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By Ro 23 September 2019

The Best Eco-lodges in Kenya

Here YZ expert Ro details her top 3 environmentally friendly properties in Kenya. These comprise a family-focused lodge in Laikipia, a holistic camp at the foothills of the Chyulu Hills, and an elephant haven in the heart of Samburu:

Ecotourism has become something of a buzzword across the travel industry, fuelled by travellers’ rising awareness of the need to safeguard our planet. A huge wave of demand for eco-friendly holidays is gathering strength, alongside pressure from tourism bodies and many camp and lodge operators’ growing realisation of the need to work with local communities to preserve the precious flora and fauna with which we share our world. And, through tourism activity, we can contribute to the local economy too.

Particularly in wild places, supporting some of Africa’s last few remaining endangered species and marginalised communities, the importance of responsible travel is ever present. While some operators across the sector take steps such as using solar power to support their energy consumption, and seeking to recycle as much as possible, a handful of camps and lodges go above and beyond to actively deliver on the eco-message set out in their business plan and strive to have minimal negative impact on the environment.

1) El Karama Lodge

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El Karama Lodge is situated in the heart of Laikipia, the wild and rugged region of Central Kenya. The lodge was established on the basis of ecological ideals, with one of its key aims being to preserve the local habitat, while engaging its visitors to do the same. El Karama has won Ecotourism Kenya’s Eco Warrior award for its efforts to deliver on its eco-credentials.

El Karama is almost entirely self-sufficient, with a huge, well-stocked shamba (farm garden) of produce enabling the lodge to produce 90 per cent of its food on site. There’s a storage facility too, which is capable of holding up to 100,000 litres of rain and waste water, ensuring efficient grey water management. And with El Karama also earning eco-points for its ECOsmarte natural swimming pool, which is entirely chemical free and produces cleaned water that’s used for irrigation around the lodge, the property really does fly the flag for sustainable ecotourism in this part of Kenya.

2) Campi Ya Kanzi

This is another example of truly holistic sustainable ecotourism in practice. Campi ya Kanzi has a deep community focus, and was founded on the principles of working with the local people. The camp was quite literally built with the local Maasai, in complete partnership with them. This involved the teaching and sharing of simple Maasai building skills, as well as advanced and highly effective building techniques. Local materials were used, and not a single tree was cut down in the process.

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Campi ya Kanzi is 100 per cent solar run, as many camps and lodges now are, although here being solar run helps to maintain the camp’s zero-carbon footprint. This is another integral message throughout its operation, with every guest’s stay at the camp being completely carbon neutral. All guests even receive a certificate for their visit to validate this. And all emissions associated with the running of the lodge, including transporting you to and from the lodge within Kenya, are offset towards the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project. 

Everything is carefully considered in eco-terms. There’s an effective waste-management programme, and also excellent management of water, which includes intense water cropping by using a system that can store up to 1.5 million litres of rainwater. Cooking processes use eco-friendly charcoal produced by the UN Environment Project, and the charcoal’s made from coffee husks, a by-product of coffee farming. Campi ya Kanzi also takes seriously its socioeconomic impact, or its environmental impact, on either a local or a macro scale. Its major claims, aside from all this, are that it is the only safari property in East Africa whose water needs are entirely met by rain cropping, and that it’s among the very first safari properties to adopt the use of electric game vehicles.

3) Elephant Watch Camp

Elephant Watch Camp was founded by Oria Douglas-Hamilton, an avid defender of wildlife. Oria is married to Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save The Elephants, so the camp is intrinsically linked to this incredible cause, with conservation running through its veins. A stay at Elephant Watch Camp takes you on a journey in which you’ll learn how you can embrace the eco-movement, and you’ll be inspired to reconsider how your impact can be reduced to benefit the planet. 

Set up just a few kilometres up river from the Save The Elephants research centre, Elephant Watch Camp initially sought to introduce its guests to the beautiful elephants of the Samburu National Reserve, where it’s possible to get more up close and personal with these gentle giants than almost anywhere else. Elephant Watch is an eco-camp at its heart. With just six desert-style tents, all built around the twisted branches of the acacia tortilis trees that line the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro river, it’s constructed using entirely locally sourced materials. The ecological footprint of the camp is such that, if it were to relocate, it would leave barely a trace behind, with no damage to the local environment.

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Elephant Watch uses only organic materials and detergents, operates according to a highly efficient solar energy system, and minimises water usage thanks to its own hand-drawn well water for showers and an efficient grey water management system. Additionally, over 90 per cent of its workforce are local Samburu, which provides a trickle down to the local economy. This effect is imperative, assisting the Samburu not only financially, but also from an environmental education perspective, as the positive messages from the camp are filtered out to local communities. In this way, the property makes a meaningful and substantial contribution to the local economy through income generation, delivering opportunities for livelihood creation, and empowering local people. Elephant Watch Camp also has a number of direct programmes benefiting local communities, such as an elephant scholarship programme, funding education for those who are unable to finance their own schooling, as well as healthcare programmes.

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The journey that Elephant Watch Camp brings its guests on is all encompassing. Alongside the opportunity to watch the elephants close at hand, and the chances to learn about these complex creatures that have so much in common with the human species, guests also come to understand how their actions can be positively changed to protect and preserve the planet. Moreover, guests are given a rare insight into the proud and protected Samburu warrior culture, in which you’ll be hosted by local tribespeople and welcomed into the family. Altogether, it’s a truly holistic and sustainable route to responsible tourism.

Why is Kenya such a great conservation destination?

Kenya was a forerunner in the establishment of the idea of the Conservancy, which entails working hand in hand with communities to manage the resources within a designated area. The country has pioneered this hugely successful conservation story, and it continues to take leaps forward with the conservancies model. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (now part of the Lewa–Borana Landscape) set the standards, and since then there has been the roll-out of the Greater Mara Conservancies and the Northern Rangelands Trust conservancies, the latter including Namunyak, which is home to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and the wonderful Sarara Camp. 

The ecotourism vision is far more than using solar power and scrapping plastic bags and bottles. That said, these actions are a very good place to start, as they reinforce the wider message. A number of camps and lodges are increasingly taking active ownership and responsibility for the part that they play in ecotourism, and they’re encouraging guests to do the same, bringing about a circular movement that is gaining pace. At the forefront of some of Africa’s conservation crises, is the drive to find a sustainable solution, working together and giving back, acting as a role model for tourism and a blueprint for sustainable travel. 

If you’re interested in a conservation- or sustainable travel-focused safari to Kenya, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of the YZ team. Alternatively, check out the suggested trips and top tips below for more inspiration: