The vast Laikipia Plateau stretches from Mount Kenya in the east to the Great Rift Valley in the west; it encompasses a vast, diverse terrain of around 808,000 hectares (2 million acres) ranged more or less between the colonial-era frontier town of Nanyuki in the south and the remote wilderness town of Maralal in the north. The plains of Laikipia stretch from the Great Rift Valley to the escarpments descending down toward the Northern Frontier District. The region is largely comprised of enormous wildlife conservancies, huge cattle ranches, and community-owned lands -- many of these have been developed to receive visitors in small-scale tourist operations that offer high-end experiences intended to impact as little as possible on the environment.
For the lowdown on anything and everything Laikipia-related, you can contact the Laikipia Wildlife Forum, based in Nanyuki, where it has an office at the tiny airport (tel./fax 020/216-6626; www.laikipia.org).
By Air -- Because the majority of accommodations within the Laikipia region are in relatively remote camps and lodges, most visitors choose to fly, as chartered flights don't necessarily imply a considerable uptick in price. There are plenty of scheduled trips, too, with Nanyuki the most obvious regional gateway. There are several other scheduled touch-downs across the region, with short-hop light aircraft dropping and collecting passengers on demand. Scheduled flights to Nanyuki, as well as other airstrips around Laikipia, are operated by AirKenya (www.airkenya.com) and Safarilink (www.safarilink-kenya.com); these typically arrive in the morning and also connect Nanyuki with Lewa Downs and Loisaba (both popular jumping-off points in Laikipia), as well as the Samburu and Shaba reserves and the Masai Mara. The best charter companies are Tropic Air (www.tropicairkenya.com), for trips commencing at or destined for Nanyuki, and Boskovic Air Charters (www.boskovicaircharters.com), if you're departing from Nairobi. Both companies will transport you from destinations farther afield, but remember that charter flights are priced to account for both legs of a journey (even if you're not onboard, you'll pay for the "dead leg" of the trip). Note: If you are catching a scheduled flight, remember that you may need to factor in your ground transfer costs -- in some cases, this might add another $200 or even more to the cost of getting there (although the road transfer is typically charged per transfer rather than per person).
By Road -- The road trip from Nairobi to Nanyuki (also a major hub for Mount Kenya) takes around 3 hours (although this is always quoted at about 2 hr.) without pit stops. From Nanyuki, some of the onward journeys to lodges and camps in the Laikipia are likely to fill up what's left of your day. Although getting to Lewa Conservancy is an additional 45 to 60 minutes from Nanyuki, it'll take a total of 6 hours on the (often-harrowing) road getting from Nairobi to Tassia on the Lekurruki Conservancy. Though overland travel may cut down on costs, it's most likely that you'll be thoroughly exhausted upon arrival; bear in mind that the quality of driving in Kenya is nerve-wracking, at best.
The great thing about game viewing in Laikipia is that once you've arrived, you don't need to plan, plot, or organize anything. You'll be asked what you want to do but shouldn't have to make any arrangements yourself. Roads within the conservancies are suitable only for 4X4s, but horses and camels are popular for alternative, leisurely exploration. All the lodges offer walking safaris, too, and some have mountain bikes and even quad bikes.
Out on the Range -- Borana is well known as a horseback-riding destination and has a stable of hardy breeds -- Ethiopian, Arab, and thoroughbred horses -- available for multiday safaris across the Laikipia wilderness. Some decent riding experience is essential, as you won't be dealing with pushover ponies here, and you'll spend long days out in the saddle (although horses especially bred for beginners are also available for shorter rides). You have a choice of fly-camping out in the bush at night (with decent, comfortable tents and hot-water showers, as well as three-course meals served around a camp fire) or returning to one of the luxe eco-lodges in the neighborhood; either way, you'll spend your days discovering a wonderfully untamed terrain where you'll encounter wildlife on a whole new level. To arrange your horse safari, inquire through Borana , or write to Michael and Nicky Dyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daily conservancy fees vary from lodge to lodge, ranging from around $40 to $80 per adult. The good news is that this money -- unlike what you would have paid at the gates of state-run parks -- is more likely to go directly toward conserving the environment and enhancing its wildlife, not to mention contributing to the livelihood of local communities.