Custom Kenya Safaris
Experience both the quintessential and the singular allure of Africa’s ultimate safari destination. Picture the endless golden savanna under a vast and dramatic sky as a herd of elephants ambling in front of Kilimanjaro’s mighty snowcapped peak, a team of lionesses giving their cubs a hunting lesson. Visualize a million wildebeest dodging the jaws of giant crocodiles as they cross the Mara River. Spectacles like these are only the beginning of Kenya’s magic.
Kenya’s rich wildlife and immense landscapes are, quite simply, iconic. The oft-pictured imagery of an African safari comes to life as you traverse the sprawling plains of the Maasai Mara or drive in the legendary shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. The country’s prolific wildlife offers incomparable opportunities to observe these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitats. Through our Kenyan partners, we work with some of the country’s top guides to ensure that each Kenyan safari experience incorporates as much learning as it does observing. In customized open-top 4x4s, these guides will take you to some of Kenya’s most remote and untouched corners, providing you with intimate wildlife encounters that you’ll often have all to yourself.
From the sparking beaches of the Indian Ocean through to its vibrant cities, and out into the unspoiled bush, Kenya has something special to offer both newcomers and older ‘safari hands’. Here are some of the most iconic and remarkable experiences that define a Kenyan safari – whether you’re visiting for the first or the fiftieth time:
- The Maasai Mara National Reserve: When asked to imagine an African safari, you’ll probably picture the plains of the Maasai Mara without even realizing it. Flat-topped acacia trees dot vast, rolling grasslands covered with thousands of grazing animals. Lions doze in the shade, while zebras nibble at the tall grass just meters away. Enormous herds of Cape buffalo with tiny oxpeckers on their backs watch nonchalantly as safari vehicles slowly drive past, while giraffes take breaks from browsing to pop their heads out of treetops. Driving for hours across this endless, elemental landscape as the sky transforms theatrically above you is truly one of the great African experiences.
- The Great Wildebeest Migration: Going hand in hand with the Maasai Mara is inevitably the ‘Great Wildebeest Migration’. Heralded as one of the Earth’s most remarkable natural spectacles, this perpetual procession of 1.5 million wildebeest, zebras and antelopes is nearly impossible to describe. As thousands of ungulates nervously trundle across the red sand and ford the crocodile-infested Mara River, the sound of hooves is almost overpowering. When they reach the rolling green hills of the Mara, months are spent feasting on this nourishing grass before returning south to the Serengeti. With the great cats and opportunistic scavengers escorting the herds for the entire duration, the thrills and excitement of this natural phenomenon are positively endless.
- The Big Five: Game drives across Kenya’s national parks and reserves inevitably reveal the spectacular and mighty creatures that make up the ‘Big Five’: buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros. Early hunters coined this term, after deciding that these species were the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. Today, these five magnificent animals are the cornerstone of an African safari, and in Kenya they are usually relatively easy to find. Given the pervasive poaching of rhinos and elephants, and the alarming decline of Africa’s lion populations, every moment with these creatures is an experience to be savored and treasured.
- Amboseli National Park: Among Kenya’s legendary landscapes, few stand taller than Amboseli National Park, where impressive herds of the country’s largest elephants roam freely against the mighty snow-dome of Mount Kilimanjaro. As the sun rises over ‘the roof of Africa’, mothers and their calves drink and bathe in glacial-fed rivers and lakes. Large game thrives on these protected plains, creating perfect photo opportunities around every corner. The views from the top of Observation Hill have inspired generations of authors, painters and conservationists, and sipping a sundowner as the sun sets behind ‘Kili’ is nothing short of a transformative experience.
- Authentic Maasai Village Tours: Kenya’s brightly clad and intricately adorned Maasai warriors are among the continent’s – and the world’s – most recognizable indigenous tribes. These semi-nomadic pastoralists have lived in Kenya and Tanzania since the 17th century, including in several areas designated as national parks. The Maasai preserve components of their rich tribal culture by sharing their communities, bomas (homesteads), and prized cattle herds with tourists. A visit to a Maasai village offers many unique opportunities to learn about their vibrant history and ancient beliefs, from boma tours and traditional dance performances, to lessons in medicinal plants and bush survival, and wilderness walks with some of the world’s wiliest trackers.
As the birthplace of the modern African safari, Kenya offers a vast array of destinations and experiences for intrepid visitors to go beyond the usual ‘safari fare’, and explore the wilderness with intimacy, exclusivity and creativity. In a growing number of private and community-run conservancies, guests are able to get out of their vehicles and traverse the bush on foot, on horseback, by camel or by helicopter. And at the end of the day, you can fall asleep to the ringing of cicadas and the trilling of night-birds – and perhaps even the roar of a distant lion – as you doze in the surprising luxury of a mobile safari camp.
Here are some of the unique experiences that Kenya arguably does better than anywhere, and that will deliver on that oft-made promise of memories to last a lifetime:
- Drift Over the Mara in a Hot Air Balloon: The epitome of glamor and luxury is to be found drifting over the vast plains and riverine forests of the Maasai Mara in a hot air balloon at sunrise. Rising up over the acacia trees in the early morning, the balloon drifts over herds of wildebeest and zebra as the sun bathes the savanna in surreal hues of lilac and gold. Uninterrupted views, surprising stillness and total silence make this a captivating and unforgettable highlight of any African safari. The extravagance culminates in a champagne breakfast in the heart of the bush.
- Bush Breakfasts: Wake before sunrise and head out with your erudite guide to catch the wilderness while it is at its most active. As birds sing while light sweeps across the savanna, the large game animals flock to rivers and watering holes for a final drink before seeking refuge in the shade. Trail the wildlife during these quiet morning hours, before meandering to a shaded vantage point. With a checked blanket and wicker picnic-basket, your guide will prepare a breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade pastries, tea, coffee, and perhaps even an omelet. As the sky transforms from pink to blue, indulge in one of the most magical picnics anywhere on Earth.
- Mobile Safari Tents: Amid the refined luxury of the boutique safari lodges, a few gems are tucked away on riverbanks and kopjes deep in the Kenyan bush. The authenticity of canvas tents, charcoal-cooked dinners, open-air heated bucket showers, and convivial company carries you back to a bygone era of African adventure. As you return to a private camp after a day of exploration to indulge in a sundowner cocktail and appetizers against a dramatic sunset, a pang of nostalgia inevitably sets in. Falling asleep to the sounds of the African night further deepens this poignancy, and generates unique feelings of freedom, contentment and wonder.
- Walking Safaris: There are few means of getting closer to the African wilderness, and the creatures that inhabit it, than setting out on foot with a trained guide. Outside of your safari vehicle, there are unique opportunities for discovering the intricacies of the bush, and engaging with this new world through heightened senses. Learn the basics of tracking, looking for lion prints and elephant markings as you traverse the plains and woodlands. Uncover the myriad insects, birds, reptiles and plants that sustain these fragile ecosystems. Learn how to find water and edible plants, and other skills essential for survival in this wild terrain.
- Riding Safaris: Private conservancies often have roots in ranching, and the owners actively encourage guests to explore the land as their ancestors did. Setting out on horseback or by camel enables you to get right into the midst of herds of gazelle, wildebeest and zebras while traveling to the most secluded and romantic corners of these remote ranchlands. Approaching a giraffe or an elephant in this manner is a truly unparalleled – and seldom offered – experience.
- Ecotourism on Private Conservancies: Kenyan lodges are emerging leaders in responsible ecotourism, and have had considerable successes in fusing tourism with environmental sustainability and community development. On private and community conservancies north of the Maasai Mara and on the Lakipia Plateau, guests contribute to conservation programs, school projects and community empowerment initiatives through their stay. Several ecolodges and community-run camps offer opportunities to witness these programs in action – adding a greater level of depth and meaning to your particular tour.
No matter your preference, Zicasso’s expertise and Kenya’s huge accommodation range mean that we can certainly build a tour with accommodation perfectly customized to you. A tour to the African bush would, for many, be incomplete without a night or two in a canvas tent, complete with a heated bucket shower under the stars. Bush breakfasts, sundowners and fireside aperitifs establish a familiar rhythm in the bush, while the wildlife adventures are always close at hand!
Luxury, however, knows no bounds in Kenya, even in the farthest-flung wilderness. Soak in an infinity pool while an elephant dips its trunk in, or indulge in a soothing massage in your private cottage. With beyond-beautiful suites and stunning lounges, many of Kenya’s boutique lodges have brought total extravagance deep into the heart of the bush.
A number of Kenyan lodges are also leaders in the field of responsible tourism, investing profits into environmental conservation and community development. Green initiatives – including solar power and community gardens – often sustain these ecolodges, building a new and critical precedent in the safari industry.
With posh boutique hotels, private bush camps and luxurious lodges in most wilderness destinations, Kenya offers a wide range of inventive, intriguing and often truly extravagant accommodations. Catering to families, romantics, thrill-seekers and relaxation-enthusiasts, the assortment in style and the overall value is sure to suit any style of traveler.
Visa and Passport Requirements: All Western nationalities require a visa to enter Kenya. If you are only visiting Kenya, a three-month single entry tourist visa will be sufficient. If however your tour requires you to leave and return to Kenya, you will need to apply for a six-month multiple entry visa. It is recommended that you pre-organize the visa with your local Kenyan High Commission or Embassy between two months and two weeks prior to your trip. However, it is also possible to purchase your visa on arrival.
The application process requires the submission of the following documents, though this list should be confirmed with the embassy prior to applying as it is subject to change:
- Passport valid for a minimum of six months after travel and with at least two blank pages
- Application form
- Flight itinerary
- Passport-sized photograph
- Certified bank check for listed visa price.
Vaccinations: It is important that you visit a travel health specialist 2–3 months before departure to review vaccination options and possible prophylaxes. In addition to routine vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends the following vaccines for travel to Kenya: hepatitis A and B, polio, typhoid, meningitis, rabies and yellow fever. Many regions in Kenya are not malaria free, and a prescribed prophylaxis (Malarone or Doxycycline) is strongly recommended. If arriving from or via a yellow fever country, you will be required to show proof of vaccination.
Hospitals: In the event of a medical emergency, Kenya has some of the best medical facilities in East Africa. Most are located in Nairobi and are privately run, meaning comprehensive international medical insurance is strongly recommended. Most safari lodges will have basic medical capabilities on site, with emergency evacuation plans if necessary.
Kenya is generally quite safe to visit; however, as with any travel, there are always associated risks. The safety and wellbeing of Zicasso guests is of paramount importance, and we design every tour to completely avoid the northern borders with Somalia and Sudan. Urban centers are where most local crime occurs, and we are especially cautious when selecting lodges and activities in these regions. Guests stay exclusively in the suburbs and travel only by private vehicle to predetermined sites to mitigate risks as much as possible. Zicasso representatives monitor news and travel advisories closely, and will modify any packages if even the slightest risk arises.
Despite these precautions, it is important that guests remain responsible and vigilant while on safari. All accommodations offer a safe to guests, which should be used. Valuables should not be left unattended in rooms or public places, and overt displays of wealth – be it jewelry or cash – should be avoided, so as not to create temptation.
Language: While Kenya has two official languages, English and Kiswahili, there are approximately 62 languages spoken in the country. Within the tourism industry, English is widely spoken – albeit with a Kenyan flare.
Currency: The official currency is the Kenyan shilling, which has an exchange rate of approximately 1 USD to 85 KES. In major cities, ATMs are widely available and permit withdrawals with international credit cards. Banks and foreign exchange offices will gladly exchange US dollars as well – though all bills should be in good condition and issued no earlier than 2006. Traveler’s checks are generally more hassle than they are worth.
Major lodges are usually equipped with credit card machines, though it is always wise to travel with additional USD and KES in the event of a machine malfunction. Most lodges will accept both currencies, though smaller vendors generally prefer Kenyan shillings.
Social Customs: Kenyans are, by and large, an extremely friendly and welcoming people. It is customary to greet people as you pass them in the street or at the lodge, with a simple ‘hello’ or ‘jambo’ (‘how are you’ in Swahili). Greetings in general are an important social practice. Learning key phrases in Kiswahili is always appreciated, and local lodge staff will happily assist you.
When photographing individual people, it is always advisable that you ask permission first. While many people are willing subjects, a few would prefer not to be photographed.
The country is predominantly Christian, with segments of the population following Islam or indigenous belief systems.
Tipping: Tipping is highly encouraged in reward for good service, and is widely practiced in the tourism industry. While on safari, it is generally expected that you will tip your guide, driver, housekeeping and bar staff at the end of your stay. Most lodges will include a guide to tipping in either your room or in the main lounge. At restaurants, a tip of between 10–15% is generally appropriate.
Dress code: Kenyan dress is generally quite liberal. As with most African nations, an overt display of thighs is generally frowned upon and women and men should avoid short shorts in urban centers and rural villages. If visiting the beach, bathing suits and short shorts are not a problem.
It is worth noting whether any of the lodges or hotels you are visiting enforce a specific dress code. Zicasso will alert you if this is the case.
Zicasso has a prized collection of Kenya safaris and adventures, adapted for both group and independent travel. Having thought through all the details, all you need to do is select a tour, fine-tune your safari wardrobe, and then drift away for total relaxation and adventure in the African bush. Each tour can be adapted to perfectly suit your desires and requirements – or we can start from scratch and design a tour entirely made for you.
To start the process, please tell us about your dream Kenyan vacation by filling out a Trip Request. With that information, we’ll begin the process of matching you to specialized travel agents who will help you plan the absolute best vacation of your life.