Laikipia Wilderness

Laikipia Wilderness: Our full report

Rooms
5 tents, including 3 family tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (95%) From 12 reviews
Children
Best for 5+
Open
All year

Laikipia Wilderness opened in 2012 on the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch about 2 hours drive north of Nanyuki. The camp has five spacious tents and is supported by a small team of excellent staff. It specialises in game walks as much as game drives.

Built, owned and managed by a highly experienced Zimbabwean safari camp couple, Steve and Annabelle Carey, Laikipia Wilderness has been a big hit with repeat visitors to this rewarding and beautiful part of Kenya. The camp's central areas consist of a large lounge/dining tent (the “mess") with cane furniture and a small library of reading material, leading out to a raised, deck area where breakfast and lunch are usually eaten, with the guests and owner-managers eating together. Next to the mess, there's a set of shelves with a small selection of crafts and curios for sale.

The five tents are a good size, simply furnished with comfortable beds, bedside tables and lamps, storage shelves, and verandas with cane chairs looking out across the bush. Three of them are designed for families. The large bathrooms are open air, with plumbed-in, super-hot, high pressure showers heated by kuni boilers (wood fire boilers) behind each tent.

Behind the very simple kitchen and back-of-house area, a nearby rocky bluff looks north across the Ewaso Narok river (which flows north to join the Ewaso Nyiro a few miles downstream), and on this beautiful vantage point you'll often have sundowners or dinners around the fire.

There's a deliberately basic infrastructure at Laikipia Wilderness that keeps it all very real, and very “bush". There's been virtually no landscaping of the camp area, so the narrow footpaths between the mess and the guest tents lead through natural scrub.

If you're staying for more than a couple of nights (as nearly every guest does), fly-camping is usually offered, a simple bivouac, a few miles from camp, with small tents and bedrolls around the campfire. You will always be accompanied by a trained firearms holder with a .375 rifle.

Animal “hosts" at camp include four dogs, Boris, Trigger, Pili and Buster, as well as the house cat Mr Grey. There used to be a tame Greyish Eagle Owl, who went by the name of Owl Shabaab, but sadly he has flown away now. The dogs sometimes accompany game drives and walks and seem to have a calming effect on wild dog packs. The whole camp has a very relaxed feel, as if you were staying with friends at their makeshift rural homestead.

In some camps, the comforts and atmosphere of the camp itself vie for attention with the out-of-camp activities on offer. That's not the case at Laikipia Wilderness. While the tents, lounge, mess and deck are perfectly fine (and the kitchen's output delicious), the most memorable aspects of a stay here are the game drives (in two, fully open Toyota Land Cruisers with padded bench seats), game walks and really great guiding from a true bushman, owner Steve Carey accompanied by Maasai scout and spotter Steven.

Steve's driving style means you make rapid progress through the bush – the typically ultra-cautious driver/guide's manner behind the wheel might be a bit slow in the fast-moving world of wild dog packs. With no other camps or visitors across miles of rocky bush, you can go wherever Steve thinks he can drive – and then, when the vehicle can go no further, you get out and walk on, behind Steve's tall, gun-toting figure. This makes for an unusually robust approach to game viewing: you need to be prepared with suitable footwear for getting out of the vehicle at a moment's notice when Steve spots something interesting (and possibly getting back in again just as quickly). It's an approach to safaris that is a far cry from the slow and gentle style that is particularly common in small camps in the Mara. You need to be prepared to hang on while driving, and to acquire the odd bruise and knock along the way.

The rewards of this rather rough and ready style include good opportunities to see the area's wild dogs. While the pack that sometimes dens at Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch can range far and wide over hundreds of square kilometres, it includes collared individuals and Steve always carries his tracking equipment, so there's a reasonable likelihood of encounters, if sometimes fleeting ones. During the denning season, usually September or October, the den areas are deliberately not approached too closely, but once the pups leave the den, sometimes to a new den location, usually from the end of the year, approaching the pups becomes easier. Throughout the year, the packs hunt daily and are fluidly mobile, so you can come across the adults almost anywhere and you're almost certain to have the whole experience to yourself. The neighbouring ranches of Mpala and Chololo operate a half-day-visit system (each ranch charges US$50 per person) that allows keen travellers to widen their wildlife searches while staying at Laikipia Wilderness. This can be particularly useful during the dogs' denning season.

During our last visit in 2018 we saw a lion (and also tracked it on foot for a short distance), a hyena, elephants and numerous giraffe. There are dik-dik everywhere – the dogs' favourite prey – and the area feels richly endowed with wildlife. Unfortunately the local wild dog population was seriously reduced following a bad case of canine distemper which has wiped out one of the two main packs in this area. However, the other pack has stabilised: the dogs denned on the neighbouring Mpala Ranch at the end of 2018, and it is hoped they will increase in numbers and spawn new packs over time.

Keen birders will be delighted with the area, which has hundreds of northern species as well as those ranging across Kenya, and Palearctic migrants. Local specialities include rosy-patched bush-shrikes, vulturine guinea-fowls and impressive range of raptors, including black eagles, attracted by the area's rocky outcrops. Steve knows all the birds, and their calls (and does a fair few passable imitations himself).

Our view

Knowing the highly experienced Zimbabwean owner-managers Steve and Annabelle Carey already, we guessed this camp would be a great experience, and we were right. Our last stay in 2018 confirmed its appeal as coming down very much to Steve's uncanny and very hands-on bush instincts. Although the dominance of wild dogs in the experience is not what it was, if you want to feel the Laikipia wind in your hair as you bounce along a rutted track searching for wildlife, this is the place for you.

Geographics

Location: Laikipia, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: We suggest four nights to experience all that this area has to offer.

Directions: It is a two hour drive from Nanyuki airport which can be accessed by light aircraft from Nairobi Wilson Airport.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Steve and Annabelle Carey

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: We thought the quality of meals at Laikipa Wilderness was very good, and particularly so considering the very basic infrastructure at the camp. The day starts with coffee, tea or hot chocolate in your room.

On our recent visit in November 2018 we had a picnic beside the river which included meatballs, coleslaw, aubergine salad with freshly baked bread. This was finished off with fresh fruit salad and a swim in the river with Steve.

That evening, after a game drive we had a barbecue on the sandy banks of the river. When we got there the team had already set up dinner with a blazing log fire and a table laden with drinks and food. On the fire they cooked a large fillet steak, which was served with potatoes filled with cheese and mixed vegetables roasted on the fire. This was followed with a very tasty pineapple crumble.

The day usually starts with tea or coffee at the mess (a very short walk from all five tents) and a snack breakfast before the morning activity, with a bigger breakfast on return, or out in the bush. A good range of fruit, cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage and beans is always available, together with homemade bread and toast and preserves.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All available drinks are included in the rates, which means the usual soft drinks, beer and house wines. Guests wanting particular spirits or Champagne could order ahead (at extra cost) or bring their own.

Further dining info: Meals can be had anywhere you want, including at your tent. Guests can also request a private rock dinner (on the rocky viewpoint), or bush dinner (in the bush somewhere).

Special interests

Walking safaris: Here you can explore the Laikipia bush, within the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch. Short walking safaris operate throughout the year, using small tents, and an escort armed with a .375 rifle.

See more ideas for Walking safaris in Kenya

Wildlife safaris: Laikipia Wilderness and its owner-manager Steve Carey are closely associated with wild dog tracking, using radio-tracking equipment. At least two, and sometimes three dog packs den in this area and sightings of cubs and hunts are not uncommon.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Kenya

Walking: At Laikipia Wilderness in Kenya you can explore the bush on foot, within the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch. Short walking safaris operate throughout the year, using small tents, and an escort armed with a 375 rifle.

See more ideas for Walking in Kenya

Children

Attitude towards children: Children are always welcome and the owner-managers’ young children are on site at weekends and during school holidays. However, this is a very relaxed, unfenced camp and children’s safety is definitely the responsibilty of their parents.

Property’s age restrictions: None, but the camp may be selective, so it may not be possible to host a very young family in high season, especially if there are no other children at camp at the same time.

Special activities & services: River rope swing, river rafting in the fairly shallow river (for older children, no life jackets provided), kayaking, cave-exploring and rock-scrambling. Guide Joseph does tracking walks for fives and up, with bow and arrow skills-training.

Equipment: No special equipment is available, but the owners are resourceful and can always make a plan.

Notes: Experienced, but not qualified, ayahs and child minders are available from housekeeping staff.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: There is a backup generator but it is rarely needed. Charging is done in the mess tent. No hair driers can be used. Hot water is provided by wood-fired boilers behind each tent.

Communications: There is WiFi in the main area. Safaricom cellphone network is also available, but only in the kitchen where there is an aerial.

TV & radio: None available. Only if guests want to watch a major Rugby game would Steve Carey take them to Sosian Lodge (where he and his wife used to be managers) to watch on his old TV there.

Water supply: Other

Water supply notes: River water is pumped up for the main guests’ bathroom supplies and good hot water is available more or less 24/7, heated by wood-fired kuni boilers at the back of each tent. Drinking water is brought in from Nanyuki’s mains supply and then treated in camp and supplied to guests in flasks. Bottled water is used on walks and drives.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Steve and Annabelle have both had first aid training from Medex (a UK, ex-military training course).

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: There’s one camp askari on duty at night. There is also a 15-person ranch security team who stay aware of who is on the ranch and who is driving along the road that bisects it.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the kitchen. The staff have not yet had any fire training, but this is planned.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Laundry is included. It's hand-washed and line-dried. Ladies underwear can be included, but soap is also provided in your bathroom.

Money: There are no tent safes, but valuables can be given to the managers for safekeeping in their safe. No foreign exchange can be done.

Accepted payment on location: Payments for extras can only be made in cash – Kenya Shillings, US dollars, Euros and Pounds are all accepted.

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