190km (118 miles) NW of Nairobi
Steadily gaining ground as Kenya's hottest game-viewing destination, with a reputation among savvy wildlife enthusiasts as the future hope for conservation management in East Africa, the Laikipia Plateau incorporates some of the richest lands and most impressive wildlife numbers in the country. Thrown into the mix of mesmerizing landscapes -- jagged hills, river-torn gorges, sweeping plains -- and rare and exotic animal species are traditional communities of tribal people -- the Laikipiak Maasai and the Samburu -- whose ability to survive against all odds in often harsh and inhospitable conditions will astound and inspire you. For many, the real draw here is the profusion of highly individual, intimate, and blissfully uncrowded safari lodges that have transformed this region into a blueprint for how nature tourism should work. Pioneering projects in sustainable land use allow domestic animal ranching and wildlife conservation to coexist, in turn producing a viable responsible ecotourism model that helps service and sustain local communities. Endangered beasts (including more than half of Kenya's black rhino population), and rare, unusual animals -- such as the endangered Grevy's zebra (which are found only north of the equator) -- traverse well-managed lands that are grazed upon by cattle. Reared in ultimate free-range fashion, these domestic livestock thrive on lands cohabited by the highest diversity of large mammals anywhere in the country. Besides bringing responsible tourism and sound eco-friendly principles to the region, these lodges and camps also involve local communities, hopefully ensuring the continued survival of tribal groups and their coexistence alongside the animals with which they have long shared the land that they have defended for generations. And because you'll inevitably be on private land for much of your visit, there's plenty of opportunity for alternative experiences -- horseback riding, camel safaris, mountain biking, and limitless game-viewing opportunities within environments where there are fewer restrictions and rules (and far fewer human visitors) than the government-run parks. Much like the wildlife that roams this terrain, you'll have a lot of freedom to do what you want, when you want, and while money spent at the government-run parks notoriously ends up in back pockets and spent on dubious bureaucracy, conservancy fees in the Laikipia go toward fostering community development and sustaining some of Africa's most important wildlife projects. The Lewa conservancy, for example, holds 12% of Kenya's black rhino population and the largest single population of Grevy's zebras in the world. Little wonder it has become Kenya's leading model for private conservation, ensuring Laikipia's emergence as a leading destination for low-impact tourism.