Kenya and Tanzania are best known for the annual Wildebeest Migration, a spectacle found nowhere else on each. But beyond the trampled plains of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara are several amazing lodges and conservancies that offer a host of new adventure activities. If you’re a returning safari lover or even a first-timer who really loves the outdoors, read on to see what new activities are in store for you.
If You Want to be Active
Ol Malo - Laikipia, Kenya
Virtually all modes of transport are on tap here. On day you might take a helicopter to see the nearby multi-coloured volcanic lakes; the next you’re saddling up your bush pony for an out-ride. If you don’t feel like walking, you can hitch a lift on a camel. At night, soak away the stiffness in an oversized hot tub and then venture down to the leopard hide to see these nocturnal predators going stealthily about their business.
Accommodation at Ol Malo is perfect for groups: choose between the 6-bedroom safari house or 4-bedroom bush lodge.
Tumeran Ranch – Laikipia, Kenya
Set in 3 000 acres, the ‘camel guys’ will lead you on a camel-back journey in an unblemished wilderness that supports bat-eared foxes, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, zorille (not a typo – this is another name for a striped polecat!), aardwolf and white-tailed mongoose. Birders will be in avian heaven with the likes of stone partridge and Hartlaub’s turaco to be found.
A special treat here is Ewaso River honey. Processed from raw honey bought from local tribal beekeepers, this project not only provides income but protects tracts of Acacia mellifera from deforestation for the charcoal trade.
Rutundu Lodge – Mount Kenya
Near beautiful Lake Rutundu, eponymous Rutundu Lodge is most famous as the hideaway where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton. It’s a peaceful spot where you can pass your days hiking to Lake Alice and riding well-schooled polo ponies. Kate reportedly wrote about her trout-fishing experience in the visitor’s book. Twitchers will be delighted to try and tick off scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds and alpine chats.
Ol Wayo – Serengeti, Tanzania
Walking safaris with a difference: Ol Wayo is one of the few outfits permitted to set out on foot with trained guides in Serengeti National Park. The tented base camp moves with the Migration, meaning you are never far from the wildebeest and their antics on the green plains.
Karisia – Laikipia, Kenya
Leave the 4x4 behind and venture out in a camel caravan with Karisia, an award-winning outfit based in Laikipia. The area is home to the Mathews Range and Lake Michaelson, and on clear days you may be able to spot Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. Look out for rare species like wild dogs, highland hartebeest and Grevy’s zebra.
Ragati – Mount Kenya
The Ragati Conservancy is the last-known stronghold of bongo antelope – apparently only 200 still roam the southern slopes of Mount Kenya. In this World Heritage Site, anglers will enjoy sustainable fishing of rainbow trout in the Ragati River and Nile perch on Lake Turkana. If you want to take it to the next level, a helicopter will whisk you to the top of Mount Kenya to fish in the lakes there. The very affordable Ndongoro Log Cabin can sleep up to 10 people.
Jan’s Camp and Speke’s Camp – Masai Mara, Kenya
Speke’s Camp (named after the first European to see Lake Victoria who also searched for the source of the Nile) is located between the Mara North and Olare Orok Conservancies in the Mara. Jan’s Camp is near the Loita Hills, one of the most remote places in the Mara. There are plenty of walking trails between the two, guided by Iloitai Maasai using donkey caravans for the supplies. One of the longest is the 12-day Great Masailand Trail that threads through the haunting Loita Naimina Enkyio Forest or ‘the forest of the lost child’ (legend has it a little girl vanished here while tending her livestock and was never seen again).
If You Want to be Involved with Conservation
Saruni Rhino – Sera Conservancy, Kenya
The Sera community conservancy is a massive 350 000-hectare tract of protected land. There are two extremely special experiences that you can have at Saruni Rhino. The first is to learn more about the area’s GPS rhino-tracking project that saves these remarkable creatures from extinction – combine this with an excursion to the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary to understand how another of Africa’s giants is being conserved.
The second is one that has never been – and hopefully will never be – photographed or recorded. Every day, local families dig wells to reach groundwater for their cattle to drink. Every family owns their own well and they call their cattle to slake their thirsts by singing their traditional family song, which each cow or bull learns from when they are weaned. It is reportedly a very moving scene as the lowing cattle walk to ‘their’ families, called by ancient songs passed down from generation to generation.
If You Want to Take Your Family
El Karama – Laikipia, Kenya
Set on a 14 000-acre working cattle farm, El Karama Lodge is a godsend for parents of outdoorsy children. In addition to spending hot afternoons in the natural swimming pools (they are not treated with chemicals), the kids can enjoy learning to gather and sculpt with termite clay, cast animal spoor in plaster and be inspired to write up their safari diaries. Supervised visits to the farm allow them to come into contact with livestock, including goats.
At night, the whole family can gather for a bush meal under a bosquia tree or pass the night fly-camping in a special 2-person ‘tentsile’ tent. These suspended ‘pods’ are very comfortable and a different take on bell or dome tents.
Naturally, there is plenty to keep adults busy, too. Guided walks with take you to views of Mount Kenya, the Aberdares and Lolldaiga Hills while a horse patrol with rangers will see you engaging with conservation projects in the area. Day-trips include a moving visit to the rhino sanctuary at Ol Pejeta or visiting community projects at Dol Dol or Nanyukie.
If You Want to Go Off the Beaten Track
Rubondo Island Lodge – Lake Victoria, Tanzania
East Africa boasts phenomenal gorilla trekking in Uganda, Congo and Rwanda but this protected island in Tanzania also offers a never-to-be-forgotten primate experience. About 40 chimpanzees live here and researchers have habituated them to our presence. Smaller than gorillas but as intelligent and adaptable, only a handful of people staying on the island ever get to interact with them every year.
Rubondo Island National Park is supports elephant, giraffe, suni antelope, colobus monkeys and a flock of grey parrots rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Butiama Beach Hotel – Mafia Island, Tanzania
The village of Butiama might be the birthplace of Tanzania’s first president but the area is also known for its wonderful sea life found in the marine park at Chole Bay. Venture out from your beach bungalow for splendid diving, snorkelling and kayaking. When you need to refuel, a picnic on a sandbank will be waiting. Whale sharks are usually around between November and March while humpback whales pass through from about July to September.
Sabuk Lodge – Laikipia, Kenya
A profit-sharing endeavour with the local community, Sabuk is another remote place where you can leave the vehicle back at the lodge. Camel trekking, walking and fly-camping will put you in the midst of dik-dik, greater kudu, wild dog and klipspringer, not to mention elephant, lion and leopard. Cool off in the Ewaso Nyiro River (don’t be put off by the translation of ‘brown water’ – the river is clean and refreshing!). If you’re really energetic, go for a morning run with of the Maasai guides, world famous for their ability to conquer marathons.
Sarara – Namunyak, Kenya
The Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust is one of the most successful in Africa. Its 850 000 acres takes in part of the Mathews Range and provides a sanctuary for all the big species as well as more unusual ones like white-bearded de brazza monkeys and rare cycad palms. There is a popular waterhole near camp and the rim-flow swimming pool has arguably one of the loveliest vistas in Kenya.
A highlight here is the possibility of visiting the ‘singing wells’ where families call their cattle to drink with specific songs. You can also ride out on bush ponies, take beading lessons from Samburu women (who are bedecked in intricate finery of exquisite detail) or watch the Il Konono blacksmith fashion items in his forge. To truly cap your East African holiday, take a scenic flight to see Ol Lolokwe, the area’s sacred mountain.
If You Want to Have a Cultural Experience
Amini Africa – Arusha, Tanzania
Built on the edge of Arusha National Park, Amini Africa makes a good starting or ending point on a classic Northern Circuit safari. The dozen bungalows on the Maasai Steppe resemble traditional wattle-and-daub huts but with all the creature comforts. This is a wellness retreat with a difference: you can take part in traditional healing practices using effective herbs as well as Western treatments. Community participation is encouraged and you could attend a wedding, initiation ceremony or festival with dancing in your own colourful shuka (for men) or kanga (for women). Head down to the villages at Momella, Ngbobo or Tinga Tinga to sample honey from the local beekeepers.
Amini Africa is also a place where ‘giving back’ is really lived. The lodge supports a number of educational, medical and social projects including ‘driving doctors’, vocational training for artisans and permaculture projects.
Kisima Ngeda – Lake Eyasi, Tanzania
Wedged in the Great Rift Valley between Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Kisima Ngeda takes its name from the area’s waterways (kisima means ‘spring’ in Swahili). The tents have elements of the Hadza and Datoga cultures, and you can immerse yourself in these storied tribes’ ways of life. In the morning, set out with Hadza men on a hunting expedition for small game or the women to gather nutritious and medicinal leaves, fruits, bulbs and berries. In the afternoon, you can join Datoga women in their own houses to swap stories of your different cultures or go down to watch the blacksmith at work forging jewellery, spears and so on.
Kisima Ngeda works with Carbon Tanzania is protect the country’s remaining forests. This is an ideal stop-over on a Northern Circuit safari.
Il Ngwesi – Lewa, Kenya
One of the few lodges outright owned and run by the Maasai community who live in six villages in the area, Il Ngwesi was founded in 1996. Their 8 500 hectares takes in part of the Ngare Ndare River and the Mukogodo Forest where you can go in search of white rhino, Grevy’s zebra and wild dog. Spend a night fly-camping and you might even spot a nocturnal rarity like an aardwolf or hear the far-off ‘huffing’ of a leopard or two…
How We can Help You
Going off the beaten track can be quite daunting as you juggle long-haul flights, overnight stays, transfers, lodge availability and activities, all within your budget. We can easily handle all of that for you, getting your input as to what you expect from your vacation and what your preferences are, to create a tailor-made, once-off itinerary just for you.