Lion growling in Masai Marai, Kenya

Kenya Safari

Home to some of Africa’s best wildlife, a myriad of dramatic parks and reserves, a rich and colourful culture, as well as the most beautiful beaches lapped by the Indian Ocean, Kenya is the ideal destination for first time safari goers, honeymooners, families and seasoned safari hands alike. Photographers adore it.

It is also one of Africa’s most developed countries but should not be judged on this alone as with this comes a safe and regular domestic transport system that connects many of the parks easily so getting around is no problem. It is also one of the most visibly traditional countries and this unforced blend of modernity and history is what makes it so appealing.  Many of the lodges and smaller camps are privately owned and have a charm and character all of their own, excelling in creating a very personal safari away from the crowds. From pioneering luxury eco-lodges, family owned ranches to authentic bush camps, not to mention the boutique beach retreats along the coast, the great guiding, colourful characters and endless choice of activities make a safari in Kenya very special indeed. 

WHAT TO EXPECT ON YOUR KENYA SAFARI

It’s all about knowing where – and when – to go, as each area and each month offers something different. Much of the wildlife action takes place during the cooler parts of the day, so there will be lots of early starts, returning to the lodge for a delicious lunch and time to relax before heading out again late afternoon and possibly a night drive. Whilst all parks offer excellent game drives in small, specially adapted 4WD (we don’t do minivans and usually offer private vehicles as standard), many also offer thrilling bush walks with an armed rangers, or more extensive, 4-5 day treks with Masai guides, mountain biking or horse-riding, quad biking, camel safaris, or the indulgence of a helicopter safari to some of the more remote locations. Then there is of course the coast, with world class diving, deep sea fishing, kite-surfing, paddle-boarding or simply relaxing in the sun. 

SOME IDEAS FOR KENYA HOLIDAYS

  • Head to the wilds of Lake Turkana by helicopter and explore the beautiful, arid deserts.

BEYOND THE ORDINARY

Fly in to the Matthews Mountains, lush forested peaks rising over 6000 ft from the surrounding plains to search for the elusive black panther

OUR KENYA EXPERTS

Chris has explored much of East, West, South and Central Africa over the years and holds firm the belief that Kenya offers the best Big game experience in the world.  From exploring the endless plains of the Mara (during the migration or the more exclusive green seasons later in the year), the dramatic central highlands and lakes,  to the rugged northern parks, he has walked, driven, mountain-biked, ridden alongside, paddled past and camped next to some of Africa’s most exciting wildlife. That said, the style and comfort of the camps and lodges means he is never too far from an ice-cold Gin & Tonic and when it all gets too much, he heads to the coast to enjoy sunshine, Swahili charm and tropical shores. 

 

 

Kenya FAQs

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Why should I travel to Kenya with Steppes Travel?

In the end, it all boils down to service and expertise. Since Steppes began selling Kenya in 1989, we have worked on rhino projects with TUSK Trust, focused on elephant conservation with the Douglas-Hamiltons and supported numerous rural community projects. All this has been in addition to our own travels through this fascinating East African country.


In short, we know the country backwards. Having taken countless clients, families and friends to Kenya, we are able to arrange a bespoke and personal safari. There are so many different properties to choose from that it is easy to get it wrong. A lodge or park that is great at one time of the year, can be devoid of game at another.


Therefore, it is important to speak to us. We can answer your questions and offer suggestions - we won’t be impartial, but we will be honest. It’s all about speaking to someone who knows the area; and no one knows it better than us. 

When is the best time to go to Kenya?

What you are looking for will dictate when you travel. Kenya is equatorial and as such it is the altitude, rather than the latitude, that determines local climates. The coast remains warm and humid, with rain peaking from April to June (the same time as the rest of the country), with shorter rains in October and November.


The Mara and the central highlands have a cooler, temperate climate, due to their elevation. Whilst warm and pleasant during the day, they can become quite cold at night. The outline below should give you an idea as to what each month offers:


January to March

One of the hottest and driest times of the year. Little water around and, in theory, a great time for game viewing. However, temperatures can be sweltering.


April to June

South-eastern monsoon winds bring the long rains, so much of the wildlife is giving birth in preparation for the lush vegetation that will follow. It is also a great time for birders, as the birds are in their mating plumage and wild flowers are in abundance. It can be very wet, however, and a number of the coastal properties close. This is also known as ‘the green season’.


July to September

The best time to witness the wildebeest migration and the coolest time of the year. It can get very busy in the Mara National Reserve, so you need to pick your spot carefully. All of the other parks are easily accessible, but free from the Mara’s crowds.


October to November

One of our clients’ favourite times to go on safari and one of ours as well. The tail end of the migration may still be around, whilst the arrival of the short rains brings the countryside to life. Flora looks lush and green, rivers flow and the animal are well fed. The air is clear, bringing spectacular sunrises and sunsets; it is no surprise that many photographers prefer this time of year. This is also known as ‘mid’ or ‘shoulder’ season.


Is it safe?

Yes. With recent high-profile visits from the Clintons, Barack Obama and the Pope, along with the recent lifting of the British Government’s travel ban along the southern coast, the biggest threats facing Kenya today are bad PR and false assumptions. We take the safety and security of our clients in all destinations very seriously and Kenya is no different. Put simply, if it were not safe, we would not go there.

How can I avoid the crowds?

Very easily. Those who think Kenya too busy or too commercial have either never been, or have been poorly advised when planning their trip. Around 90% of people who come to Kenya go to the Masai Mara and, even then, nearly all of these people travel between July and September.


It is also important to remember that the Mara is only one of more than 40 national parks and wildlife reserves in Kenya, and is one of the smallest. Therefore, there are more off-the-beaten-track destinations that still offer big game.


However, the Mara is undoubtedly worth a visit. But picking the right place and time of year can make a huge difference. The Mara is effectively split into two types of areas:


Masai Mara National Reserve


The main park, gazetted in its present form in 1968 by the Kenyan Government. The busiest area, with the highest number of lodges, which are usually much bigger and where game drives are confined to defined roads and tracks. The Mara and Talek Rivers dissect the park and these are where the majority of the migration crossings take place. Vehicle numbers are not restricted and the reserve is open to self-drive tourists. There are, however, a handful of very good lodges in this area.


Masai Mara Private Concessions

These are privately managed reserves, run in conjunction with Masai communities that border the National Reserve. Far better managed, they offer the same excellent wildlife opportunities, but far fewer vehicles and have much more flexibility in terms of activities and driving off-road. Numbers of tourists are heavily restricted, with access limited to those who are staying in one of the camps.


Staying here also allows you access to the National Reserve if you would like, but those staying in the National Reserve cannot visit the private concessions. You have the best of both worlds. Lodges are generally smaller, the wildlife experience better and more exclusive and the guiding of a higher quality - reflected in a higher price.


What is the accommodation like in Kenya?

There is a huge choice of accommodation in Kenya. Each property is different and, with so much choice, it is easy to get it wrong. Here is a rough guide to the options on offer:


Mobile Bush Camps


As the name suggests, these are small mobile camps that are set up for a finite number of nights. Usually an overnight bush experience offered by permanent lodges, they can also be part of a longer walking safari. These fully serviced camps are set up for you and have simple dome tents, a small camp bed and a mattress, with bedding provided. Simple, but delicious meals are prepared for you and hot water is brought on demand to wash. There is a long-drop toilet (hole in the ground) in a separate small tent, although some of the larger tents have their own bucket showers at the back.


Permanent Tented Camps

These are classic, East African camps, with only a handful of spacious, stylish, tented rooms. They feature comfortable beds and fine linen, small dressers, soft furnishings and private en-suite facilities. Usually, there is a patio or decking area outside the tent. These camps are typified by great service levels, shared safari vehicles and communal dining in the evening, with drinks (including alcohol) often included in the cost. They are great fun and very flexible.


Luxury Camps

Fine dining, silver service and spa treatments feature heavily, whilst some properties offer private vehicles for game drives. Properties can be a mixture of canvas and permanent structure, but always with elegant and eclectic designs. There are exceptional levels of service, with an emphasis on personal touches and attention to detail.


Private Ranches

These are usually family homesteads or working ranches that have been converted into luxury accommodation. They offer some of the warmest welcomes in Africa, given the families themselves usually manage the properties and live on site. Again, only a handful of rooms, with a warmth and hospitality you would only find in someone’s home.


There is usually a wide range of activities on offer, given the surrounding land is owned by the lodge. Therefore, they are very flexible for large groups or families, although individuals and couples are also welcome.


Private Houses and Villas

Perfect for families and large groups who want the privacy and flexibility of enjoying their holiday exactly as they like it. Fully staffed, with private guides and vehicles, these properties can manage wildlife activities and meal times around the group, to ensure everyone is happy. They can be found in both the wildlife areas and along the coast.


Coastal Properties

The best places to stay are the small, boutique-style retreats. Often featuring cool Swahili designs, they provide shade from the sun, overlooking palm fringed beaches. Many have pools, which helps when the tide is out. Again, some are better suited for families with a range of activities on offer, whilst others are perfect for a quiet retreat or honeymoon.


What is travel like in Kenya?

There is a very good network of scheduled and reliable domestic flights, connecting all of the parks and the coast. These usually use a 12-seater Cessna Caravan light aircraft. Part of the fun when arriving into these parks is flying in over the wildlife and getting a wonderful sense of place before landing.


Driving between parks is usually impractical, given the distances, and often wastes time. If travelling in a large group or family, it can be more cost effective to hire a private plane to fly between destinations, as many properties have their own airstrip.

What is a typical day on safari?

Safaris are all about being flexible, so your guide will usually discuss what you would like to do each day and plan accordingly. As a rule of thumb, you are woken just before sunrise with a cup of tea or coffee, so you can freshen up before the day begins. You then leave camp for your morning game drive or walk around 6:30 am.


Breakfast is usually taken as a picnic in a shady spot in between drives or walks, returning to camp for lunch around midday. During the hottest part of the day, relax by the pool, take a siesta or watch wildlife from the camp itself. Around 4 pm, there are hot drinks and biscuits, before you head out again.


Around 6 pm, you then enjoy a traditional sundowner drink to toast the setting sun, before returning to camp before nightfall. After a shower and pre-dinner drinks around the fire, you settle down to a delicious dinner. This is followed by a quick nightcap, then bed.


The early starts can be tiring. When planning a honeymoon, for example, it might be worth considering some time at the beach first. You can then so the safari element afterwards, when you are refreshed and will enjoy it more.

What are the differences between the parks?

The best way to enjoy a safari is to spend time in different parks, as this will offer you a choice of different wildlife, different scenery and different activities. Most people combine two different parks with some time on the coast, allowing for greater variety.


The Mara is undoubtedly the place for a classic safari – open savannah, rolling plains dotted with game and giraffes towering in the distance next to flat-top acacia trees. In contrast to this, Laikipia is home to wildlife reserves that offer more dramatic and rugged scenery, with a particular focus on rhinos and wild dogs. It is also here that you can do some of the more adventurous activities, such as horse-riding, walking or mountain biking.


Further north, you have the fiery landscapes of the Samburu region, with a dramatic volcanic landscape, softened by rivers and palm trees. The lakes (Nakuru and Naivasha) are great for birding, with vast flocks of flamingos appearing almost overnight. Alternatively, the vast plains of Tsavo offer a chance to explore one of Kenya’s wildest and largest parks. And the coast has its own marine parks, which are perfect for any number of activities.

What are the best options for a family safari in Kenya?

The key to a successful family safari is flexibility and fun. Each family has their own wish list and each member of the family will enjoy slightly different things. Therefore, for small families with young children (up to 5 years old), we only recommend small camps that cater for children this young. They feature flexible mealtimes and the option of a private vehicle. All guides are fantastic with children.


If travelling as a larger family group, then bush houses tend to offer the best value options. They can be booked on an exclusive basis, and include a pool and staff. You can be completely flexible on what you do and when you do it.


For children up to around 12 years of age, lodge managers and guides will happily fill their day with fun activities. These include line-fishing, identifying dung and insects, making bows and arrows and looking for animal tracks (as well as the animals themselves).


For older children and teenagers, they start to fully appreciate the animals and outdoors. They will not only engage with the guides more and learn about the cultural diversity found here, but will want to burn off some energy with mountain biking, rafting and walking safaris. The coast also offers more grown-up activities, such as kite surfing, snorkelling and sea kayaking.

Do mobile phones work in Kenya?

This depends on your service provider, as charges and conditions may apply. But Kenya has excellent network coverage. If you cannot get coverage, then it is very easy to buy a local phone and sim card for around U$30.

How much cash should I take?

Nearly all camps include all meals, activities and alcohol. So whilst the initial cost might be higher, once there, you don’t have to constantly worry about what you are spending. The only extras are really tips and souvenirs. We suggest around $15-20 per person per day for tips.

What advice would you give on photography in Kenya?

Kenya is a photographer’s dream, with an ever-changing landscape, spectacular wildlife and a rich and colourful cultural heritage. However, always ask permission when photographing people. When on safari, to get decent shots you need to consider a camera with at least a 300mm zoom lens.


Some camps are better suited to photographers, with many of the guides being amateur photographers themselves. But all guides have a knack of getting people in the right place at the right time. The shoulder season in October and November is particularly good for photography, as the light rains clear the air, keep the scenery lush and the animals healthy. There are usually spectacular skies at this time of year and far fewer tourists.


All camps have facilities to charge camera batteries and some even have specialist lenses that you can borrow.

What should I take on safari in Kenya?

You don’t need much. Clothes should be muted safari colours for walks and safaris during the day. A fleece is useful for the cold early morning starts and nights around the campfire. Good walking boots or shoes should be worn during the day.


Dinner is usually a very relaxed affair, so no need to dress up, but some of the smarter lodges can prefer a smart-casual dress code. All of the camps offer a laundry service. We offer a full packing list as part of our confirmation documents. All camps and vehicles have their own medical kits.

Can I charge iPads, phones and laptops at the lodge?

Yes. Many of the smarter camps have charging points in the room, but all camps have somewhere to charge electrical items. Please note, hairdryers are not always allowed in smaller camps, as they may rely on a generator, with power only available at certain times of the day.

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Inspiration

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Client Reviews

Sunset, Kenya
"Excellent as always. 
Choice of camps was ideal for the purpose of the trip."
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Gilmour Stubbs

Kenya
Secretary Bird, Kenya
"Both Deborah and Chris have been fantastic. 
Our driver and guide, was amazing. He was knowledgable and helpful and incredibly patient as we photographers sat for hours (literally!) waiting for the right light etc. Yes, this was a luxury safari option with a trained specialist but in my view worth every penny."
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Sarah Hales

Kenya
Wild dogs crossing river, Laikipia, Kenya, Albie Venter
"Although we had a change of consultant between booking and taking the holiday the service level remained high. 
The local representatives were very good and the guides were amazing."
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Kevin Tappenden

Kenya
Massai huts with a woman in red in back view, Kenya
"Jackie was very conscientious, knowledgable and went out of her way to do an excellent job. 
She was easy to deal with and proactive at every stage. I enjoyed talking to her and she arranged an excellent holiday for us."
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Miranda Acland

Kenya
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