An Insiders Guide to the Best Luxury Kenya Safari
Surreal and sublime, the best Kenya luxury safaris take you on a journey. To endless grasslands populated by wildebeest and lions. To remote landscapes where you escape the world amid dramatic wildlife battles. To elephants roaming beneath Mount Kilimanjaro, great recovery of black and white rhino populations, and so many more dreamy safari scenes.
The best safaris in Kenya are what you want them to be. Authentic, intimate, on a staggering scale yet most memorable for the details. And while the Masai Mara takes centerstage, this stunning East African nation has more safari destinations than any other.
Safari in Kenya: The Inside Guide
11 ULTIMATE IDEAS FOR THE BEST KENYAN SAFARI
An Introduction to the Best Kenya Luxury Safaris
Kenya revels in its role as East Africa’s safari pioneer. Wilderness areas are vast and stunning, with more than two dozen safari destinations scattered across the country. Everywhere has its own animal cast and atmosphere. Sometimes you will even spot animals close to a highway, wildlife so plentiful that it can still hold sway in areas where people live.
Kenya is magical for diverse safari experiences, epitomized by our four favorite destinations: Samburu, the central conservancies, Amboseli and the Masai Mara. Visit all four and it will feel like four safaris and four vacations in one. A Masai Mara safari is Kenya’s world-famous experience and most people don’t venture beyond these wildebeest-covered grasslands. To be restrictive would be a shame, because Kenya’s other safari destinations can be as good as the Masai Mara.
Safari in Kenya in Private Concessions
There has been a recent downturn in tourism that’s affected the quality of facilities and accommodation within the national parks. In the last two years Tanzania has overtaken Kenya for annual tourist numbers. But, and this is one of the reasons we really like Kenya, the country has adapted and diversified.
There has been an increase in the number and size of private concessions, which are known here as private conservancies. This includes a variety of community-owned and -managed concessions, who have pioneered successful approaches to a long-standing challenge: how to seamlessly manage safari tourism, unfiltered wilderness for wildlife, and the needs of traditional tribal landowners? Kenya’s success in this regard has been magnificent, keeping the safari pure, the wildlife wild and the landowners able to preserve their traditional lifestyles.
Kenya has many of the largest private concessions in Africa, particularly in the north and center of the country. Within these the best Kenya luxury safaris are usually excellent value. A private safari at the price of a luxury safari, or affordably luxury affording much more here in terms of wildlife experience. Kenya is also great for families. And the more time you spend in Kenya you more you understand that a Masai Mara safari is the part of the iceberg above the water – there’s so much more when you delve beneath the surface.
The Best Kenya Safari Destinations
5 PLACES FOR THE BEST SAFARIS IN KENYA
The Best Masai Mara Safari
The expressive grasslands, where herds gather and predators prowl. Welcome to the Masai Mara, an unmissable on Kenya luxury safaris. The mammal abundance here is magnified when the great wildebeest migration arrives from July to September. There’s a chaotic enchantment at the Mara River as herds splash and splurge their way past crocodiles. While the famous Masai Mara may look like something from a Disney movie the encounters are real, with intimate close-ups complemented by a memorable impression of scale on a Kenya balloon safari over the grasslands.
Masai Mara Private Concession Safari
Large private concessions line the northern boundary of the Masai Mara National Reserve, including some that are owned and managed by the Masai community. Here, the walking safaris are among the best and wildest on the continent. Spotted cats retreat to these concessions to raise their cubs, another rare highlight of the best Masai Mara safaris. There are few better places to follow the big cats and their prey than these Mara conservancies. And the Mara without the crowds is one of Africa’s ultimate safari experiences. Just imagine, a quiet camp surrounded by wildlife, where you can drive off the trail for the closest possible Masai Mara safari moments. This Guardian article can help you contrast the solitude to the Masai Mara reserve.
The grasslands are vast and you really need a minimum of three full days in the Mara. Two days give you chance to explore a private conservancy in detail, including activities not possible in the national reserve, such as superb nighttime drives and walking safaris with Masai warrior guides. Most conservancy itineraries will spend the middle day of a stay in the Masai Mara National Reserve, with a full-day game drive that really expresses the Mara’s scale and visits the famous river.
A Kenya Safari in Amboseli
Elephants walking beneath the dramatic snow-capped cone of Mount Kilimanjaro, a timeless image that’s synonymous with Amboseli. These parched plains lie in mountain shadows and they showcase a land of untrammeled beauty. Stories emanate from wandering herds, prides bare the scars of rampant battles, and when dusk falls there’s a soundtrack to keep you company.
After shooting to fame during David Attenborough’s BBC series Africa, Amboseli is now a standard stop on the Kenyan luxury safaris route. However, it gets crowded in the national park, especially from June to September. Private concessions are dotted across the landscape, including some that stretch out towards the Chyulu Hills; these are recommended if you seek a more private and personal Kenya safari. This area can also be a welcoming introduction to safari, specially because you can get closer to wildlife by driving off the trail in private concessions.
We wouldn’t suggest staying for too long in Amboseli. Two nights is plenty for soaking up the landscape and its residents. Light aircraft flights then provide easy connections to Kenya’s other iconic destinations, where the landscapes and experiences provide an enriching contrast to Amboseli.
Private Conservancies of Mount Kenya and the Laikipia Plateau
The silence is touching as a black rhino wanders past. But what’s this? A white rhino as well? This morning you were surrounded by chimpanzees. In the last hour you’ve come eye to eye with Beisa oryx, dik dik, Somali ostrich and others from the rare and endangered list. The private conservancies in Central Kenya have used groundbreaking techniques to restore rare wildlife to once desolate landscapes. Ol Pejeta and Lewa have incredible recent stories, narrating how once barren bushland has come alive once again. If you want to encounter all the different animals in a short amount of time this part of Kenya is a great place to be.
First-Time-to-Africa Destinations for the Best Kenya Luxury Safaris
In comparison to the rest of East Africa the concessions in Kenya are small. Specially designed fences keep the rhinos in and away from poachers. Specific wildlife sanctuaries mean encounters with some habituated, rather than completely wild, species. Yet the wildlife is wonderfully eclectic and these conservancies provide an unrivaled variety of safari activities: walks with conservationists, multi-day camel-back safari, biking, rafting, horse riding, scenic flights, plus the morning and afternoon game drives, then walks that cater for all adventure levels.
Lewa and Ol Pejeta are fringed by community-run concessions and there are highly exclusive concessions on Mount Kenya’s foothills. Like the conservation methods, most have experimented with innovative guest experiences, the star beds at Loisaba just one example. It means there’s something for everyone in the area. It can be a highly private experience, an introductory safari, a multi-day mobile adventure, a place for romance or a setting that can excite everyone in your family. We recommend you combine it with one or more of Kenya’s destinations, like the Masai Mara.
From a seductive mountain perch you gaze out on the world. Nature extends, untamed and uninterrupted. It feels like you’re on the edge of the world, certainly on the edge of the known world. Beyond the camp there’s nothing but wilderness and wanderers, big mammals and Samburu warriors. This remote and ancient savannah doesn’t support great quantities of wildlife, but serenity and solitude dance through your heart as impressions of wild Africa excite the soul.
Samburu is safari from a bygone era. Warrior guides take you on walks, hyena prints just one of the clues they teach you to track. Mobile camps can be set up in remote tracks of bushland. You feel like an explorer from history, almost alone in one of Africa’s untouched frontiers. Don’t come wanting to tick off the big five. Come for an off the beaten track experience and some of Africa’s most unique camps. Come for a sense of exclusivity and an understanding of the land. Come to connect with your wild side and take an instinctive journey with the traditional landowners, the Samburu people.
Planning the Best Samburu Safari
Located in the north of Kenya, Samburu is incredibly hard to reach unless you fly. It’s only really included on a high-end safari program and your stay is likely to balance time in a private concession with time in the vast national park. The walking safaris are outstanding and you don’t always need a private safari to enjoy private experiences here.
While Samburu is part of the best Kenya luxury safaris we wouldn’t recommend it as a standalone though. This distinctive destination needs to be combined with those parts of Kenya that have greater wildlife densities and there are direct flights between Samburu and the Masai Mara. But don’t discount Samburu because it’s harder to see lions and leopards. Almost everyone that visits agrees that Samburu is the most beautiful place they’ve ever seen.
The Best Time To Visit Kenya on Safari
BEST MONTHS FOR KENYA SAFARI
The Best Time to Safari in Kenya is Now
We don’t subscribe to best months to visit. We think the best time to visit Kenya is now. You’ll be traveling during one of those sweet times that happen very rarely around the world. Everything is set up for a unique and luxurious experiences in Kenya, yet tourist numbers are on the decline. That means prices have fallen and the best Kenya luxury safaris are cheaper than before. Camps and authorities are doing everything possible to bring visitors back to Kenya, introducing new activities and experiences. Yet tourism remains lower than in previous years. Which is great if you go now, because the experience can be more private and exclusive.
The downturn in tourism emanates from travel advisory warnings that followed an isolated 2013 terrorist attack in Nairobi, along with some instability in the far northeastern corner of Kenya, next to the Somalia border. Many other countries and cities have suffered from terrorist attacks since, yet they have not been subject to such harsh travel advisory warnings. The Kenya areas in question are as far away from the main safari destinations as it is possible to be in the country. For example Somalia’s capital Mogadishu to the Masai Mara is a similar distance as New York to Miami or London to Rome.
Kenya is Safe to Visit
It is very safe to go on a Kenya safari. We wouldn’t send clients there if it wasn’t. Keep up to date with the situation on the US Department of State page and the UK Foreign Office Kenya page which specifically states there is no risk for travel in all “Kenya’s safari destinations, in the national parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies.”
The Best Time of Year to go on a Safari in Kenya
Kenya has a strange travel season as people really surge into the country during July and August. People arrive at this time because these are the best months for a Kenya safari in Masai Mara. This is due to a famous safari scene – the Mara River crossing. Remember, wildebeest crossing the Mara is just one possible scene in a country that offers many thousands of intimate and authentic encounters. And note that you must be lucky to see the actual crossing. Wildebeest gather over two, three, four or five days, before one of the herd crosses and the rest follow. So while it’s an incredible sight, you need a lot of patience and you will miss out on a lot of other wonderful sights elsewhere.
Think Carefully About July and August
July and August are among the best months for a Kenya safari in terms of wildlife viewing. But we’d actually say that a Kenya safari in the Masai Mara is best done outside July and August, due to the crowds. The other great months for wildlife viewing in Kenya are January, February, March, June, September, October and December. Kenya is superb for nine months of the year yet it’s only July and August that the parks get busy. For the best Kenya luxury safaris you have all nine of these months to choose from. For other options you can also read our guide on when to go on safari.
The rains are heavy during April and May and we tend to advise people away from these months. Trails become inaccessible, travel can be challenging, and some of the best lodges in Kenya close. November is also wet although not as intense. It’s a lovely time to go on safari in Kenya if you want to witness dramatic green season changes on the landscape.
The Best Luxury Kenyan Safaris
7 HIGHLIGHTS OF ALL THE BEST KENYA SAFARI TOURS
Giraffe stand like sentinels along the horizon, four of them with necks pointed towards the sky. Readjust your focus. In front of the giraffe tower there are buffalo, bulbous blobs chomping on the grass. Look closer still and there’s a scattering of zebra, so many stripes to decipher. Kenya’s landscapes are vast and open, so it’s common to encounter many different species in a single frame. Just remember to look behind you as well, because as the zebra enchant a clan of hyenas moves stealthily in the opposite direction. And now you realize what it means to be centerstage, the wildlife theater extending in all directions, at all times.
The best Kenya luxury safaris also provide an incredibly intimacy. You get really close here. Camps that are safely separated from many hundreds of hippos; walking safaris bringing you within meters of rare antelope; rhinos and elephants that look into the safari vehicle. Thanks to the abundance of private conservancies most safari activities take place off the trail. So rather than glimpse from afar you will be close enough to hear and smell these animals, close enough to notice the whiskers upon an elephant’s trunk.
Kenya Has Always Been a Wildlife Haven
This is a country that continues to be dominated by wildlife. Even in capital city Nairobi you can see giraffe necks and elephant trunks, juxtaposed with modern city tower blocks. Travel through the Great Rift Valley and you’ll see wildlife besides the side of the road.
One of the Heritage Africa team used to live in Naivasha, a relatively nondescript Kenyan town on a lake loved by hippos. Three different monkey species roamed his garden, hippos were seen in the vicinity every night, and when cycling to the shop each day he’d pass zebra and giraffe. None of this was in a national park. Nature rules the land in Kenya and while these scenes may seem incongruous, they are a good example of how people and animals coexist peacefully in this part of Africa.
Just think, if zebra roam the highways what can you expect to see when actually on safari? Think how many animals are spotted on the best Kenya luxury safaris? The abundance is magnified in national parks and private conservancies, especially in the well-known destinations. From June to October nowhere in the world has a greater density of four-legged wild mammal life than the Masai Mara.
At the height of the dry season there are rich animal gatherings around waterholes in Samburu and Amboseli. Throughout the whole year the sheer diversity of life can be baffling in the central conservancies, places like Lewa and Ol Pejeta entertaining you for days.
Combine Destinations for the Best Kenya Luxury Safaris
Wildebeest carpeting the grasslands in dusty hooves. Nomadic elephants roaming across the highlands in great herds. Strange antelope like the gerenuk, found in mysterious forests. Black and white rhinos in the same place, hundreds of them sharing a landscape. Luxury is the wildlife experience and in Kenya you experience many distinct wildlife luxuries.
The Masai Mara is completely different to Samburu or Lewa. Amboseli is far more similar to Tanzania’s Tarangire than anywhere else in Kenya. So while a Masai Mara safari is the world-famous highlight in Kenya, we believe the ultimate highlight is combining three or more destinations for a truly rounded safari experience. It’s the diversity of wildlife experience that creates the best Kenya luxury safaris.
Internal flights make the combinations straightforward – we certainly wouldn’t recommend the drive from Samburu to the Masai Mara, a solid two days rather than two hours by plane. With these flights you never really leave the wilderness, you just switch landscapes. Sometimes the airstrips have to be cleared of roaming wildlife, another indication of harmony so prevalent across the country. And if you really are fixated with the Masai Mara and aren’t interested in any other Kenyan destination, it’s only a short flight across the border and a Kenya and Tanzania safari.
A Kenya and Tanzania Safari
The wildebeest make their migration through two countries so why shouldn’t you? Thanks to short safari flights it’s easy to travel from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti, then continue the adventure in Tanzania. We find that the Masai Mara has a greater choice of private concessions, so ease into the safari experience in a place like Mara North or Mara Naboisho. The Serengeti is three times larger than the Mara so you’ll find space here in the national park, particularly with a camp located according to migration movements.
For the rest of a Kenya and Tanzania safari there’s an almost baffling choice. So many destinations are possible, all of them neatly connected by local safari flights. Note that we really wouldn’t recommend traveling by land. A Kenya and Tanzania safari will already be time-pressed – there’s just so much to experience – and by crossing the border by land you lose a whole day. Onward overland travel to any other destination loses another day, compared to an hour by flight.
The Classic Kenya Tanzania Safari Route
Kenya luxury safaris are made more complete by hopping over the border into Tanzania. A classic route follows Tanzania’s Northern Circuit from Kilimanjaro International, visiting four destinations before hopping over to the Masai Mara. Another would be a diverse Kenya safari that ends on the Serengeti grasslands. But they are two possibilities amongst dozens. From the Masai Mara you can fly far north to Samburu and from the Serengeti you could end up as south of Selous, essentially covering the entire East African savannah in one trip.
The Best Family Safari in Kenya
8 KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR A KENYA FAMILY SAFARI
Walking with a Masai warrior you take tentative steps across the Masai Mara. Wildebeest are all around and you’re close enough to hear buffalo breathing. Up ahead you see the silhouette of elephants and giraffe among the trees. With deft changes of direction you explore these world-famous grasslands, sometimes stopping just a few meters away from zebra herds. At the same time, Grandma and Grandpa are on a game drive, sitting back and watching the world go by. Earlier this morning an uncle and nephew took a Mara balloon safari. Later tonight you’ll meet up by the fire and share stories, each as inimitable and memorable as the last.
With family safaris we always recommend a varied program of activities. Whether you’re coming as a single parent with kids or a multigenerational family of more than 20, the diversity of activities keeps everyone engaged and lets everyone have their own say. The best Kenya luxury safaris are different for everyone. They will look different when traveling with a tween or a bachelor uncle. It’s in Kenya where you can realize the true diversity an African safari can offer. Walking, cycling, driving, riding, in the air and on the ground…the best family safaris in Kenya tap into a rich menu of potential destinations.
Multigenerational Family Safaris in Kenya
Diversity and flexibility makes Kenya a premium choice for a multigenerational family safari. Taking anti-malarial medication may not appeal to all though, and if that’s the case for your family then try a family safari in South Africa instead. Kenya is an adventure and we find it really excites older children, particularly those aged over 15 who can participate in all the activities. Walking with the warriors, learning to throw spears like a Masai, following lionesses on a hunt then taking a picnic to a viewpoint overlooking the hippos. Searching for cheetah cubs, learning how to identify animal spoor, being surrounded by elephants, and then a nighttime game drive. Phew, you want adventure and Kenya can deliver 24 hours a day.
There are days when you do everything together, chance to spend time with those you rarely get to see. Then days to go your own way, a little breathing space that helps keep the family atmosphere positive. Kenya is good value as well, an important consideration for whoever in the family is paying. We can charter local flights for you, maximizing the safari possibilities while fine tuning the route you take; for larger family units these can be advantageous, saving time and maximizing safari on the ground.
When the Kenya luxury safari is over the same empowering sense of possibility applies. Some could continue to Rwanda and go gorilla trekking; others could head to the Indian Ocean and a white-sand beach (we think Kenya’s beaches are far nicer than the Maldives); and some may be on the plane back home.
The care you put into planning and organizing this experience for our entire extended family was above and beyond
Amy Ederi, August 2016
Taking Children on Safari in Kenya
We don’t usually recommend Kenya for a safari with young children, especially not those younger than five. This is mostly due to the need to take anti-malarial medication, but also the unfenced nature of the camps and the proximity to wildlife. A teenager can walk across a savannah populated by Grant’s gazelle, but those same gazelle may view a young child as a threat, meaning an innocuous scene can become dangerous. At Heritage Africa we think Kenya is good for tweens and above, and great for families with a sense of curiosity and adventure.
Stick to private conservancies if you are traveling with children. National parks are enormous and the experience in them revolves around full-day game drives. Conservancies will show you just as much wildlife, but from a closer distance and without needing to spend a full day in a vehicle. With a private conservancy safari you can go on shorter activities, returning to the camp to refresh and relax in between. And remember, safari doesn’t stop when you’re at the camp. It’s a 24-7 experience on Kenya luxury safaris, animals often surrounding the lodge or tented suites.
The Best Safari in Kenya is Private
9 ADVANTAGES OF A PRIVATE KENYAN SAFARI
What Do You Want to do in Kenya?
Close your eyes and think of Africa. What do you see? Maybe there are lions creeping up on wildebeest. Perhaps elephants and buffalo and black rhinos. Now think about what you want to be doing on a safari? Are you in a safari vehicle? Are you walking besides the flowing colors of a Masai’s blanket? Maybe you are floating above zebra herds on a Mara balloon safari. It could be that you’re driving down a paved road with giraffe peering down at you from above.
Kenya is one of those countries where just about anything is possible, where the dreams people have about African safari can be realized. We mean that in terms of both the animals that live here and the activities you can do, from a Kenya migration safari to something almost unheard of by others. Kenya luxury safaris allow you to live out the dreams.
Your Private Safari in Kenya
But of course, everyone dreams of African safari in a different way. Your dreams probably don’t include anything from that last paragraph we wrote. They are yours and that’s how a safari should be. Yours. Individualized based on personal dreams, customized every moment of the day, and made exclusive at all times. That’s what Kenya can offer. And in some parts of Kenya it’s so private there really is nothing but you, the guides and the animals.
All this makes Kenya an ideal destination for two types of visitor. If it’s your first time in Africa and this will be your first African safari, Kenya allows you to combine a multitude of private experiences into a relatively short amount of time; it’s amazing what can be done in a week. We’d also highly recommend Kenya if you’re keen on adventure. The choice of activities and destinations can feel limitless, even to us. Multi-day walks and horse rides that use mobile camps. Balloon safari followed by a champagne picnic then a helicopter ride to see rhino conservation in action. Dream it and ask us about it, because there’s a good chance that it will be possible in Kenya.
We will never be able to thank you enough for this our trip of a lifetime. You made us feel that you took on this mighty task as if we were your 20 family members.
-Marlene and Bob Josefberg,
Coral Gables, Florida
If you’re already familiar with private safaris then you’ll know that the experience elevates the level of privacy. There are exclusive-use camps just for two, set upon plains that entice with atmospheric calls and the aromas of the wild. Honeymooners can sleep in places blending into nature, built around boulders high on a mountaintop, overlooking the herds.
A walking safari can dive through the forest then emerge to a barbecue that’s not too far from trumpeting elephants. When on game drives in private conservancies there are strict rules on vehicles per sighting, so an encounter with prowling lions isn’t ruined by spluttering exhausts. And while this exclusivity is true of all private safaris, like we have said before, Kenya luxury safaris extend the sense of possibility.
Book Your Kenya Safari
We believe every safari should be customized. And that’s what we’ve been doing for over a quarter of a century. Rather than prescribe an itinerary to start from we’d like to know more about you first. Interests, passions, who is coming to Africa with you and what most excites your soul. With that information we can build Kenya luxury safaris that are best for you.