People refer to a vacation in Africa as a trip of a lifetime. And it is. Traveling to this continent is a big trip in every way — the preparation, expense, travel time required to get there are all consequential.
What really makes it a trip of a lifetime, however, is the wondrous experience of being in a place where you are able to witness the very essence of our world in the most powerful and authentic way, i.e. one that is raw and unadulterated. What you experience is life changing — you’ll never look at our planet same way again after a safari.
This is one of the reasons (safety is the other) that choosing the right resources for a safari is absolutely critical. &Beyond has been a leader in responsible tourism in Africa for decades (they started as Conservation Corporation Africa). Given their history and award-winning camps, I selected their lodging for the bulk of our trip.
All I can say is that &Beyond is quite simply And Beyond Expectations … in every way. I knew the camps and lodges would be spectacular. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the mind-boggling level of personalization. Sometimes I get special treatment as a travel writer, but in this case we experienced exactly what every other guest experienced — an insane service experience that left us teary-eyed at departure.
It’s not just about comfort or pampering here — it’s about ensuring you have your dream trip. &Beyond staff works tirelessly to ensure this happens for everyone.
We stayed at four of their accommodations — Bateleur Camp, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Serengeti Under Canvas, and Lake Manyara Tree Camp. All were phenomenal and offer a unique bush experience. There is too much to share about each camp for a single post; this will be my first article in a series about &Beyond accommodations.
Bateleur Camp | Masai Mara, Kenya
We loved all the camps but Bateleur left a deep impression on all of us. Set in a leafy forest overlooking open plains with constant stream of grazing animals, the vibe of the camp is vintage safari. Rustic on the outside (rooms are tents), but exquisitely decorated on the inside with safari artifacts of yesteryear, guests are transported to another time.
This camp is fenced so bigger animals do not roam freely (monkeys and warthogs do). At first I worried this would take away from the authenticity of the experience. It doesn’t. The fence blends into the environment and the reality is with young kids a fence makes things safer and easier.
Our welcome at Bateleur Camp was the first of many surprises. Our driver, Luke, and naturalist, Jackson, picked us up from the airstrip and drove us to “party with the hippos.”
Surprise is a core part of the Bateleur Camp experience. Just when you think you’ve got the routine down — they so something special to wow you.
Our hippo stop was the optimal time to establish our safari ground rules. After traveling all morning our 8-year-old hopped out of the jeep and started heading down to literally say hello to the hippos. “No, no, no little man — this is the real deal — hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa.” Wide-eyes followed. Our first lesson.
One of the special elements of &Beyond is the warmth of the staff at their lodges. It’s not just one person that moves you, but everyone. Truly — it’s amazing. You never pull up to a lodge without someone waiting for you and singing is big part of celebrating your arrival (and departure).
I love hotels that offer thoughtful treats to kids on arrival as this helps get them excited about a stay. At Bateleur we walked into our room and a letter was waiting for our son from the animals at the camp. He read the note aloud and a huge smile followed. “Mom, Dad … when are we going to go on our first safari?!”
You rely on your guide for everything on a safari — his/her driving skills, knowledge, and judgment. You’re life is in their hands, literally. Of course, with kids you have the extra element of needing a guide to be kid-friendly. In the bush this means a guide that is patient and someone who is willing to adapt content so kids stay engaged and learn from the adventure.
Bateleur Camp provides a guide and Masaai Warrior naturalist to families. This is the only camp where we had two people on the drives with us. This constant access provides a wonderful, casual forum for kids to learn about the Masaai people. What little boy is not excited about a real warrior who walks around with a knife or spear? Our interaction with Jackson was as impactful and memorable as learning about the animals and ecosystem.
Outside of the safaris you can interact with the Maasai in other ways too. Jackson spent time teaching us about creating fire with sticks and shooting a bow and arrow. A 10++ on the interest scale for a school-age boy.
One of the challenges of being on a safari with kids is that there is very little time or space for them to safely run around to burn off steam. Bateleur Camp has a small swimming pool but otherwise there is very little open space for kids.
What makes it work, however, is that the camp has an adjacent sister property, Kichwa Tembo, with an expansive grass area and a glorious swimming pool with plenty of room for kids and parents to spread out. This area is key for families and only a 5-minute walk from Bateleur. During holiday periods the property organizes games and activities for kids of all ages.
Food-borne illness is a major concern while traveling in Africa. Bateleur Camp has their own garden and much of what you eat is grown right on the property. Given that a safari involves hours of sitting, the last thing you want is ultra-heavy meals. The menu here is prepared with care. Don’t get me wrong — we overindulged — but the food is fresh, delicious, and surprisingly light. The diligent hygiene practices here (and at all &Beyond Camps) means you can eat uncooked fruit and vegetables, plus have your drinks with ice, i.e. you aren’t giving up a thing here. They will also prepare special meals for kids if they don’t want to eat the pre-set menu.
Conservation and Community
I can’t review &Beyond without mentioning their conservation and community endeavors. The company is deeply tied to wildlife conservation and tourism is a vital mechanism to ensure Africa’s ecosystems are protected. Supporting the local communities is a critical part of their strategy to care for Africa. We visited a school they support in the Masai Mara — I’ll report on that experience in another post. Read more about their Sustainability Programs on the &Beyond website.
We received a special media rate at AndBeyond lodges. They did not ask us to express a particular point of view.