Running northwest from the moist highland saddle that divides Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, the 9,500-sq-km (23,670-sq-mile) Laikipia Plateau, with an average elevation of around 2,000 metres (6,600ft), is ecologically intermediate between Kenya’s central highlands and northern badlands. Incised by the Ewaso Nyiro and Ewaso Narok Rivers, which run through spectacular gorges in the north, the plateau extends westward to the dramatic Rift Valley escarpment overlooking Lakes Bogoria and Baringo, sloping away gently to become lower-lying and more arid in its far north.

In the colonial era, Laikipia was widely settled by European farmers, whose vast ranches were interspersed with community land, and the area’s wildlife was often persecuted. Today, by contrast, the plateau comprises a few dozen privately and communally owned sanctuaries, overseen by the Laikipia Forum , and it is the only part of Kenya in which wildlife numbers have significantly increased since independence. Collectively, it is the country’s second-largest protected ecosystem (after Tsavo), with a strong wilderness character complemented by an estimated 6,000 elephant, the country’s most significant populations of black rhino, greater kudu, Jackson’s hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra and African wild dog, as well as plenty of lion, leopard and other predators. The scenery is also impressive, particularly on the southern reaches of the plateau, where the rocky snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya and more modest outline of the Aberdares form a dramatic backdrop, weather permitting.

Compared to Amboseli or the Maasai Mara, Laikipia remains somewhat off-the-beaten-track, but as the site of some of Africa’s most luxurious and exclusive safari camps, it is slowly emerging as an upmarket touristic hotspot. However, unlike most other conservation areas in Kenya, it is essentially a mosaic of small exclusive conservancies, many of which are fully or partially fenced, each functioning as a self-contained destination running its own game drives in open 4x4s using skilled guides that know the property backwards. In addition, because the conservancies are private as opposed to public property, guided walks and spotlighted night drives are also on the activities menu at most camps.

The main gateway to the region, Nanyuki lies on the northwest slope of Mount Kenya some 200km (120 miles) along a good surfaced road from Nairobi. The most usual point of entry, however, is nearby Nanyuki Airport, which is connected to the capital and other tourist centres by regular flights. Access roads from Nanyuki to the scattered individual conservancies in Laikipia vary in quality, but some are very rough, so most people visit one specific property within the ecosystem, transferring there either by 4×4 or by charter flight. Some Laikipia conservancies are more-or-less directly accessible from surfaced roads. Lewa, for instance, lies alongside the road between Nanyuki and Isiolo, while Solio Ranch is immediately east of the main road between Nyeri and Nyahururu, and Ol Pejeta is only 10km (6 miles) on dirt west of Nanyuki.

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