Campi Ya Kanzi means ‘Camp of the Hidden Treasure’ and that it really is: nestled within Hemingway’s ‘Green Hills of Africa’, this elegant and magical camp entices the visitor to feel the living, beating heart of these lush hills.
This corner of Kenya is absolutely bursting with biodiversity. There is a massive range of habitats including the savannah and a cloud forest that sits on the top of the hills; consequently, the area is teeming with over 60 species of mammals and 400 species of bird.
But 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 sake of the indigenous Maasai and the local wildlife. A donation is paid at Campi Ya Kanzi by each visitor to ensure this is soundly achieved.
Two foundations have also been established for this purpose: the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and the Maasai Foundation of East Africa. Both have been instrumental in helping to train the Maasai as guides; educate them about the importance of wildlife (and stop them from hunting lions); protecting the local flora and fauna; providing clinics and schools to the locals, and of course, protecting the land so that the Maasai can thrive in their traditional lands and lifestyles.
After napping off some jet lag, it’s hard to leave the comfortable four poster bed when snuggled under the thick cotton bedding—rooms are truly comfortable, and you easily forget you’re actually in a tent. The wood furnishings and fixtures are locally sourced, and the hotel aims to be as eco-friendly as possible. In fact, its policies have won it several Ecotourism Awards, and the camp is a member of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya. But wake up we do, to sweeping views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the twinkling sunrise.
Activities during the day include choices of walking, horseback or driving safaris, which start at dawn. The game viewing is simply 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 not only provides a spectacular setting for breakfast, but demonstrates some 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 breathtaking, 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, and pointed out a Marula Tree (Sclerocarrya birrea), from which the famous African liqueur Amarula comes from. Full of health benefits, it’s also known as the Elephant Tree, as elephants will ram the tree to drop its fruits so they can have a bit of a treat themselves.
Dreams Come True
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, which can make for quite a confusing experience due to 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 deliciously unfussy and all the wine comes from South Africa, including Antonella’s family vineyard – Mount Orfano wines. Many of the vegetables are freshly plucked from the organic garden behind the hotel. Hospitable by nature, Luca and Antonella are usually a fixture at meals, and Luca is always happy to communicate the social aims of Campi Ya Kanzi.
Over one lightly grilled dinner, he explained to us that it was always his dream to create a place that would be owned and protected by the Maasai who lived on it, thus creating a symbiotic relationship between the land and the people, and it seems his dream has come true.