If you’re looking for a welcome break from a cold British winter (or rainy British summer), try these Kenyan safari suggestions for starters
Whether you are a family with young children, a honeymoon couple or travelling on your own, a safari is the most memorable trip you can ever go on and - as I discovered – it can be as unusual as you want. It’s not cheap, but you wouldn’t spend more than a couple of days at each camp. Ideally you’d book two contrasting camps then head over to the coast at Mombasa for a relaxing - and cheaper - week on the beach.
It’s best to plan a circuit, which is what I did, staying in different parts of the country. Safari camps range from the simplest of tented enclosures to grand five-star marquees that hark back to the white hunter world of Hemingway. Whichever you choose, what really matters is outside the tent flap. Here’s my recommended mix of different camps to visit...
was my first ever safari and a good one to start off with. The remote camp is in Laikipia, 25 miles north of the equator and within sight of Mount Kenya. Lewa Downs is home to a quarter of the world’s total population of Grevy Zebra. The park is also a conservation area for black and white rhino.
The friendly Craig family who own it settled in the area as cattle ranchers in 1922 and now run Lewa House
as a non profit-making lodge. Everyone – guests, guides and owners – eats together in the dining room. The bubbling Lewa River runs below the house, and during my stay a family of giraffe came to drink at the river while we watched from the terrace. The lodge has gorgeous bedrooms in traditional huts decorated in rustic safari style with brightly coloured fabrics and rugs woven on the premises.
Loisaba Wilderness is also in the Laikipia Park. It is a wildlife conservancy and a working ranch with attractive guest bedrooms in thatched-roof huts. In the long hours between game drives it helps to have something to do, and this place has a swimming-pool, tennis court, and small spa to keep you occupied. You can also go on horse or camel rides, which are included in the price.
As well as going on the usual game excursions, you can visit Loisaba Lodge
’s second camp where you can sleep out under the stars. The Kiboko and Koija Starbeds each have two double rooms and a twin, all en suite and must be one of the most romantic places to spend the night – as long as you're equipped with plenty of mosquito repellent! The four-poster beds (complete with insect nets) are on wheels and can be moved out into the open air. The best way to get here is by walking (with a guide), and for Koija you reach your final destination by a wobbly rope bridge over the river.
Cottars 1920 Safari Camp is a real retro safari camp - an exact copy of a white hunter camp between the World Wars, where Hemingway would have felt completely at home. It was founded in 1919 by American big game specialist Charles Cottar, who was killed in 1940 by a black rhino. Today it is run by his great-grandson Calvin and wife Louise, and the only shooting they do is with cameras.
Sitting in a canvas rocking chair outside my tent, it was easy to imagine that I had been transported back in time: through the open tent flap I could see the four-poster bed, a chaise longue, animal skin rugs, a vase of ostrich feathers and a wind-up gramophone. A pile of Louis Vuitton trunks and an oil lamp – the only source of light when darkness falls – completed the tableau.
But the highlight was a canvas bath, brought to me and placed outside my tent. Bucketfuls of hot water were brought to fill it and then I was left in peace to soak up the uninterrupted view of sunset over the Masai Mara in its wild and unfenced beauty.
Hippo Point is another historic safari camp, this time a 1930s mansion with an eight-storey pagoda style folly in the Rift Valley, a bumpy 90-minute drive from Nairobi, winding down over rough, pot-holed roads.
What makes this safari base so totally different from any other is that its set on Lake Naivasha, a beautiful freshwater lake fringed by papyrus. Hippos, herons and flamingos live in the shallows. But happily bilharzia, the parasitic liver fluke, is absent from the lake and you can water ski here in safety, provided you give a wide berth to the hippos.
Water skiing is not my forte so I donnuted instead behind the speed boat, which was a wet and exhilarating way to spend a few hours. There are also yoga courses to take part in, and there’s a swimming-pool complete with a thatched pool-house, where you have lunch. I had a massage in an open-air gazebo overlooking the lake; the only sounds were the roars of hippos - worryingly close by! You can stay in the main house or, better still, in the pagoda-style folly, adjacent to the house. It took four years to build because hippos kept treading on the plumbing pipes.