A Beginner's Guide to Planning a Safari in Kenya

Everything you need to know about going on safari in this unparalleled East African country.

A Beginner's Guide to Planning a Safari in Kenya
Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/ Getty

With abundant wildlife and a striking landscape, Kenya is one of the most magical places to visit on the planet. It’s also the perfect place to go on your first safari, with a wide variety of operators and camps available for booking. Not sure where to start? Here’s an overview of how to travel to Kenya, where you’ll want to stay, and what you’ll want to pack for your trip.

How to Get There

If you’re traveling from North America, you’re looking at a long travel day — even direct flights from cities like New York take close to 14 hours to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. If you have the option to use points or splurge on a business class ticket, Qatar’s Q Suites are the most comfortable way to travel to Kenya. The suites offer privacy with an actual door, an array of food choices and beds so you will get to Kenya refreshed. If you fly through Doha, you have access to the business class lounge where you can shower and eat anything from croissants to made-to-order sushi.

Once you arrive in Nairobi, you’ll need to take another smaller flight to head into the “bush”. You’ll likely fly Safarilink or Kenya Air, and the flight is short, typically one hour or less. Since the planes are small, you’ll feel the motion of the aircraft more — heads up for those who are afraid of flying.

Where to Visit

Masai Mara

Masai Mara is the most famous region to visit for safari in Kenya with 583 square miles of land to explore. Here, you’re very likely to see the Big Five which includes lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos. Masai Mara is also famous for the Great Migration during which over two million zebras, wildebeest, and antelope traverse the Mara River and surrounding region. This natural phenomenon takes place between June and October, and is a particularly popular time to visit. Aside from land animals, there are also animals to see in the water; hippos, which are notably the most dangerous mammals on the planet, and huge crocodiles are visible in the water.

Enaidura Luxury Camp is a no frills camp which offers guests an authentic wildlife experience. This classic luxury safari camp has only eight tents and exerts minimal impact on the environment, as it runs on fully solar-generated power and has no permanent structures. Located in one of the most sought-after locations in the Masai Mara, this is a great place to stay for someone who wants to maximize their time outdoors observing animals. “The focus of all guides at Enaidura Camp is being out on safari,” says Rajay Singh, CEO of Safari Trails and Enaidura Luxury Camp. “Most guests stay out all day and we don’t hurry them back to camp for meals, but instead we send out a chef with our food truck and serve them freshly prepared breakfast or lunch in the bush. That way they do not miss out on quality sightings and have enough time to study wildlife behavior.”

Another wonderful stay is at Elewana Sand River Masai Mara which is near the Tanzanian border. Overlooking the Mara River, the property features 15 tented rooms and one family tent, each of which features its own designated dining and outdoor areas perfect to soak up the sights and sounds of nature. After an early morning safari, the property has a lush pool area overlooking the river bank where you can have something to eat and a nice nap. Safaris start early (4-6 am) so you may actually need a little refresh before your afternoon trip.


Laikipia is a more northern and lesser visited region in Kenya, though no less fascinating to visit than the more popular Mara. Extending from the foothills of Mount Kenya, this area features rolling hills and dense bushes, perfect to eye wildlife if you approach quietly and carefully. Here you’ll also find species that are unique to this region — the reticulated giraffe, wild dog, Grévy’s zebra, and sitatunga antelope call this place home. It’s also the number one region to see the black rhino, as half of Kenya’s population exists in Laikipia.

The view from Elewana Loisaba Lodo Springs will take your breath away and the location really underscores the elevated terrain of Laikipia. The spacious tent suites fuse African and European design notes, and the floor to ceiling doors and windows allow for a breezy in-room experience on a sunny day.


Nairobi is an extremely vibrant city and has the interesting feature that you can also go on safari in the metropolis itself, in case you’re not safari-ed out at this point in your trip. A popular location to visit is the Giraffe Sanctuary where you can interact with the giant, long-necked animals. If you’ve had your fill of wildlife and are looking for a design and culinary experience, head to Eden Nairobi. Formerly a home, Eden Nairobi is now a hotel, private gallery, and workshop for owner and designer Anna Trzebinski. Each of the nine rooms features a unique design and décor, adorned with beautiful African art and ceramics. The Deck is where you’ll enjoy your meals and cocktails at Eden Nairobi, overlooking a small pong and basking in the space’s colorful and eclectic vibe. And while you won’t see the Big Five here, you will see the occasional peacock prancing around the property.

What to Wear

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to get an entirely new wardrobe for safari. In fact, unless you plan on doing a safari on foot, you don’t even need to wear neutral colors. This is a common misconception — if you’re going safari on a vehicle, you can wear whatever color you like. There’s only one thing you may not want to wear, camo print. Camo print is associated with military clothing throughout Africa and frowned upon for tourists to wear.

The most important packing tip for safari is layers; the morning can be chilly and require pants and a jacket, while during the day it can get very hot. This Uniqlo Ultra Light Down is the perfect companion; warm enough before the sun comes up, super light to carry and comes in a neat folded bag. You’ll also want to pack good sunglasses, a hat, and some nicer outfits for dinner. And sunscreen, which you should apply before you leave your room. The sun can hit your body at unexpected angles while sitting in a safari vehicle (say, for example, just your left arm) and you don’t want to realize you’re getting a sunburn until it’s already too late.

Also, many of the smaller planes in Kenya have weight restrictions and only let you carry duffel bags, not hardsides, so you’ll want to think practically about your wardrobe.

With a huge variety of terrain and wildlife, as well as a bustling capital city, Kenya is the ideal destination for first-time safari goers.

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