Campi Ya Kanzi, Kenya
In between Amboseli and the Tsavo lies Campi Ya Kanzi, right in the Chyulu Hills. These were Hemingway’s ‘Green Hills of Africa’. Campi Ya kanzi means ‘Camp of the Hidden Treasure’ and that it really is. This is an elegant and magical camp that enraptures the visitor to feel the heart of these lush hills.
This is a fascinating part of Kenya due to the amount of biodiversity in the area. There is a massive range of habitats including the savannah and cloud forest that sits on the top of the hills. This means that the area is teeming with wildlife with over 60 species of mammals and 400 species of bird.
The main objective of Campi Ya Kanzi is to protect the majestic Maasai Kuku Group Ranch land covering four hundred square miles, for both the Maasai living there and the wildlife. A donation is paid at Campi Ya Kanzi by each visitor to ensure this is achieved. Two foundations have also been established for this purpose, the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and the Maasai Foundation of East Africa.
Campi Ya Kanzi is a magical tented camp, with six romantically named tents with sweeping views over the majestic surroundings such as Mount Kilamanjaro. The tents have an eclectic style, decorated with four-poster beds, from where you can luxuriate and watch as the sun comes up over the plains. Days are planned before around the intimate dinners and include choices of walking, horseback or driving safaris. A game drive starts in the twinkling dawn as you witness natures natural splendour illuminated by the rising sun.
The game viewing is extraordinary. Suddenly out of the richer fauna by a crystal spring a herd of elephants silently emerges. Their grace is astonishing for such large creatures. The African elephant is an imposing sight to behold from the huge bulls to the playful baby elephants weaving through mothers feet. Apart from this extraordinary sight you are treated to eland, gazelle, baboons and a myriad of birds. After a couple of hours the land rover stops so you can go walking in the lush river forest. In amongst the towering trees emerges a beautifully laid table for breakfast. This spellbinding surprise was not only one of the most fantastic settings to have breakfast, but it is also evocative of the personal touches that make Campi Ya Kanzi so special.
In the afternoon you can take another long game drive, through The Chyulu Hills themselves. The undulating landscape here is really breath taking, as are herds of Hartebeest and Eland scattered throughout the landscape. Our guide Pashiet was extremely informative about the uses of the plants and their names in Maa, the Maasai language. A Marula Tree (Sclerocarrya birrea) was pointed out - from which the famous African liqueur Amarula comes from. It is also known as the Elephant Tree as elephants will ram the tree to drop its fruits so they can eat them. The fruit itself is a relation of the mango and is used to cure a range of ailments, from stomachache, to measles.
In the evenings dinner is served in Tembo House where you enjoy a drink around the fire before eating. Dinner is a sociable affair where everyone staying in the camp eats together and quite a confusing experience from the amount of languages that are spoken around the table. Luca Belpietro and his wife Antonella Bonomi who set up Campi Ya Kanzi are Italian and guests come from all over Europe and America.
The food is enticingly good and all the wine comes from South Africa and Antonella’s family vineyard – Mount Orfano wines. Many of the vegetables also come from their organic garden. Luca and Antonella are usually a fixture at meals. They are incredibly hospitable and Luca is dedicated to the foundations that Campi Ya Kanzi was built around. His main dream was to create a place that would be owned and protected environmentally by the Maasai who lived on it, thus creating a symbiotic relationship between the land and the people. This has been achieved through creating the camp and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT).
The MWCT supports a number of community projects in the local area and also runs an animal adoption scheme. You can adopt animals on the camp for their conservation or donate money to help pay and train guides, community projects such as the clinic or for vital equipment to keep the camp running such as land rovers. All this is vital to sustain a truly worthwhile project, and The MWCT is also supported by the Maasai Foundation of East Africa (www.maasaifoundation.org). The foundation was established in North America by a couple that were struck by the work of Luca and Campi Ya Kanzi. The trust was set up between Luca and Jeff Miller to ensure the success and longevity of this project.
Another morning in Campi Ya Kanzi marks the start of another amazing day in the hills of Kenya. We are hiking up to the cloud forest that languishes on top of them. This is a mysterious place of incredibly lush vegetation that is in sharp contrast to the rain-starved savannah below. It is also refreshingly cool in a marked contrast to tropical forests. However it is once you hike further into the forest that you come across one of the most spectacular trees in the world. There is a gigantic Strangler Fig Tree (Ficus citrifolia). It’s known as ‘The Cathedral’ due to its immense size. This huge tree is a maze of roots and branches that are so complex that they resemble a huge edifice. It is a fantastic place to play hide and seek and just laze under for a while.
Campi Ya Kanzi is an exquisite place and sundowners in the golden light overlooking the ranch are the perfect end to a day. The freedom to be able to walk around with highly trained guides and create your safari every evening is a precious privilege. The guides are all trained from the local community, as is most of the staff. They have a great loyalty and often work their way up from waiters to becoming guides or moving into other jobs meaning that they are contributing to the economy in their local area.
The US$30 per night that is set aside for the Maasai goes to compensate Maasai who have lost livestock through wildlife, scholarships, school supplies, teacher’s wages, medical facilities and medicine, new infrastructure for the community. All this has also taught the Maasai the benefits of wildlife in their environment rather than as a threat to their cattle and therefore livelihoods. This means that they no longer hunt species such as lions.
Campi Ya Kanzi was the winner of several Ecotourism Awards and is a member of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya. It is an incredible example of how tourism can really make a difference in stunning and luxurious conditions.
Photos Courtesy Of Campi Ya Kanzi
Words by Electra Gillies