Ecotourism in Kenya: Campi ya Kanzi

Ecotourism in Kenya: Campi ya Kanzi

By Melissa Vitti

A Maasi tribesman at the Kuku Group Ranch in Southern Kenya.
A Maasi tribesman at the Kuku Group Ranch in Southern Kenya.

Eco-resorts are on the rise and becoming more popular for the globally conscious traveler. Their popularity has reached new heights in places like Africa with abundant wildlife, dazzling scenery and unique local cultures.

Campi Ya Kanzi in southern Kenya has been recognized nationally for their excellence in environmental management. Within 10 years of its development, Campi Ya Kanzi has received a top rating (Gold) from Uncharted Outposts, one of the nation’s oldest and most respected safari and travel specialists. The Gold rating recognizes founders Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi for their sustainable use of resources and links to the local community.

Campi ya Kanzi

Stretched over 400 square miles of African wilderness, Campi ya Kanzi is located within the Kuku Group Ranch in Southern Kenya. The land owned by Maasai herdsmen extends from the Chyulu Hills to the foothills of the great Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa (19,342 feet). The land has a rich biodiversity including a number of different habitats.

Habitats range from the grasslands of the savanna to green river woodlands and cool mountain forests. The Chyulu Hills on Kuku Group Ranch were formed by very recent volcanic activity; some of the lava outflows are less than 200 years old.

The hills are well known for their biodiversity. The ranch also contains pools, springs, two rivers and a lake, making it a draw for great numbers of large game.

The lodge is designed to have minimal impact on the environment. The buildings are constructed from local materials such as lava rocks, thatch and lumber from a reforestation program. Their solar boiler produces the hot water, electricity is generated by solar systems and food is prepared with eco-friendly charcoal. Waste is collected, recycled or incinerated or even used as compost. The water is collected from the roofs and purified through lava filters, then recycled and fed into a pond for wildlife.

Their Goal

Tembo House at Campi ya Kanzi
Tembo House at Campi ya Kanzi

Luca and Antonella chose to make the protection of this land a top priority. To create an eco-tourism enterprise they welcomed the opportunity to work with the Maasai community. Together their goal is to protect the wildlife, the wilderness and the culture of the Massai.

Visitors play a crucial role in achieving, because their economic support can help to maintain a place where wildlife can flourish. On their website Camp ya Kanzi explains they are not here to exploit Kenya in any way.

“Our aim at Campi ya Kanzi is not to have huge profits and, eventually, leave Africa. We chose to come, to invest our money in creating a community lodge (paid for by Belpietro and Bonomi, but owned by the Maasai community) with the aim to stay and spend the rest of our lives here.”

Maasai tribesmen
Maasai tribesmen

Every year they invest in new technologies to better preserve the environment. They also invest in their work force to get more Maasai involved in the conservation process and to prove to the community the economic advantages of wildlife preservation.

Essentially, their contribution to the area is working together with the local people to prevent other industry from taking over or exploiting the land. What the Campi ya Kanzi is all about can be summed up in this statement from their website:

“That is what Campi ya Kanzi stands for: a community ecotourism lodge, built, owned, run by a Maasai community, for the benefit of the local people.”

Your Hosts

Luca Belpietro's love for Kenya began as a boy accompanying his father on sporting safari trips. Growing up he divided his time between his native country of Italy and Kenya. He went on to earn a degree in economics and wrote his thesis on Sustainable Development and Environment Conservation: Wildlife as a Natural Resource in Kenya.

A dinner at Campi ya Kanzi
A dinner at Campi ya Kanzi

With a successful career at a financial consulting firm his passion for Kenya persisted and he stayed involved with wildlife conservation in Kenya. This passion lead to the creation of Camp ya Kanzi where he and his wife Antonella Bonomi have created a memorable getaway for guests.

When Antonella Bonomi first visited Kenya she instantly shared the same love for the area as her husband. With a law degree and experience in her family’s vineyard, the transition to Kenya was natural for her.

"When I came here for the first time, I saw a paradise on Earth and knew I had to live here. After I moved to Kenya, I did my best to create Campi ya Kanzi as a place where I would like to live."

Luca and Antonella were married in Chuyahu Hills and now work side by side with over 45 local Maasai people cooking, cleaning, guiding and maintenance around the resort. Both are from the same community in Italy but now call Kenya home and couldn’t be happier raising their daughter in the region closest to their hearts. Belpietro and Bonomi both speak fluent, English, Italian and Kiswahili.

A Maasai school at Campi ya Kanzi
A Maasai school at Campi ya Kanzi

The Maasai People

The Maasai people are truly unique. Recognized by their bright red dress and spears in hand, they are fearless to say the least. Up until recently the only way for a Maasai boy to reach warrior status was to kill a lion with a spear. What sets them apart from the other 50 tribes that Kenya recognizes is their nomadic quality; they live by herding cattle and goats. They measure personal wealth by the amount of cattle each has.

They do not live in permanent buildings. Instead, they construct a "enkang" (corral) for a group of families. The enkang is a circle of huts, one per family, enclosed by a circular fence of thorn bushes. The woman of each household constructs the hut from cattle dung and clay. Periodically, the group will abandon their enkang and construct a new one in an area with better water and grazing.

Campi ya Kanzi’s main goal is to protect the land of the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch, to enable the Maasai community to keep living according to their traditions, if they wish.

Breakfast at Campi ya Kanzi
Breakfast at Campi ya Kanzi

Visitors to Campi ya Kanzi make a significant contribution toward this goal. For every day spent at Campi ya Kanzi, $40 is set aside as a conservation fee to assist the Maasai community and to protect their wildlife.

Your Visit

At some safari camps, guests are usually locked down to a predetermined schedule. At Campi Ya Kanzi guests are able to work with a professional guide to design each day’s activities and safaris. A taste of what’s to come in a typical day for guests is described on their site.

“Imagine a day that begins with the aroma of Kenyan coffee or tea brought to your tent by your personal attendant. Enjoy your coffee or tea and the view of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the veranda, and then head out for your morning walk or game drive.

"After your safari, return to the camp for a breakfast that includes fresh local fruit such as mango and pineapple or enjoy a picnic breakfast in the middle of the savanna, complete of eggs and bacon cooked on a bush fire.

Following breakfast, you can enjoy an escorted safari on foot, or just relax at the camp. At lunchtime, we can organize a grand picnic for you, featuring fresh vegetables from our garden, or you can dine at Tembo House and then take an afternoon siesta.”

Visitors seem more than satisfied with their visits to Campi ya Kanzi.

“Landscape, sunsets, wild animals, the wind and the smiles of the people… How could I forget this extraordinary place where life began?” says Isabel Allende of San Francisco.

Even Edward Norton has stayed here and had nothing but praises about the experience. “To all our friends at Campi ya Kanzi," he wrote, "this place is so special… Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”


Prices at Campi ya Kanzi range from $400 to $800 per night per person (plus the conservation fee of $40) depending on which suite or room you prefer. The prices include all meals, pure drinking water, laundry, bird watching, house beer and wines, excursions to three national parks and botanical game walks, as well as cultural visits to the Maasai village, game drives in specially modified Land Rovers and escorted game walks.

To learn more about Campi ya Kanzi, visit their website,

Melissa VittiMelissa Vitti is an intern at She attends the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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