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Basecamp Explorer Kenya manages unique safari accommodation camps in the Masai Mara and Mara Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy.Ken Geiger/Courtesy of Basecamp Explorer

The lion’s roar served as a warning to others: Wait your turn.

As the pack tore into the freshly killed wildebeest, the hierarchy of who got to eat what and when was clear. And one of the two mature males, his glorious mane blowing in the cool night wind under the Kenyan stars, wasn’t ready to share.

Amid the roaring, other sounds. The crunching of bones. The snapping of tendons. The tearing of flesh. Raw. Primal. Terrifying.

Yes, I was safely ensconced in a safari vehicle. But the Toyota Land Cruiser was open-sided, and our guide’s infrared light was shining directly on the feeding frenzy. Which meant that other animals – perhaps more lions – lurked in the darkness just beyond.

But that is the point of a safari, right? To view these legendary animals up close. To see lions feast, elephants saunter and giraffes bat their eyelashes. And while most safaris will deliver on that front, the “how” of such experiences can differ, well, wildly.

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy, 50,000 acres of private conservation area, sits adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.Basecamp Explorer/Courtesy of Basecamp Explorer

Take Kenya, a top safari destination. Most people think of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Because it is government run, however, strict rules are in place, which means that night game drives such as the one that led to my lion encounter are prohibited.

While I was within the Maasai Mara ecosystem with those voracious lions, my experience was possible because I wasn’t in the park, rather the adjacent Mara Naboisho Conservancy – 50,000 acres of private conservation area – on safari with Basecamp Explorer. The company runs three permanent camps in Kenya, all through a community partnership model. The land upon which it operates is owned by local Maasai people, who lease it to Basecamp and four other outfitters. This arrangement provides a sustainable income for more than 500 Maasai families, and allows visitors to enjoy experiences not permitted in the national park in a much quieter setting – at least in terms of tourists.

Guests of Basecamp can also participate in walking safaris. One morning, my group ventured out from Eagle View, our first of two camps. Since our arrival, we had marvelled at the vista afforded by its hilltop position: a large salt lick frequented by warthogs, baboons and impalas, grassland extending into the horizon. It was our turn to walk in these animals’ tracks.

We trekked (albeit at a safe distance) alongside herds of waterbucks, wildebeests and Grant’s gazelles. The highlight was coming upon a giraffe skeleton. Our guides – who, like 90 per cent of Basecamp staff, are from nearby Maasai communities – propped the thigh bone up, its length extending well beyond their heads. The walk ended with a multi-course breakfast cooked fresh to order in the open field.

It was a memorable meal, but all the food at Basecamp was delicious and plentiful – a good thing, because a safari can be exhausting, mentally and physically. Each day started early with a game drive (after an incredible Kenyan coffee delivered to my tent at sunrise) and from then I was on alert, even when doing nothing but sketching the magnificent fig tree at Leopard Hill, our second camp. Animals were everywhere, always: Vervet monkeys darted out of trees, zebras grazed behind my tent and at night the lions – the conservancy has one of the world’s highest densities of the big cat in the world – roared.

I could hear a pride from my bed one evening, as they prowled around the edges of camp. I gazed out into the darkness, nothing but a screen between me and the animal kingdom. The day had not ended well for another wildebeest.

Guests of Basecamp's walking safaris ended with a multi-course breakfast cooked fresh to order in the open field.Basecamp Explorer/Courtesy of Basecamp Explorer

If You Go

There are no direct flights from Canada to Kenya. One of the easiest options is to fly to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and from there take a direct flight to Nairobi on Kenya Airways. From there, most travellers take bush flights to safari camps.

Where to stay

Basecamp Explorer runs three permanent safari camps in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy: Eagle View, Leopard Hill and Basecamp Masai Mara, which is connected to the Maasai Mara National Reserve by a footbridge. All camps feature luxury tented accommodations, and stays include all meals, mineral water, airstrip transfers and game drives. Other amenities and outings are included depending on the camp. Starting daily room rates based on double occupancy are: Eagle View, US$365; Leopard Hill, US$500; Basecamp Masai Mara, US$300. Packages that include stays at multiple properties are available.

Ken Geiger/Courtesy of Basecamp Explorer

The writer travelled as a guest of Basecamp Explorer. It did not review or approve this article.

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