Embark on a classic safari in the Maasai Mara, see the ultra-rare northern white rhino in Ol Pejeta, and experience the rugged beauty of Lewa on an all-encompassing trip to Kenya. Our destination specialist, Abby, is just back from Kenya with this bespoke itinerary.

Abby, our safari specialist, enjoying a drink at the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya
Staying in private concessions gives you more freedom to explore Kenya’s remarkable wild places. Image courtesy of Abby Watson

When travelers think of Kenya, they see the shimmering beauty of Africa in all its glory. They see a lion pride, sunning themselves on rolling golden plains, giraffe elegantly dining from swaying trees, and wildebeest, awesome and uncountable, spread out across the savannah. They see the Maasai people, resplendent in red and black, sharing their rich culture. The beauty of Kenya is that it offers all that and much, much more.

Sure, you get the classic safari experience and unmatched game viewing in the Maasai Mara, where the wildlife numbers are on another level. You can also witness some of Africa’s greatest conservation efforts, such as the groundbreaking rhino programs of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikapia, home to the last two remaining northern white rhino on earth. In the Lewa Conservancy, you’ll experience Kenya’s rugged, hill-strewn side, where you can see the “Northern Five”, five specialty species only found north of the equator.

In many ways, Kenya is the ultimate safari destination, and that’s what people expect when they book a trip here. It ticks many boxes, with year-round game viewing, diversity in activities (from great walks and hikes to horseback safaris and balloon rides), and a strong cultural element, with diverse peoples and their fascinating customs, such as the Maasai. This itinerary (paired with South Africa) was designed to capture all of what makes Kenya great, whether you’re heading out on your first-ever safari or you’re a seasoned traveler looking for your next African adventure.

Day One: Nairobi

Flights from the U.S. tend to get into Kenya late at night, so it’s always a good idea to recharge in Nairobi before heading to your next destination. The Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport Hotel is an excellent option for a quick overnight with comfortable rooms, good food, and a rooftop bar and pool. For those who’d like to stay a day or two to explore Nairobi, Hemingway’s Nairobi is an elevated choice that’s conveniently located close to some of the city’s big attractions, including the Giraffe Center, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and Karen Blixen Museum. For more tips on exploring Nairobi, read our expert city guide from local writer, Wendy Watta, who’s in the know.

Days Two and Three: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

A rhino grazing in Ol Pejeta, Kenya
Northern white rhino are extinct in the wild but you can see the last two on earth at Ol Pejeta. Image courtesy of Abby Watson

From the city to the vast, open plains of East Africa, your Kenya adventure really begins when you get to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. During the colonial period, the conservancy was a working cattle ranch, and today, it is one of the most important conservation areas in the country. Besides exceptional game viewing (Ol Pejeta has a very high concentration of predators, particularly lion), the big reason to visit the conservancy is its work with rhino. Ol Pejeta is home to the last two remaining northern white rhino on earth, who live under 24-hour armed guard in a special enclosure to ensure their health and safety. Due to fertility issues, neither of the rhinos (both female) are capable of reproduction, but the conservancy is currently working on an artificially assisted reproduction program using southern white rhino surrogates that could save the species from complete extinction.

During your visit to Ol Pejeta, you’ll see these incredibly rare beasts up close and learn more about their remarkable efforts to preserve the species. The conservancy is also home to 165 critically threatened eastern black rhino and 44 southern white rhino, a species that was on the brink of extinction at the end of the 19th century. One of the absolute highlights of Ol Pejeta is its anti-poaching units, which you can experience firsthand. Interact with the team’s specialist sniffer dogs and learn how they are trained to track poachers from only a footprint.

Stay at Kicheche Laikipia, an eco-award-winning tented camp surrounded by the conservancy grounds. The camp is warm and welcoming, the tents are incredibly comfortable, and the range of activities makes it an excellent option for all kinds of travelers.

Days Four to Six: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

A young leopard cleans itself in a tree at Lewa Conservancy in Kenya
The Lewa Conservancy is a fantastic place to spot one of Africa’s most elusive predators: the leopard. Image courtesy of Dave Cox.

Lewa might just be one of the most beautiful places in Africa. Its scenery, all undulating hills and valleys, completely differs from anywhere else on this itinerary. It is rugged, with views of mighty Mount Kenya as a constant backdrop. At the top of every hill is a spectacular view over the conservancy, making for epic sunsets.

The conservancy is home to the “Northern Five,” a group of specialist animals that you will only see in Kenya’s northern hemisphere—Lewa is one of the few places where you can see them all in one place. Head out in search of the reticulated giraffe, the gerenuk, the Somali ostrich, the Beisa oryx, and the Grevy’s zebra on a game drive, on foot, or even on horseback. Although elusive and more challenging to spot, Lewa has 18 resident leopards within its boundaries. Sightings of these solitary predators are rare, but very, very special. Other game in the park include elephant, lion, wild dog,the endangered black rhino, and the southern white rhino. The birding is fantastic here too, with almost 500 bird species in the conservancy, such as the eastern chanting goshawk and the gray crowned crane.

For a homely experience, stay at the family-run Lewa House. You’ll be hosted by the McFarlanes, who have historic family ties to the property, and you will stay in comfortable rooms crafted from local materials. Meals are hosted and social, giving the lodge a warm, personal atmosphere. Sirikoi is a perfect option if you’re looking for personalized service, with each guest given their own safari vehicle and an elevated luxury offering with extra special touches.

Days Seven to 10: Maasai Mara

Abby, our safari specialist, watching the sunset from Mara Bushtops, a private concession just outside the Maasai Mara
Sundowners by a bonfire are one of the perks of staying outside the Maasai Mara National Park in a private conservancy. Image courtesy of Abby Watson.

The final stop on this itinerary takes you to the iconic Maasai Mara. A vast reserve of low hills and rolling open grassland cleaved in half by the Mara River, and framed on the western side by the Oloololo Escarpment. It is famed for its high density of wildlife, including elephants, cheetah, lion, and leopard. The game viewing is excellent year-round, although many travel during The Great Migration, which takes place between mid-June and October. Often touted as the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth, the migration sees over a million wildebeest, and hundreds of thousands of Zebra make the treacherous journey from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara, sparking a hunting frenzy for the reserve’s predators.

We recommend staying in one of the private conservancies bordering the Maasai Mara. By doing this, you support conservation efforts and local communities, as well as getting a more holistic and exclusive safari experience—you avoid the mass of crowds that gather in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Being privately owned (often in conjunction with local Maasai communities), there is usually more flexibility around what you can do in these conservancies: you can go off-road (a great way to spot elusive wildlife such as leopard), you’re able to walk more freely, and you can take part in fun extras, such as bonfires and sundowners in the bush.

For a high-end yet down-to-earth experience, Hemingway’s Ol Seki offers refined accommodation in a tented setting. The camp sits in the Naboisho Conservancy, just on the border with the Maasai Mara, and has some of the most spectacular views in the area. Mara Bushtops, located in the Bushtops Private Conservancy is a great option for travelers looking for the best of both worlds: a private conservancy experience but with plenty of access to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It offers a highly tailored and personalized approach to safari—everything happens on your time here—making this a great option for travelers looking for lots of flexibility. From sensational spa treatments to full-day hikes in the conservancy with your local Maasai guide, Mara Bushtops has something for everyone.

My trip was designed to take in all the best parts of Kenya: from the classics, such as the Masaai Mara, to the lesser-visited areas, such as Lewa. This trip works well for anyone interested in conservation and culture, as well as wildlife. As with any Extraordinary Journeys itinerary, we can tweak it to suit your travel goals and style. To start planning your dream trip to Africa, reach out to me directly by filling out the form below.

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