Luxury Eco-Tourism in Kenya
Wildlife and Community at Elewana Sand River
Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.
I'm writing to tell you about my first trip to the Masai Mara, and be prepared—this region will blow you away! Whether you’re a first time safari adventurer or an old hand at the game drive experience, the Mara is unlike any other safari destination on the planet. When we stepped off our little plane into the heat and witnessed the greenery of our surroundings, it literally took my breath away. The sheer enormity of the landscape and density of wildlife let me know this trip would be unlike any other.
Set in the south of Kenya, the Masai Mara is rightly renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful safari destinations. The open savannah, rolling grasslands, and gently undulating hills are home to Africa’s famous big five: the African lion, king of the beasts; the rare rhino; the notoriously grumpy Cape buffalo; the beautiful leopard; and the majestic African elephant.
The Mara is also known for the annual wildebeest migration, during which it hosts literally millions of wildebeest, zebra, impala, and other game. Year round, the sleek and speedy cheetah can be spotted hunting across the plains, and the silent loping giraffe towers above it all.
The Mara’s richness of habitat and wildlife make it spectacular any time of year. If you want to experience the magic of the migration, however, the best time to visit is between July and November, when millions of animals pass through in search of fresh grazing and water. The sheer number of wildebeest arriving in the area is staggering; if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to observe one of the dramatic river crossings, during which desperate animals risk the jaws of enormous crocodiles to reach the safety and abundance of the Mara plains.
The short “mango rains” of November trigger both mango season and the last leg of the migration, when the wildebeest move south to new ground. Calving usually takes place between December and January, and is referred to by locals as the ‘green season.’ At this time, there is plenty of surface water and plains animals such as wildebeest, zebra, and antelope give birth to calves, foals, and fawns. With so much easy prey around, it’s also a fantastic time for predators, who provide some once-in-a-lifetime photographic opportunities!
We stayed at Elewana Sand River Masai Mara, which is based on the southern edge of the reserve in a superbly game-rich area. After arriving by air, we were driven through the plains before turning down a track and pulling in; there, we were met by smiling people offering tall cold drinks and refreshing cloths to clean the dust from our hands and faces.
The rooms were so comfortable I almost didn’t want to go out again, but in the end was tempted by friends who fetched me for a cocktail and some remarkable food. Being surrounded by so much comfort and deliciousness in the remote Kenyan bush was not what I had expected—truly the definition of luxury!
Although it was my first time at the Sand River lodge, I was already very familiar with the Elewana group. That’s because I work for the Land & Life Foundation, a trust that Elewana set up to channel funds into local schools and conservation efforts; they cover all our operating costs and help us with resources like travel and logistics. While there’s plenty of cross-over, we ultimately have our work (more on that later!) and Sand River has theirs, so I was curious to chat with their staff about some of the things on my mind; for example, how does a camp like theirs manage its ecological footprint? Of course I’m biased, but I was impressed with what I heard: Elewana takes great pride in its eco-credentials, with all its properties in Kenya certified under the national Ecotourism Kenya scheme and most of those up to Gold Standard.
Camps run using low energy equipment and renewable power sources as much as possible, with extensive solar power systems in place, solar water heaters, and power-saving switches in each room. Elewana utilises a sustainable supply chain approach, sourcing food and other supplies locally to support markets in the area and keep the carbon footprint as low as possible. All waste generated at the camp is separated, weighed, and responsibly disposed of outside the reserve.
Staff are usually employed directly from the local community, and employee training and development is provided through an internship program, a management training scheme, and constant provisions of on-the-job courses and skills development. Collaborating with the community is a big part of what we do at Land & Life, and we’re proud of our work.
Photo: Land & Life Foundation
We run conservation education clubs in schools across Kenya, including a small primary school near Elewana Sand River called Embiti Primary. At the time I was visiting, our team was busy building a classroom for their school, the funds for which were generously donated by previous guests to the lodge!
Photo: Land & Life Foundation
Elewana also helps out other local groups working directly with wildlife and environmental conservation in the Mara. I saw firsthand a big campaign to raise awareness around the plight of vultures across Kenya, a cause that the Elewana guides feel passionately about and were educating their guests on. The local cheetah conservation group is also regularly seen at the camp, with guides sharing behavioural information and sightings to boost research.
If, like me, you’re an eco-conscious traveler who’s always wanted to go on safari, Elewana is the perfect fit! Not only will you get to have the unequalled experience of game viewing on the Mara, but you’ll do it in a way that’s comfortable, stylish, and uncompromising when it comes to environmental and social sustainability.
So get out there and find those lions! You won't regret a trip here, I promise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hannah is the General Manager of the Land & Life Foundation, an East African-based trust focused on conservation education and community support. Through her work in schools and communities across Kenya and Tanzania, Hannah and her team help to ensure that local communities and resident wildlife benefit from the booming tourist industry. Wildlife Warrior Program, their flagship project, runs conservation education clubs, provides scholarships, and helps with school infrastructure and resources. Hannah is committed to seeing the brightest young conservationists of Tanzania and Kenya do well and benefit from tourism. She loves the time she spends in the bush working with local people and watching the amazing wildlife.