Sitting on an artistically carved bench on an escarpment overlooking 56,000 acres of the pristine Laikipia savanna, I feel like I can see all of Africa on the horizon. I can hear elephants in the distance and a dik-dik – the tiniest antelope on the planet, darts across the path just off to my right. The pungent scent of freshly rained-on acacia trees wafts up from below. Welcome to Loisaba tented camp.
Located in Northern Laikipia in Kenya, Loisaba Tented Camp and safari experiences are one of the premier Kenya safari holidays. Connecting Laikipia to Samburu, the Loisaba Conservancy plays an important role in the wilderness landscape by forming a working relationship between the community conservancies and privately managed lands, bringing them together for the good of the social and ecosystem.
Loisaba is flush with adventure. From game drives to trekking through the savanna on camels or horseback, bushwalks, mountain biking, sleeping under the stars, and visiting a tribal village, guests have a multitude of options to choose from.
Loisaba Tented Camp
Swanky and visually stunning, Loisaba Tented Camp is part of the Elewana Collection’s boutique luxury properties located throughout Kenya and Tanzania. At Loisaba, the tented camps seamlessly fuse luxury with nature.
Hosting just 12 individual accommodations, each is decked out with African-themed sophistication. Large tents with high ceilings open at one end to expose unhindered panoramic views of the plains. The comfy beds have a headboard of wildly tangled tree roots and fitted out with a thick comforter and lots of plush throw pillows. Screens zip up at nighttime so guests can still feel the breezes and catch one of the legendary African sunrises over the savanna, but no worry about uninvited creatures.
The common main area of Loisaba Tented Camp includes an open-air dining room, a lounge and bar, a large wooden decking area for relaxing and enjoying the view, and a picturesque infinity pools.
Recent arrivals, George and Theresa are the new managers of Loisaba Tented Camp, although not new to the Elewana Collection.
“We are originally from Zimbabwe where I was a professional guide for over 30 years,” said George. “We moved to Kenya in September 2014. Loisaba is the fourth property that we have run for the Elewana Collection. We were originally in the Shaba National Reserve at the border region north of here for 18 months. Then we did seven months down in the Masai Mara, followed by three years in Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park, and then moved here in August 2019. It is a common thing to move around the properties as you progress up through the ranks.
I first came to Kenya in 2012 to do some guide training up here and loved it. We didn’t leave Zimbabwe because we had to; we left because I was away from home for about nine months of the year. We were looking for an opportunity to run a camp together, and an opportunity in Kenya came up first.
Some people remain as professional guides all their lives, and I still do a bit of guiding from time to time. Elephants are my passion and I spend any time that I can with them.
So Theresa and I been doing this kind of thing together for a while…we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next year.
Loisaba Tented Camp is a very exciting property to be a part of. This is certainly a property that we are looking forward to getting our teeth into for a number of years to come.”
One of my favorite spots was our private infinity pool in “Little Loisaba” – three tents down a path from the main area. Alongside the pool, there is also a private own bar and dining area.
The van Wyks want to put in a game hide in Loisaba Tented Camp, adjacent to the waterhole below the camp or the dam near the camp. As the name implies, with a hide, guests can literally go sit in the hide and watch the wildlife come down without knowing anyone is watching. The photographic opportunities in a hide like that are tremendous.
One of the unique activities at Loisaba is mountain biking. Visitors have access to bikes that they can ride either within the perimeter fence on their own, or they can ride out in the conservancy followed by a vehicle to ensure that their safety.
If you only stay in one camp during your safari, make it this one! Called “the biggest bedroom in the world,” Starbeds offers guests a superlative opportunity, a veritable feast for all the senses.
Taking its name from a constellation (the word means “Seven Sisters” in Samburu tribal language) guests have ample opportunity to become immersed in the starry night sky. Every night, staff will come and roll your heavy, mosquito net-draped hand-made four-poster bed onto the open-air deck so you can slumber under the African sky. Because I’m not very heavy, I was allowed to hop on my bed to be part of the “roll out!”
The large thatched-roof huts hang over the savanna. Each has a cozy sitting area where we were served coffee and cookies just after sunrise to enjoy with views that go as far as Mt. Kenya on a clear day and an ensuite bathroom. Some of the decks have a view of a watering hole where animals visit, and all suites hear the symphony of nearby animal calls, roars, and noises of things that go bump in the night. Like their Loisaba sister camp, Starbeds is also eco-friendly with underground rain-storage tanks and solar panels.
I had some anxiety about bracing against the chilly African night air, only to discover that a hot water bottle had been placed under my heavy down-filled duvet. Sleeping on my side, I curled my legs around it and was kept me warm and toasty all night long.
If dozing beneath millions of twinkling of stars isn’t enough to blow your mind, how about waking up by the sun coming up, splashing hues of pink, orange, and yellow right over your head and the sweet song of birds in your ears?
It is, in a word, magical.
I think I completely fell in love with Africa at Starbeds.
The common areas of the lodge could not be cozier. Vivid colors and textures fill the lounge area (a great place to connect to WiFi and work for a bit).
The open-air dining area is surrounded by rustic railings made from polished tree branches. A delicious made-to-order breakfast was served by one of the Samburu warriors in traditional dress, which I savored while enjoying the expansive views of the bush. What could be better than that?
From the moment we stepped foot on the property and throughout our stay, we were attended to by a team of Samburu warriors – an authentic experience to say the least! The young men were so friendly and helpful! We loved chatting with them about everything from the camp, animals, and the local village that we were going to visit. In fact, one of the young men told us his aunt was in that village and to say hi to her!
Starbeds only has four huts, so it’s the epitome of personal experience. In fact, I had this unique experience when I requested help…
While getting dressed in the morning, I dropped one of my earrings through a slot between the wooden floorboards. It was one of my favorites – a long, dangling green glass bead with a round magenta one at the top.
I didn’t want to go underneath the treehouse because I wasn’t sure what kind of creepy crawlies or wild things might be there. So I went to the main area where I was greeted by one of the staff. I explained what had happened and asked for help finding it.
He accompanied me back to the hut where I showed him the other earring, and we both searched for its missing partner. It seemed futile because of sticks, dirt, and other natural material for it to blend in. However, after a few minutes, shockingly, his eagle eyes located it! I could not have been happier, and he seemed as delighted as me.
I have to say again how much we enjoyed the friendly staff (apologies if I missed anyone):
- Jeremiah Moseti – Manager
- John Sanino – Waiter
- Josiah Kimorgo – Waiter
- Lucas Sirael – Housekeeping
- Peter Thuko – Chef
- James Kariuki – chef
- George Wambugo – Chef
- Francis Exoto – Ranger
- Sammy Leparmorijo – Ranger
Loisaba Wilderness Conservancy
Loisaba Conservancy, part of the greater Laikipia plateau, is about 56,000 acres. It was originally a working cattle ranch, and then the tourism sector developed it over the years. Sadly, the original camp burned down in 2015 but was completely rebuilt in 2016.
The Ancilotto family originally owned and operated the land as a cattle ranch from the early 1970s. They also allowed tourists to visit in an effort to preserve the wilderness and wildlife for future generations. In 1977, Count Ancilotto leased the land a group of young Kenyans and an American investor who created the Loisaba conservancy and safari camp. In December 2014, The Nature Conservancy and Space for Giants facilitated the transfer of ownership of the property to the Loisaba Community Trust.
If Elsa’s Kope is about lions and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is about rhinos, then it can be said that Loisaba is about elephants.
While the conservancy is a haven for more than 260 bird and 50 mammal species, the Laikipia plains are also home to the largest population of elephants in Kenya. The Loisaba Wildlife Conservancy also lies within an important movement corridor for the large population of elephants who need to move between Samburu and Mt. Kenya to find food.
Giraffe populations have been declining over the past few decades. In 2016, giraffes were re-classified as a “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. A new research program at Loisaba Conservancy is using innovative tools to help understand diverse threats to reticulated giraffes.
“The area used to have rhino on it in the seventies, but were forced out by the expansion of the livestock community,” George van Wyk told me. “The big plan is to reintroduce black rhino back into this area within the next year or two. There’s a big fencing project that has to be completed and security buttoned up, but it is certainly looking very good.
The Conservancy has tremendous potential that we are helping to develop. The range of activities is a big plus. There are activities that we can do here that you cannot do in many other areas. We typically do the morning and afternoon game drives are we can also do night drive here that form extension to the afternoon game drive. You have an afternoon game drive with a sundowner somewhere in the conservancy and then return to camp after dark using a spotlight gives you the opportunity to see some of that rare and nocturnal species.”
George is hoping to concentrate more on the walking tours within the Conservancy. “Now that Teresa and I are here, we want to develop bushwalking, especially doing approaches on dangerous game, because that’s what I have a lot of experience in,” he said. “Walking up to the elephants and so on – we’ll expand that offering for people who are interested in doing that kind of thing.”
Elewana is recognized as having among the best guides in Kenya. They rotate guides from time to time to keep them fresh and give them a change of scenery and exposure to different areas. Also, just from a guiding point of view, learning about Kenya as a whole as opposed to just knowing one area very well is beneficial to guests who are likely staying at several different camps and areas on their safari. People come out for a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience.
Elewana considers it a great privilege is well as a tremendous responsibility to try to make a break those dreams.
The Laikipia plains area boasts having the highest diversity of large mammals in Kenya. As part of an unobstructed game corridor, the massive wilderness area permits wildlife to follow their natural routes. As such, the game drives can be a very exciting place to view the Big Five and other wildlife such as herds of antelope, reticulated giraffes, and Grevy’s zebra.
On our afternoon game drive, our fabulous guide, Lomello, assisted us in finding the one animal that had been elusive at the other two camps…elephants. We’d seen lots of the other members of the Big Five at Meru National Park and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, but the elephants were very far off in the distance and mostly covered by tall grass.
Elephants are very intelligent animals. They share 90% of the human genome and experience some human emotions, for example, sorrow. Elephants mourn their dead. When an elephant has passed on, the whole herd surrounds it and try to prop it up. They touched the elephant with their trunk because the trunk is very sensitive. They watch the carcass decompose over time and hurt as we hurt. They come back and pick up the bones, scattered them from where it was.
Our first encounter was when Lomello stopped the jeep and pointed to a young bull male elephant just off in the bush. “See his tusks?” he said. “One is much curved and one is straight. I know him – he’s very aggressive. If he sees or smells us, he will charge.
Sure enough, the elephant raised his trunk enabling him to smell us. He made a trumpeting noise and began heading right towards us. Lomello restarted the jeep and we skedaddled away.
Our second encounter came a few minutes later. We saw a group of three young adult elephants just off the left side of the jeep. We stopped to take photos. Immediately, the one in front flared his ears and took one step towards us. Alison, my travel companion who was on the side of the jeep nearest the elephant screamed and dove down into the well between the seats, nearly taking me with her.
Lomello laughed. “Don’t worry. He’s not threatened and he’s not coming. He just wanted to let you know that he knows you are here. That one is not aggressive.” It’s amazing how much the guides know about animal behavior! Regardless, it took Alison a bit of time to recover her composure. J
Our third encounter came when a heard of mother and baby elephants crossed the path in front of our jeep. Naturally, we stopped as soon as we saw them. One mother stopped in the middle of the path, turned to the jeep, and raised her trunk.
“She’s trying to smell us,” said Lomello. “But we are not downwind and their eyesight is not too good so she can’t really tell how close we are.” Sure enough, she turned and continued to cross the path into the field where the rest of the herd had stopped to feed on grass. One mother elephant nursed a baby that Lomello said was no more than a month old.
Breakfast in the Bush
Our morning game drive started right after sunrise. Lomello suddenly veered off-road and we headed downhill into a small ravine by a river. There, we saw some of the lodge staff and a table set for breakfast.
When we were handed flutes of Champaign, I knew this was going to be special.
We sat down at the table and were served appetizers while we ordered off the menu – yogurt parfaits, fruit, muffins, cheeses, and a pot of strong Kenyan coffee while they cooked a made-to-order breakfast of creamy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. So yummy!
Loisaba offers nature walks that can take the form of an easy hike that guests can do just on your own within the perimeter fence that is around the camp, or they can do a guided walk with an armed ranger out in the conservancy.
“Walking safaris are my favorite thing to do,” said George. “It offers an opportunity to get out of the car, get your feet on the ground and have a look at all the interesting little things that you miss when you’re in the vehicle. I take them to see termite mounds, look at animal tracks, taste fruit, smell flowers and feel things. It’s a much more enriching experience. It puts our guests more in touch with nature.”
Both Loisaba and Elewana work hand in hand with the local Samburu communities and are very involved in school projects just outside the conservancy.
The name Elewana means “to come together.” It’s a coming together with the ranchers, the wildlife, and the local community aspect. Working with the local community is very important to make sure that they benefit directly from tourism operations in these areas.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said George. If the local communities are not incentivized to protect the wildlife, then why should they? There’s a lot of temptation out there, especially in areas where there are rhinos. You need to take security measures, but also make sure that people are benefiting from the scholarship programs, employment, and receive a percentage of revenues earned in tourism. About 75% of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of the national parks per se; they exist in these conservancies, in community conservancies or private ranches. There is a huge amount that is dependent on the local peoples’ buy-in, without which you’re fighting a losing battle.”
We were able to personally visit a small Samburu tribal village. The way they live was such an eye-opener – so very different than western standards. The ladies danced and sang, and one of the older ones grabbed my hand, led me into the group, and urged me to dance with them. Which of course I did.
We watched the young warrior men do the traditional “jump” several feet into the air and purchased hand-beaded handicrafts and jewelry. I even got a photo of the giggling children when I took out my selfie stick.
Loisaba was the only camp where we had the opportunity to experience a game drive under the darkness of the evening. I won’t lie; it’s a bit unnerving to be in an open jeep out in the dark elements of Arica where nocturnal predators lurk.
Lomello had a strong spotlight that he’d alternate from the front of the jeep to each of the sides. Incredibly, he was able to spot wildlife like antelope and even a hippo crossing the path in front of our jeep! That was a thrill because the only hippos we’d seen were in the water, submerged except for the very top of their heads.
A treat out on the savanna is to experience a “sundowner,” a Kenya-style happy hour where we would toast the sun slipping over the horizon with a cocktail in hand.
This peaceful and reflective safari tradition dates back to colonial times where the heat of the day turned into the chilly night. It was the perfect time to enjoy our camaraderie with our guide and reminisce about all the fantastic things we took in over the span of the day.
When our late afternoon game drive had concluded, instead of heading directly back to camp, Lomello would pull off-road at the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the plains. Lomello transformed himself from a guide to the bartender, handing me my favorite drink, a Skinny Bitch, and offering snacks.
Patti’s African Sundowner (aka as a “Skinny Bitch”)
- 1 shot (1.5 oz.) vodka
- 8 oz. seltzer or sparkling water
- ½ lime, cut into quarters, squeezed, and added to the liquid
- 1 packet of Splenda (or another non-sugar sweetener)
A sundowner is a perfect way to end your game drive!
”A safari in Africa is a life-changing experience, there is no question about that,” said George. “It’s one thing seeing it on TV, but when you actually get out here and you put your feet on the ground and you are surrounded by several thousand zebra or wildebeest, or you stand at the edge of the Victoria Falls, or you canoe down a channel in Okavango Delta in Botswana, it is a life-changing experience. My message is ‘come and experience it.’
Often folks have no idea what to expect. You get a lot of folks that think that Africa is still the Dark Continent; then they come out here and they are just astonished by what they experience.
It’s that moment when they fall in love with Africa, they’re hooked. Africa is hopelessly addictive once it gets in your blood. They want to come back.
So get out here and experience it. It will change your life.”
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of the Elewana Collection during her stay in Kenya, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick and Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.