Kenya’s unsung classic luxury spots

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 00:00 |
Balcony of a room at The Sleeping Warrior Lodge in Soysambu Conservancy, Gilgil.

Classic luxury in Nyeri

Nestled in the middle of the Aberdare Forest is Giraffe Ark Game Lodge. It sits in Mweiga area, 36km from Nyeri, which makes it 180km from Nairobi.

I recently visited the place and the first thing that struck me is the serene environment around it, just the escape I needed from reality and the hustle and bustle of Nairobi.

Before you get inside, you might assume it is an old classic hotel due to its vintage finish, however, upon venturing in, you discover it is indeed the opposite.

Walking in through the lobby was even better. Luxury and class echoes throughout the hotel decked out in polished mazeras floors and other modern facilities, which give the hotel a touch of elegance mixed with a feeling of the wild.

With a choice of 30 rooms each with a blend of oriental, Arabian and Western themes, I went for a deluxe room. I found it particularly convenient that these were spacious, with provision of an extra bed.

I remember also admiring the old but modern telephone that they had in the room.

I was there for a weekend, and it felt so short considering they have a number of activities for one to indulge in during their stay.

You could cycle or jog in the wilderness, or better yet hack on a horseback at sunset while you catch the amazing view of the horizon amidst trees.

I particularly loved hanging out at their unique outdoor chess patio. And of course swimming at the pool, but I must warn you that the water is quite cold, though after a few minutes my body got the hang of it.

We tried to do everything we could and also went for the game drives that the hotel management organises. -Faith Kyoumukama

Mimosas in the bush

Vacationing in the bush is the best way to explore nature. The reasons are obvious; the nature walks, the breathtaking sundowners, a boat ride at the lake, the game drives… it doesn’t get any better.

Ever felt like doing this on one of those relaxing weekends, maybe just alone, with your partner or better yet, a group of friends?

Nestled in the Soysambu Conservancy in Gilgil with a panoramic view of the Rift Valley, is a little piece of heaven; The Sleeping Warrior Lodge.

The name of the camp comes from a somewhat natural enigma of what looks like a dozing moran. As you drive down from the main road, you get to see the crater hill shaped like a sleeping giant.

Soysambu means “the place of striated rock” in Maasai. Sambu is also the Maasai name for a cattle colour.

The ranch was thus named because of sporadic rainfall seasons, which caused frequent droughts, hence the death of hundreds of livestock.

The lodge consists of safari bandas, each with a thatched roof and a private terrace.

It was complete relaxation mode when I got to my room, as there is no Wi-fi or TV, hence no external distractions other than what I was there for.

Also, you cannot leave the rooms without supervision, as the wild animals in the conservancy like to roam around at night. My first dinner at the camp was at the poolside.

Quite a romantic affair, not exactly candle lit, but a different kind of experience with a live kitchen. The chef prepared food straight to our plates.

Game drives take place very early in the morning and late in the evening, during the coolest times of the day, when the animals are most active.

The lodge also offers sundowners in the middle of the conservancy. Imagine a bonfire, downing a few mimosas, with an option of bush breakfast overlooking the lake… total bliss. -Faith Kyoumukama

Row, row, row your boat…

Travelling to Savage Wilderness in Sagana, Muranga County was exciting. I’d finally get to experience white water rafting.

In a team of seven journalists, we hit the road early morning. The roughly 120km journey took about an hour and a half.

On our way to Sagana Town, we drove through the small town of Ithanga, where theres’s also a large number of the Kamba community.

Upon reaching Sagana Town, we branched from the main road and followed a rocky and sodden road for about 4km to Savage Wilderness.

Part of the action during the third edition of the Faraja Cancer Support Trust fundraising at River Sagana.

From well-maintained lawns and waiting staff meticulously dressed in African attires; it was clear it’s a gem in the wild.

With its proximity to the all-season River Sagana, the camp boasts over 23 years of experience in white water rafting. The sport alone attracts a huge number of tourists, both local and foreign.

According to one of the divers, navies across the globe train at Sagana because of its difficulties and depth.

It is also used for activities such as kayaking school, which is done by an individual without aquaphobia as they have to get inside a small canoe-like vessel –– slender, tight and covered, with two pointed ends.

With many fearing kayaking as it is a one-man affair, we settled on water rafting, which involves a maximum of five people in full water safety gears (helmets and life jackets) and an instructor on an inflatable raft that we’d use to scale down about 22km of the flowing River Sagana.

The experience can get tricky, especially for first timers who opt to raft on their own. One lady was unlucky when her canoe capsized.

There are also risks of being hit by the rocks underneath the raging waters. However, there are lifeguards who are always on the look out in case of anything.

A navigator/instructor briefs the crew before getting in the water and explains the do’s and don’ts. As a second timer at the camp, I wasn’t up to rafting. I had my eye on the zipline.

Ziplining is both terrifying and thrilling. And unlike my last experience, which was ziplining down a 2.6m cable, this baby was 20m long and suspended above River Sagana. What better way to kick height phobia!

Another fun activity here is mountain biking, which involves riding special fitted mountain bikes through rough, dusty terrain

Children were not left out of the fun, as they engaged in archery –– shooting with a bow and arrow at a marked target. Lovers of rock climbing also got to enjoy scaling walls.

And as we indulged in varied cuisines, we made a sport of sporting rare birds nestling in the tall trees. We also did a bit of shopping when we hit the camp’s curio shop, which stocks traditional local arts and crafts. -Wambui Virginia

Enlivening Rusinga Island 

In the sleepy town of Mbita in Homa Bay county is a unique gem that glitters in shine. Rusinga Island Lodge neatly overlooks Lake Victoria, and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

I fell in love with it during my recent trip. However, the long road travel from Nairobi made it crazily tiring, as it took almost 10 solid hours. Luckily, the road trip was full of fun, and we enjoyed spectacular sights and scenes along the way.

An exterior view of the cottages at Rusinga Island Lodge.

Among the exciting sceneries was the Lake Elementaita viewpoint and the famous 18th Century Italian-built Catholic Church at Mai Mahiu. I was awestruck by the natural aura of this country and resolved to be a future domestic tourist.

After bumps and hills, corners and rough terrain, we finally got to Mbita. Our final destination was only eight kilometres away, so we took boda boda rides as we went through the recently commissioned Mbita Causeway. In 30 minutes, we arrived at what was to be our abode for the next three days.

Unmistakably well crafted, the lodge was originally built in 1985 by a Scottish tour operator. Our guide informed us that the lodge started as a fishing club for travelling guests back in the day, before graduating to a world-class resort.

Ushering us to the pristine reception lobby were orderly porters, who were on hand to help us with the luggage.

The serene lodge is boats of 11 cottages surrounded by well-manicured grass lawns. The artistic and African concept of thatched roofs and wooden walls adds some refreshing beauty.

There is also a pool and spa next to each other. Cold refreshments were served at the lakefront, making an exciting atmosphere, as we caught up with our host, who runs the facility.

I mostly wanted to have the local delicacy during my stay, fish, which I was sure was fresh from the lake next door.

There is an adjacent airstrip that connects straight to this facility, which interestingly is popular with Spaniards.

There is a further extension that holds tents for those who love the outdoor bliss such as camping.

Other features that endears this place to tourists is its close proximity to sites such as the Abasuba Peace Museum, Mfangano Rock Arts, Ruma National Park and Rusinga Fossil Site. -Barry Silah

The rhino’s eye

While seeking a getaway from all the stresses of life, I decided to travel to Nyeri and get a glimpse of what this famous town has to offer, and landed at Rhino Watch Lodge.

One thing I loved about the place is its location. It’s just along the highway, so, whether driving or using a shuttle van, it’s quite easy to get there.

The silence that welcomes you is enough to let you know you’ve found a place of relaxation. A warm welcome by the staff and the spacious tents or chalets are just some of other things of opulence you’ll enjoy at the resort.

Giraffe Ark Game Lodge in the Aberdare Ranges.

Outside are trees with names of visitors who have been to here. This, I learnt later, is part of their tree-planting project, in which they allow guests to participate and feel like they are part and parcel of their great family.

The rooms have a magnificent view of Mt Kenya and it was awesome looking at its snow-capped peaks while sipping some coffee from my veranda.

I loved their African-themed night that was taking place on Saturdays. I had grown tired of seeing the same old Maasai dancers, so it was such a refreshing moment having a group of women welcome guests while belting out traditional Kikuyu tunes.

One of the women, an 80-year old, narrated of her youthful days and how she sang for Kenya’s first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. I was impressed by her memory and agility despite her age.

The lodge supports the locals in the village by allowing them showcase their artistry and also sell their farm produce while at it.

It was awesome for me to learn and experience a different culture, especially the cuisine. The food served at the hotel is all organic, grown at the establishment’s farm.

The lodge is surrounded by three wildlife reserves. A game drive can be arranged to any of them, such as the Solio Game Reserve and Ol Pejeta Reserve.

These reserves are passionate about rhino conservation, and they work hand-in-hand with the government, to not only stop poaching, but also save these endangered species at grassroots level.

They do this by going to nearby schools, giving the students educational trips to the various rhino reserves and teaching them on how vital they are to the society. -Harriet James

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