There aren’t many places in the world where lions roam free, giraffes nibble the top branches of acacia trees on vast plains and wildebeest migrate in a dusty stampede across Kenya. Wildlife is best seen in the wild – and Kenya has pulled out all the stops to preserve its star attraction.
Kenya is home to 55 national parks such as Amboseli National Park, reserves like the Maasai Mara, and sanctuaries such as Crater Lake Game Sanctuary. National parks and reserves are land set aside for the protection and conservation of wildlife – prime locations that allow animals to roam free and you to experience wildlife in its natural habitat. These are open to the public and looked after by the Government or local authorities.
When it comes to conservancies, Kenya took the lead to create a co-existence between wildlife and local communities living near to safari hot-spots. Most land surrounding Kenya’s national parks is owned by local communities. Lodges lease this conservancy land and, as it’s private and for guests staying within the conservancy, you get a quieter experience and can do extra activities like walking safaris and night game drives. The wildlife freely roams between the parks and conservancies; and you’ll have the chance to visit local community projects. By choosing to stay at a camp within a conservancy, you’ll have a more peaceful safari experience with less traffic and know that local communities are being supported directly, as well as helping to fund anti-poaching initiatives.
Some of our favourites include the luxurious Mara Bushtops in the Bushtops Conservancy. The 12 tents at Mara Bushtops are more like five-star hotel rooms under canvas. All have round-the-clock butler service and a huge deck where you can spot zebra and giraffe from your private hot tub. The camp even has an award-winning spa and perfect days can end here with a dip in the pool, the twinkling in-water lights flickering to life as the sun goes down, mapping out the Orion constellation.
Karen Blixen Camp in the Mara North Conservancy is also highly recommended and the camp works with local Maasai landowners to protect the 900 hectare area of wilderness. Because it’s a conservancy, you can do night drives and guided game walks not allowed in the Maasai Mara National Reserve; and this classic tented camp is a great spot to relax as the sun sets, listening to the sounds of jackals waking up to play; and keeping watch for nocturnal species such as aardvarks.
Tourism can’t be sustainable without community support. Not only do Kenya’s conservancies benefit the community, but Kuoni is encouraged to work with many programmes that provide employment or support for local communities. We’ve worked with Born Free to help construct lion-proof bomas to prevent attacks on livestock at night. These help reduce the conflict between farmers and predators, reducing retaliation, as livestock is the sole source of income for many Maasai families. You can visit the boma projects during our Leopard Safari. Kuoni has also helped rebuild Manyatta Primary School in Kenya, building two classrooms and a small library stocked with books.
Our Leopard Safari will also take you to Kazuri Beads – a bead-making shop founded in 1975 to create employment for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society, particularly local single mothers. You’ll see how the beads are hand-shaped from clay, kiln-fired and glazed before being strung together to create a colourful bracelet or necklace. Their traditional skills help create a cottage industry and the aim here is to provide sustainable employment.
There are plenty of camps to choose from in the Maasai Mara but the incredible Governors’ Camp is one of our favourites – the location is regularly used by the BBC when filming wildlife documentaries, such as Dynasties. Governors was the first company to set up a tented camp in the Maasai Mara and we’ve worked with them for over 40 years. Their camps are unfenced, so warthogs chill out by the tents and elephants often wander through the lobby area. Stay here and you’ll be able to appreciate the camp’s 40-year-long commitment to wildlife conservation and the local communities. It funds local medical clinics and schools; building primary school classrooms, providing uniforms, paying teachers’ salaries and investing in children throughout their education. Our Governors’ Safari includes a stay at Governors’ Camp and enjoy a visit to the local Maasai community of Mara Rianda.
Porini Camps stand out for their healthy relationship between the camp, local community and wildlife. Around 94% of staff at Porini Amboseli are from the local community, as the camp really values the local culture and what it can bring to your holiday. You can visit a local village for talks by the village elders and watch a traditional dance; and don’t miss a visit to the camp’s shop, run and managed by the local community. The camp also offers the local community initiatives to improve education, health and conservation, such as employing teachers, setting up a mobile eye clinic and maintaining a water pan used by two villages.
In 2017, Kenya imposed one of the world’s toughest bans on single-use plastic bags, with huge fines or a four-year prison term for those using them. It was a big step towards a clean-up of Kenya’s cities and protection of wildlife; and manufacturers who appealed the ban were overruled in favour of the environment being top priority. If you’re carrying duty-free in a plastic bag when you arrive in Kenya, you’ll be required to leave it at the airport. In June 2020, another landmark ban on all single-use plastic in conservation areas came in to effect. This includes bottles, straws, containers, cups, cutlery and food packaging.
This plastic ban has encouraged many lodges to go plastic free. Tawi Lodge is at the forefront of eliminating plastic waste, using glass or metal bottles for drinking water. The lodge is also predominately powered by solar power and grows its own vegetables.
It’s not just the safari camps sitting up and paying attention to plastics. Serena Beach Resort & Spa on the Mombasa coast has also pledged to keep a plastic-free coastline. The hotel staff take part in monthly beach cleans, plastic bottles have been swapped for glass, they have banned plastic straws and they have created a giant chess set in the grounds, created from 2512 flip flops collected from the ocean and beaches. Rubber soles from flip flops often end up getting eaten by fish and other animals, and they also obstruct turtle hatchlings from reaching the sea. One of the biggest concerns for Serena is the plastic waste breaking down into toxic particles, which are eaten by plankton and fish; and ultimately enter the food chain, so there is a real effort by the team here to make a difference. You could combine both Tawi Lodge and Serena Beach Resort & Spa on our suggested Amboseli, Tsavo & Beach itinerary.
Many of Kenya’s safari camps use solar power to reduce their carbon footprint. Lodges like Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge and Little Governors’ Camp are 100% solar powered; and Tawi Lodge has solar power, as well as its own vegetable garden to reduce having supplies delivered by truck. During our Porini Wilderness Safari, you’ll stay at Porini lodges with a waste water management scheme, where grey water filtered from the kitchen, guest tents and staff quarters drains into soak pits; and a recycling scheme – as well as the incredible relationship they have with the local community.
Governors’ Camps have a zero waste policy and recycle paper and cardboard to make briquettes to fuel the hot water systems, rather than chopping down local trees for fuel. The camps also have their own tree planting project.
Kenya is known first and foremost for its wildlife. Ecological conditions are challenging worldwide and Kenya is a pioneer in wildlife conservation, with wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres crucial to Kenya’s sustainable future.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi was established more than 40 years ago and is best known for the Nairobi Elephant Nursery, the first and most successful elephant orphan rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a pioneering conservation organisation, dedicated to the protection of Africa’s wildlife and the preservation of habitats for the future of wild species. Visit and you’ll hear the stories of baby elephants and rhinos, learn about anti-poaching projects and how the centre provides veterinary care and permanent water sources for wildlife.
We also recommend a visit to the Chimpanzee and Rhino Sanctuaries within the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where the endangered chimpanzee can be seen. The chimpanzees’ natural home spans from Senegal to Uganda. They are not native to Kenya, but when a rescue centre in Burundi closed due to the civil war outbreak in 1993, Ol Pejeta opened its doors.
The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary was established with an agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Jane Goodall Institute. The aim is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa, with many confiscated from cramped, unnatural living conditions with severe injuries. At Sweetwaters, they get a chance to start over; and there are currently 39 chimpanzees at the sanctuary.
Ol Pejeta is home to two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos, and a sanctuary for over 110 critically endangered black rhinos. The centre is at the forefront of rhino conservation, employing highly-trained rhino protection squads and partnering with international veterinary experts to gather regular data on the rhinos.
You can visit both Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on our Leopard Safari, or Sweetwaters on our Porini Wilderness Safari, staying in eco-camps en route. We can also tailor-make a Kenya adventure from scratch, visiting all the places you want to see.