How to See Kenya Like a Pro

Travelers in search of wide-open spaces and incredible wildlife are making a beeline for Kenya. Here's how to do the trip right, according to experts.

<p>MIA COLLIS/COURTESY OF SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST</p> Elephants on the move in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park


Elephants on the move in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park

“Demand for Kenya is up 37 percent since 2019,” says Jack Ezon, a travel advisor and cofounder of Embark Beyond. One reason the country has become a go-to? An increased number of flights on Kenya Airways, which is part of SkyTeam. Other carriers that offer good one-stop connectivity from the U.S. are Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines.

If you're planning a trip, there's lots to consider: which region will have the experiences you're after? What's the wildlife watching like? And what do you need to pack?

To help decode the best itineraries for every type of traveler, T+L asked three experts on the A-List for their advice on how to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, whether you're traveling with a partner, the kids, or a group of friends. Here are three itineraries crafted by the pros to consider.

For a Couple

Itinerary by Leora Rothschild of Rothschild Safaris.

<p>Courtesy of Giraffe Manor</p> Breakfast at Giraffe Manor, in Nairobi.

Courtesy of Giraffe Manor

Breakfast at Giraffe Manor, in Nairobi.

Days 1-2

Land in Nairobi, where a meet-and-greet service will speed you through the airport, then make for Giraffe Manor, “which is famous for close encounters with its resident herd,” Rothschild says. After breakfast the next morning at the 12-room hotel, which also has a pool and spa, you’ll set out for the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s animal orphanage, where rescued elephants are rehabilitated, and a visit to the home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa.



Taking flight above the Masai Mara

Days 3-6

From Nairobi, it’s a short flight west to the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, which borders the Masai Mara National Reserve, for a few nights at Kicheche Valley Camp, a six-tent retreat where, as Rothschild puts it, “birds take flight and animals casually saunter by.” Game drives can be arranged, but she recommends spending time on guided walks, as well as a night in a comfortable yet basic “fly camp,” with dinner and breakfast served alfresco. “It’s the perfect way to gain a true understanding of the bush,” Rothschild notes. She also recommends an early morning hot-air balloon flight over the Mara, complete with champagne breakfast on touchdown.

Days 7‒8

From Naboisho you’ll fly back to Nairobi, then onward to Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, a preserve managed by the Indigenous Samburu people of northern Kenya. Rothschild likes Sarara Camp because “each of the six spacious tents has stunning views of the Matthews Range — and of a waterhole that attracts a good variety of game.” Guests can also learn more about Indigenous culture on a guided visit to a Samburu manyatta, or homestead.

Days 9‒11

Departing Sarara, hop aboard a half-day helicopter adventure that will take you 80 miles west to the crater of Mount Silali, before continuing through the Suguta Valley, “where the landscape is constantly changing, with desolate salt pans, lava flows, crocodile pools, and colorful hoodoos,” Rothschild says. You’ll have a chance to splash in the waters of Lake Turkana before heading to the unpretentious yet chic Sirikoi in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, for game drives and excursions like horseback riding and visits to nearby communities.

<p>Courtesy of Richard’s Camp</p> One of the four guest tents at Sirikoi.

Courtesy of Richard’s Camp

One of the four guest tents at Sirikoi.

DAys 12‒14

Round out the trip with a stay at Segera Retreat on the Laikipia Plateau between the Great Rift Valley and Mount Kenya. Rothschild advises at least one night in the “one-of-a-kind Nay Palad Bird Nest, perched amid the treetops on a river teeming with wildlife.” On your final morning, there’s typically time for one last game drive before your flight back to Nairobi and your journey home.

For a Family

Itinerary by Elizabeth Gordon of Extraordinary Journeys.

<p>Courtesy of Manzili House</p> Manzili House, in Nairobi, is the perfect landing spot.

Courtesy of Manzili House

Manzili House, in Nairobi, is the perfect landing spot.

Days 1‒2

Fly in to Nairobi, where you’ll have meet-and-greet service on arrival and a private transfer to Manzili House, “a six-bedroom boutique hotel in the leafy suburb of Karen with beautiful architecture inspired by the island of Lamu,” Gordon says. The next day, you’ll have a private driver for a day of touring, with visits to the Sheldrick animal orphanage or perhaps the Nairobi National Museum, with its displays on the evolution of humanity in the Great Rift Valley, as well as Kenya’s colonial period.

Days 3‒6

From the capital, you’ll fly north to Lewa, which Gordon says “is considered a model for community-based wildlife-conservation efforts in Africa, not only protecting animals but also contributing to the socioeconomic development of the surrounding communities.” For those traveling with kids, she recommends a family cottage at Lewa Wilderness, a classic lodge that offers game drives, bush walks, and horseback rides.

<p>PAUL & PAVEENA MCKENZIE/GETTY IMAGES</p> The rugged shores of Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya.


The rugged shores of Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya.

Days 7‒9

From Lewa, you’ll fly by private charter to Kalepo Camp, a retreat on nearly 400,000 acres in the Matthews Range that hosts only one group of up to 10 guests at a time. The four-tent property is, Gordon says, “the perfect location for exploring the many draws of Kenya’s ‘Big North,’ from Samburu villages to soaring mountains, as well as incredible elephants.” Between bush walks and visits to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Gordon says, you can also squeeze in a helicopter sightseeing flight through the Suguta Valley to Lake Turkana.

<p>Courtesy of Richard’s Camp</p> Looking out for wildlife at Richard’s River Camp.

Courtesy of Richard’s Camp

Looking out for wildlife at Richard’s River Camp.

Days 10‒14

The adventure continues in the Masai Mara, at Richard’s River Camp, a small outpost in the Mara North Conservancy that has among its seven accommodations a pair of family-friendly tents, one of which has room for up to eight. This is a prime spot for the Big Five, including a pride of lions that calls the area home, plus “giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, hyenas, and a rich array of birds,” Gordon says. (From July to September, the Great Migration runs through this stretch of Kenya, too.) The camp can also arrange for hot-air balloon rides, visits to Masai communities, and meals out in the bush for a final hurrah before your flight back to Nairobi.

For a Group of Friends

Itinerary by Daniel Saperstein of Hippo Creek Safaris.

<p>Courtesy of Giraffe Manor</p> Neck and neck in the race for breakfast at Giraffe Manor.

Courtesy of Giraffe Manor

Neck and neck in the race for breakfast at Giraffe Manor.

Days 1-5

“We’re seeing a growing market in small-group travel, say two to five couples traveling together,” says Saperstein, who devised this itinerary with a group of four in mind. He recommends starting with a stay at Giraffe Manor, in Nairobi. The next morning, it’s onward to Namunyak, and Reteti House, a sibling property to Sarara Camp. “It offers a more private experience for families and small groups, with four en-suite bedrooms for up to 10 people. You’ll be here exclusively, with a full team — including a private chef and guide — who will look after you throughout your stay.” Saperstein also suggests a helicopter flight to the summit of a nearby mountain, for dinner and a night spent under the stars in a mobile fly camp.

<p>Courtesy of Segera Retreat</p> Segera Retreat.

Courtesy of Segera Retreat

Segera Retreat.

Days 6-8

From Namunyak, Saperstein recommends a private charter onward to Laikipia and Segera Retreat, with the group staying in the private Villa Segera, a two-bedroom suite with a private pool. “The wildlife is thriving here, with endemic species such as reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra found regularly,” he says of the game you’ll likely encounter. Like Rothschild, Saperstein says the Nay Palad Bird Nest suite is a must for one night, “with its open-air roof that offers 360-degree views of the surrounding wilderness.”

<p>Courtesy of Great Plains/Mara Plains Camp</p> Inside the Jahazi Suite at Kenya's Mara Plains.

Courtesy of Great Plains/Mara Plains Camp

Inside the Jahazi Suite at Kenya's Mara Plains.

Days 9-12

You’ll depart Segera on a private charter to the Masai Mara, where your group will post up at the two-bedroom Jahazi Suite at Mara Plains, a Relais & Châteaux camp operated by Great Plains Conservation that’s located in the private Olare Motorogi Conservancy. You’ll have your own game drive vehicle for explorations in the surrounding bush, and forays into the adjacent Masai Mara National Reserve can also be arranged, particularly during Great Migration season. Saperstein recommends at least one private hot-air balloon flight for your group, capped with a champagne toast.

A version of this story first appeared in the September 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline “Two Epic Kenya Adventures."

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