The traveler who goes on safari in Kenya is a bit like a golfer hitting the links at St. Andrews. Beyond the sheer enjoyment of their experience, there is an ever-present awareness of the history and heritage surrounding them.
Kenya’s vast savannas were, after all, where the African wildlife adventure was veritably born—in fact, safari is a Swahili word for “journey,” adapted from the Arabic safar. Guests joining our Kenya & Tanzania Under Canvas expedition are treated to an unforgettable journey that includes many of the same encounters that awed those initial bush explorers.
The first travelers across Kenya were nomadic tribes and merchants along the ancient trade routes from the Middle East. Safaris as they are known today began in the mid-1800s, when Europeans arrived in the country to document—and dominate—the local fauna. While these early adventures were filled with fascinating discoveries of new species, they were mostly about the inauspicious thrill of the hunt. (They also would establish the daily game drives and other elements that still define the safari experience to this day.)
Hunting safaris in Eastern Africa soon became the diversion du jour of Europe’s high society, which organized huge parties in its pursuit of ever-greater “trophy” kills. In 1909, former US President Theodore Roosevelt headed a troupe of some 250 Africans that would extinguish more than 500 animals, including dozens of lions, buffalo, elephants, and rhinos. Roosevelt’s book, African Game Trials, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa detailing his own exploits, helped foster the public’s fascination with safaris. So too did images of Hollywood stars on big game hunts, which filled the big screen and the imagination.
While today’s safari experience still holds the same allure, much has changed since those early expeditions. First and foremost, those trophy kills would, ironically, inspire a fervid commitment to conservation. Recognizing the importance of wildlife tourism to the Kenyan economy (it accounts for 10 percent of the country’s gross national product ), the government vastly expanded the number of national parks and preservation efforts. Indeed, the Kenya Wildlife Service stands as a model for other African nations protecting their animal populations.
Even as modern lodges and camps keep the safari legacy alive with their lavish amenities, many, like the award-winning Encounter Mara Camp in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy (where guests on our Kenya & Tanzania Under Canvas journey spend two nights), are recognized for their environmentally sound practices, as well as for creating a sustainable livelihood for local communities.