Think about safari, and you may conjure the romance and exotic nature of a drive through the African bush in your mind. The thrill of spotting a lion, a cheetah, an elephant. The glamour of the jeeps cutting through tall grass, binoculars positioned to spot the elusive leopard. The adrenaline of a predator stalking its prey. All of that—all that we could conjure—is alive and well at &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Our first visit to Kichwa was in 2008, and we were immediately hooked. There are plenty of places in the Mara that offer safari game drives, and there were others who saw the sights we did. But we don’t continue to choose Kichwa time after time just because of the animals in the Mara. We choose Kichwa Tembo for very specific reasons.
- The food.
If I’m really honest, this is what I was most anticipating. The food at Kichwa is out-of-this-world good. The soup starters are some of my personal favorites, combining flavors I’d never think to combine: from carrot and coconut to cucumber and ginger, the soup had me at hello at every meal. The menu each night is varied and offers something to appeal to every taste. One experience that isn’t to be missed is the bush dinner. For $60 a person, we enjoyed a meal prepared by a private chef and served by a private dining staff in one of the most magical safari settings you can imagine in the middle of the African savannah. Lanterns hanging from trees illuminate the scene perfectly labeled as a fantasy date from The Bachelor by a friend of ours on a previous trip. Hippos in the nearby river provide a soundtrack, with occasional features of hyena chatter, zebras barking, and wildebeest calling. We will never go to Kichwa Tembo and not enjoy a bush dinner. It’s worth every penny.
- The accommodations.
We adored the Hemingway-style tents nestled in the woods on our first three visits. Hot water bottles warmed our beds each night, and we were woken each morning with a call of, “Good morning! Tea and hot chocolate!” and a reminder that we needed to retrieve our tray right away, lest the monkeys we heard chirping to their friends and bouncing on our tent top got there before we did. We thought those tents were the definition of glamping. So imagine our surprise and delight when we discovered that Kichwa had kicked it up and notch, and completely redefined glamping. Our accommodations on this trip in the newly renovated camp were so beautiful that I nearly cried from the sheer joy and delight of it. I’m not sure we’ve stayed in any “hotel room” quite like this one. Our tent looked out over the tall grass of the Mara, and each morning we woke to the views of giraffe, zebra, and other wildlife parading across the open front of our tent. And we still had the tea and hot chocolate, cleverly placed in a pass-through door so we could be leisurely about getting out of bed.
Outside the luxurious tent, the dining room, bar, and other lounge areas are a mix of classic safari with a modern sensibility. We miss the earthy feel of the old camp, but completely appreciate the more refined look Kichwa has taken on.
- The drivers.
The safari driver we had on our first trip, Luke, was a daring guide. He tore across the savannah to get us to the sights, including a cheetah stalking some prey. We nearly bounced out of our seats as he sped us to any action happening nearby. And we LOVED it. Our driver and guide on this trip was even better. Timothy asked everyone in our group what we hoped to see, and he did his best to ensure we saw all of it. He spent twelve hours one day driving us around to see all that was happening on the Mara, serving as a spotter and picnic lunch host as well. We were so happy when he joined us on our bush dinner and told us stories from his childhood growing up Maasai and the adventures he’s had as a guide. We’ll be sure to request Timothy for our next safari.
We’ve visited other safari lodges and camps, including Serena Lodge and Little Governor’s camps, and they all have something unique to offer. But, at the end of the day, Kichwa Tembo is our home, and we’ll return there again and again when the romance and the adventure of Kenya calls us.