There are two ways to find wildlife on an African safari vacation: head out on a game drive with your guide and visit all the likely spots, or be a little, well, lazier, and wait for the animals (and birds) to come to you. Spending time in a hide (or blind – basically a concealed shelter) lets you observe without being observed and can, with a little patience, result in some incredible sightings. If you’ve ever wanted to take extreme close-up images – say of the tip of an elephant’s trunk, or of his toenails, then time in a hide is the answer. Some of Kenya’s best safari lodges have created hides that offer comfort, excitement, and incredible photographic opportunities. Don’t forget your camera as we take you on a tour of our favorite photographic hides in Kenya.
The logpile hide at Ol Donyo in the Chyulu Hills is a wonderful place to while away a morning or an afternoon. As its name suggests, from the outside it resembles a pile of fallen timber. Which of course, is largely what it’s constructed from. It would be easy to believe that these trees were knocked over by the same elephants that frequent the waterhole that the hide overlooks, but they were chosen to be just big enough and heavy enough that elephants wouldn’t be able to rearrange them. The hide isn’t only about secrecy and safety – the roof of woven poles, and the wooden stools and raised picnic bench to ensure that your time in the Ol Donyo hide will be as comfortable as it is exciting. It’s an incredible feeling to have wild animals pass by almost within arm’s reach – their only interest at this point is slaking their thirst, so the occasional click of a camera shutter doesn’t disturb them at all.
Saruni Samburu, in Kenya’s rugged, semi-arid northern regions, is a safari lodge that thinks it’s a hide – albeit a very luxurious one. The guest accommodation looks out from the brink of a cliff towards Mount Kenya (visible on clear days) and there are astonishing views down into the dry valley below. This location makes for incredible acoustics when the local lions roar; another compelling reason to visit is the elephant hide. In a fantastic example of eco-friendly repurposing, it was custom-built from an old shipping container. Its ocean-going days now over, it serves instead as an ideal vantage point from which to watch thirsty elephants find relief at a waterhole. Cunningly disguised, it seems that the elephants are completely unaware of the hide and its occupants, or if they are, they really don’t mind you being there. Comfortably furnished, the Saruni Samburu waterhole hide offers the chance to take superb ground-level pictures of not just the larger creatures, but Samburu’s many bird species, too.
SARARA TENTED CAMP
Also in northern Kenya, Sarara Tented Camp has a hillside setting offering wonderful views of the ancient, jagged mountains of the Matthews Range. As well as superb walking safaris and guided game drives, Sarara features a small hide, once again by a waterhole (all safari experts know that these rare sources of water exert a magnetic pull over almost all living things. Approaching quietly, you slip inside and find a comfortable spot behind one of the giant logs that make up the Sarara hide. Then, as with all such experiences, it’s a waiting game – but chances are, thanks to its ideal location, your patience won’t be tested in the slightest. Keep your kids busy counting the eyelashes on passing elephants while you compose perfect wildlife images: water droplets wetting dry skin; massive feet causing little puffs of dust; whirring wings as flocks of parched birds land to drink. At times, you’ll be just a few feet away from some of wild Africa’s most iconic wild animals, but while they must make do with only water, you’ll be drinking in the stuff that memories are made of.
LEOPARD HIDE AT OL MALO LODGE
Built in and around the rocks of the Laikipia Plateau, Ol Malo Lodge is very much a product of its environment – and what an environment it is! Individually shaped rooms speak to a safari experience that’s as unique as you are. If you enjoy adventures on horseback, you’ve come to the right place – Ol Malo Lodge has reputedly the best herd in all of East Africa. The rocky koppies of Ol Malo just happen to be excellent leopard habitat – but these elusive big cats may be easier to hear than to see. Unless, of course, you opt to spend the night in the purpose-built Leopard Hide. Unlike many more general-purpose hides, this one is designed to focus on just the one species (although by spending the night there you’re almost certain to see other nocturnal animals, too). As you relax in comfort in your bunk bed, spare a thought for the leopards who are kept busy throughout the hours of darkness with hunting, rearing cubs and – all being well – visiting the hide named after them.
HIPPO HIDE AT OL PEJETA
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Central Kenya’s Laikipia County is a world-renowned reserve with a remarkable track record in helping to conserve rare species. For this blog, however, we’ll be focusing on one of the two hides on the property. There are no prizes for guessing what the chief attraction is at the Hippo Hide, so be prepared for a truly immersive entry into the secret world of the snorting, chortling “river horse”. Hippos have quite a fearsome reputation, but this hide, discreetly concealed amongst the rocks of the river bank, lets you observe more tender interactions between hippo moms and calves, and the daily routines of unique animals that sweat sunscreen and use their stubby tails to spray their poop around as a territorial marker. A word of warning: with so many ears, nostrils and eyes bobbing up and down, and disappearing underwater only to reappear elsewhere moments later, you could drive yourself a little crazy trying to count the hippos in the river!
THE BLINDS AT SIRIKOI LODGE AND LEWA SAFARI CAMP
Lewa Conservancy is not only a sanctuary for endangered species, but also for humans in need of some respite from the stresses and strains of daily life. With abundant wildlife, there is always something fascinating to watch. Especially when you spend time in one of Lewa’s Blinds (as their hides are well known). Like all the best hides, these blinds are situated at key wildlife locations with waterholes featured prominently. That’s not only because animals are naturally drawn there, but also because of the very special photographic opportunities created by uniquely low camera angles – not to mention the fascinating behavior that can be witnessed close to water, from the delight of thirsty animals to the patience of predators lying in ambush. Whichever luxury lodge you visit in Kenya, there’s no hiding from the fact that spending time in hides can give you a whole new perspective on safari.
Interested in this unique photographic experience? Reach out to us to begin designing your personalized safari!