Many head to Kenya for the magnetism of the Maasai Mara. The Mara conjures up images of the wildebeest migration with its thundering vast herds galloping over the Mara river, and the excitement of lions and crocodiles taking out the easy pickings! This is a land of wide flat plains dotted with the iconic Acacia trees and a breathtaking amount of wildlife. There is no denying the Mara is exciting, unique and well worth a visit…it is always on my hit list when anyone mentions Kenya. However, my recent trip to Kenya took me to a whole new area and I am now desperate to make sure all my guests know about it…
The Laikipia area can be found in the centre of Kenya: think vast landscapes and dramatic scenery as far as the eye can see. The sheer expanse of wilderness is breathtaking and often stretches as far as Mount Kenya; it is the views which will be the first thing to catch your breath. As soon as you touch down you really know you’ve landed somewhere special and what a place to begin your African adventure!
A lot of the properties up in Laikipia are managed and run by the owner, giving them an intimate and homely touch, in fact, you are often welcomed into the lodges like guests in their home. The feel is relaxed and informal, small and intimate – so help yourself to a gin and tonic from the cabinet, like it was your home! All guests dine together on one large table to discuss safari tales and plans for the next day. The fact that you are hosted by family members who have lived and breathed Kenya all their lives, really allows you to delve deeper and understand so much more about the country and culture.
Culture and conservation are two very strong concerns in all these areas as many lodges are right in the heart of the Samburu land. In many lodges, you are greeted by staff who are in full traditional attire with wonderfully colorful sarongs, beaded head displays, necklaces and wrist bangles: it is a fabulous first impression. The owners are are pros at striking the balance between conserving this pristine wilderness and the endangered animals but also protecting the local people and their strong cultural traditions. And this is no mean feat! You can also choose to visit local schools and villages and meet the local people going about their day to day life. Then you can learn about the conservation projects along side all of this and what it means to the country and its people. Kenya leads the way in terms of successful conservation and community projects world wide. As a guest at these lodges you are making a valuable contribution to their success and it is an education for us all.
The Laikipia area offers guests the opportunity to get out of the safari vehicle. Yes, you can go for game drives – the elephant herds are impressive and seeing some of the northern ‘big five’ certainly makes game drives interesting and varied. However, the lodges here really do encourage you to see the area and the animals from a different prospective.
For me, horse riding was the main attraction. Riding can be for all levels of experience, but it is about getting off the main tracks with no sound of the vehicles, riding up the sides of the rocky hillsides with the breathtaking views all around you.
The key to these lodges is flexibility and a sense of adventure. If the river is deep enough, they will get the rubber tubes and float down the river, or get the fishing rods out. If the weather is right, they may suggest walking out and sleeping under the stars in one of their fly camps. Climb up mountains, jump down waterfalls, head up in a helicopter for a scenic flight, take a walk with a Warrior and learn about the medicinal plants or fly in Wako-by plane. What enamoured me with Laikipia is that every day can offer something different and so unique. Each lodge is distinctive and seems to offer varying activities to please anyone, of all levels of fitness and any age group! For those with a sense of fun and adventure who want to get under the skin of Kenya, I really could not recommend Laikipia more highly. A wonderfully romantic place for a honeymoon, a fun place for a family adventure, and a perfect place for a multigenerational group, an active couple or a single traveler as I was. I long to return already!
You will always receive a warm welcome from the Francombe family here at Ol Malo where you really are guests in their very special home. It is an incredible setting with jaw dropping views and the large and spacious rooms are set on the hillsides to make the most of it. Ol Malo is all about the activities: riding, walking, biking, camels and strong community involvement each give you a different perspective of the fascinating local culture. Andrew Francombe has a helicopter based at the lodge and a scenic flight with him is a once in a lifetime experience! With children of their own at the lodge, it is certainly family friendly and always have great ideas of how to keep the children entertained!
A must is a trip on Andrew’s helicopter and explore the area by air! A real once in a lifetime experience.
This really is a fab place for those into horses. The riding set up here is very impressive with horses on offer for all abilities, there is even a cross country course in front of the lodge! This lodge has a warm, welcoming feel where the rooms are simple but very comfortable, overlooking a lawn area where donkeys roam free. Riding, game drives, walks and camels are on offer here or, if you’d prefer to stay in the lodge, children have plenty of space to run and play while theadults can set up a game of croquet! There is also a nearby waterfall to visit and jump off for an especially thrilling experience! It would be an excellent place for families or couples alike.
After a long day in the saddle, have a strong gin and tonic and play snooker on their full sized billiard table!
Set on the banks of a dam, this 6 tented spot has great views over the water. The tents are simple, but very comfortable with en-suite bathrooms and they feel private and authentic. The Ol Pejeta Reserve itself is a real conservation success and offers the rare opportunity to see both Black and White Rhinos.
Visit Ol Pejeta Reserve and understand about this fantastic conservation success story.
This is one of my favourite places in the Laikipia area. It is set on the side of the iconic rock kopje, giving you the most amazing views over the valley. Borana offers fantastic game drives as the conservation area boarders Lewa Conservation area; they have recently taken all fences down between them offering an enormous conservation area for animals to freely roam. Borana offers a homely and welcoming feel with thatched cottages in a traditional Kenyan style. The most perfect place for the more adventurous guest or active family. The riding here is wonderful as they have fantastic trails for mountain bikes and camels alike, they also offer fly camping, fishing and oh so much more. A brilliant afternoon activity is walking to ‘’Pride Rock’’ – the rock used when filming The Lion King and have drinks at the top as the sunsets.
Walk to Pride Rock for sundowners!
Lewa, for me, is one of the most special places to visit in Kenya: it is a fantastic conservation project and offers so much for the guest to be involved in. Lewa Wilderness is a hospitable lodge whose thatched cottages are in a traditional Kenyan style with beautiful views. It is the activities here which are superb, especially a trip on the Wako By-plane which is sure to be a real once-in-a-life time experience where you can fly over this stunning terrain and feel really “Out of Africa”. The riding stables are right next door to Lewa Wilderness and are complimentary for those who are staying at Lewa Wilderness. The riding here in Lewa is truly remarkable, especially if you want to spot the Grevy zebras with the backdrop of Mount Kenya.
Head out on the Lewa Wake By-plane based at Lewa Wilderness for an amazing experience seeing this incredible landscape from the sky!
Lewa, for me, is one of the most special places to visit in Kenya. This is the site of a fantastic conservation project and offers so much for the guest to be involved in. Lewa House is one of the top end options in the conservancy but retains the authentic Kenyan feel and hosted by the lovely Callum and Sophie who live there with their two children. The rooms are beautifully done, with wonderful views and plenty of options for different family groups. A fantastic place for families and couples alike.
Head to Lewa HQ and learn about all the conservation projects going on in particular the efforts to protect the endangered rhino in the conservancy.
At Saruni Samburu it really is about the views and they will completely blow you away! The lodge is in the most extraordinary location with endless untouched wilderness in front of you. For a first stop in Africa, this is a magical place to begin. For me, it is a honeymoon or couple destination: I suggest you start the holiday here and just unwind surrounded by incredible scenery. The rooms are perched on the edge of the cliffs and the perfect spot to just stop and relax for a moment, drinking in the mesmerising views! You can head into the main Samburu Reserve for some great game viewing, I would also highly recommend the hike up the Thumbs up Mountain which only took about an hour to get to the top, and what views when you got there! You can also visit local schools and villages for a proper authentic insight into the local people and culture. However, after that, return to the pool, the beautiful massage room, or your room and enjoy the incredible remoteness of this special place.
Definitely hike up Thumbs Up Mountain, it is not as long as you think and you will be rewarded with the most incredible views at the top!