Kenya is the safari capital of East Africa. Elephants, buffalo and wildebeest roam across vast plains, flamingos in their thousands wade in lake shallows, lions doze on sun-baked savannahs and herds of hippos graze by river banks. Yet in the scramble to see the country’s wildlife, local culture often gets overlooked and tribal people have been marginalized from the financial benefits of their land’s natural riches. Happily, there is now a new breed of lodges where the local tribes manage the camp, train as guides and receive a share of the profits, which go towards environmental and wildlife conservation. Below are some of these progressive lodges where local guides will take you on some of the best safaris in Africa.
Lewa Safari Camp
Chances are you’ll tick off the Big Five while on safari in the 250-square-kilometre Lewa Conservancy in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Primarily a sanctuary for endangered animals, Lewa is home to all the big game, including about ten percent of Kenya’s black rhinos (about 45), twenty percent of its white rhinos (about 35) and 25 percent of the world’s Grévy’s zebras (about 500). As well as the usual game drives, there are bush walks and camel-trekking safaris led by local Maasai. All profits from Lewa Safari Camp go to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (www.lewa.org), which funds education and medical clinics in the communities adjacent to the conservancy.
The camp is closed in April and November. Lewa is approximately five hours’ drive from Nairobi. For directions and more information about the camp see www.lewasafaricamp.com.
Amboseli Porini Camp
Come to Amboseli Porini for some of the best birdwatching in Africa, to see elephants, lions, leopards, wildebeest and giraffes, and for spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro. The camp is in the Selenkay Conservation Area, a 60-square-kilometre private game reserve bordering the northern boundary of Amboseli National Park. It is co-owned by the local Maasai and Gamewatcher Safaris – a Nairobi-based travel company which organizes Maasai-guided walks as well as day and night safaris into the conservancy and the national park. Track game with the Maasai and you’ll learn a trick or two from the people who have lived here for centuries.
Gamewatcher Safaris also operates Maasai-guided safaris at Porini Rhino Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Mara Porini Camp in the Ol Kinyei Conservancy and Porini Lion Camp in the Olare Orok Conservancy. For prices and reservations at each camp see www.porini.com.
Koiyaki Wilderness Camp
Superbly positioned for a close view of the migration of wildebeest and zebra along the northern plains of the Maasai Mara, Koiyaki Wilderness Camp is the first community-owned lodge in the Mara. It also funds the adjacent Koiyaki Guiding School, where up to 25 Maasai school-leavers a year are trained to become professional safari guides. Part of their work experience is to help run the camp, while the more experienced Maasai guides take you on walking safaris, 4WD safaris and night drives. The game here is as good as anywhere else in the park – with all those wildebeest running around there are lots of predators about.
Fly from Nairobi to Siana (www.airkenya.com), from where you will be collected by arrangement. The wildebeest migration is from mid-June to the end of October. Wilderness Journeys runs safaris based at Koiyaki Wilderness Camp; for prices and bookings see www.wildernessjourneys.com,
Il N’gwesi and Tassia Lodges
Both these luxury lodges lie among the wild scrubland and ancient migratory routes of northern Kenya. Il N’gwesi is on a rocky outcrop by the Ngare Ndare River on the edge of the dramatic Mukogodo Hills. There are six double thatched bandas and an infinity pool with wonderful views of the Samburu Game Reserve and the Mathews Range. Tassia Lodge is perched on the edge of a rocky bluff, looking out over the Northern Frontier District towards Samburu, Shaba and the Lolokwe Mountain. The lodge has six rooms (including a children’s bunkhouse which sleeps six) and is a four-hour walk or a morning’s game drive from Il N’gwesi.
Both Tassia and Il N’gwesi are owned and run by local Maasai, who lead guided safaris and birdwatching tours in the Ngare Ndare River Valley – where you’ll have a good chance of seeing elephants, buffalo, lions, wild dogs, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards. This is community-owned pastoral land, so while you’re out on safari expect to come across herders and their cattle – and the real Africa.