Situated on the equator in the east of Africa, Kenya is a country of diverse ecosystems.
Within its territory, the geography varies dramatically from the low coastal plains of the Indian Ocean, the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, and the broad and arid plains in the north. Add to this the glaciers atop the epic Mount Kenya, Africa’s second largest peak, and you’ve got a striking juxtaposition of scenery. As a result, it is home to some of natures most celebrated animals and has shaped the tourism industry immensely.
Home of Africa’s original wildlife tour, Kenya is also the setting for much loved film ‘The Lion King’, and draws in visitors by the bus load every year for safari adventures. It has some of the best locations to spot ‘The Big Five’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino), like the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Naivasha and Samburu.
So how did the illustrious Kenyan safari become what it is today?
The word ‘safari’ originates from the Arabic verb ‘safar’ which means ‘to make a journey’. Earliest safaris on record were made by vendors in the trading industry back in the early 18th century, when caravans of traders would travel across the vast landscapes to sell their goods, with staff, crew and weapons to fend off the wildlife. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, naturalists and explorers redefined the purpose of the safari and in doing so, uncovered a number of new species. In 1836, adventurer William Cornwallis Harris led an expedition which resembled the safari as we know it today, guiding fellow explorers through the plains in search of wildlife and then re-grouping in the evenings for drinks and discussions of the days findings.
Knowledge and popularity of the modern day safari was bolstered by literature and film, many years back. Jules Verne’s novel ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’, published back in 1863 as well as H. Rider Haggard’s novel ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ from 1885, both describe the exciting stories behind English adventurers making discoveries in Africa and the exotic animals they encountered. In addition to this, the film ‘Trader Horn’ in 1931 was the first piece of non-documentary footage to be shot on site in Africa, showing the adventurous tales of Alfred Horn and the picturesque scenery of the African safari. As a result, the idea of being out in the wild and observing exotic animal became popular to a wider audience.
When the Kenyan Safari as we know it today originated back in the 1900s, they were holidays for the exclusive domain of the rich and famous; the world’s elite Hollywood actors or European aristocracy. Nowadays, safaris have become far more accessible to a greater sector of the population and are becoming an increasingly popular break. As well as the stereotypical luxury camping set up, the development of Kenya’s tourism industry has meant that a number of slightly alternative safari tours are now on offer.
When they first originated, safari tours often included hunting and their extravagant camp set up often held no concern for protecting the natural surroundings. Nowadays, conservation and sustainability are at the forefront of many tour companies and the Elephant Pepper Camp is one of them. Their ethos centres around the preservation of their surroundings and they are one of only six camps in Kenya to be awarded the ‘Gold Level’ Eco-Rating. The removable tents are barely visible under the elephant pepper trees and with the use of solar power and LED lighting, they’re carbon footprint barely touches the ground. In addition to this, working with the local land owners in the community ensures that locals benefit from the increased income that tourism brings, and 80% of its staff are employed from nearby communities.
Camp Carnelly’s, situated on the edge of Lake Naivasha, offer a safari experience for those whose purse strings are pulled rather more tightly. Safari’s are known to be on the pricey side, but it shouldn’t mean they are exclusive to those with more cash to spare. They offer a wide selection of tours across all the National Parks in Kenya, led by their qualified safari guide, Lovat Carnelly, offering the chance for everyone to get a view of Kenya’s must see wildlife.
A new craze to hit Kenya is the horseback safari, offering guests the chance to get up close and personal with the local communities as well as the wildlife. Jakotango Riding Safaris make the safari a truly unique experience; a horse is hand picked at the start and over the duration of the trip, many guests find they get quite attached. Whilst out and about, the elevated position on horseback makes guests feel truly immersed, plus, when they hit the open plains of theMaasai Mara, they’ll feel the wind through their hair as they gallop alongside some of Kenya’s greatest views.
When you picture a safari, you imagine lions and rhinos, prowling the dry desert landscapes. However, there are equally exciting animals lurking in the water too and many destinations in Kenya offer the opportunity to peruse the countryside by boat. Lake Naivasha provides a haven in the midst of the bustling safari circuit in Kenya, although it is rich in wildlife in its own right. A pleasant lake cruise in Naivasha offers the opportunity to soak up some rays, relax in the peaceful tranquillity of the calm waters and bear witness to zebras, hippos and even giraffe wandering alongside the boat.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your khaki jacket and your long lens camera and set out for a life changing experience in one of Kenya’s diverse and ever changing safari tours.