Satao Elerai: Our full report
In the private, 40-square-kilometre Elerai Conservation Area a little south-east of Amboseli National Park, ...... and on a slight elevation above the surrounding landscape, Satao Elerai Camp is the closest camp to the peaks of Kilimanjaro. It 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, which opened in 2007, 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 and curio shop, terrace, 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. There is a selection of board games and books, making this a cosy spot to spend evenings in camp.
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 can be configured as a double or twin, with a writing or dressing table, folding directors' chairs and, on the veranda facing Kilimanjaro, cushioned recliners. There are two family tents, sleeping up to four people, which are best suited for those travelling with young children as they are the same size as the standard tents.
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. Although they don’t have direct views of Kilimanjaro, they do look out over Satao Elerai’s camp waterhole, which is known to attract creatures both large and small during the dry season. Two of the suites are doubles and three are twins. Suite rooms #4 and #5 are particularly well-suited to families as they are built close together, facing each other.
The main activities at Satao Elerai are game drives in the 3,000 acre conservancy. 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.
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.
Mid-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.
Country manager: Kenya
- Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 3 nights
- Most travellers arrive by air at Amboseli Airstrip, about an hour's drive away.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- When we last visited Satao Elerai in 2019, we didn’t get a chance to try the food. We know from previous visits that the camp 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–9.00am) – 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–3.00pm) is a plated service, based around a set menu, with a choice of two starters, four main courses, and two choices of dessert. However, most guests choose to take a picnic lunch with them in the morning and stay out all day, particularly when spending the day in Amboseli National Park.
Dinner follows a similar format to lunch, with choices for each course, and is served 7.00pm-9.00pm. Guests can expect dishes such as orange and beetroot salad or minestrone soup to start. Main courses include sirloin steak with mustard sauce and accompanying vegetables, or stir fried vegetarian noodles. Typical desserts are chocolate mousse or Crêpes Suzette.
- Attitude towards children
- Children of all ages are welcome.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- 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.
- 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.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Satao Elerai
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Satao Elerai have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- The generator (housed in a sound-reduction room near the staff headquarters), is on 5.00am–8.00am, 12.00pm–3.00pm and 6.00pm–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). This is the only time power is available, although 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 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.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Water is distilled on site for drinking. All tents have plumbed in bathrooms.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
- 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.
Other lodges in Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills
Alternative places to stay in this same area.