Escape for an authentic African safari adventure with the Elewana Collection
By Karen Smee
For an authentic African safari experience, complete with the comforts afforded by the best that the hospitality industry has to offer, you can’t go too far wrong with the Elewana Collection. Comprising a collection of boutique luxury lodges across Kenya and Tanzania, Elewana has made its name crafting memorable safari experiences, whilst providing the highest quality of luxury and comfort. Characterised by warm and genuine East African hospitality, I couldn’t wait to be indulged with a luxurious and personalised stay.
I was in Kenya to experience two of their properties – Elewana Lewa Safari Camp and Elewana Sand River Masai Mara. The origin of the name “Elewana” is the Swahili word meaning “harmony,” and this is a word that completely summed up my whole experience.
First on my list was Elewana Lewa Safari Camp, located in the rolling plains north of Mount Kenya. Nestled within the private Lewa Wildlife Conservancy which covers some 65,000 acres, and surrounded by beautiful open plains, I was treated to endless views across a vast and spectacular wilderness, with habitats that included pristine forests, grasslands and woodlands with views of Mount Kenya in the distance. The area is a favoured destination for tourism and Lewa is unique in that it is a privately managed conservation area that is owned and run by the Kenyan people for the benefit of the local communities. Therefore, by staying at Elewana Lewa Safari Camp, you are directly supporting a successful conservation venture in northern Kenya.
Lewa has one of the highest wildlife densities in Kenya, including 14% of the country’s black and white rhinos, and the world’s single largest population of Grevy’s zebra. The Conservancy is also home to herds of elephants and buffalos, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, more than 400 species of birds and, for the lucky few who manage to spot them, a pack of wild dogs!
The privilege of staying in a private game conservancy means that you can have your own unique safari experience, with the vast landscapes and incredible wildlife pretty much all to yourself – strict tourism regulations meant it was rare that I actually saw anyone else. Another plus, particularly given the increasing trend for positive tourism, is that the Camp’s profits are directly reinvested into conservation efforts and community projects, which means visitors to Lewa are helping to continue vital work protecting some of Africa’s most vulnerable wildlife species.
Lewa Safari Camp is made up of 12 authentic, but luxurious, “Out of Africa”-style tents, raised up on little stone decks and under thatch to keep them cool. The main area has two fireplaces for the winter and there is also a pool for hotter days. The bedrooms have large, comfortable beds with en-suite bathrooms and constant hot water. Always a plus after returning from your early morning game drive! The game drives did not disappoint – with a private 4×4 Land Cruiser and expert guides who brought this wonderful area to life, the story of nature unfolded before me every day and I managed to see all of the Big Five. Once back in my tent, the “pinch me” moments continued – I took my coffee out onto the private veranda, which overlooked the stunning views of the Lewa plains, and was lucky enough to be visited by a family of giraffes taking breakfast by the nearby acacia trees.
During the heat of the day, I relaxed by the pool, its quirky tiling reminiscent of giraffe print, while in the evening, drinks were served by a roaring log fire with dinner by candlelight, which was certainly romantic. I couldn’t fault the food – from slow cooked tagine with apricot and almond couscous, to chickpea, lemon and olive salad, everything was deliciously fresh and healthy.
A visit to Elewana Lewa Safari Camp really is a must-do experience, and I left quite in awe of the place.
The second camp I visited, Elewana Sand River Masai Mara, is located within the stunning Masai Masa National Reserve, colloquially called “The Mara,” a Masai word meaning “mottled” in reference to its patchy landscape. The terrain of the reserve is mostly grassland and forest with clumps of acacia trees. It is located close to the Tanzanian border, west of Nairobi, and lies sprawled out along the secluded riverbanks of the Sand River.
This tented camp harks back to the glamorous 1920s, with interiors and furnishings that mirror the age, reminiscent of the countless Hollywood movies that have paid homage to this classic era of African safari adventures. The interior of my tent was carefully designed with vintage furniture and an ornate four-poster bed, plus a copper bath tub. My outside shower was open to the elements, from where I saw elephants ambling along the riverbank and baboons ready to spring into action to steal the camp’s luxury toiletries.
The private location of this reserve allows for guests to enjoy an “exclusive” safari. The reserve overlooks the Sand River and is on the most northerly route of the spectacular annual migration where, if you are lucky to be there at the right time of year, you can see zebras and other animals crossing the Sand River.
The Masai Mara is world-renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and African bush elephant, and it didn’t disappoint. Our private guide took us to meet the famous Sand River lions, where we spent the morning watching cubs playing in the lush grasses close by, and were even lucky enough to see the elusive leopard. This was followed by pair of hyenas carrying the bones after a kill on their way back to their den.
The Camp is also a twitcher’s paradise, and I saw secretary birds, kori bustards, jaunty crowned lapwings, and the beautiful lilac-breasted rollers. For the more adventurous, however, the Camp offers balloon safaris, which is the most incredible way to enjoy wildlife spotting from a floating sanctuary in the sky.
Unlike Lewa Safari Camp, the only drawback to Sand River’s location inside the reserve is that game viewing activities are restricted, meaning guided bush walks or night drives are not permitted. However, after a full day’s game drive, picnic lunch and a sunset cocktail overlooking one of Africa’s most spectacular locations, an evening game drive might have proved too much.
Like its sister camp in Lewa, the food at Elewana Sand River Masai Mara was excellent, and the Head Chef did not disappoint with his candle-lit meal of seared black pepper-rubbed beef fillet and homemade pasta with marinated aubergine pesto. It was utterly delicious, and made all the better being served by my own private butler.
Elewana Sand River camp is certainly memorable for its location and wildlife, as well as the service and staff, who all went above and beyond. A credit must go to the camp’s General Managers, Nicolene and Andrew Schoeman, whose experience of managing luxury properties has really paid off at this unique river camp.
For a taste of adventure in the heart of some of the most stunning scenery in Africa, whilst being cocooned in the decadence of a luxury lodge, I cannot recommend the Elewana Collection more readily. A warm welcome is just the start of an out-of-this-world experience, and knowing that the money spent on a trip of this nature is going directly to support local conservation projects is just the icing on the cake. When I set off on adventure with the Elewana Collection, nature came calling – and I was more than ready to answer.
For further information about the Elewana Collection, go to www.elewanacollection.com. My trip was organised smoothly and efficiently by Cheli & Peacock Safaris – for further information, go to www.chelipeacock.com.