Diani Beach Road
Tel: 254 733 630491
You won't spot a sign for these sumptuous villas discreetly tucked away from the tourist bustle of Diani Beach, 30 minutes south of Mombasa. Since opening in 2000, Alfajiri has prided itself on keeping a low profilewith just a bit of reverent word-of-mouth from celebs like Brad and Angelina to nudge it along. Set among tropical gardens with a powdery beach just steps away, each of its three private villas is fully staffed and self-contained to keep the clamor of Diani Beach at baya perfect setup for families looking to wrap up their safari with some quiet R&R. The breezy Beach Villa features two en-suite doubles with rustic flourishes (the furniture is hand-carved from driftwood in the on-site workshop), plus two smaller bedrooms set aside for the kids. The Garden Villa's four bedrooms have international themes, with gold-threaded tapestries in the Indian room, minimalist black-and-white in the Japanese, and intricate white coverlets in the Moroccan that make the beds look like four-poster wedding cakes. The two villas share an infinity pool, bar, and an open-air lounge nestled beneath a makuti-thatched roof, but most parties are here for the privacy. Separate dining areas are fully catered by Alfajiri's chefs, and you can very well spend a week without crossing paths with other guests. For an even more exclusive getaway, opt for the four-bedroom Cliff Villa, which has its own pool, a gazebo facing the sea, and a spectacular turret suite with floor-to-ceiling windows. The decorcarved Swahili doors, Danish ivory floors, and African objets d'artspares no attention to detail. Included in the price of each villa are a butler and driverand even a nanny for the kids. Golfing and snorkeling are easily arranged.
Cliff Villa closed May through June; Garden and Beach Villas open year-round.
Amboseli Game Reserve
Tel: 254 45 622 622
Tel: 254 45 622 361
Enjoy gazing at hyenas and "a good view of Mount Kilimanjaro" at this russet lodge designed like a Masai village, where "the lovely decor" includes animal pictures painted on room walls. "Food is similar in quality to any other lodge," and includes a themed night of local cuisine. Lions, elephants, and giraffes are the lure on game drives.
Masai Mara National Reserve
Tel: 254 717 969 610
Set along a curve of the Mara River, this tented property offers guests the chance to spy gazelles and lions. The Masai colors are ubiquitous in the "light, airy tents"from the throws to the blankets to the bead curtains. Some accommodations have outdoor showers. Evening meals at the boma offer traditional barbecuebeef steaks, spit-roasted goat, and crocodile skewers.
Tel: 254 722 204946
Just a 15-minute flight separates Funzi Keys from the bustle of Mombasa, but it might as well be a world apart. Surrounded by scattered islets and mangroves, the resort commands a long stretch of west-facing beach on a secluded island off the south coast. Funzi's nine seaside bungalows are discreetly hidden among the casuarinas and coconut palms; the eight lower-cost garden cottages are set back a bit further, but still within eyeshot of the beach. Thatched roofs, coral walls, and hand-carved beds take a page from the local design book, while elegant stone floors and cavernous bathrooms add touches of Western luxury. Graceful dhow rides offer the perfect vibe for a sunset cocktail (known as a sundowner to locals), and honeymooners will appreciate the island's mellow mood. Adventurous visitors can shell out extra for canoe safaris, diving, and deep-sea fishing. No need to worry if you don't reel anything in: Seafood abounds on the extensive menu, which pays homage to owner Alessandro Torriani's Italian roots. Guests can opt for a half-board stay if three decadent meals a day are a bit much. However, with nothing but tiny fishing villages nearby, you won't have other dining options.
Closed April through mid-July.
Shaba National Reserve
Tel: 254 20 603054
Hemmed in by the rugged, red-faced cliffs of Shaba National Reserve, Joy's Camp is one of the newest additions to the Kenyan safari scene. Built on the site of naturalist Joy Adamson's last encampment, the ten luxury tents eschew the usual bush aesthetichardwood floors, somber earth tonesin favor of a vibrant palate that pays homage to the region's nomadic tribes. Bright fabrics, brass lamps, and blown-glass vases stand out against the dusty landscape, while the white-washed walls lend a touch of Tangier. It's a look that's less bush than Berber, and the exotic air fits its off-the-beaten-track location, a 90-minute flight from Nairobi. The remote setting isn't always ideal, since game sightings in Shaba are notoriously hit or miss. You might spend two days with little more than zebra and gazelle to keep you company, or you might have the odd lion prowling by the pool after dark. Bumping along in search of game without a single other Range Rover in sight, though, is a big part of the camp's charm, while walking safaris and village visits are a good way to break up the day if the game has gone AWOL. At times the friendly service can be a bit too laid-back, but the camp's distinctive style and far-flung locale will strike the right notes once it hits its stride.
Masai Mara National Reserve
Tel: 888 882 3742 (toll-free)
Tel: 27 11 809 4314
They were being a bit modest when they decided to call this place a "camp." The 1920's colonial elegance of Bateleur's 19 sumptuous tents (part of the larger Kichwa Tembo resort) are a long way from 'smores and sleeping bags. Despite a 2007 expansion that nearly doubled its size, the camp enjoys an intimate seat at the foot of the Oloololo Escarpment, looking out onto the sprawling plains of the Masai Mara. Peek behind the tents' canvas flaps and you'll find the picture of bush elegance, with stone bathrooms, four-poster beds, and polished hardwood floorsthough the leather armchairs on your private deck might be overdoing it. Butler service is at the guests' disposal, and each tent comes equipped with its personal "gym in a basket," crammed with weights, jump ropes, and a yoga mat to help you work off the camp's famously decadent pan-African cuisine. Safari purists might scoff at the extravagance, but most people are too busy dipping into the pool or curling up on the lodge's fireside sofas to complain. Twice-daily game drives, walking safaris, night drives, village visits, and candelit dinners in the bush are all included in the room rate. The lodge can even arrange for Masai dancers to pop in for a fireside performance.
Tel: 254 20 600 457
Lewa is a private reserve run by a nonprofit conservation group that aims to protect regional wildlife, notably the Grevy's Zebra (the ranch has seventeen percent of the world's population), and the big five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and the endangered rhino). The park has three luxurious lodges: The Safari Camp has tented accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, a separate lodge for meals, and a pool; Lewa House, available to groups only, is perched on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya and has three rustic cottages with swamp-grass roofs and a private veranda; Wilderness Trails has nine thatched cottages, a saltwater pool, a clay tennis court, and stables. Prices include full board, game drives, bush walks, and horse rides. Lewa is generally closed for rainy seasons (from April 1 to May 31 and November 1 to December 1).
Masai Mara National Reserve
Tel: 254 202 734023
With 17 intimate tents set around a busy watering hole, Little Governors' occupies some of the choicest real estate in the Masai Mara. A steady parade of wildlife calls this corner of the reserve home, from the zebras and elephants lapping at the lake to the resident warthogs making mischief around the bar. You might spot three or four of the Big Five before polishing off your morning coffeeand that's not to mention the hippos croaking away into the night. Tents are short on frills (think canvas-backed chairs and paraffin lamps) and have private decks to enjoy the birdsong. Sophisticated pan-African meals are served outdoors, with tables tucked into the shade by day or nestled around the campfire at night, and the warm service has helped make Little Governors' the favorite of foreign dignitaries like former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Barbara Bush. Three daily game drives are part of the package, though guests can splurge on guided game walks or hour-long balloon rides that drift above the treetops. Even getting to the camp promises high adventure, with a river crossing and a (short) tramp through the forest. For some close encounters with the resident wildlife, ask for tent 17, which sits at the entrance to the camp's watering hole and is often visited by beasts of all stripes.
Tel: 254 42 633475
Crowning a quiet strip of beach backed by mangroves and palms, Manda Bay is Gilligan's Island with a luxury twist. Its 16 thatched-roof bungalows are bright, airy, and spacious; you could fit a full-size palm tree at the foot of your bed. Aside from the majestic four-poster beds with billowing mosquito nets, the decor remains restrained, keeping the focus on the broad ocean views. Lazing around in a hammock might be Manda Bay's main attraction, but the sumptuous seafood meals sure don't hurt. If you've got energy to burn, there's plenty to keep you occupied, from snorkeling in the surrounding coral gardens to "fly-by" safaris over the mainland and sundowner cruises aboard the resort's private dhow. Though it feels miles removed from civilization, the resort is a 20-minute boat ride from neighboring Lamu. Visits to the World Heritage town there are easily arranged, and if you're up for a quick tipple, expat haven Shellaand the buzzing scene at the Peponi Hotelare also just a short ride away.
Closed mid-April through mid-July.
Tel: 254 20 444 6651
Situated above a bend in the Talek River, this camp is comprised of tents set on raised platforms and furnished in "classic grand African safari style." Dinner is usually served in a large dining room under a thatched roof or in the bush and includes Western cuisine such as a duo of rock-cod and king prawns. Safaris aim to spot the Big Five.
60 Ndovo Road
Tel: 254 20 891856
Most travelers think of Nairobi as a quick stop-off on their way to the safari lodges, but the elegant Ngong House could make the city a destination in its own right. Set among ten acres of landscaped grounds on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park, the lodge is a cozy idyll just 20 minutes from the bustle of downtown. Its five luxurious tree houses are the main attraction, each uniquely designed with commanding views of the blue-tinged Ngong Hills in the distance. Polished hardwoods, hand-carved furniture, and plush cushions make the rooms feel downright cozy, but it's the stylish flourishesbeaded throw pillows, tribal rugs, stained glass windows made from recycled bottlesthat give Ngong its quirky charm. For families, the rustic log cabin is a good option (it sleeps six), but you'll have a hard time keeping the kids away from those tree houses. Game drives into the neighboring park will whet your appetite for safari, though you'll probably want to save your energy for the Masai Mara. Spend some time around the dinner table instead, where the Belgian-inspired cuisine has made Ngong House's restaurant a fixture on the Nairobi dining scene. It's not uncommon for local sophisticates to pop in for dinner or curl up with a glass of wine by the lodge's stone fireplace.
Chyulu Hills National Park
Tel: 254 20 6000 457
Ol Donyo Wuas lies in the foothills of the Chyulu Range, halfway between Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks, on 300,000 acres of communally owned Masai land. Masai herdsmen still live here along with plentiful wildlife, including oryx, gazelles, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, lions, and wildebeests. The lodge itself is owned by Richard Bonham and hosted by Patrick Stanton and Nicola Young, who operate five one-bedroom and two two-bedroom thatched cottages, all with views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Activities include walking safaris, game drives, horseback safaris, and picnics. Mobile tented camping can also be arranged. Prices include full board, game drives, and riding. You can also visit a local Masai village.
Hell's Gate National Park
Tel: 254 20 891 112
Fax: 254 20 890 596
Olerai House is set on a private game sanctuary on the shores of Lake Naivasha, a freshwater refuge ninety minutes from Nairobi. Accommodations consist of five en-suite bedrooms decorated with local art, handmade rugs and colorful tapestries. They're arranged around the original cottage, which has been converted into a stylish living and dining room. Olerai is popular with weekend guests and those beginning or ending a safari. The staff is warm and generous, and prices include full board, wine and beer with dinner. Activities might include a picnic on Crescent Island or a guided walk through a lush acacia and papyrus forest. Guests may also use the pool at Sirocco House when the sanctuary's owners, Oria and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, are away.
Masai Mara National Reserve
Tel: 254 20 6950002
Olonana offers an elegant reminder that you can be in the bush and a long way from the bush in the same breath. The camp's 14 luxury tents front the winding waters of the Mara River, with the croaking song of the neighborhood hippos providing the score. Polished floors, hardwood furniture, and period touches like timeworn trunks and canvas chairs offer a classic take on safari style. Two new tentsbuilt in July 2007lend a stylish twist, with plush armchairs, four-poster beds, and an assortment of tribal masks and batiks making for a funkier feel than their colonial-chic neighbors offer. The thatched roofs might mimic a local Masai hut, but even Olonana himself, the great Masai leader, never had it this good. Taking its cues from the surroundings, the lodge is built around an African greenheart tree that pokes through the roof. Cozy up by the fireplace, settle into a game of chess, or swap stories with other travelers on the deck while the Mara River rushes below. The river views are the main attraction, and outdoor dining is under a shady arbor in eyeshot of the resident hippos. For a break from the requisite game drives, take a hike to the top of the adjacent Siria Escarpment, where the Mara's sprawling plains roll away in waves of green and gold.
Tel: 888 588 4590
The Masai community has joined forces with conservation tourism organizations and private investors to convert 6,500 acres of arid cattle range into a wildlife sanctuary and resort. The property's four luxury villas, designed with tribal, Lamu coast, colonial, or retro sixties decor, straddle a boulder-strewn ridge and come equipped with fireplaces, outdoor decks, and spectacular views from sun loungers, beds, even bathtubs. The conservancy's acacia-forested hills and wide, sand riverbeds shelter dik-diks, klipspringers, rare wild dogs, and spotted and striped hyenas; the planned addition this year of a water hole should increase sightings of larger game, such as elephants, kudu, and Grevy's zebras. Meanwhile, the land rejuvenates from overgrazing, as do guests who go exploring on mountain bikes, on horseback, or by scaling Ol Lentille, a 6,486-foot granite peak. (Your villa's enviably fit Masai guide also escorts you on four-by-four night drives and cultural trips to Masai markets and homesteads and on camping expeditions with local Yaku honey gatherers.) A library stocked with a GPS telescope and a well-edited list of Africa-themed DVDs tempts some guests to simply stay put. And why not? The villa fee includes butler service, a private cook, and unlimited massages.
Mount Kenya National Park
Tel: 254 20 2842 000
The forest setting of this timber lodge comes with Mount Kenya views. It's "a wonderful place to relax." Staff are "warm and solicitous," and even if the lodge, where a palette of greens and browns dominates, "is an older facility, that's part of the charm." The contemporary European menu "caters to tourists, but the food is good."
Masai Mara National Reserve
Tel: 254 20 884135
Since opening in 2000, Shompole has been at the cutting edge of eco-chic in Kenya, turning a harsh, remote region into one of the country's hottest destinations. The lodge's six stylish rooms sit beneath towering thatched roofs on the edge of the Nguruman Escarpment, which overlooks the sun-scorched plains of the Great Rift Valley, an hour's flight from Nairobi. The style draws heavily on the local environment: The walls are cut from white quartz stone, the stairs fashioned from fig wood, and the graceful curves of each room meant to blend into the hillside. Plunge pools, rock gardens, and gurgling waterfalls give each room a Zen-like calm while you take in the expansive views: Think Kyoto ryokan meets Out of Africa. In case the main lodge isn't secluded enough, you can hike to ultraexclusive Little Shompole at the top of the hill, where two luxury suitesgraced with gourmet chefs and butlersencourage a bit of pampering in private. The lodge's eco-efforts have won it much praise (including the United Nations Development Programme's prestigious Equator Prize in 2006), and Shompole has helped to bring water, medical supplies, and schooling to the local Masai. The resort has also worked with the community to bring back much of the wildlife that was chased off by human encroachment years ago; now, lions, zebras, and antelopes often are seen in the area. You won't get the big-game experience of the Masai Mara, but there's plenty to keep you busy when you're not chasing your next animal sighting. Walking safaris, mountain biking, and seasonal canoe trips down the Ewaso Ng'iro River are all included; shell out extra for a bit of spa time, or a visit with a local Masai healer, who will bestow his blessings on you.
Solio Game Reserve
Tel: 254 20 251 3166
Situated within a mosaic of grassy plain, marshland, and stands of yellow-fever acacia, Solio Lodge has the only guest lodgings within the private 16,800-acre Solio Game Reserve. Created in 1970 by a foresighted American tycoon and nature lover, Courtland Parfet, it protects both the black and white rhinoceros. (The new guest program was begun to increase reserve funding amid a resurgence of rhino poaching since the 1980s and '90s, when populations across the continent fell by more than 90 percent.) Six enormous thatched cottages are tastefully done with bright Kenyan artworks popping on pale walls, with fireplaces that make for cozy high-altitude nights. Vast floor-to-ceiling windows frame distant Mount Kenya, while outdoor sundecks deliver full panoramas. Communal meals emphasize harvest from the vegetable garden and are often taken alfresco within sight of grazing waterbuck, zebras, and impalas. Sightings of as many as 40 rhinos at a time are not uncommon; less commonly spotted species include leopards, cheetahs, lions, and the rare Laikipea hartebeest. The gracious manager, Ava Paton, arranges off-site trout fishing, visits to nearby parks and conservancies, and private meals with Solio's resident rhino ecologist, Felix Patton. For game drives, ask for Sammy Lengila, a 21-year-old Samburu spotter whose sharp eyes pick up cats hiding in tall grass, including the small, magnificent spotted serval.
Amboseli National Park
Tel: 254 20 603054
Though it hasn't exactly been around as long as the snows of Kilimanjaro, Tortilis Camp is every bit as much an East African icon. The 17 luxury tents look across the dusty, acacia-studded plains of Amboseli National Park to Kilimanjaro's snowcapped crown, offering one of Africa's quintessential postcard views. The warm service and cozy, simply furnished tents make it one of the more welcoming camps in Kenya. Travelers gather around the crackling campfire or over excellent Italian cuisine to swap safari tales, and you can watch zebras and gazelles belly up to the neighboring watering hole for a drink. Because the camp shares a private area with the local Masai, your game drives are free of the logjams on Amboseli's notoriously crowded roads. Afterward, you can enjoy a gin and tonic as the sun sets on Kilimanjaroor, if you've checked into the camp's "family tent," splash about in the rustic, handmade tub (reason enough to bring the kids along).
9/418 Limuru Road
Tel: 861 50 50 50
Tel: 27 21 430 5302
Nairobi's first hip property is a welcome addition to the respectable but staid choices that have, until recently, summed up the capital's upscale hotels. Inside, a four-story glass atrium and more than 800 pieces of artwork create a striking nightclub-like space in which modern architecture and traditional African forms intermingle. The 137 rooms and loft-style suitesdecorated in shades of ocher, brown, and beigeconvey an urban cool, with curved walls and headboards and the contemporary and traditional sculptures on display. Even the least expensive standard rooms have huge glass-walled bathrooms, some with freestanding tubs, packets of ground Kenyan coffee, and complimentary minibar treats. The majority of guests are business travelers taking advantage of the hotel's high-security location in the Village Market, a gated shopping mall and expat hangout near the embassy district, and 20 minutes by car from the city center. The pool terrace hosts private receptions and cocktail parties on weekends, while the restaurant Epicwhich serves grills and a montage of African, Asian, and Italian dishesattracts an upscale local crowd. Staff are enthusiastic without being obsequious.