It’s hard to imagine anything more thrilling and romantic than this scene: climbing into soft sheets fitted on a king-size bed with your love, flipping a switch and watching the ceiling of your expansive tent retract wide to reveal a velvet blanket of diamond-like stars above (don’t worry, there’s superfine netting preventing anything from getting in). Outside, subtly lit by the solar system, are dozens of species doing their own thing, some dozing, others hunting, some being hunted, many eating. Senses are heightened as lions, cheetah, elephants, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest, hippos and warthogs—plus more birds and other critters than one can conjure—fill the night with a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that signals you’re somewhere far, far away from home, on an adventure making a lifetime’s worth of memories. In the morning when you wake to sunrise skies at Leopard Hill, it’s always with anticipation of what a new day in Mara Naboisho Conservancy will bring.
This luxe tented camp is the newest by Basecamp Explorer, inside this privately run conservancy beside the famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, typically crowded with vehicles and wild animal seekers. Mara Naboisho is a contrast, not in terms of the wildlife found—because it’s also a rich and vast array—but because there are few other people seen on game drives. Here, too, there’s an even greater sense of place thanks to the grinning guides and staff: Maasai locals who proudly wear their native dress, vivid prints and rainbow-colored beaded jewelry and accessories that simultaneously feel important and casual.
The male and female Maasai guides expertly lead the way through land pulsing with life, sharing knowledge, answering questions and deftly navigating off-road (another difference with the Maasai Mara) to find the most exciting sightings and action—think elephants play fighting, giraffes mating, cheetahs dining on an antelope, and lion cubs greeting their fathers. In between are opportunities for pampering—think deep massages (to counteract the “African massage” guides laugh about getting from the safari vehicles and rough roads)—and private moments. Leopard Hill has a plusher honeymoon tent, and it’s possible to book special meals or sunset sundowners out in the bush for just the two of you. Hint: Big cat lovers take note that lion season is January to March, while those seeking the great migration should go in June or July when there’s tons of action.
There are also opportunities for bush walks with the guides, morning jaunts out into the wild to get up close and personal with the smaller intricacies of the ecosystem, and bonfires by night for stories and, if you’re lucky, traditional dances, chanting and jumping contests by the vibrant staff. Truly adventurous couples should consider a night spent at the Dorobo Mobile Camp, which moves according to the wildlife’s movements, and is a pared-down more temporary yet no less cozy tent—hot water bottle in bed included, and you can even take a bucket shower!—that more mimics the experience of camping. It’s the truest immersion into nature possible. There’s also plenty to spot from the high perch of Eagle View’s eco-friendly tents, overlooking a water hole where animals flood to drink, carefully, always watching their backs. Asilia Naboisho Camp is another within the exclusive conservancy that gives honeymooners the best access to personal, private experiences.
Those who want a bit more cultural immersion, outside the conservancy, can opt for Basecamp Masai Mara, where the Obamas slept in the stunning tents filled with Maasai-beaded decor on the Talek river’s tropical edge with monkeys in the trees and giraffe just across the water. There, like the Obamas, you can plant trees, helping reforest the area that had been mostly chopped down in the past for firewood. It’s also here that you can shop til you drop in the Basecamp Maasai Brand, picking up the ultimate souvenirs in the form of beaded beauties made by Maasai women—watching them work at the camp is fascinating—whose lives have been bettered tremendously by the opportunity to sell their awe-inspiring handiwork.
Logistics wise most trips include a night or two in Nairobi on either end because of Kenya Airways’ nonstop flight schedule to JFK, before flying Safarilink to the Mara. For stopovers the plushest digs are ones shared by many presidents (40 to be exact), including Obama: Villa Rosa Kempinski Nairobi, modeled after a grand villa with a stunning pool, fab food and drink options, comprehensive spa with strong therapists and a mini presidential suite that’s quite reasonably priced, if you wish to feel even more like a VIP. There’s plenty of shopping to do in and around the city as well, if there’s something you forgot to pick up from the Maasai themselves. After all, it wouldn’t be right to return home after a trip this epic with no colorful memento from this East African gem.