decision when to travel depends mostly on your preferences and what you want to see. For those only wanting to see the Great Migration the choice is obvious. First-timers seeking the Big Five would also do well between June and November. However, anyone looking for a good safari experience can travel throughout the year. The wildlife, culture and landscapes are always there and a true Kenyan safari is about experiencing them in the way that most appeals to you.
What should I bring with me on my Kenya Safari?
Your curiosity and sense of adventure, an open mind and enough memory cards for the camera! As a general guide, comfortable and casual clothing that you can wash and wear is recommended while on safari. Muted colours are best for game viewing. Game drives are generally conducted in the early morning and the late afternoon, which can be cold, especially in winter. The temperature often warms up during the day, so it is best to dress in layers.
The most practical items to pack for your Kenya safari are:
- Clothes in khaki, green, beige and neutral colours
- Long-sleeved shirts that offer protection from the sun and mosquitoes
- Shorts or a light skirt
- Jeans or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
- Jackets and sweaters for early morning and late afternoon game drives
- A lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain
- Swim and beachwear
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, insect repellent, moisturiser and lip salve
- Binoculars and camera equipment
The luggage allowance on small flights is usually limited to a maximum of 15 kg (33 lbs), which includes hand luggage, so please bear this in mind when packing. Most lodges and camps provide a same-day laundry service for your clothes.
Where to stay
You will find a wide range of accommodation in Kenya, from simple mobile camps to luxury lodges. &Beyond has two lodges in the Masai Mara.
Take in bustling Nairobi, perhaps visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and adopt an elephant.
What does it cost?
You can expect to pay anywhere between USD 5 000 and 15 000 for a ten-day Kenyan safari, depending on the level of luxury that you would like to experience and the areas where you would like to travel.
Who to contact
&Beyond can put together tailormade Kenya safari tours that include internal flights, transport, accommodation and guided tours anywhere in Kenya. Enquire now for more information.