Travel

How Kenya's diversity offers a sustainable safari vacation for everyone

A herd of elephants at Amboseli National Park in Kenya

A big game safari on the sweeping savannas of Africa is a dream vacation—one that more travelers should feel empowered to realize.

With tons of pent-up travel demand and people eager to spend time outdoors, Africa's open spaces are more appealing than ever. And with the pandemic leading many to reconsider their priorities, such "bucket list" trips have become especially appealing. But planning a safari trip can feel intimidating. Where do you stay? How do you see the wildlife? And which country is the right fit?

For members looking for where to start, AAA partner African Travel Inc., recommends Kenya, the birthplace of the traditional safari and a leader in conserving wildlife and cultures, because it offers great answers to these questions. Its wide range of ecosystems are home to familiar African favorites and rarer species found only in Kenya, and it features iconic sights like the Great Migration of wildebeest and the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro. Add in year-round game viewing, cultural experiences, options for luxury and value-conscious travelers, and amazing experiences where you participate in Kenya’s conservation success story, and it's clear why Kenya is a powerhouse.

We've teamed up with African Travel to explore what makes Kenya great for all kinds of travelers. With the help of a AAA travel advisor and African Travel, all you need to plan your dream African adventure is to take the first step.

Herds of wildebeest in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro during the Great Migration

1. The "bucket list" dream vacationer

Travelers looking for the Out of Africa experience will find it on Kenya's grassy plains. Much of that 1985 movie was filmed in the Maasai Mara, a massive game reserve in the southwest where the real Karen Blixen lived. Maasai Mara is also home to all the "Big 5" African game species—elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalo, lions, and leopards— and a premier place to see them. 

It's also one of the best places to see East Africa's Great Migration, known as the "World's Greatest Show." Millions of wildebeest and zebras pour into Maasai Mara from July to November in search of fresh grazing, making treacherous crossings of the Mara River and gathering in herds that stretch as far as the eye can see.

About 200 miles to the southeast, guests to Amboseli National Park can see its famous elephants against the backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, another of Africa's most iconic sights. In fact, Kenya has had an elephant baby boom during the pandemic and visitors can adopt and name an elephant as well as seeing these amazing creatures in the wild.

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Recommended itinerary: World's Greatest Show & Safari – Mara

If seeing the Great Migration is a must, book the World's Greatest Show & Safari – Mara itinerary and time it between July and November. "We love this circuit for its enticing mix of camps covering the Maasai Mara highlights while visiting Amboseli's large tuskers," African Travel says.

Also included is the opportunity to see Grevy's zebras and reticulated giraffes and learn about the conservation efforts at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, as well as time in Tanzania and Ngorongoro Crater to see even more East African highlights.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

A lion cub lying in green grass at Maasai Mara, Kenya

2. Travelers looking for value

Great Migration aside, most animals in Kenya don't migrate, so there are experiences to be had year-round. Visitors can enjoy lower rates and fewer crowds by timing their trip for the off-season.

One of the times that African Travel recommends is the "Green Season," a rainy period that occurs in East Africa from November to December and again in April. The rains bring new green growth, bright flowers, migrant birds, and—best of all—baby animals born just in time to take advantage of all the new food. These factors combine for a photographer's paradise if you're looking to snap great shots of wildlife (especially predators) and verdant landscapes.

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Recommended itinerary: Kenya Adventure

Travel before June 2022 and enjoy exceptional value on Kenya Adventure. Fly between Nairobi and camps exploring 3 wildlife areas including the Maasai Mara while connecting with Kenya’s rich culture.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

A group of travelers at sunset next to a river in the Maasai Mara reserve

3. Group travelers

Going on a safari with a small group of around a dozen people is also popular. "More travelers are delving deeper into destinations with like-minded people," according to Sherwin Banda, African Travel’s president. “Guests can join an overland driving safari itinerary that stops at multiple destinations, giving visitors a fuller picture of Kenya as well as time to mingle with locals and fellow explorers,” added Banda.

Kenya is home to dozens of different cultures, and while English and Swahili are widely spoken as official languages, many communities preserve their native tongues. The modern and the ancient exist here together, whether in major cities like Nairobi or out in the bush, and exploring Kenya’s heritage is one of the most rewarding parts of any visit.

Visitors can see this in action, in conversations in local villages, and on safari with guides who can share how ancestral traditions interact with the land and how they inform life today.

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Recommended itinerary: Kenya Wildlife Safari

African Travel's small group departures have no more than 12 to 15 people, hosted by a local. They feature well-paced private safaris driven by professional guides offering insight into the destinations, people, and wildlife.

Among these is the Kenya Wildlife Safari, which stays true to its name with amazing wildlife experiences like seeing the famous flamingos at Lake Nakuru and lion-watching in Maasai Mara. It also opens the door to Kenya’s different cultures, including spending time with the women at the Kazuri Beads Factory to see empowerment in action.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

A hot air balloon safari in Kenya, above a river

4. Active travelers

Those looking for adventure can opt for one of the most exciting ways to see Africa: the flying safari, which is well-developed in Kenya. Guests are flown from camp to camp in a small aircraft instead of transferring by road. Not only does it maximize your time, it also gives you a bird's-eye view of the vistas below.

Follow herds of migrating animals, see areas that aren't accessible by road, and better understand how different features shape the landscape. It also allows you to go to more off-the-beaten-path destinations like Lewa Wildlife Conservancy or Samburu National Park. A must is spotting animals found only north of the equator in these areas like the "Samburu 5": the reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, gerenuk, Somali ostrich, and Grevy's zebra.

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Recommended itinerary: Magical Kenya

Like many of African Travel's itineraries, Magical Kenya includes visits to the Samburu and Maasai Mara reserves, with the latter reached by air and including an optional hot air balloon excursion. It also features a visit to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where visitors can participate in a range of sustainable experiences that are part of African Travel’s Make Travel Matter ethos like meeting the last remaining northern white rhinos, visiting Kenya’s only chimpanzee sanctuary, and participating in a lion tracking project.

Learn more about the AAA Vacations Magical Kenya itinerary

Visiting children meet with Maasai locals on a trip to Kenya

5. Family, friends, & multigenerational travelers

Families—especially multi-generational family groups—and friends are opting to spend time together on safari. "We are seeing more family and friends joining in groups to unlock our special experiences, including villa or camp takeovers, exclusive dinners, and private tours," says Banda. Each group differs in size, age, and needs, so there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Kenya's wealth of options suits that well, with many family-owned lodges that offer hands-on experiences for younger kids, Instagram-worthy sights for older ones, and lots of bonding time for everyone.

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Recommended itinerary: Family Safari in Kenya

This itinerary with a family focus lets kids interact with the savanna as a wildlife playground. They'll get to go on bush walks with Maasai guides, contribute to the predator identification program at El Karama Lodge, and study animal tracks and bushcraft at the "rewilding" Bush School. And as with all African Travel itineraries booked with AAA, it can be personalized to your family's unique needs and wants.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

Travelers watch as a worker feeds a baby elephant at an elephant orphanage

6. Travelers who want to make a positive impact

African countries have made great strides in wildlife conservation; while safaris once focused on hunting, today they're about seeing the animals and protecting them. In fact, going on safari is one of the best ways to help Africa's most endangered species, as tourism helps fund conservation efforts at many lodges and camps.

Kenya has led the way in conservation efforts with many sanctuaries and conservancies protecting endangered rhinos and African elephants. Seeking out these natural treasures both provides for them directly and demonstrates the importance of protecting them into the future.

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Recommended itinerary: Captivating Kenya

African Travel recommends this itinerary to engage in Kenya's conservation success story. It begins with a visit to Nairobi National Park, Kenya's oldest national park, in search of endangered black and white rhinos. Then you're off to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary at Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy for a behind-the-scenes tour as keepers bottle-feed the babies and prepare them to be re-introduced to the wild. As part of your visit, a donation is also made to the sanctuary for the future care of the elephants.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

Every African Travel safari includes at least one Make Travel Matter Experience, and a donation will be made to a children's education or wildlife conservation.

Two chairs at a small table hosting a "bush breakfast" on an Kenyan safari, with two Maasai warriors in the background

7. Honeymoons & other celebrations

Travelers looking to celebrate an unforgettable honeymoon, romantic escape, or other special occasion will find plenty to recommend Kenya. Arrestingly beautiful Great Rift Valley landscapes like the commanding peak of Mount Kenya, the shimmering expanse of Lake Nakuru, and the verdant Ngong Hills are perfect backdrops for spending time with special people.

Kenya is great for adventurous couples looking for a romantic getaway that has a positive impact. Couples will enjoy stylish lodges and camps that allow plenty of time for exciting wildlife spotting and relaxing moments together, as well as unique bonding experiences, while their travels make a difference.

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Recommended itinerary: Under Kenya Skies

The Laikipia region is the star in this journey, which brings guests to the Loisaba Conservancy to enjoy days and nights filled with game drives, guided walks, horseback safaris, and the opportunity to join the anti-poaching dog unit. At night, retire to a 4-poster star bed and sleep under the night sky. Then it's time to fly past Mount Kenya and the Laikipia Escarpment on your way to the renowned Mahali Mzuri resort, with tented suites offering excellent views of nearby game.

Contact a AAA travel advisor for more information

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Customize your African Travel journey with AAA for exclusive experiences & savings

AAA is proud to partner with African Travel to help members create unforgettable, tailor-made journeys. Take the stress out of planning with African Travel's U.S. team, hosts in Africa, and Concierge Care service while traveling. Every trip is custom made and AAA members get exclusive savings of up to $500 per person.

AAA Travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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