Join the ponderous elephants, dusky eagle owls and white-naped tits (birds, not naughty guests) at Dera Amer, a Rajasthani safari camp that doesn’t stint on creature comforts. Enjoy Pushkar cuisine in a dining pavillion lit with mashals (flaming torches) and bonfires, admire local folk-dance performances, set off on treks to temples, mountains, villages and monuments; then return to the comfort of boutique base camp. Most of all, befriend the resident pachyderms: wash them, feed them, bathe them – even paint them. They’ve been rescued from Jaipur, and are (understandably) in love with their new life.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $357.36 (INR25,424), excluding tax at 18 per cent.
Stays here are all inclusive, so transfers, activities, food, drinks and excursions are usually covered. (Alcohol costs extra.) Breakfast is a hearty buffet spread, plus cooked options – the perfect pre-safari fodder.
Look out for the ancient chattris (memorials) that dot the woodlands around the camp.
Between 1 May and 30 September.
At the hotel
A 60-acre sprawl of protected wilderness (see if you can spot the onsite mediaeval temple). In rooms: iPod dock; desk; board games; oil heater in the tent and bathroom; minibar; Forest Essentials bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The tents are identical – and there’s no duff option here: each of the sleeping quarters is decorated with sand-coloured matting, ruby-red fabrics and furnishings, soft rugs and polished campaign furniture (designed to be packed up and carried on a march, if necessary – definitely not, in this case). The tents have power showers and electricity; you’ll also get your own shaded porch, equipped with a pair of comfy deckchairs.
No spa onsite, but the Tree of Life Resort & Spa is just 10 minutes away by car (www.treeofliferesorts.com). Try a turmeric and salt body scrub, a wild honey and vanilla wrap, or a facial featuring yoghurt and your choice of extras, tailored to your skin type.
Keen twitchers, your luck’s in: Dera Amer equips each tent with a pair of binoculars and a handy book on birds – extra points if you spot a white-naped tit or dusky eagle owl.
Take part in Pilates, yoga and fitness sessions in the grounds (INR1,000 a person, each class).
Little Smiths are extremely welcome – they can stay for free, if they’re aged seven or under. Bear in mind you’ll have to lug prams and other kit across a valley, as it’s a 15-minute walk from where you’ll be dropped off by car on arrival.
Lots of staff onsite, an absence of other guests and acres of tranquil woodland make this a dream stay for little Smiths – and it’s super safe.
Teenagers and little Smiths aged between 6 and 12 – there’s no creche or babysitters, and it’s a 15-minute walk to your accommodation from the drop-off point, so you don’t want to lug prams and other paraphernalia.
The tents share the same setup; all four are great.
Your brood will go wild for the elephants, which you can bathe, feed and play with. There are also nature walks, birdwatching trips and a stash of board games.
Just ask staff nicely if you’d like dishes adapted according to junior tastes.
No need to pack
Board games – Dera Amer has a stash.
This hotel has a huge heart: it gives domesticated elephants from Jaipur a new home in its picturesque patch of parkland, within the protected Aravalli Range. Staff are local; food is organic and farm fresh.
Beside the elephants (yes, really): Dera Amer’s alfresco breakfasts will have you munching muesli while the elephants chomp grass.
Out of Africa, with a Rajasthani spin. The following trio is a safe bet: cotton; cashmere; cologne.
Dinner is served in a separate dining tent, or in a beautful arched pavillion set on lush lawns and lit with mashals (flame torches) and bonfires by night. Local folk dancers sometimes provide performances, accompanied by musicians. (You’ll share this space with visitors here on day trips or elephant treks.) Sample Pushkar cuisine, including a delicious Dera mutton dish, which is cooked slowly and results in melt-in-the-mouth meat. Western options can also be requested – anything goes, really.
There’s no formal bar as such, though one of the tents can be used as a lounge area. Instead, drinks and cocktails – including the excellent Dera Punch – are rustled up on request. Take your sundowners and clamber up the rocky outcrops to the small ledge, a few steps up – you’ll get Insta-worthy views.
It’s a relaxed set-up – breakfast and dinner are served whenever guests want them. Lunch isn’t on offer, but the hotel has a slew of recommendations up its khaki sleeve.
The owners are onsite around the clock – if you want a snack or drink between meals, just ask nicely.
Dera Amer sits at the foothills of the Aravalli Range, in a wilderness reserve that’s home to a memory of elephants – yes, that is the correct collective noun, along with herd – plus a few small hamlets and a pretty lake.
Fly into Jaipur International Airport, 31 kilometres from the hotel – an hour’s drive (www.jaipurairport.com).
Jaipur Junction train station is 27 kilometres away, with services connecting to India’s main cities.
Leave the chaotic driving to Jaipur’s glut of taxis, buses and coaches – you’ll only be stressed out behind the wheel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Start by befriending the local elephants: bathe them, feed them, serenade them – just generally get to know them. You can also set off on an adventurous elephant trek (walking alongside your favourite pachyderm) or camel safari in the Aravalli forests, ticking off hutments, ancient monuments and temples (keep your eyes peeled for leopards, hyena, jackals, antelopes and wolves). For the most magical trek, set off at sunset – you’ll be served cocktails to sip while riding your elephant, fire buckets will keep you warm and the trek concludes with a sunset barbecue. Back on your own two feet, there’s plenty to see close by: walk for five minutes to discover the mediaeval temple of Gopal Ji, or the homes of the local Meena tribespeople, who have called this patch of Jaipur home for centuries. Spend some time on their farms, or visit the rural school for the local children. Hop on a Jeep for half an hour to admire Maji Ki Baori – a mediaeval stepwell – or Amer Fort. You can also ask the hotel to organise expeditions into the wilderness that surrounds the camp, guided by expert local tribespeople, or hot-air-balloon rides with Sky Waltz.
Arrange to have a car take you into Jaipur – perhaps for the Smith-approved Samode Palace’s ravishing restaurant, which serves refined Rajasthani, Asian and European dishes, courtesy of chef Raheev Sharma. Stay in Jaipur for rooftop drinks at Fairmont Jaipur’s Aasma bar (aasma means ‘sky’ in Hindi).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this safari hotel in Rajasthan and unpacked their pith helmets and long socks, a full account of their wild break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Dera Amer near Jaipur…
Dera Amer isn’t your average hotel. Instead of cars, it has camels; instead of a formal restaurant, it has a torch-lit dining pavilllion; instead of rooms, it has luxury tents (equipped with proper showers and electricity, natch); instead of other guests, it has a herd of docile pachyderms, rescued from Jaipur. The elephants are Dera Amer’s most entrancing attraction. Forget watching TV or wasting time online, here you can hang out with the gentle giants – washing them, bathing them, feeding them. The insights into woodland ways don’t end there. You’ll get binoculars and a book on birds, so you can acquaint yourself with what’s flying in the skies above you. Discover mediaeval temples and ancient monuments in the wildnerness (perhaps on the back of your favourite elephant or camel, cocktail in hand), or spend some time talking to the tribespeople whose huts dot the landscape. All creatures great and beautiful, all things wild and wonderful, Dera Amer loves them all.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Dera Amer’s Guestbook below.
The property is beautiful and the hosts are very welcoming. The staff is thoughtful but not intrusive, they made us feel very special. The USP, of course, are the elephants, who are always available to hang out with and you can feel are being treated with love. We had a wonderful break for our anniversary at this little wilderness getaway.
A very extensive dining menu. The food is homecooked but delicious!
Stayed on 17 Feb 2019
We loved absolutely everything about this stay, 100 per cent worth every penny! The location and set up was beautiful, the food was so fresh and tasty. Nothing was a hassle to the staff and you could do as little or as much as you liked.
So many small touches we didn't expect but were incredible, such as the hot water bottles ready for us in bed at night. The personal servicers and chef during our stay… this list goes on!
Stayed on 8 Jan 2019
What is not to love about Dera Amer? During our trip to India, we stayed at some amazing places, including the Lake Palace in Udaipur and The Imperial in Delhi, but Dera Amer was the highlight of our holiday. Perhaps our pre-holiday research was not very good, but we were surprised by a number of things: the fact that there are elephants living in the camp; the fact that we would be feeding and bathing one of the elephants every morning; the fact that we would have the camp to ourselves; the fact that EVERYTHING was included in the price we paid (all meals, drinks, tour guides, tickets to the Amber Fort, transport). And to top it all off, the camp itself was truly magical. The accommodation was luxurious, the setting beautiful, the food delicious and the service impeccable. Waking to the sound of birds as the sun starts to warm the tent; coffee under a tree while breakfast is freshly prepared nearby; sundowners just above the camp while the peacocks race back and forth; dinner under the stars, with the camp lit only by oil lamps; spending time with Lakshmi, the elephant, and listening to her chatter with her mahout, Babu – I don't think things could get any better than that. We were looked after by a wonderful team, and in particular by Harshraj, who was incredibly knowledgeable about the local wildlife, sites and Indian culture generally. The Amber Fort is nearby, and I would definitely recommend visiting while you are at Dera Amer. There are also a number of interesting birds in and around the camp, and we enjoyed a sunset walk with Harshraj, who helped us to identify them.
Don't expect to be disappointed! We loved Dera Amer and thought it was perfect.