Last updated November 1, 2021
Craving the outdoors but aren’t the rugged type? Need adventure but prefer the creature comforts of home? Many travelers are in search of the perfect mix of luxury and nature yet don’t want to give up one for the other.
So, can nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts find new luxury in the outdoors? Absolutely.
On a recent trip to Kenya, I found that modern-day eco-lodges have taken a novel approach by incorporating nature as the new luxury component of a lodge stay—while also including unique experiences that allow the guest to connect with wildlife and the ancient heritage of the local community.
New luxury can be interpreted in different ways depending on the individual. To me, I find that the four common attributes are quality, abundance, exclusivity and access.
One lodge, in particular, seems to encompass all four of these elements.
Welcome to El Karama Lodge
Located on a private wildlife conservancy in the foothills of Mount Kenya, the intimate family-owned and operated El Karama Lodge is set on 14,000 acres of private land and offers tailor-made experiences for those who have an adventurous spirit and want to immerse themselves in nature and the outdoors.
The lodge not only focuses on its commitment to sustainability (run on 100% solar power and renewable energy) but also on wellness, wildlife preservation and creating a first-class luxury experience for guests.
I sat down with the owner, Sophie Grant, who runs the property with her husband and two young children, to learn what makes the lodge unique and how nature contributes to the new luxury experience of a stay at El Karama.
Quality & Abundance
First and foremost, guests come to El Karama for a world-class wildlife experience. What guests don’t realize is that the surrounding environment contributes to the high quality of the game drives.
“There’s a huge amount of geological variety here,” says Sophie. “We live in the foothills of Mount Kenya and we’re in a river-run ecosystem as well as acacia scrub habitat. This means that we have unparalleled wildlife diversity, biodiversity in general and an amazing number of bird species!”
The conservancy is home to 80 mammal species including endangered animals you will not see anywhere else in the world. This includes the much larger grevy’s zebra, which is only found north of the equator with Laikipia being home to 90% of the world’s population.
Other animals include the reticulated giraffe, which has also entered the endangered list, as well as all the apex predators (lions, leopards and cheetah), elephant and buffalo.
In addition, El Karama takes pride in the provenance and quality of their food. You can expect organic food grown on the property using environmentally sustainable methods including drip irrigation. Guests are allowed to visit the organic garden, orchard and working farm to see where their food comes from.
High quality of service is found throughout the property from the staff who’s called El Karama home for most of their lives. Your tented accommodation is serviced twice daily, and meals are catered to all dietary requirements.
El Karama also offers Bush School for children of all ages. This allows the parents a chance to relax and unwind while the kids learn more about the animals and life in the wild.
Exclusivity & Access
Being the only lodge on a private conservancy, guests have exclusive access to the environment and wildlife without having to share their experiences with others.
This allows for night drives, which is sometimes a restricted activity in a national park. During my stay I never encountered another safari vehicle, allowing amazing photos and a greater sense of connection with the animals.
“I think when you’re looking at safari environments all over Africa and the world, population density is an issue,” says Sophie.
“Pressure for tourist numbers is also an issue, and where our region and El Karama are unique is that we are modeling ourselves on a lower impact, maximum value experience for our clients.”
Guests have access to a variety of wilderness experiences and complete freedom to choose specific activities on their own schedule.
Each traveler meets with their guide on arrival and discusses what options they have for activities throughout their stay. It’s up to them what time they would like to do the activities and for how long.
If you want to walk on foot with the guides and rangers all day, they can arrange it. If you want to fly camp under the stars and have an adventure experience anywhere in the ecosystem, that is possible, too.
The lodge can also arrange a visit to Murray Grant’s bronze studio. Murray (Sophie’s husband and co-owner of the lodge) is one of Africa’s best self-taught bronze sculptors. While most people heli in to see the beautiful pieces of artwork, lodge guests are able to visit with a guide.
An important part of El Karama’s core values is wellness and customized wellness retreats can be planned for guests interested in yoga, meditation, and a chance to unwind and digitally detox.
These retreats include wildlife experiences, silent walks, meditation sessions by the river or on top of the waterfalls, garden visits, food and nutrition demonstrations, and on-site spa sessions.
“We believe, having lived in this wildlife environment all our lives, that there is a spiritual value and a healing value [of nature] for humans,” says Sophie.
“We also see that there is an incredible power to be in wide-open spaces, unadulterated views of no sense of people or population density, and these places are valuable to humanity for that reason.”
For adventure enthusiasts, the lodge will introduce El Karama Wild in 2022. This experience consists of four pop-up canvas tents that are set up in the more remote northern part of the conservancy during the dry season.
Within a 14,000-acre area, you’ll be able to walk, horse ride, practice yoga on the rocks, meditate and essentially take yourself away from the infrastructure of a lodge environment—and into the wild.
Hungry for more adventure? Enjoy a helicopter ride to Mount Kenya for a few hours of fishing or take a fixed-wing plane on a day trip over the savannah. Experiences are tailored to meet personal preferences.
If you’re looking for an adventure in the outdoors but want the comfort and quality of a luxury retreat, El Karama Lodge is the place for you.