When you think of a Kenya safari, which destination springs to mind? For most first-time travellers it’s the Masai Mara, the sun-baked savannah plains scattered with vast herds of wildlife. Head straight for these plains and there’s no doubt you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal big game sightings, but you could also find yourself in a swarm of minibuses all jostling for space around a recent cheetah kill.
But the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve is far from Kenya’s only big game destination. There are private conservancies surrounding these plains, as well as game-packed reserves scattered across the country: the wild beauty of Meru National Park, off-the-beaten-track Samburu, Amboseli with its iconic Kilimanjaro views.
And tucked away in these reserves and concession are all manner of lodges and tented camps. We’ve put together a list of our favourites across a variety of safari styles, so whether your idea of an ideal day ends with candlelight glinting off crystal glasses or drinks around an open fire, you’ll find your perfect accommodation match in our pick of Kenya’s top lodges and tented camps.
Under Canvas Tented Luxury
1. Cottar's 1920s (Private Masai Mara Conservancy)
Cottar’s 1920s captures the romance of the golden age of safari travel in its 10 white canvas tents with their four-poster beds and authentic antiques. The attention to detail is incredible from the beautiful vintage pieces to the lion-shaped cookies brought to your tent with your morning cup of coffee.
2. Sasaab (Samburu Plains)
SaSaab has a strong Moroccan design. Stay in one of 9 truly spacious tents each with its own cooling plunge pool and views stretching out across the Ewaso Nyiro River to the distant plains beyond. Along with game drives and walking safaris, Sasaab offers camel safaris or you could visit to a Samburu village and local market.
3. Mara Plains Camp (Private Masai Mara Conservancy)
Sleep under canvas at Mara Plains Camp which has just seven tents each raised on its own wooden deck with sweeping views across the savannah plains. The focus here is firmly on game viewing: look forward to exclusive big cat sightings in the conservancy, along with the option of full day drives within the Masai Mara Game Reserve itself.
4. Mahali Mzuri (Private Masai Mara Conservancy)
Not for the safari traditionalists, but fantastic for those wanting modern luxury in a remote, game-rich location. Mahali Mzuri is Richard Branson’s new tented camp, and has 12 comfortably kitted out tents where every detail has been taken care of in true Virgin style - from free-flowing bubbly to super-speedy WiFi.
Honeymoon-Perfect Lodges & Camps
5. Kichwa Tembo Bateleur Camp (Masai Mara)
Set just below the spot where "Out of Africa’s” famous last scene was filmed, Bateleur Camp reflects the style of the great Kenyan explorers with polished silver and sparkling crystal juxtaposed against the seemingly endless plains. Sit down to dinner for two served on your private balcony or take to the skies on a magical hot air balloon safari.
6. Ol Donyo Lodge (Chyulu Hills)
Ol Donyo Lodge sits on the lower slopes of the Chyulu Hills, its views extending out to distant Mt. Kilimanjaro. Staying here you'll be close to the Great Wildebeest Migration route (July to October), and evenings can be spent in your large suite with its private swimming pool and rooftop “star bed” for snuggling down under a canopy of stars.
7. Naibor Camp (Masai Mara)
Naibor is a small luxury camp with just seven tents tucked into a grove of trees on the bank of the Talek River, close to a key river crossing point for the Great Migration. Each tent is furnished with a king-sized bed, cushions and throws, and a comfortable sofa where you can settle in and watch the hippos in the river below.
8. Elsa’s Kopje (Meru National Park)
Award-winning Elsa's Kopje lodge is sculpted into a rocky hillside, its open-fronted cottages making the most of the phenomenal views. Unashamedly romantic and beautifully styled, these stone-and-thatch cottages are the kind of place you can’t help but relax – and for even more space, book the private house with its wonderful infinity pool.
Keeping it Green at These Eco Camps
9. Campi Ya Kanzi (Chyulu Hills)
Campi ya Kanzi is a truly eco-friendly lodge that treats you to a fantastic safari while helping the Maasai preserve their wildlife and cultural heritage. Not only is the lodge co-owned by local Maasai, it also uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure minimum environmental impact: water comes from rain cropping, electricity from photovoltaic panels and hot water from solar panels.
10. Porini Rhino Camp (Mount Kenya)
Porini Rhino Camp lies in a secluded valley in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a region known for black rhino sightings and home to a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees. Enjoy a Big 5 safari while staying at this small tented camp (just six tents) which is gold eco-rated, has no permanent structures, uses solar powered lighting and has no generator.
11. Sanctuary Olonana (Private Masai Mara Concession)
Sanctuary Olonana has 14 spacious tents on a private stretch of the Mara River. Enjoy game drives, cultural visits, bush dinners, sundowners and balloon rides at this award-winning lodge which was built along sustainable lines and has been gold eco-rated for its innovative wetlands and tree-planting projects, use of solar power and recycled water.
12. Elephant Pepper Camp (Private Masai Mara Conservancy)
Another of Kenya's gold eco-rated camps (the country has just six in total), Elephant Pepper lies in the Mara North Conservancy its views extending over game-dotted plains. Days are spent on game drives, your guide tracking down big cats and pointing out photographic opportunities, while evening are enjoyed swapping stories over drinks around the campfire.
Our Favourites for a Family Safari
13. Mara Intrepids (Masai Mara)
Children of all ages are welcome at Mara Intrepids, a tented camp on the bank of the Talek River. The 30 recently refurbished tents are spaced well apart to ensure your privacy, and while you go on game drives or photographics safaris, your kids can join the Adventurer's Club where they'll learn about wildlife through fun activities like the on-site obstacle course.
14. Giraffe Manor (Nairobi)
Surrounded by forest and warthog-cropped lawns, the well-named Giraffe Manor is a 10-bedroom manor house famous for its herd of endangered Rothschild giraffe. Not only is there a sanctuary on the property where you can learn more about these beautiful creatures, but giraffe also wander freely about the estate popping their head through the window at breakfast.
15. Tortilis Camp (Amboseli National Park)
Small and welcoming Tortilis is a child-friendly safari camp with 16 tents including a 2-room family tent. Go on game drives amongst the elephant herds of Amboseli and guided walks led by local Maasai, then return to your comfortable tent with its magnificent views out over plains of flat-topped Acacia trees to distant Mount Kilimanjaro.
16. Samburu Intrepids (Samburu Game Reserve)
Samburu Intrepids is a luxury tented camp raised on wooden decks on a tree-lined riverbank. Set out to explore this starkly beautiful reserve on game drives, camel rides and nature walks, or visit a local village. This fenced camp (great for kids) has 27 tents including beautiful two-room family tents, each with a spacious lounge and outside deck overlooking the river.
Barefoot Luxury Beach Getaways
17. Manda Bay (Lamu Archipelago)
Shaded by coconut palms and tamarind trees, Manda Bay sits on the northernmost point of Manda Island. Of the 16 rooms, our favourites are the beach front cottages with their palm thatch roofs and glittering ocean views. A great place to get away from it all, Manda Bay offers all manner of water sports; you can visit Lamu Island or simply chill out in your hammock.
18. Alfajiri Villas (Diani Beach)
For a truly luxurious beach escape, pick one of the three Alfajiri Villas. Each of these four-bedroom homes has been stylishly designed with handcrafted furniture, original artwork and wide balconies letting in the ocean views. Your personal chef whips up delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and a butler is on hand to ensure you have everything you need.
19. Waterlovers Beach Resort (Diani Beach)
Waterlovers is a boutique hotel with eight cottages and a private villa, all set right on the beach. Being family-run, Waterlovers has that personal touch with staff that really make you feel at home. We love the quirky details like the comfortable hanging chairs and the turtle-shaped swimming pool, as well as the fresh and tasty food with its touch of local flavour.
20. Hemingways Resort (Watamu Beach)
Hemingways is a larger resort with 76 rooms laid out along a beautiful stretch of beach and clear, shallow water. A fantastic option for families, Hemingways Resort has comfortable rooms, good food and service, and offers so many things to do including snorkelling on the reef in front of the resort, big game fishing and a round of golf on the nearby course.