Satao Camp is a traditional safari camp in a shady grove along the seasonal Voi River in Tsavo East.
Satao Camp: Our full report
Spread out among tamarind and acacia trees near the seasonal Voi River, Satao Camp is the only camp in this area of Tsavo East National Park. Fairly large by safari standards, it is owned and managed by one of Kenya’s most respected safari companies, and is regularly visited by baboons, impalas, giraffe and hippo, while the central area is an oasis for birdlife and various nocturnal creatures, including genets: in the bar, one regular genet drapes himself on an overhead rafter.
Somewhat aptly, satao means ‘giraffe’ in the language of the Walingulu, the original, hunter-gatherer inhabitants of this area. As the camp is unfenced, all your movements after dark require an escort – which as a plus, as it gives you a shot of local cultural or natural history insight from your camp guard on every walk to and from the dining area. A paging button in each tent means that you can call an askari for an escort.
The permanent structures of Satao’s main central area are ranged out behind the sandy drop-off area where you arrive. Beyond the simple, open-sided reception building, spacious and shady dining and lounge terraces under high-pitched makuti-tile roofs are set on either side of a raised central bar area, with a campfire directly in front. Open plan and essentially open-air, these main areas are low-key and welcoming, but quite large. Away to the south is a fully open-air lunch area that has good views of the plains and a large waterhole.
Close to the waterhole, a high-level viewing deck known as the Lookout, with a shaded platform and directors’ style, canvas chairs, is accessed up a steer flight of steps. You can ask to be woken in the night if anything you want to see makes an appearance at the waterhole.
- Linked to the main areas by largely natural sand paths are Satao’s 20, large, thatch-shaded tents, which are ranged across the broad, wooded plain around the waterhole. Stretching in a northerly direction from the camp’s central area is one wing of six standard tents plus a larger suite tent (‘Director’s Suite’). These tents face west or north-west, into the sunset, but are furthest from the waterhole (about 150m away).
- In the other direction, nine standard tents range westwards, their verandas facing north or north-east past a large grove of tamarind trees and the lunch area. Beyond are four more suite tents – Tent 17, Sala (the closest to the waterhole, 100m), Neka and Kocha .
- The 15 twin, double or triple standard tents are well- designed, traditional green-canvas safari tents – airy, light and simply constructed. They’re mounted on raised stone-and-concrete platforms, constructed in crazy-paving style that mirrors the floors in the central areas, and each has a veranda with two canvas chairs and a low table. Inside, the tents are floored with soft rush matting and rugs, with a simple writing table and chair, a rustic shelf unit and a basic clothes cupboard. The beds are not fancy but are comfortable and attractively covered, with reading lights on each bedside table. Although there are no mosquito nets, the tents are in theory mosquito-proof and are also mosquito-sprayed during the turn-down service every evening. There’s also a floor fan, which can be positioned wherever you prefer.
- Zipped flaps at the back of each tent lead to a large bathroom of solid construction, with polished stone floors, wood and hessian walls, and makuti-tile roofs. Cold water is plumbed in but the large reservoirs of the overhead safari showers are filled on demand (there’s a hand shower as well); there’s also a washbasin, small pivot mirror and flush toilet. Toiletries are provided in flasks and bottled drinking water is replenished every day.
- The five suite tents are similar to the standard tents but built on a grander scale and with extra furnishings. The verandas benefit from the addition of comfy recliners, double beds are actual double beds rather than joined twins, and each suite has a minibar (with regular Satao bar prices) and two small armchairs. In addition, there is a solid wall with a door separating the bathroom from the main tent. The bathroom itself has two designer washbasins, a bathtub and further hanging and storage space. Hot water to the suite tents is solar heated.
Electricity at Satao is supplied by generator, and is on all night as well as over lunchtime. There are charging sockets in all the tents.
The main activities at Satao Camp revolve around early-morning and late-afternoon game drives in well set-up 4WD vehicles. As Satao is the only camp in this part of Tsavo East, a vast expanse of the park covering more than 1,000km2 stretches between the camp and the Mombasa highway. In most of this area you can drive for miles without encountering another vehicle. Tsavo’s famous red elephants, coloured by the iron oxide in the earth, are the most iconic of the park’s animals, which include good numbers of cheetahs and lions, and less common grazers such as gerenuk, lesser kudu and Grevy’s zebra. An hour’s drive to the north of the camp is the Galana River, which flows for nearly 100km through the park and can be closely followed for much of its course. There are several riverside viewpoints including Lugard’s Fall, and Crocodile Point (sometimes described as nature trails, but they’re basically just short footpaths), where you can get out and stretch your legs.
Our viewIn the 15 years or so since it was built, Satao Camp has matured into one of the most welcoming camps in southern Kenya. The herds of impala, the bull giraffe that wanders around camp, frequent elephants and lions at the waterhole, and a riot of birdlife together create a magical impact on first-time visitors – and one which doesn’t disappoint experienced travellers. The food at Satao isn’t a stand-out feature, and the high-voltage overhead power lines that run close to the camp detract slightly from the bush feel of the area, but many visitors are so captivated with the place that they barely notice them.
Ideal length of stay: Three nights
Directions: Visitors arrive by road from Mombasa (3 hours) or Malindi (4 hours) or by charter flight to Satao airstrip, about 2km away.
Owner: Southern Cross, one of Kenya’s oldest safari companies
Staff: Manager: Paul Ndunda Assistant Manager: Michael Nderitu Naturalist: Malingi Ngamba (silver guide).
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Satao’s food is not its most outstanding feature. During our visit in 2012, the standard hotel/restaurant fare at dinner included good vegetable soups and homemade hot rolls, shredded salad with dressing, and a choice of grilled chicken, beef goulash or onion pizza for main course, with roast potatoes, chips or rice, and vegetables. One of us ordered goulash, but was served chicken, and the ‘vegetables’ consisted of just a grilled tomato. Dessert was banana split (ie a banana with vanilla ice cream and choc sauce). Breakfast was better: the passion curd to spread on toast was a nice touch.
Breakfast 6.00–9.00am is a buffet with an egg station and plenty of options, including home-made bread.
Lunch, served 12.30–2.30pm, is also a buffet, with a choice of main dishes.
Dinner, from 7.30–pm to 9.00pm, is a six-course buffet or plated service, incorporating soup, salad, main course, dessert, cheese and coffee – with a choice of three main dishes and always a vegetarian option.
Afternoon tea includes tea, coffee and cakes.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Extra: Local beer: Ksh275 (approx U$3.50) Soda: Ksh135 (approx U$1.50) Glass of house wine: Ksh300 (approx U$4)
Photographic: There is lots of wildlife around Satao Camp offering plenty of quirky and ‘character’ photo opportunities. When we last visited in 2012 this included a fairly relaxed bull giraffe, impalas (many fawns were skipping around when we visited), hippos after dark, baboons, a genet over the bar in the evening, toads, insect life and numerous birds, including feed-from-your-hand hornbills.See more ideas for Photographic in Kenya
Attitude towards children: 'No problem'
Equipment: Three cots and two highchairs are available.
Generally recommended for children: Satao is a family-friendly camp with a relaxed ambience, and is a recommended choice for families, though an enthusiasm for the wildlife and the bush location is always important. With impala, baboons and even giraffe right by the tents, it is great fun for kids. Kicking a ball around isn’t an option, however, as there is wildlife everywhere. There’s no pool.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: As well as a landline phone, Satao has FM radio, email in the office and adequate WiFi in the lounge. Each tent has a paging button, to guests can call for an escort or a drink.
TV & radio: The TV in the staff mess can be viewed by guests for big events.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: Satao has a first-aid box; ‘2 or 3 staff’ have received training and in theory get refresher training annually. Voi hospital is the closest major medical facility and can be reached in about 45 minutes in an emergency. Flying doctors from Nairobi or Malindi can land at Satao airstrip, just minutes from the camp.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Unarmed askaris patrol the camp day and night. Armed KWS patrols periodically patrol the area near the camp and can always be called quickly.
Fire safety: There’s a fire assembly point in the car park and all staff receive fire training twice a year. There are fire extinguishers all over the camp.
Disabled access: In Place
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: The cashier has a safe box for safe keeping of valuables, but there are no safes in tents. There’s no formal foreign exchange service.