Travelers often set out on safari in search of the “big five”—lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo, and rhinos. Success depends on a mix of luck, seasonality, the national park of your choice, and the skill of your guide.
But what if you could enjoy a prolonged up-close encounter without ever having to change out of your bathrobe?
Across Kenya, a handful of lodges and camps are splitting their attention between two types of resident: human and animal. Each provides the usual amenities of a safari property—cocktails at sundown, hot breakfast buffet, an outdoor pool shaded by acacia trees—with the added bonus of four-legged visitors.
At Giraffe Manor, a 12-acre boutique hotel near Nairobi National Park, all eyes (and cameras) are on the resident band of Rothschild giraffes. They typically delight guests by showing up around breakfast time, poking their heads through the dining room windows for early-morning snuggles. Upstairs, the 10 rooms evoke the 1930s with handsome hardwood floors, vintage chests, and balconies ringed with ivy.
Views of Mount Kilimanjaro and easy access to Amboseli National Park lure travelers to Amboseli Sopa Lodge, which has a prime location near Amboseli National Park, arguably the best place in Africa to witness herds of migrating elephants. In other words, prepare for close-ups of four-foot tusks and prancing baby elephants. From the lodge, you can also take in views of Mount Kilimanjaro and admire the fragrant gardens surrounding the Maasai-inspired guest cottages.
On the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu National Reserve, Elephant Bedroom Camp puts you in even closer proximity to wild elephants in their natural habitat. You’ll spy the animals throughout the day, whether wandering past your table during lunch or gathering in the bushes outside of the 12 guest tents. To be on the safe side, armed guards are on hand 24/7 to escort guests. Follow their lead, as they’ll ensure plenty of intimate encounters with the gentle giants—not to mention some candid photo ops.
If you’re seeking intimacy, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp is your jam. The six tents are charming but basic—hot water must be requested ahead of time—and the main “lounge” is nothing more than a screened pavilion with Adirondack chairs, glowing lanterns and a bar. This is one bush camp more about the creatures than the creature comforts, but what creatures! You’ll spend the bulk of your day scouring Ol Pejeta Conservancy for northern white rhinos, the only three left in the world.