Kenya caters to travellers of all budgets, but those wanting to splurge are in for a treat. If your idea of the dream safari involves formal banquet dinners, fine liquors and elegant table settings, then break out the credit card for the trip of a lifetime.
The luxury concept
The luxury circuit in Kenya is a world of wonderfully remote tented camps that re-create the way big game hunters used to travel around Kenya a century ago. The locations are to die for, perched high above huge sweeps of savannah or water holes teeming with African wildlife, and many can only be reached by private charter plane or a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Exclusivity and personalized attention are ensured by capping the number of guests and maximizing the number of support staff.
Accommodations are typically in semi-permanent linen tents with fitted bathrooms (hot showers come as standard), four poster beds with mosquito nets and artisan furniture. Gourmet meals comprised of organic and locally-sourced ingredients are served at tables impeccably set with bone china and sterling silverware. Evenings revolve around a bonfire, with guests carousing over aged whiskies and brandy. Camps also employ the most experienced safari guides, increasing your chances of spotting the Big Five - lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos.
Our top picks
Transiting in Nairobi inevitably carves a few days out of most travel schedules. But fret not as you can get a head start on wildlife watching at the Giraffe Manor (www.giraffemanor.com; Mukoma Road), a stately colonial manor occupying 56 hectares in the suburb of Langata. The grounds are the site of a breeding program for the endangered Rothschild's giraffe, which means that might you have an inquisitive head peering through your second-story bedroom window. Fans of the movie Out of Africa should ask for the Karen Blixen room, decked out with furniture that the famous author gave the owners when she left Africa for the last time.
In Masai Mara National Reserve, the Governors' Camp (www.governorscamp.com) is comprised of four magisterial hideaways nestled along shaded river banks. With more than thirty years in the business, this luxury collection has mastered the subtle refinements that distinguish the upmarket price bracket. Individual adornments vary from camp to camp, but the sum total includes oil lantern-lit environs, Victorian claw-foot bathtubs and olive-wood carved beds. Beyond the usual game drives, you can also organize sunrise ballooning excursions, which are followed by champagne breakfasts out in the open savannah.
Heading north to Samburu National Reserve, the Elephant Watch Camp (www.elephantwatchsafaris.com) is nothing less than an architectural gem. Massive roofs cling to crooked acacia branches, and tower over palatial, eight-sided tents that are fronted by grass matt-clad terraces. Natural materials pervade as the entire camp is built from recycled wood, and the environmentally-sensitive bathrooms are fitted with eco-flush toilets and solar-heated showers. The owners, Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, are renowned elephant experts, which is comforting given that the animals have free reign of the property. Samburu warriors are also on hand to safely escort you around.
At the heart of Amboseli National Park, lying in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tortilis Camp (www.tortilis.com) is another award-winning eco-lodge. The name is derived from the Acacia tortilis trees that grow in thick concentrations around the camp. Semi-permanents tents have been constructed with makuti (thatch) roofs, stone floors and naturally-dyed fabrics to create a soothing ambiance. Lavish meals, which are based on North Italian traditional recipes from the owner's family cookbook, are accented by fresh-picked vegetables and herbs from the on-site plots. And if you really want to push the exclusive factor, you can opt for a professional massage while staring at the glaciated peak of Africa's highest summit.
Last, but certainly not least, there is Finch Hatton's Safari Camp (www.finchhattons.com) in Tsavo West National Park. The property is named after Denys Finch Hatton, the big game hunter and playboy lover of Karen Blixen. Before dying tragically in a plane crash in 1931 he was renowned for his obsession with maintaining class and civility in the middle of the bush. Even today, guests are required to dress up for dinner, which is an elaborate six-course affair accompanied by vintage wines from one of Kenya's largest cellars. Tents are decorated with colonial-style furniture and Afghan rugs, and are scattered amongst a string of sheltered hippo pools.
Recommended tour operators
- Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com; Abercrombie & Kent House, Mombasa Road, Nairobi) For more than five decades, Abercrombie & Kent has been regarded by international jet-setters as the world's premiere luxury travel company.
- Micato Safaris (www.micato.com; View Park Towers, Monrovia St, Nairobi) A seven-year winner of Travel & Leisure's top safari operator, Micato is the other major player on the Kenyan luxury circuit.
The article 'Luxury in Kenya' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.