With some many lodges to choose from, how do you decide where to go on safari? Here are some of our favourites.
03 Apr 2023
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I often get asked what the best lodges are, not just in Kenya, all over Africa. Truth be told there are so many and it’s so subjective that it’s a very difficult question to answer; what turns one person on may turn the other off. These are small intimate places offering a very personal service, often in their very own unique environments so it really is a very individual thing.
Below I have outlined 8 lodges which I think rank highly and deserve to be in what we consider ‘The Best Safari Lodges in Kenya’. To help you, I’ve signposted where they excel whether that’s luxury, adventure, romance or sustainability.
1. Angama Mara
Best for luxury
Location: Masai Mara
When it comes to luxury, there is nothing like Angama Mara, located high up on an escarpment overlooking the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya. Privately owned, it’s a complete one-off and a truly very special experience. The owners of Angama Mara wanted to build in their iconic location for over 20 years, after very patient negotiations with the local community – they finally got the ok and they built this award-winning, and very special property.
Breaking away from the old-school khaki or traditional colonial style, Angama Mara showcases contemporary African design and celebrates the red and blue Maasai colours of the community that it partners with. There are 15 suites all offering iconic views and spectacular levels for comfort and style. Above and beyond the style and quality of Angama Mara, is the variety of things they offer, above and beyond the incredible year-round Big 5 game viewing. The wildlife here is spectacular – but uniquely there is so much more to do: long lazy lunches in the shamba gardens; toning your photography skills in the photography studio; dancing with the Maasai at the boma drinks; enjoying their bush BBQs; nature walks in the local area or romantic drinks or picnics on the “Out of Africa Hill”. You can even work off all the lovely meals in their pool and gym – the list of experiences really is endless! The Angama team are warm and welcoming at every turn, the guides are some of the best in the business and the whole experience delivers year-round for couples and families alike. If your budget can stretch to it, this is a wonderful place for a Kenyan honeymoon.
Ol Malo offers a safari experience like you have never known before. Located in Laikipia, on the edge of Samburu land, the ranch offers the space and freedom to explore the real Kenya. No two days are the same with a plethora of adventures to choose from; no set timings, no regimented safari drives but endless opportunities to watch the game on foot, on camel, by horseback or in a 4 x 4. Some guests take the opportunity to unwind by the swimming pool (with the most stunning views), while others love the challenge of a long walk through the escarpment, valleys, plains and hills of Laikipia. Many prefer to stay within the huge comfortable rooms in the lodge or house, however, for some the thrill of sleeping under the stars, either in the romantic tree house, the cosy leopard hides or fly camping by the river, is the essential ingredient for the ultimate adventure. Most importantly, Ol Malo is about living amongst the Samburu people, immersing yourself within their world - the bright colours, traditions, singing, dancing and celebration of life which will stay with you long after you have left your Kenya dream behind.
For the more adventurous souls who are looking for a ‘bucket list’ experience, then the 'Ol Malo Nomad‘ safaris or exploring Northern Kenya from a helicopter is the ultimate prize. Ol Malo Nomad is a tailor-made mobile safari, where guests can either walk or ride horses through Samburu and beyond. Hosted by Ol Malo owner, Chyulu Francombe, and supported by the Samburu and their camels this goes well beyond the concept of the modern vehicle-based safari! Ol Malo has three helicopters based on site, offering guests the chance to explore this extraordinary country by air. Whether it be an hours exhilarating flight followed by an incredible sundowner stop or a full day of adventuring to the cradle of mankind; the northern end of the great rift valley to the south of the Jade Sea known as Lake Turkana, you will create memories that will stay with you forever.
Karisia Walking Safaris is less of a lodge, and more of an experience offering you a unique opportunity to explore this beautiful slice of Laikipia on foot with a point-to-point three-night (or longer) walking safari, fully supported by your own camel train. Led and backed by a team of traditionally clad Samburu people, your guide (also Samburu) will lead you along a 3-day adventure where the camels carry everything and you walk alongside. The camp is pitched every afternoon and then packed up again the following morning, a proper ‘scouts adventure’ in the wilds of this beautiful countryside. The pace is dictated by you and depending on what is seen depends on where the camp is set up for the night. Animals are certainly a big pull, but so is the stunning countryside, with Mt Kenya constantly looming in the background. There are two accommodation options, standard and luxury – the former is in our mind is more than adequate with well-organised tented accommodation, comfy mattresses, incredible food, and simple but effective ablutions with hot bush showers to boot. This has to be the ultimate family adventure as there is something for all. Base camp is Tumaren also offers a myriad of things to do from visiting local schools to rock climbing.
Boasting one of the most spectacular views within the Masai Mara, Hemingways Ol Seki offers comfort, exclusivity and one of the very best game viewing opportunities in Kenya. The camp has enjoyed a phenomenal reputation since it was first built nearly 20 years ago, but its recent refurbishment - which was completed in early 2023 - has taken Ol Seki to another level of luxury.
Each of the 8 huge, tented suites sits on its own private vantage point, high on the rocky escarpment offering a 270-degree view from your bed (or free-standing bath!). The Simba suite is an enormous two-bedroom family tent, complete with its own plunge pool, private vehicle, butler and dedicated chef to ensure that every creature comfort is met. The camp’s swimming pool overlooks the private watering hole ensuring endless opportunities to watch wildlife 24/7 should you wish!
Away from the camp, the expert guides ensure that guests enjoy the very best wildlife experience - with a high concentration of wildlife and low tourism density, the Naboisho Conservancy is the very best location for watching the huge variety of species for which the Mara is deservedly famous.
Basecamp Mara is a stunning camp located on the Talek River in the Masai Mara Reserve. The camp is fairly basic, but this is a camp with big ideas. Those big ideas involve working with the local communities, empowering the Masai women, educating the next generations and ensuring that this magical part of the world is securing its future. Basecamp was borne out of the need to create a project where tourism and the local Masai thrived together. It would not be out of place to say this was the origin of sustainable tourism in this part of the world.
These days Basecamp Mara offers good, tented accommodation looking out over the river, the food is great, and the guiding is second to none as well. We love the entrance directly from the park over the swinging wooden bridge! What sets this camp apart is the adjoining Enjoolata Awareness Centre where exhibitions, movies, photo editing and face-to-face meetings with the Maasais provide a deeper understanding to anyone who seeks knowledge about this fascinating culture and place. The jewel in the crown and their most successful initiative has been Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB). Established in 2003 this is a community-based handicraft business with the goal of using traditional beading practices to help local Maasai women improve their financial independence. You will get an opportunity to interact with local Maasai women as they utilize their traditional knowledge and skills to create unique beaded items for sale. Each month 75% of profits go directly to the women. The remaining 25% are used to cover management costs and to buy materials.
Currently, Basecamp delivers on 16 out of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG’s).
El Karama was built by a family for families. Sophie and Murray Grant built the lodge in 2006 and still run it and live on site in Laikipia, Northern Kenya. Their two children were born into the environment and have grown up around El Karama so everything has been based around entertaining young families, having fun and making sure all ages enjoy being in and around nature. They offer traditional safari drives and walks but the pace is more relaxed, timings too and only their horse riding has an age limit on it. What stands out at El Karama is the additional bits and pieces that keep all age groups engaged; the leopard mirrors; the camera traps that you place yourselves to then go and collect in the morning; fishing at the dam; plaster of paris footprints; the enormous walk-in bunny enclosure and then there is the pool, this is the place for fun, splashing and enjoying life, whilst the kitchen is welcoming for children (and adults) to learn and enjoy the preparation, as well as the reward of amazing food. Almost as an afterthought, you are likely to see a large variety of game on this private concession, but it’s the bits that go with it is why we rate this one of the best camps for a Kenya family safari.
Naibor Camps are tucked away amidst a dense grove of woodland, perched on the banks of the Talek River, offering guests an intimate and charmed safari experience in the heart of the Masai Mara. Boasting a striking combination of an authentic safari camp with a contemporary style, Naibor offers three accommodation options – Main Naibor, Little Naibor and Naibor Wilderness. These luxury canvas tents blend seamlessly into the natural surroundings, offering a unique view of the bush and wildlife. The lure of the Mara is its abundance of game all year round and through the thoughtful design of Naibor, guests experience bespoke luxury with complete immersion in the splendour of the environment that surrounds them. The camp comes into its own during the migration months of August and September when its position offers a front-row seat to this natural phenomenon. Guests can experience extraordinary concentrations of wildlife, be it from a vehicle or from the sky in a hot air balloon and finish their day with a sundowner in hand.
Cottar’s Safaris is a portfolio of two properties, owned and managed by the oldest established and continuing (5th generational) safari family in Africa, running for over 100 years, located in the untouched exclusive Olderkesi Conservancy bordering the Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Loliondo reserves; the area guarantees total privacy and an abundance of wildlife.
Cottar’s 1920s Camp provides the romance of safari under nine cream canvas tents, spacious and luxuriously furnished in the style of the bygone era of the twenties. Cottar’s Safaris returns to the original spirit and essence of “safari”, reminiscent of a golden era; an era of romance, high quality, professional guiding, adventure and elegance, whilst offering all the modern touches one would expect in this day. Their low-impact, high-value approach to sustainable ecotourism helps fund the vital work that is conserving land for biodiversity. Cottar’s Safaris works closely with the local community to unite wildlife conservation and sustainable luxury travel.
The extensive list of impact activities on offer are tailored to give guests the most authentic African safari experiences, with a guiding style that is different from other safari operators. Cottar's emphasise the quality not the quantity of the wilderness and wildlife, the emotional intelligence of the guide to become your friend in a short time, and to have guests appreciate and join the pace of the wilderness. Cottar's also strive to maintain an equal balance between a prosperous business and sustainable conservation, social entrepreneurship, and community development and all their activities are centred around this.
As one of Kenya’s original lodges, boasting a legacy of over 100 years, Lewa Wilderness is synonymous with time-honoured safari, exceptional hospitality, and skilful guardianship of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. With three garden cottages and six hillside cottages overlooking the Western Marania Valley, safari at Lewa Wilderness is set apart by the sheer variety of experience. Guests are offered a truly unique and personal safari experience with exceptional game viewing, walking safaris, camel trekking, scenic flights and unforgettable riding safaris for all ages and levels. Pioneers in rhino conservation, the impact of Lewa Wilderness is evident throughout the community; the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy boasts 62,000 acres of untouched wilderness and remains one of the most successful conservation projects in Kenya, home to 14% of Kenya’s black rhino population. As one of the first lodges to welcome visitors by the Craig Family since 1972, Lewa Wilderness remains a welcoming and intimate lodge, a testament to their established history and warm-hearted team.
If you want to take your rhinoceros viewing to another level then Saruni Rhino is somewhere not to be missed. This is a relatively new camp and new initiative and is one of the very few places in Kenya you can actually track rhinos on foot. It’s quite an experience, both an adrenalin rush as well as humbling too. The rhinos are collared so you are taken out with the rangers in a vehicle to within a few hundred feet, after which, you make your way on foot with your guides. The experience is serene as you are as close as you can get to these creatures without a vehicle. It’s perfectly safe and is an incredible way of assisting in the fight against poaching as the rhino are in what is effectively a huge fenced reserve, although totally wild. There are only 4 rooms at Saruni Rhino so if you are lucky you may have the place to yourself. In the northern reaches of Kenya this is quite an experience and one that not many people do. The lodge caters for families too but only those 15 years and above can track the rhino for safety reasons. Other activities include visiting the Samburu farmers ‘singing wells’ or watching the sand grouse drinking – quite a rare experience in its own right too.