Animals often come into camp, and some – such as this orphan eland – may stay.
Satao Elerai : Our full report
In the 40km2 private Elerai Conservation Area a little south-east of Amboseli National Park, and on a slight elevation above the surrounding landscape, Satao Elerai Camp, opened in 2007, is the closest camp to the peaks of Kilimanjaro and offers a combination of great views, good game-watching and access both to its own conservancy and to the national park.
Like its sister camp Satao Camp, in Tsavo East National Park, Satao Elerai isn’t quite small enough or stylish enough to deserve the description ‘boutique’, but neither is it mass market. The fact that it’s unfenced (you have to keep to the paths when walking around camp, and after dark you need to be accompanied by an askari when walking to or from your tent) is indicative of its style, which is very focused on the relationship with the local community – the camp’s landlords – and the wildlife interests of guests.
Satao Elerai’s central areas are built around a group of giant boulders, into which the swimming pool, reception area, terrace and main bar and dining areas have been nicely integrated. From the hotel-like reception area, you cross a short bridge over a landscaped fish pond, where rushes grow and weaver birds nest, to the bar (which stays open as long as guests want to order drinks) and split-level lounge and dining room, with an upper, observation floor with comfy seating.
The well-maintained, free-form swimming pool is a welcome feature in this generally hot climate, but note there is no lifeguard on duty. Crazy-paving paths have been laid around the camp, and while we’re not big fans of what seem unnecessary structures, they do serve to remind you, in what is an unfenced camp, of where you should and should not walk while in camp.
Your choice of accommodation at Satao Elerai is simple: the tents face out south, towards Kilimanjaro, while five more luxurious suites look across the savannah to the north-west and the national park.
The 12 good-sized tents are mounted on fairly high, concrete-and-stonework plinths, with solid timber and grass-tile roofs. Their polished wooden floors, rugs and rustic wooden furniture are comfortable and homely rather than stylish, all very much in keeping with Satao Elerai’s overall approach, and feeling somewhat older than the camp’s relative youth would suggest. Each tent has a double or twin beds, writing or dressing table, folding directors’ chairs and, on the veranda facing Kilimanjaro, cushioned recliners.
At the back of each tent is a large, solid-construction bathroom with a stone floor, flush loo, single washbasin, decent toiletries and a shower with an oversized shower head. We had good warm-to-hot water from the solar system, but poor water pressure. Whereas the tents’ bedroom areas are mosquito-screened, and sprayed by the room steward every evening, the bathrooms are not mosquito-screened.
Each tent has a paging button for calling an askari for an escort from your tent. We particularly enjoyed getting a wake-up call and tea at 6.00am and watching the mountain gradually push back its duvet of cloud to give us a short, spectacular display in the early sunlight.
Satao Elerai’s five suites are of a similar construction to the tent bathrooms. Built from a natural-form wooden framework with plaster wall infills, their appeal is to people who want something more solid than canvas between them and the bush. More spacious than the tents, with french windows separating the room from the veranda, and with bathtubs as well as standard bathroom amenities, their Hobbit-like rusticity quite appealed to us. Nevertheless, for us half the point of being at Satao Elerai is to wake up to the view of Kili.
The generator (housed in a sound-reduction room near the staff headquarters), is on 5.30am–7.00am, 10.30am–1.00pm and 6.30pm–11.00pm (or later if guests are still in the bar – and they keep it on for about half an hour after the last guests have retired). Solar-heated hot washing and shower water is available 24 hours a day during sunny weather and batteries provide power for lighting in the bathrooms at times when the generator is off.
The main activities at Satao Elerai are game drives, with four 4WD game-viewing vehicles available. Being outside the national park, as well as sundowners and night drives, they also do bush walks with a Maasai escort and forerunner (walking 200m ahead with a radio to warn of any danger) accompanied by an armed ranger. The mixed bush of the conservancy includes floodplains filled by seasonal rains and Kilimanjaro melt water, and wooded grassland, dominated by red acacia (Acacia seyal, known as elerai in Maa, the Maasai language).
Frequently encountered species include Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, eland, warthog, lion, leopard and giraffe (satao means ‘giraffe’ in the language of the Waliangulu, the original hunters of southern Kenya). Elephant, buffalo and wildebeest are more migratory. Satao Elerai’s waterhole attracts most species during the dry season. Wildlife also often enters the camp itself, and there are often semi-tame animals in camp (such as the affectionate young eland in residence when we visited)
The eight Maasai families who joined together to form the Elerai Ranch and lease a large part of it to the camp, grow maize, beans, wheat and tomatoes and graze their livestock on the rest, so as you travel around the district, you’re likely to see herders out with some of their 1,000-odd cattle and 2,500 sheep and goats.
Our viewMid-priced, comfortable and well-managed, Satao Elerai made an instantly likeable impression and made us feel very much at home. The conservation area has good wildlife, with lots of elephants – though you are probably less likely to see predators than in the park. What you get a great sight of here, when it shakes off its habitual covering of cloud, is magnificent Kilimanjaro, towering over the savannah to the south.
Ideal length of stay: 3 nights
Directions: Most travellers arrive by air at Amboseli airstrip, about an hour's drive away.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Satao Elerai serves broadly European- and American-style food with vegetarian options always on offer. The day starts with tea, coffee and biscuits in the lounge area (you can also request them with a wake-up call), before the morning game drive.
Back from the bush, there’s a very good breakfast to look forward to (6.00am–9.30am) – well-presented fruit, good coffee, a full cooked breakfast to order and a nice selection of spreads including ginger marmalade and passion curd to layer on your toast.
Lunch (12.30am–2.00pm) is a plated service, based around a set menu, with a choice of two starters, four main courses, and two choices of dessert.
Afternoon tea, with hot drinks, cakes and snacks to set you up for the late-afternoon game drive, is served on the terrace from 3.30pm to 4.30pm.
Dinner follows a similar format to lunch. Accompanying sundowner drinks, we had ‘bitings’ (canapés) of rather bland bhajia with chilli sauce. At the dinner table, we were served tasty pumpkin soup in a bun, followed by a main course of chicken cuts with a very good barbecue sauce, accompanied by roast potatoes and vegetables. The pud was a Kenyan mainstay – pineapple with cinnamon sauce.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are extra. When we stayed in 2012, prices were Ksh160 (about US$2) for soft drinks, Ksh325 (about US$4) for local beers and Ksh400 (about US$5) for house wine by the glass. Wines by the bottle started at Ksh1,700 (about US$20).
Further dining info: Available on request.
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: None
Equipment: 1 high chair, 1 baby cot
Generally recommended for children: Satao Elerai is good for children, and with a swimming pool (usually warm at this altitude) and an informal environment, it’s a good spot for a family safari.
Notes: The camp is unfenced. Wildlife often enters camp meaning supervision of young children is necessary at all times. Babysitting is available on request (at no charge), with staff provided by housekeeping or from among the camp guards. Trained baby sitters aren’t available.
Communications: The cellphone network at Satao Elerai Camp is generally OK. WiFi, with access free of charge, is available in the lounge area. Each tent or room has a paging button so that you can call an askari for an escort from your tent, or order a drink.
TV & radio: Guests can use the TV in the staff quarters for big events.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Two staff, including the assistant manager, are first-aid trained. Sopa Lodge, a 15-minute drive away, has the nearest qualified nurse. The camp would call the flying doctors in a serious emergency, in which case evacuation would be from Tawi Airstrip, 25 minutes’ drive from Satao Elerai Camp.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are guards around camp during the day and night, plus a number of game scouts who have had KWS training. These scouts are managed by a former senior warden of Amboseli who has a firearms licence. Guns are used on game walks.
Fire safety: Every tent and suite has a fire extinguisher. Several people are fire-trained and all staff have fire drills every three months. There’s a fire assembly point at the car park.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: There’s a lock-up box in every tent and suite for safekeeping of valuables. Satao Elerai doesn’t offer foreign exchange.
Accepted payment on location: The camp accepts cash in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. They also take Visa and MasterCard credit cards with no surcharge.