Out of Africa: Kenya Safaris

Elsa’s Kopje’s Private House overlooks the vast plains of Meru National Park and faces Mount Kenya. Guests in this accommodation can dine under the stars in the garden. // Photo by Sanjay F. Gupta

The birthplace of the safari, Kenya offers a vast variety of national parks and conservancies that are packed with wildlife. The SkySafari by Elewana — a week-long itinerary by nine-seat private jet — has been designed as a way to see diverse parts of the country, staying at a selection of Elewana’s 16 luxury lodges, camps and hotels. Of the three itineraries offered in Kenya and Tanzania, we opted for the “Kenya Connoisseur” on a recent trip. Here’s our report.

Hemingways Nairobi has 45 suites with balconies overlooking the gardens and the Ngong Hills. Shown here is the 2,583-square-foot Hemingway Suite.

The adventure kicks off at Hemingways Nairobi, a luxury boutique hotel in a garden-like setting in the suburb of Karen. Far from the urban clamor of central Nairobi, we found it a good spot to get over jetlag, especially as we were attended by a private butler. Note: Karen is the famed location of Karen Blixen’s farm, showcased in the film “Out of Africa.” Good to know: The nearby Giraffe Centre is a sanctuary where visitors can get up close and feed giraffes. A day excursion arranged with Cheli & Peacock Safaris can also take in the museum at Karen Blixen’s former home.

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The Hemingways Nairobi is designed as a sprawling colonial plantation, with just 45 suites with balconies overlooking the gardens and the Ngong Hills. We loved the mahogany four-poster beds, walk-in closets and large marble bathrooms. Nice Touch: You’ll likely see a local Nairobi crowd gathering for sundowners on the terrace or meeting for a business lunch or dinner among friends. There’s also a spa and outdoor pool.

SkySafari by Elewana has its own nine-seat ​executive​-​class ​aircraft.

Before heading to nearby Wilson airport to meet your pilot, SkySafari guests will be debriefed and provided with a safari satchel and a reusable water bottle to be refilled with purified spring water at the camps, as eco-friendly Elewana has banned plastic at its properties. At each of the camps on your itinerary, you’ll revel in the rhythm of the game drives, bush breakfasts and sundowners that are part and parcel of the traditional luxury safari.

It’s a quick 50-minute flight to Loisaba (the pilot will point out landmarks and wildlife out the window), where you’ll be greeted at the airstrip with a welcome drink and cold, perfumed towels. Laikipia County, in northern Kenya, is a patchwork of ranches and private wildlife conservancies. One of the most famous is Loisaba, a 56,000-acre conservancy established in the 1990s. Supporting high concentrations of wildlife and biodiversity, the Loisaba Conservancy is also an important corridor for Kenya’s second largest population of elephants. It was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 2014, and is recognized today as a successful model for wildlife conservation, working with local communities and thereby mitigating land use conflict.

Loisaba Tented Camp reopened in 2016 with 12 spacious tents and a clifftop infinity pool.

Notably, Elewana is the Nature Conservancy’s only hospitality partner in Kenya, and the Loisaba Tented Camp perched on an escarpment with views all the way to Mount Kenya is a sublime launch pad for exploring the area. The original camp burned to the ground in 2013 and it was entirely rebuilt, reopening in 2016 with 12 spacious en-suite tents (including family units) and a clifftop infinity pool. Loisaba is chic while also serving as a model of environmental sustainability. Entirely solar-powered, Loisaba Tented Camp filters spring water for guest consumption, and gray water is collected and recycled. There’s also a vegetable garden to supply produce for the kitchen, which sends out dynamite cuisine. 

Tip: Loisaba was the first lodge in Kenya to offer star beds and this offering still exists at a separate camp a few miles away. An enormous bed — built on top of a Land Rover, draped in clear mosquito netting, and warmed by hot water bottles — is rolled out onto a deck at night so you can sleep under the stars. The location is just off the equator, so the star gazing — without light pollution — is phenomenal. Guests can combine a few nights’ stay at the Loisaba Tented Camp with an overnight at the Star Beds.  

Camel trekking along the Ewaso Ng’iro River is a fun option for adventure-loving guests at Loisaba Tented Camp.// Photo: Silverless  

A note about the guides: Elewana recruits a top-notch team of guides, overseen by Head of Guide Training Craig McFarlane. These highly trained guides are attuned to both the natural world and also the whims of the guests. While on a game drive, some passengers may be more keen on leisurely bird watching, and others eager to cover more ground; the guides are adept at adapting the experience for everyone.

Next stop on the SkySafari: Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park, an arid, baobab-dotted landscape carved by 13 rivers. Less visited than the Masai Mara, Meru is home to abundant game and an important rhino sanctuary. Elsa’s claim to fame is “Born Free,” based on the true story of George and Joy Adamson, who raised and released orphan lions into the wild. (Remember “Christian the lion” who was bought by a pair of Australians at Harrods in London then released in Meru?) Named for Elsa, the Adamsons’ famous lioness, Elsa’s Kopje is built into the rocks of Mughwango Hill above the site of George Adamson’s original camp. Managed by the lovely George and Theresa van Wyk, Elsa’s Kopje is the only permanent camp in the national park.

Top Digs: The Honeymoon Suites have enormous bedrooms, decks and outside Jacuzzis sculpted into the cliffs. A Family Cottage has two en-suite bedrooms. Don’t miss a dawn hike up Mughwango Hill to watch the sunrise. Far below, you can see your SkySafari plane waiting on the airstrip, while curious zebras and giraffes study it from a distance.

Elsa’s Kopje has three Honeymoon Suites, one of which has three levels featuring a private sitting room, main bedroom with en-suite bathroom, and a small private deck.

Last Stop: The mythical Masai Mara, the world-renowned national park that abuts the Serengeti in Tanzania. This is Kenya’s most famous wildlife viewing — with lots of big cat sightings — but the park can also be crowded. What’s advantageous about the Sand River Camp is its location to the south, next to the Tanzanian border, which means early morning game drives often won’t pass another vehicle (as it takes some time from other camps to reach the area). Don’t let the Masai Mara’s popularity turn you off: these are some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world — vast, unfettered wilderness that embodies the Africa we romanticize and dream about.

Sand River Camp has 16 large canvas tents outfitted with four-poster beds, copper soaking tubs, Wi-Fi and crystal carafes filled with sherry. 

Sand River has a Hemingway safari feel, with 16 large canvas tents outfitted with four-poster beds, copper soaking tubs, Wi-Fi and crystal carafes filled with sherry. The camp is strategically situated on a river, so you can watch elephants, baboons and other wildlife flock to the water — directly from your tent. Upon our visit, the terrific Sjani Cuyler was managing the property. She’s lived and worked across the African continent and was recently recruited by Elewana to serve as Group Standards Manager. She orchestrates lovely meals, Afternoon Tea and bonfire sundowners — complete with a globe and other safari objects on top of the bar set up in the bush. In June, the camp will show off the fruits of a renovation project (think new decks and outdoor showers in the tents, plus improved landscaping and a new sunny location for the pool, overlooking the river.)   

Don’t want the trip to end? We recommend prolonging your SkySafari with an extension at Elephant Pepper Camp in the Masai Mara, Serengeti Pioneer Camp in Tanzania, or AfroChic on Diani Beach (Kenyan coast). It’s also possible to include an add-on at Kilindi Zanzibar, a beachfront hotel that was the former home of Benny Andersson from pop music group ABBA. Note: The best contact for luxury travel advisors is Director of Sales & Marketing James Haigh ([email protected]).

Good to know: In Kenya’s Lewa Conservancy, the Kifaru House has recently joined the Elewana Collection. Previously only available for exclusive group bookings, Kifaru House has five individual accommodations, a main house with fireplaces, and a swimming pool with views across the plains. Recognized as an important symbol of wildlife conservation, and home to East Africa’s healthiest rhino population, the Lewa Conservancy is where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton.

Elsa’s Kopje is the only permanent camp in the Meru National Park (above and below) — home to abundant game and a rhino sanctuary.

ACCESS: Kenya Airways will introduce daily nonstop flights from New York JFK to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International airport in October 2018. This is a first for the national airline of Kenya, and the service will make East Africa more accessible to U.S. visitors, as previously a layover was required to reach Kenya. Alternatively, suppliers like Turkish, Emirates and Etihad offer stopover service so that you can enjoy an overnight (or two) in Istanbul, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi before continuing your flight to Africa.

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