If you are planning a tailor made trip to Kenya, then you don't have to stick with the hotels, safari lodges and camps that the tour operators use. You are totally free to design your own trip, although only to a point, which I will come to later!
Here is my list of top 10 places to stay in Kenya - not just safari lodges, but beach hotels as well, as many people combine a Kenya safari with a beach stay.
Of course if you need to keep the cost down then you really have to stick to an off the shelf safari - see this Kenya safari and beach holiday.
1. Governor's Il Moran Camp, Masai Mara
This is my number one camp in Kenya as there are few better spots for wildlife viewing in the whole of Africa. Giant evergreen trees provide the shade for meals by the river, while at night you can enjoy candlelit dinners in the open dining tent. There are just 10 luxury tents and so this is perfect for that extra special occasion.
2. The Ark, Aberdares
This is one of the places I stayed on my honeymoon, and it has a fairly simple unique selling point - the waterhole in front of the lodge where many elephants come to drink. For excellent photography, there is a viewing hatch at eye level to the elephants which means you can take a stunning photo up close. At night, you can have the buzzer in your room sound when the elephants arrive.
3. Pinewood Beach, near Mombasa
I have visited many many hotels along the coast of Kenya, and although by no means the most luxurious, it certainly is one of the nicest and friendliest. The staff and owners go out of their way to make your stay extra special, and a nice touch if you book a suite is to have a chef cook for you in your own room, using vegetables that you have picked from the hotel's garden.
4. Giraffe Manor, Nairobi
A truly unique hotel which is perfect either before or after a safari. There are around 8 Rothschild Giraffe which visit the house mornings and evenings, and may even join you for breakfast. Take a look at the amazing photographs on their website. Most of my customers tend to book 2 nights.
5. Afrochic, near Mombasa
A small, boutique hotel with just 10 rooms, and perfect for honeymoon couples. You can dine on your own verandah or on the beach. But you don't have to do nothing all day - there is an 18 hole golf course nearby and a variety of aromatherapy treatments.
6. Loisaba Star Beds, 5 hours north of Nairobi
The star beds are part of Loisaba Lodge, and allows you to sleep out under the stars! The beautifully crafted beds are made of local wood, and are semi covered with a thatched roof. If you prefer, or the conditions make it impossible, they can be kept under shelter. Transport is best done by light aircraft, and then by camel, horseback or foot to get to the beds.
7. Elephant Bedroom Camp, Samburu
There are just 12 luxury, rustic style tents here in a place that is teeming with elephants as well as lions and occasionally leopard. Enjoy candlelit dinners under the stars, and as well as standard vehicle safaris, bush walking safaris are also available.
8. Diamonds Dream of Africa, Malindi
Offers a relatively inexpensive 5* luxury all inclusive experience. The hotel is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and has a laid back atmosphere with just 35 rooms.
9. Elsa's Kopje, Meru National Park
This was made famous by the film 'Born Free' and George Adamson's lions. The service, quality of food and views are outstanding, and while wildlife viewing is also excellent, I would suggest spending 2-3 nights here, and then 2-3 nights in the Masai Mara for even better wildlife watching.
10. Kicheche Bush Camp, bordering Masai Mara
A truly luxurious camp which is completely unfenced, allowing for animals to wander past at any time. There are just 6 luxury tents, looking out over the plains. There is also a lounge area with comfy chairs, a great place to relax at the end of the day, with a small library of reference books. Leisure facilities include game drives in customised 4WD land cruiser and guided bush walks.
So what are the limitations? Well, basically how do you get around from place to place? You can book an exclusive safari vehicle (which is what I did for my own honeymoon in Kenya in 1998) but you must remember to choose a route that is practical. 3-4 hours driving is about the maximum that you'll want to do to get to the next place. Or you could make it a flying safari, remembering that costs very quickly mount up. But 3 nights in the Samburu and 3 nights in the Masai Mara is typical.