From Laikipia to Lewa, Ben shares his favourite lodges for walking safaris in Kenya.
27 Feb 2023
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Ben, our resident Kenya expert and lover of walking safaris shares his memories of two recent trips and his favourite places to from which to walk.
If you enjoy being on safari in Africa, then sooner or later you end up on a walking safari. That’s just how it goes…
It is a natural progression. You start with being engrossed with seeing the wildlife… 4x4 game drives are perfect for this, they get you up close and feed the fascination. But before too long the fascination develops and the passive game drive is no longer enough… that’s when the walking safari worm turns. The chance not just to ‘see’ wildlife, but to get out of the vehicle with a specialist guide to track footprints, identify their signs and learn about their habits and interactions. On level terms with the wildlife – this is a safari in technicolour - as absorbing as it is exhilarating.
And, as I found it, once you’ve got into walking in Africa, it's hard to turn back… very little comes close to the stimulation you get from quietly walking behind a qualified walking guide, senses pricked, sniffing, listening and looking intently for the next creature big or small that you might encounter.
And the encounters are magical. I can’t remember a walk I didn’t enjoy or wasn’t surprised by… the two most recent walks I've done in Kenya were El Karama in Laikipia and at Leopard Hill in a private conservancy in the Masai Mara. On one we saw a newborn Impala calf only a few minutes old, on the other we watched three hyenas playing together and listened to monkeys chattering in a tree, the sign of a leopard nearby.
Short 'bush walks' vs multiday walking safaris
Walking safaris in Kenya are rapidly growing in popularity, but they are less established here than in Zambia for example which is home of the walking safari. For this reason, 'bush walks' tend to be more common in Kenya and these are short walks of a few hours where you return to your lodge to sleep. Very rewarding experiences, but you will naturally cover less ground than on a multiday walking safari where you sleep out in canvas tents under a starlit sky and set off again bright and early the next morning. If this is what you are looking for, then take a look at our five-day Masai Mara walking safari (number 10 below) or check out Karisia walking safaris below.
Top 9 Kenya Walking Safaris
1. Karisia Walking Safaris
Best for multi-day and camels
Kenya’s leading dedicated walking safari outfit. Operating from their delightful Tumaren Camp (a gorgeous safari lodge in its own right) – Karisia runs multi-day walking safaris with an experienced team led by Kerry Glen. Guide Gabriel here is one of the best I’ve had in Kenya. Karisia, can offer different levels of comfort, and cater well for families too (not something that all walking safaris can). Some of their walking guides are also have qualified climbing and mountain bike instructors – so if it's variety you want… look no further.
This tiny and very rustic lodge has just 3 rooms, a mess, and a very welcoming pool overlooking a river system in the Sera conservancy in northern Kenya not far from Samburu.
The lodge is my personal definition of safari perfection… small, uncomplicated and remote – but the real thing that makes Saruni Rhino special is the Rhino Tracking.
Pioneered in Namibia, tracking rhinos on foot has only recently been introduced to East Africa – and here at Sera Conservancy, you track these highly endangered giants in the company of specialist walking guides and rhino experts.
This always-excellent safari lodge is one of the pioneers and leading voices in Kenya’s burgeoning sustainable tourism scene. It is an ideal place for a first-time walking safari experience for a half day. These are often combined with a bush dinner and ‘sleep-out’ in their ‘tree tent’ fly camps. El Karama would be my choice for anyone – adults and children – wanting an introduction to walking in the bush, rather than anything too committing (for which I’d point to Karisia or Sosian).
On the far edge of the Laikipia Plateau, Ol Malo is a northern Kenya classic and one of the first lodges to put this area on the map as a safari region in the 1970’s (if you’ve read Kuki Gallmans bestseller ‘I dreamed of Africa’ Ol Malo has a central role). Now run by the Andrew and Chyulu Francombe – they are well set up for walking safaris, both of the short half-day type, as well as longer multi-day walks. Andrew Francombe is one of northern Kenya’s most experienced helicopter pilots – and would be the first person I’d turn to for anyone wanting to do a walking safari in some of the untouched regions of northern Kenya that are all but inaccessible by road.
This small camp in the southern part of Kenya's rift valley is a hidden gem for safari goers wanting to spend more time out of a vehicle than in it. Brilliant for families, birders, photographers and anyone wanting a bit of an adventure in one of the most underrated and under-the-radar parts of East Africa.
Best for bush adventure
My first love in Laikipia… there is nowhere in Africa that comes close to delivering a roll-your-sleeves up ‘adventure in the bush’ as Sosian. It made such an impression on me on my first couple of visits, that I returned here on my honeymoon, then brought three separate groups of friends to stay, then finally brought our entire company (at that time about 40 people) on a long weekend in Kenya from our office in London (back in the 2000’s we didn’t think about sustainability and carbon costs in the same way we do now). And on every visit, we walked and fly-camped with Steve Carey initially, and then Simon Kenyon – two of the absolute best when it comes to sharing the fun and energy of being out on a walking safari. Sosian isn’t right for a longer multiday walking safari (for that look at Karisia) – but for a short one-day or overnight walking safari, Sosian is the original and the best
This camp, set up by Steve Carey and his wife at the time Annabelle – is yet another excellent springboard to exploring the Laikipia region on foot. Steve is originally from Zimbabwe, a country revered in safari circles for the standards of their guiding, and he is living proof of this. A guide's guide, he has an exceptional understanding of northern Kenya having worked as a guide here for nearly two decades (see Sosian paragraph above). Walking up to elephants along a river system, or tracking wild dog through the bush in a land-rover – Steve has an inimitable way of introducing people to the fun and spontaneity of the African bush, whilst at the same time ensuring everyone is safe and happy.
This is a delightful tented camp on the incredible Loldiaga Ranch. Loldaiga Ranch has only recently been opened up to tourism, and it has some of the most varied and untouched bush in all of Kenya. The Safari Series is run by Ed and Moon Hough, a couple on a mission to get people out into the ranch, experiencing it in as many ways as possible – including walking safaris and fly camping.
9. Leopard Hill
Best for short bush walks in the Masai Mara
Located in Mara Naboisho Conservancy in the Masai Mara with views across the plains and near three waterholes, the game viewing here is plentiful. Leopard Hill is ideal for those looking to maximise their wildlife sighting in the prolific Masai Mara, but also wanting to dip their toe in a short bush walk. Start to learn about the local flora and fauna, look at prints on the ground and identify which animal it was, all a short stone's throw from camp.
In the evening, lie in the comfort of your bed, staring up at the African stars above thanks to a motorized roof which opens with the flick of a switch to unveil the twinkling sky above.
So you've got excited, you've found a lodge, but then you think… ‘How safe is being on a walking safari in Africa’.
The answer is very; walking safaris are carefully regulated with the guide needing a specific qualification which is much harder to attain than a standard guiding qualification – so essentially walking guides are ‘the best of the best’. Walking safaris tend to be focused on the smaller elements - learning to track animals, appreciating flora and fauna, and discovering small animals that live in the ground, rather than looking for the Big Five! As part of a guide's training, they learn how to avoid potentially dangerous situations and it is commonplace to have an armed ranger present in case of emergency! On our recent walk at Leopard Hill we were accompanied by our guide, an armed ranger and three other lookouts, a party of five experts ensuring we all felt comfortable and very safe.
When to go
Walking safaris are typically best done in the dry season from July to October or January to February when grasses will be shorter, making it easier to spot game and ensure you are safe. Warm, sunny days mean that you will tend to walk at the beginning or end of the day to avoid the midday heat when it is best to rest. That said, Kenya is a large country and where you are will depend hugely on when it is best so make sure you speak to us for guidance. Samburu, for example, is semi-arid with very little rainfall so walking it good throughout the year and if you are going to Shompole Wilderness for the excellent birding that is found there, you will want to go in green season which coincides with rainfall.
Who have I missed out? The truth is, I could organise a walking safari in any part of Kenya, there are so many brilliant operators, inspiring people and amazing locations, so I’ve had to keep it to a short list – so whether its somewhere on my list above, or you want to do a walking safari somewhere else, please just reach out to me and I’ll do what I can to help. Walking safaris are THE BEST 😊!