Three Luxury Kenya Safari Spots Loved By many Celebrities
The Kalama Airstrip in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya stretches out and disappears into the Kalama Community Conservancy, a core conservation area in North-Central Kenya that’s 46,100 hectares in size. Apart from a small one-room bungalow, Acacia trees populate the entire view for as far as you can see. If you were to trek further into the horizon, the elephant, leopard, giraffe, zebras, wild dog, cheetah and lesser kudu that populate the area are likely to be seen. This is the airstrip where tourists, celebrities and conservationists arrive before making one of dozens of possible journeys into the Samburu National Reserve and Kalama Community Conservancy for holidays, safari trips and conservation expeditions.
“The Kalama conservancy is equally for the Samburu people and for wildlife” says Sammy Lemiruni, a Samburu warrior who works in tourism and conservation with the Saruni Safari lodges, one of the leading safari organisations contributing to conservation in the Samburu district. “I’ve always been interested in conservation, having grown up and spent all my life here in Samburu. I’m very interested in the protection of animals” he says. “The big idea was conservation in Africa today” says Riccardo Orizio of the Saruni Rhino camp that launched in February 2017 on the Kauro river in the Samburu National Reserve, overlooking Mount Kenya. Since founding his first location Saruni Mara, Riccardo has tirelessly worked on conservation projects in the area. “Africa is far ahead of the rest of the planet when it comes to creating innovative ways to protect the land and its people” Orizio says, “and we want to contribute to these advancements.”. Saruni Rhino is the first and only place in East Africa to offer rhino tracking in the Sera Community Rhino Sanctuary, a Northern Rangelands Trust supported conservation project aimed at reintroducing black rhino to the Samburu region.
Rhinos are tracked by foot on 5am or late night game drives. Each of the rhinos has been fitted with a small chip in their horn, which the guards, heavily armed due to the risk of poaching attacks, tune into from across the conservancy. Access to the conservancy costs a $175 entry fee that goes straight back into the conservancy. The Sera Rhino sanctuary is located over 1,300 square miles near the Ololokwe mountain. It was founded by the conservationist Ian Craig, who in 2015 decided to relocate 15 black rhino, whose horns are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market, from his conservancy in Lewa, North of Kenya, south to the Samburu area in the hope that they would breed. So far, it’s been a success. In March last year, the sanctuary made the news when a black rhino gave birth to a calf for the first time in the region in 25 years. The Samburu region, although less known than the Maasai, has a legacy of radical conservation projects. Recently the model Doutzen Kroes launched the #KnotOnMyPlanet campaign along with DNA Model Management founder David Bonnouvrier and his partner Trish Goff, with Tiffany & Co, to raise millions to support the end of elephant poaching and the dissemination of the global demand for ivory.
Saruni Rhino is the stuff intrepid travellers who have seen everything dream of. Made up of a cluster of rustic stone villas, the luxury accommodation is heightened by the rugged surrounding terrain. With just two rooms, the hotel is tranquil and calm, with interiors that could have come out of an Architectural Digest spread. Bedrooms are decorated with four poster beds made out of knotty local wood, rooms are filled with Kenyan textiles and the bathroom is stocked with organic Cinnabar Green products, all made in Kenya. Rooms come with their own private veranda overlooking a watering hole which attracts a bustling nightly crowd made up of a local elephant family as well as zebras. There’s a two night minimum stay, starting from $630, which is the perfect amount of time to visit.
Conservation underpins the camp’s ethos. “The idea was that conservation today – the future of the fauna and flora that make Africa so unique – is possible only if the people who share the land and own it, or live around it, also share the values and the objectives, and that this is possible only when they benefit from conservation, both morally and financially, in a substantial way” says Riccardo. “So, a conservancy like Sera – 350,000 hectares-large, bigger than a few small European countries put together – is the perfect location for the experiment of re-introducing the black rhino to places where it was roaming until 30 years ago”. He concludes that: “it was the dream of the local community and not only of a few enlightened outsiders.”
The establishment, and Orizio’s Saruni Samburu location, are both largely run by the Samburu people, a primarily pastoralist tribe who have inhabited the Samburu region for centuries. The Saruni Samburu camp is in the Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy, about seven kilometers from the Northern border of the Samburu National Reserve, and offers a rare safari experience led by game drivers of the Samburu tribe with expert knowledge of the area, near-guaranteeing sightings of rare wild animals including elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. Many people visit Saruni Rhino first, a short internalSafarilink flight away from Nairobi airport, where Kenya Airlines, who have now been operating for 40 years, run direct European and US flights to Nairobi daily.
Saruni Samburu is positioned in a key location between the northern and southern conservation areas of the Samburu region. Their accommodation is classic, with crisp white sheets over king sized beds that look as if they’ve been placed in the middle of the landscape. The main dining area serves both Kenyan and Italian food in a restaurant with dramatic views over the region, with plates made by the local Kazuri ceramic pottery company. Saruni Samburu has two pools, a large relaxation area packed with vintage books on the area, spa and a gym to keep guests entertained in between game drives.
Aware that Riccardo supplies water by truck to a local primary school in the Masai Mara during drought periods, I ask Riccardo how he works holistically with the Samburu people to ensure their birthright way of living is respected. “We operate on land that is owned and managed by the pastoralist, semi-nomadic Samburu and Masai communities. Our key thing is to employ local people in all capacities and roles, including management” he says. “We want to be seen as one of the best living examples of community-based conservation in Kenya.” This is a rarity in the luxury safari landscape and elevates the experience to a different level, surrounded completely by the Samburu culture. Saruni’s enterprise shows the positive impact tourism can have on sustainability and conservation. They rent a large amount of the Kalama conservancy, and the majority of that land’s use is for the conservation of animals, many of which are at risk of extinction.
Those who have been on safari find it infectious, and Volker Bassen’s whale shark tagging trips mean the intrepid action doesn’t have to end in the Samburu and Maasai Mara regions. Located on Diani Beach, flanked by the Indian Ocean, conservationist Bassen offers tourists the chance to go on a water safari to swim with whale sharks. Bassen founded Whale Shark Adventures in 2013, and puts the money he makes from hosting safaris back into his whale shark conservation project Giant Sharks.
Diani Beach is worthy of a holiday in itself, but it’s also the ideal, and very popular, end of safari pit-stop for people travelling in the Samburu and Maasai region. Located on the Indian ocean, Diani’s beaches are legendary and not to be missed. The town also has a thriving cultural scene and is home to some of the most luxurious hotels on the coast. The highlight of these is Alfajiri Villas, a beautiful luxury hotel with a collection of clifftop villas overlooking the Indian Ocean, and a firm favourite of Bono, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, all who have visited. “It was in July 1979 in my fourth year of medical school, when I got a contract for three months at a hotel as a wind surfing instructor and it was immediately ‘Mal d’Africa’” says co-owner of Alfajiri Fabrizio Molinaro. After two decades of repeat holidays, Fabrizio and his wife Marika launched Alfajiri.
Each room has been designed by Marika, with a mix of local fabrics, artefacts and objects, as well as Moroccan and Italian textiles. “Marika worked for a long time in fashion, and she designed the villas herself, supervised the construction of the building and picked out all the furniture” Fabrizio says, “During the years we have taken ideas and bought quite a number of artefacts during our travels to India and Morocco”. The cavernous open-air entry lobby is filled with the couple’s contemporary art books and opens out onto a huge infinity pool tiled in a giraffe print pattern. Dinners at Alfajiri are renowned and convivial, house chefs Muzungo Ngala and William Budala serve up a mixture of local dishes and mediterranean food every night, coming out to chat to guests after dinner. Like the Samburu region, people in Diani Beach are concerned with conservation and sustainability, a popular conversation topic is ethical, sustainable fishing. Which topped off with other-worldly Indian Ocean views, marks a new direction in Kenyan safaris.