Kenya cemented itself as a prime safari destination in the 1920s. Glamorous travellers including the likes of Prince Edward and Ernest Hemmingway pitched up satin-silk lined tents and sunk endless G & Ts under the setting (and rising) Savannah sun. The abundance of wildlife and superb game-viewing unfortunately led to Kenya becoming a victim of its own success with large, resort-style lodges creeping up across the sprawling terrain. Thankfully, a few lodges have retained an air of bygone-glamour and offer intimate viewing of elephants herds, galloping antelope and chance encounters with honeymooning lions. Here are the Kenyan safari lodges that are game-dense but people-light.

Angama Mara

Making the most of its legendary location (having starred in the film “Out of Africa”), Angama Mara’s glass-fronted tents offer the chance to watch the burnt-ember sunrise without leaving the comfort of your king-size bed. But in no way does this place rely on its Hollywood credentials. One of the larger boutique camps, 30 tents are split between two locations in order to maintain its intimate feel. Hit snooze on your alarm as Angama bucks the trend when it comes to routine morning and night safari drives. Going further to preserve your close-up encounters with Africa’s wildest predators, they’ll schedule drives to suit you. Not only does this degree of flexibility secure your much-needed holiday lie-in or account for an afternoon siesta, but by the time you leisurely rise the hoards of other jeeps would have already turned back to camp. Those with a taste for the good life will  love the state-of-the-art gym with grassland views, in-room massages and a butler that’s permanently on hand.

Saruni Samburu Lodge

Arguably the most intimate safari in Kenya, given that it is the only lodge in over 200,000 acres of untouched wilderness, Saruni consists of  just six exquisite lodges planted on the vast plains. The absence of fences allows for free movement of wildlife, so don’t be surprised to be sharing your breakfast with a curious giraffe. Guests can now see the savannah from new heights as Saruni has introduced scenic flights across Lake Turkana, the Lorian swamps and the imposing Mathews range. Designed with the needs of photographers in mind, the underground, earth-covered bunker is just moments away from a frequently used elephant waterhole. Budding cameramen are encouraged to hunker down in the purpose-built photographic hide. After spending hours on your knees stealing the perfect shot, retreat to the open-air Samburu Spa where olmurmuru seedas and aloe kedongesis are used to release muscle tension.

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  • 20 Mwitu Road
    Mwitu Estate
    Karen
    Nairobi

Elsa’s Kopje Lodge

Sculpted into the granite Mughwango hill, Elsa’s Kopje Lodge stands just above the site where George Adamson famously nurtured and released orphan lions, long before conservation became fashionable. Since singlehandedly saving Meru National Park from becoming rice plantations, the lodge has become a beacon for eco-conscious safari camps. Only natural materials were used in the build, solar-heated water is used in the spacious bathrooms and guests are handed reusable water canteens to reduce plastic consumption. With a thriving rhino sanctuary, hundreds of exotic birds and several herds of elephants, Meru National Park is recognised as having the most diverse range of animal species in East Africa. Pair early morning game drives with breakfast in the bush; come evening, enjoy a spectacular sundowner under rose-hued skies from the infinity pool.

Borana Lodge

At the heart of the Borana Conservancy (Kenya’s most successful rhino sanctuary) lies the elegant Borana Lodge. At the height of the poaching epidemic, the hotel pledged all their retained earnings into securing safe habitats for rhinos. Catch a glimpse of the black rhinos from the private veranda where a fire each is lit each evening as the sun sets. Forget leather-seated jeeps; saddle up and ride through rugged plains littered with roaming rhinos and cantering zebras. Rides often start just as dawn breaks, but night owls shouldn’t fear as guests are rewarded with a hearty bush breakfast of bacon and eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables from the kitchen’s organic garden, then cool down in the Ngare Ngare Forest mirrored-rock pools. A particularly thoughtful stay, the conservation activities of the trust have had a huge positive impact on the survival of the local community.

Sand River Maasai Mara Camp

Embodying 1920s African glamour that Hollywood immortalised, Sand River Masai Mara opens up to the wild lands of the Masai Mara National Reserve, where hundreds of wildebeest begin their stampedes to the Serengeti. Grab a front row seat to nature’s great migration from your private veranda as you watch the Big Five charging across the reserve. Channelling colonial charm, the tents are more akin to spacious apartments with four-poster beds, indulgent tubs fit for two and vintage leather trunks artistically scattered across the room. Dining al fresco under the starlit sky should rank high on your agenda, as should three-course picnics in the savannah – say goodbye to jam sandwiches, but be prepared to share the spread with a cheeky monkey or two.

Alfaijri

Offering a completely different experience to the traditional safari, Alfaijri combines both beach and bush. Its Indian Ocean proximity guarantees blonde-sand beaches and warm waters, as well as a plethora of aquatic-activities – deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and kite surfing. Villas are made for sharing with many catering for up to eight guests. All boast private dining options, cloud-like four poster beds and most of the wood-carved furniture is made by local carpenters, but the cliff villa demands attention with 270-degree sea room bedrooms and cliff-hugging infinity pool. Venture to the coastal game reserve Shimba Hills and Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary for your safari fix before the chef rustles up straight-from-the-sea seafood platters atop your veranda.

Alfaijri

Elsa’s Kopje Lodge

Saruni Samburu Lodge

Angama Mara

Sand River Masai Mara Camp

Borona Lodge

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