I was lucky to be invited to visit the BUSH & BEYOND Properties in Kenya. What a great opportunity to see some of the finest properties in Kenya and also give me a refresher visit to one of my favorite countries in Africa. It also allowed me to see some other properties before and after my visit with Bush & Beyond.
Located in a suburb of Nairobi it is a great find. The main house has six rooms and they have several “garden” rooms which are perfect day rooms with wifi. I felt like I was staying in someone’s home and their good location is great for discovering Nairobi or relaxing after your long international flights. The cuisine is superb and Bimbi Dyer is the supreme hostess.
I have sent clients to this property for several years and I have never had the opportunity to visit. I am so glad I finally did. You can reach Borona via air from Nairobi Wilson airport to Lewa or it is an hour drive from Nanyuki. The lodge consists of eight cottages (including two family suites) with open fireplaces that are lit every night to warm the cool night air. The bathrooms are spacious and luxurious with a fantastic view. You can participate in everything or nothing at all. They offer activities from horseback riding to mountain biking and a pool to cool off in. The lodge is built on the side of a hill which provides great views and there is a lake below which Elephants like to frequent. Getting around camp requires you walk up and down the stairs which will give you a good workout to work off the calories from the scrumptious cuisine. Sam & Flick are superb hosts and operate the lodge as true professionals.
Located just eight kilometers from the lodge is LARAGAI HOUSE. The house has eight-bedrooms and offers the ultimate privacy for a family or group of friends. The main room of the house has a large balcony to take in the views, they have wifi and a game room for the kids.
I had a last minute change which typically happens when you travel in East Africa and I ended up spending a night at Solio Lodge. I was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations and it is located on a marsh overlooking a Rhino Sanctuary. The property opened in August of 2010 with a “sleek” look and just six large rooms and baths. Wifi is available. The reserve is picturesque with views of Mount Kenya and gorgeous flame trees. I couldn’t believe the amount of wildlife in the reserve. They have black and white rhinos and I saw everything but elephants on the afternoon of my visit. The drive is 45 minutes from Nanyuki and it is wise to have Solio Lodge transfer your clients because their vehicles are allowed to drive through the reserve. The public road is terrible and takes longer to navigate.
THE EMAKOKO, Nairobi National Park
I have visited Kenya several times and I have never had the opportunity to visit the Nairobi National Park. This new property is located within the park and a great choice for spending your first or last night in Kenya. It is made up of ten bungalows that are built into the side of the hill. If you have clients that have a hard time getting around it is wise to request the bungalows that are at the lobby level. Otherwise you need to be part “mountain goat” to walk the property. The bungalows are roomy and decorated in an African motif. And if you are lucky you can hear the lion in the park roaring at night. What a great way to welcome you or say Kwaheri to Kenya. Also the property is located close to the airport and the transfer is shorter driving through the park.
After arriving at Lewa on our scheduled flight from Nairobi Wilson airport we were taken on a short game drive to our destination and we were welcomed by Cheetah. That is what I call a great Kenya welcome. Our first stop was at LEWA HOUSE hosted by Calum & Sophie MacFarlane. They have been refurbishing the lodge bungalows and have also built new bungalows. The design of the new bungalows reminds me of the “Flintstones” but it is a great eco-friendly design. They are made to be warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, are spacious with gorgeous wooden floors. Each bungalow is designed to catch rain water and send the water to its own water tank located near the bungalow. At Lewa House it is all about families and located in the heart of Lewa Wilderness Conservancy.
After a scrumptious lunch at Lewa House we made our way to LEWA DOWNS. It consists of nine chalets situated among lovely grounds. This property is one of the original Kenyan homes built by the Craig family and the accommodations are in Grand African style. They have great Masai hosts and guides and the activities that are available are unbelievable. Horseback riding, walking safaris, biplane rides piloted by Will Craig, camel rides, canopy walks through a local forest and the list goes on. And if you are lucky you will be visited by Elvis the local rhino while you are on a game drive. If he is in a good mood he will want to be scratched on the nose. I was lucky and I got to experience this with Elvis .. what a joy!
I think this has to be one of my favorite spots in Kenya. The views are unbelievable and when you look north you are looking at nothing but wilderness for miles. The camp consists of just six tented accommodations with outdoor showers and a toilet with a view. There are also toilets inside the tent in case you need to have a night visit. The culture experience they have with the local Samburu is unbelievable. I have visited Samburu and Maasai villages before but this was an ethic visit and no pictures are allowed. These are also the famous Samburu that have the “Singing Wells” and I can’t wait to go back during the dry season to experience this. And I can’t say enough wonderful things about our hosts Jeremy and Katie they are the best.
THE SANCTUARY at OL LENTILLE
Gill & John Elais have overseen the building of four houses along a hill overlooking the reserve. Kenyan’s like to build on the side of a hill because of the views and I don’t blame them. But that means you need to be in fairly good shape to navigate the property. Each house has its own theme. Eyre house is the one bedroom with modern furnishings inside. Chief house is three bedrooms decorated with African art and furniture and it was my favorite house. The Colonel house is two bedrooms and furnished in the campaign style. And the last house is called Sultan which is one bedroom though the living area can be made into a second bedroom because the house has two full baths. It is decorated with a Middle East flair. All houses have living, dining and kitchen facilities with a very accommodating staff. They have a spa on property and offer a number of other activities such as camel rides. This is a great property for families or a corporate retreat. Be aware that they don’t have much game in this area and I wouldn’t recommend it to clients that want to see wildlife.
Built on the edge of a Laikipia plateau they have just four rooms that are made by local materials with rock and olive wood. Each room has its own verandah and I like the rustic African materials they have used to make the furniture. The property sits on a hillside overlooking a watering hole and your fabulous hosts are Andrew and Chyulu Francombe. They have many activities to choose from such as horseback riding, fly fishing/camping, walks and many more. There are tented accommodations for your private guide.
Just down from Ol Malo is OL MALO HOUSE consisting of six bedrooms, dining, kitchen and its own pool. What a great spot for a family to enjoy. They are family friendly and love to find different activities for the kids.
I have to give a big WELL DONE! The Francombe family work closely with the local Samburu village and have established the Ol Malo Design and Ol Malo Trust. We were privileged to walk down to the local village one evening and witness the young Samburu warriors singing their songs to the local tribe ladies. The local Samburu ladies provide some of the most exquisite bead work I have ever seen. They make jewelry, belts, lamp shades, kitchen & table ware and a number of other items. This gives them the funds to support their families and the trust helps them with health and educational issues which are in dire need.
ACACIA HOUSE, Masai Mara Northern Conservancy
This home has three bedrooms overlooking the Ol Chorro waterhole. It is perfect for a small group or family with dining, living and kitchen facilities. The verandah is great for game viewing or enjoying a scrumptious meal. To the side of the house is a pool and barbeque area which is shared with the Mara house that is located next door.
Shares its pool with Acacia house and consists of three bedrooms. You could easily have a group or family hire both houses. And wifi is provided in both houses. Your host Rainee is a wonderful hostess and a fabulous artist who paints the local wildlife.
TOPI HOUSE, Olara Orok Conservancy bordering Masai Mara National Reserve
The house consists of three bedrooms arranged around the main living area of the home. You also have kitchen and dining facilities along with a tent to the side of the house for a private guide or extra accommodations. From this spot you can tour the eastern side of the Masai Mara which is positioned directly on the wildebeest migration route. This house does not have a host or wifi but has a well-trained staff with a chef and wildlife guide.
All three of the houses are operated by Nomadic Encounters which is Rainee and her partners Salaash, Jackson and Fred. They are a great team and some of the best guides in Kenya.
MARA PLAINS, Olara Orok Conservancy bordering Masai Mara National Reserve
The camp consists of seven room tents and one family suite in the “Berber style” and located on the river bordering the northern Masai Mara Game Reserve. When you enter the camp your vehicle is parked on one side of the river and you walk over a wooden bridge to camp. Your tent will have a view of the savannah or over the river where the hippos like to swim. They have great public areas and fabulous cuisine! This was some of the best food I had in Kenya. They have no meal schedules and like to schedule your meal based on what you see and do on game drives or walks. The camp is also involved with the Mara Predator Project and the minimum age for the camp is eight years old. Your hosts Richard & Lorna are a fabulous couple and since Lorna is a photographer she is more than happy to give you some pointers for shooting pictures of the wildlife. They are closing the camp down for a complete renovation (it really doesn’t need it) and will reopen with new tents next year. Because of the closure they have built MARA TOTO next door with four tents. Wifi is available in the main public sitting area. I had my doubts about their location near the reserve but we saw amazing wildlife. I understand the migration parks themselves outside the camp when the herds are in residence.
OL SEKI HEMINGWAYS MARA CAMP
Consisting of ten large tents the camp is situated in the Naboisho Conservancy which borders the Mara. Though the camp is gorgeous I don’t know if it is worth making the long drive to get there. Plus if felt they had the most uncomfortable vehicles and the cuisine was not nearly as good as everywhere else we had visited. I am sorry to say that this camp needs some work.
Located in the Mbirikani Group Ranch it is a great spot to base yourself to visit the Tsavo and Amboseli Parks and if you are lucky you will have a full view of Mount Kilimanjaro. The property consists of 22 beds in seven stand alone cottages and no two are the same. Some of the cottages provide the famous romantic roof top “star beds” if you desire to sleep under the stars and each one has a private plunge pool. Four bedded cottages are perfect for families or small groups. Many activities are provided from walking to horseback riding and cultural visits. Wifi is available near the main living area of the lodge.
GOVERNORS’ CAMP, Masai Mara
Governors’ Camps consist of four different camps on the Mara River and I think one of the best locations in the Mara. I have long considered this to be one of my favorite spots in the world. The tents are simple with large in-suite bathrooms and each camp has a different “feel” to it.
Main Governors’ Camp consists of 37 tents with one being a suite and six are for families. This is the largest camp with an excellent public dining area and views of the savannah.
Little Governors’ Camp is my personal favorite due to the view which is a watering hole and the escarpment of the Mara. The camp has seventeen simple tents much like the tents at Main camp with a nice dining area and lounge. To get to the camp you park on one side of the river than take a small boat across the river and walk up the embankment to the camp. This is also the camp where the world famous balloon safaris take off each morning.
Il Moran is the more luxurious camp and is best for adults and/or honeymooners. The ten tents are more elaborate with beautiful natural African wood beds and the overlook the river. If you are into walks this is the camp to stay in because your host conducts the walking safaris for the camps.
Private Camp has just been renovated and become a permanent camp. It can be reserved for a family or group for their private use and sleeps sixteen people.
At all of the camps wifi is available in all of the public areas and the food is good.
ACTIVITES IN AND AROUND NAIROBI
Nairobi National Park is a fun stop if you have the time. You can view the animals from your vehicle and stop for lunch or spend the night at the Embakoko Hotel.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – Elephant orphanage. I am not sure I want anyone to know my secret! Many of the operators know this but they don’t let their clients know. From 11AM till 12Noon anyone can come and visit and observe the elephant orphans while they play and interact with one another. And typically there are a lot of people there. But if you have adopted an elephant orphan you have the privilege of making a appointment for 5PM and you get to observe the elephants come in for the evening. They are put into their pens and fed for the night and you are allowed to get up close to them. Typically you will have 10 to 20 other people with you rather than a large crowd.
Shopping is fun at the Utamaduni Craft Centre. The house consists of several rooms with different Kenya crafts and they will ship anywhere in the world. But be careful shipping is terribly expensive! Located on the same grounds is a lovely café with good food. If you have several people traveling together you can shop and or enjoy the café for a couple of hours and it is a great way to waste time before that late night flight home.
Also don’t forget the Karen Blixen Museum or the Giraffe Center which are located in Karen. These are great spots to visit during you stay in Nairobi.