There are more than 100 safari camps in Kenya’s most iconic safari destination. But just a few stand above the rest.
Kenya’s safari camps and lodges epitomise the iconic safari experience, and boy do people know it. By the end of the year, the nation’s tourism board estimates that more than 2 million visitors will have touched down, a figure that is finally reaching pre-pandemic levels.
But it can difficult to know where to start.
Kenya has 60 national parks, national reserves, marine reserves, and sanctuaries. It has private reserves offering more exclusive wildlife experiences. Things become even more competitive in the legendary Masai Mara—a good place to start—where more than 100 lodges and camps operate. Even more new lodges are on the horizon.
So how do you differentiate between those that offer a great safari experience to those that simply check the boxes? Here is a look at some of the best of the best—from private sole-use tented camps to 100-year-old lodges that provide an elevated guest experience with lots of extras, along with an eye toward sustainability and community engagement.
Bateleur Camp, Masai Mara
For an iconic safari experience ripped straight from 1985’s Out of Africa (parts of which were filmed here), head to Bateleur Camp, owned and operated by andBeyond. Bateleur offers a classic and intimate safari experience in a private corner of the Masai Mara. The lodge still retains much of its romantic feel with its ambiance and aesthetics that reflects Kenya’s old safari charm. The lodge encompasses two adjoining camps of nine tented suites and one family suite. Lush riverine forests surround the camps with wide expansive views of the African plains which are brimming with wildlife—especially during the great migration. You can view passing wildlife from the private verandas of your room. Bush breakfasts, hot-air balloon rides, foot safaris, spot-lit night drives, and candlelit dinners elevate the experience for a truly unforgettable safari.
Rates range from US$850 to US$1,815 per night, per person for a luxury tent. Family tents range from US$3,045 to US$6,355 per night.
Mara Plains Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy
This small, remote camp is located in the private 133 square kilometres Olare Motorogi Conservancy along the northern boundary of Mara Reserve. Refurbished early this year, the tents—accommodating a maximum of 14 guests at a time—are set among a cluster of acacia trees with plenty of room between each to give the feeling of seclusion in the bush. The Olare Motorogi Conservancy is reputed to have the lowest vehicle density in the Mara region, while also having the highest concentration of big cats anywhere in Africa. The camp is a sanctuary for resident wildlife species, including many of the Masai Mara’s 300 bird species. After dark, larger mammals frequent the camp, so as added protection, Masai warriors escort guests to and from their rooms. The highlight is the new Mara Plains Jahazi Suite, a spacious two-bedroom tented pavilion set on raised railway-sleeper decking. An indoor dining area leads to a private outdoor veranda and copper baths. It is also one of only three Relais & Chateaux properties in Kenya.
Rates range from US$800 to US$1,200 per person, per night.
Sanctuary Olonana, Masai Mara
Sanctuary Olonana is a stunning luxury safari lodge located at the foot of the Siria Escarpment on a private stretch of the Mara River in the heart of Masai Mara. A unique feature of Olonana is that it has 14 glass-sided suites, giving a different feel to a classic safari lodge. It is the perfect place to take in all of Masai Mara’s breath-taking natural wonders and wildlife against the backdrop of the river which flows right past the lodge. The Olonana offers a prime viewing spot during the great migration; you can even see some of it from your glass-sided suite. For a bird’s eye view of the landscape, opt for a hot air balloon flight or a scenic flight across the great African wild. Other features include game drives, cultural visits, and sundowners. For an extra special stay, the newly opened Geoffrey Kent Suite includes two ensuite bedrooms, private dining, infinity pool and a dedicated safari vehicle with guide—perfect for a family vacation.
Prices at Sanctuary Olonana range from US$630 to US$2,000 per night, per person.
Angama Safari Camp, Mara Triangle
An offshoot of Angama Mara Lodge, one of Kenya’s most luxurious safari offerings, this tented camp in the Mara Triangle is a collection of five tents set in one of the most scenically beautiful and game-rich regions of the Masai Mara. The camp boasts many of Kenya’s big names in design and decor, like Kenya’s master tent maker Jan Allan and Africa’s design diva Annemarie Meintjes where every touchpoint is on brand with the Angama name. This sole-use mobile solar-powered camp is located in a small forest in the southwest of the Mara Triangle and looks onto the plains with a perfect view of the mega herds during the Great Migration—even seen just from the tents. With a dedicated safari vehicle, guide, and Safari Camp team, each day’s programme is entirely up to the guest with access to this corner of the Triangle almost entirely to yourselves from start to finish.
Prices range from US$1,500 to US$2,500 per person, per night in peak season (July through Sept., Dec. through Jan.).
Cottars 1920’s Safari Camp
While not new, Cottar’s safari camp is an iconic lodge offering incredible safari experiences for around 100 years. Located in the private Olderkesi Conservancy, which borders the Masai Mara National Reserve, the camp is centred around conservation. It’s also Fellow Members of the Long Run and one of only 10 Global Ecosphere Retreats. One of their popular and unique offerings is the Budding Conservationist program—a four-day programme for a family that includes a half-day vulture rehabilitation experience, a foraging and feasting experience, reforestation seed balling, a conservancy tour, a visit to a Masai warrior school, stargazing sessions, and interacting with female conservation rangers.
Rates vary based on season starting around US$1,100 (off-season) to US$1,300 (peak and high season during the great migration and Christmas) per person, per night.
This story was first published on Robb Report USA