Kenya looms large in the travel imagination, from the savannahs and rolling hills of the Maasai Mara to the plains of Samburu, where some of the world’s most rare and endangered species reside. And it’s easy to assume that it also requires a large travel budget—but not necessarily. Read on, and you may be surprised at the varied ways to experience some of Kenya’s most storied destinations.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve
More than 95 species of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles and over 400 species of birds make their home among the savannahs and rolling hills of the Maasai Mara. In July alone over 1.5 million wildebeest arrive from the Serengeti, crossing the Mara River in a spectacular migration as they scale the steep banks, thwart crocodiles in the water, and run for the fresh grass the other side, avoiding the lions as they go.
Splurge: High up on the escarpment overlooking the Mara grasslands, Angama Mara is perhaps Kenya’s most luxurious lodge, where the expertly trained team make each experience completely personal. A huge wooden deck wraps around the front of the property, complete with a circular sunken fire pit. Each of the suites features a roll-top bathtub, handcrafted furniture from John Vogel, and lavish touches like a gin-filled cut-glass decanter.
Save: Guests at Mara Leisure Camp can experience glamping in a cozy canvas tent, or snuggle up in a wooden cottage listening to the calls of the wild. The camp is set on the banks of the Talek River, at the confluence of the Mara’s four main wildlife viewing areas, making it a strategic spot to see the big five (lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros).
Distinctive wildlife and rich tribal culture draw travellers to Samburu. Here, you can spot the elegant and endangered Grévy’s Zebra, the spindly-legged Gerenuk antelope, and the striped Lesser Kudu—all creatures found only in the north. Safari guides are often local Samburu people, decked out in colourful fabrics and jewellery and eager to share the stories of their tribe.
Splurge: Lying atop a giant rock on the Kalama Conservancy, next to Samburu National Reserve, is Saruni Samburu. The architecture is what makes this six-villa lodge truly remarkable: The rock has been woven in to every part of the design, from the walls of the bedrooms to the outdoor showers. Impeccable service, glowing, lantern-strewn walkways, and two infinity pools add to the wow factor here.
Save: On the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River and shaded by rustling doum palm trees lies Elephant Bedroom Camp. As you might expect from the name, elephants are regular visitors to the camp, walking between the tents on their way to the river to the delight of guests, while monkeys leap between the trees overhead.
Amboselli and the Chuylu Hills
This region of Kenya is famed for its luscious green mountains and, in Amboselli National Park, its high population of elephants. Hundreds traipse the ‘elephant highways’ each day from the shade of the trees to the central lake for a drink, passing the thousands of zebra and antelope on the planes on route and joining the hippos in the water once they arrive.
Splurge: In the heart of the Chyulu Hills, adjacent to Amboselli National Park, Ol Donyo offers up views of the plains stretching toward distant Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. Rooms each feature a private plunge pool and roof terraces where you can sleep out on the “star beds,” dozing off under the glittering equatorial sky.
Save: Amboseli Sopa Lodge is nestled right in the foothills of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro. Rooms are rustic and charming, with traditional Kenyan décor, and a few have connecting doors well suited to families or groups. Guests can cool off after a long day’s game drive in the swimming pool.