On a clear day, there is no grander sight in Africa than the snowcapped cone of Mount Kilimanjaro, resting on a quilt of haze above the grasslands of southeastern Kenya. This is the view from the main deck of Ol Donyo Lodge, as well as from its six comfortable cottages and two-bedroom family suite. Built along a forested ridge at the base of the Chyulu Hills, Ol Donyo is situated on a private concession within a 430-square-mile group ranch owned by Maasai pastoralists. Here, guests have the wildlife to themselves. The region around Ol Donyo is famous for its huge elephant — some with tusks weighing 175 pounds each — which survive unmolested thanks to effective conservation policies endorsed by the local people. Cheetahs stalk the grasslands in pursuit of antelopes, while the area’s two lion prides prefer to ambush their prey from pockets of thick bush. Ol Donyo is a wonderfully atmospheric and hospitable lodge, as well as being a living fragment of the old Kenya that existed before the advent of mass tourism.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is located around 200 miles from Ol Donyo, in southwestern Kenya. The country’s best-known park can be overcrowded at times, especially during the Kenyan phase of the wildebeest migration in August and September each year, when thousands of animals forge the crocodile-infested Mara River. (During the pandemic, the reserve has been uncharacteristically deserted.) A northern extension of Tanzania’s huge Serengeti National Park, the Maasai Mara comprises the main reserve (where the worst of the overcrowding occurs), the Mara Triangle (separately managed by a not-for-profit organization) and a series of private conservancies owned by local Maasai. Immense savannas dotted with flat-topped acacia trees — the iconic landscape of East Africa — are home to astounding numbers of animals, including literally hundreds of lions.