You won’t find Jeeps full of tourists all pointing
their cameras at the same giraffe at Shompole,
a hilltop compound set on a vast private
conservancy. The beauty of the landscape
and wildlife here is equalled by the cultural
experience. The Maasai are partners in the
lodge: They share in the profits and are involved
in the lodge on every level, working as waiters,
chefs and guides. As their guest, you experience
a way of life that’s been unaltered for centuries.
This isolated eco-chic hideaway on the edge
of a cliff has eight rooms that curve around
the contours of the escarpment, each with its
own plunge pool, and each a vision of white
simplicity. Who needs walls? Enjoy the drama
of a room open to the elements and the cinema
that is the African bush. Rough-hewn fig-wood
furniture under soaring 40-foot ceilings of
woven thatch, all-white fabrics embellished
with monochrome Maasai beading, floors
inlaid with mosaics of local stone — Shompole
is a study in organic luxury. Electricity, yes;
Wi-Fi and cable, no. Even air conditioning is
managed naturally, with continuously flowing,
icy spring water flushing through the shallow
channels that edge every room before emptying
into refreshing plunge pools. Meals are
largely organic and delicious, with much of the
produce harvested from the on-site garden.
This is the sexiest perch in Kenya — David
Bailey, who shot it for Vogue, is listed among
the brochure’s photo credits — and, yes, cool
posh comes at a price. (Wilderness-ventures.com, dbls from $1,221,
including meals and game drives).
An hour’s flight from Nairobi, Mara Safari Club is a classic tented camp at the edge
of the Masai Mara National Reserve, where your front door is a zipper and hippos are
sunning themselves on a riverbed 20 feet from the veranda. Inside, ceiling fans rustle
the mosquito net draped over a four-poster bed, North African–style rugs line the floor
and there’s a bar tucked into a stand-up leather steamer trunk. It’s no place for late
risers: You’re up with the sun for game drives that track elephants, lions, vast herds of
wildebeest and zebra, scampering gazelles and doe-eyed giraffes nibbling at the acacia
trees. Unlike lodges that are exposed to the reserve, this is a protected, family-friendly
property where you won’t need an armed guide to escort you to your tent at night.
Small children can roam freely or splash around in the pool while Mommy enjoys a
massage in a nearby cabana. (Dbls from $485, including meals and game drives).
Give a little bit
For a little expert assistance,
Micato tailors safaris to your
interests, managing everything
from hotel bookings to internal
flights and car rentals. No detail
is too small. Forgot postage?
Cards arrive pre-stamped.
Need earplugs? They’ve got
them. Gum for the flight? It’s
on your seat. Guests are also
treated to turndown gifts —
a beaded Maasai wedding
necklace one night, a colourful
blanket the next — so even
those who don’t enjoy shopping
leave with cool keepsakes.
For every safari booked,
Micato sponsors a Kenyan child’s
education through its One to One
program. And Micato’s non-profit
foundation, America Share,
has managed to create a safe
haven of playgrounds and schoolhouses,
and provide clean water,
AIDS programs, books, breakfasts
and a basketball court in the
Nairobi slum of Mukuru.
“Tourists come to Africa for the
animals,” says Micato’s founder
and owner, Felix Pinto, “but it’s
the people they remember when
they leave.” Many do more than
remember: One couple were so
inspired by Kenya that they
raised $100,000 to build Mukuru
a new community centre in 2010.
The basketball court? A gift from
an American boy who donated
the proceeds of his bar mitzvah. (Dbls from $8,475).