While I’m still an island girl one of my other favorite destinations is going on a safari adventure. Having previously experienced a couple of safaris in South Africa and Kenya I really do feel extremely grateful to have just come back from the most incredible 8 days on safari in Kenya staying at three luxury camps – Mara Plains and Mara Nyika in two conservancies in the Masai Mara and then Ol Donyo in the Chyulu Hills.
All three being the only Relais & Chateaux camps in Kenya.
Ol Donyo Lodge
Ol Donyo Lodge is a 40 minute flight from Nairobi located on 275,000 acres of private land in the heart of the Chyulu Hills in South East Kenya between Tsavo and Amboseli National Park. The vast open plains are home to only one lodge – Ol Donyo which is elevated on the hills providing the most incredible vistas of Mount Kilimanjaro.
When we arrived we immediately noticed how the plains were dry compared to being in the mara as they hadn’t had any rain in such a long time. From the skies the ground looked like sand but with large patches of black which was actually from the ancient lava rock that spewed out of Kilimanjaro 360,000 years ago.
Driving through the dense bush there were areas that were extremely lush and green with animals taking shade under the acacia trees. In the distance, we could see the lodge which sat majestically on the hill top.
As well as the terrain being very different from the Masai Mara, so was the lodge as the 7 open air villas are all made of stone, thatch and wood and are solar powered, offering a luxury sustainable living right in the middle of safari country.
Once arriving at the lodge the Ol Donyo team provided us with a massively warm welcome. Walking into the main area which is all open you are immediately greeted by the incredible views of the plains and Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.
Ol Donyo Lodge has 6 suites and a 2 bedroom villa and no two spaces are of the same design but all have a dramatic view of the African savannah with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. The suites are designed in a traditional African safari style with contemporary elements - dark wood furniture and white sofas. All of the suites have a lounge seating area which is totally open, a private terrace with pool, indoor and outdoor showers a large bathroom with the bath located by the glass doors and a “star-bed” located on the roof. The rooms all come with a hairdryer, complimentary laundry service and at night a boiling hot water bottle is placed in your bed at turn down service.
I found the rooms very comfortable even when it was hot during the day and cold at night.
As Great Plains properties are all eco friendly, all the water which is used for your shower or bath is desalinated and then re-distributed within the grounds and for the animals.
Just below the main area is a breathtaking infinity pool, complete with a private lounge and dining area. There is also an open air hide (hidden bunker/blind ) only a few minutes walk from the lodge situated right next to the water hole where you can sit and wait for an up-close experience with the wildlife that come to the waterhole to drink. Elephants would take their time sucking up the water while the zebras and giraffes would wait patiently for their turn. The two wooden hides which are literally 2 meters away from the waterhole offer different views of the animals and make you feel like you are really a fly on the wall in nature. At anyone time the wildlife is abundant so get a drink from the bar and enjoy taking in the experience while sipping on a coffee or cocktail.
Ol Donyo Spa
A separate building with two treatment rooms, one for manicures/hair and the other one is a couples treatment room. The large glass windows add to the perfectly relaxed atmosphere. If you prefer to have your treatment in your room this service is also available.
Dining at Ol Donyo provides many unique experiences be it indoors or al fresco. Within the property you can dine in the wine cellar, library, in the lounge by the open fire or the dining room. There is also a unique private space outdoors where a fire is lit as dinner is served.
Breakfast and lunch is served out door by the swimming pool or you can enjoy breakfast at a unique spot shaded by the acacia trees out on the open plains. This was such a beautiful experience and created so perfectly. Once you arrive there is a portable sink to wash your hands with hot water and handed a towel to dry. The table is set elegantly, the champagne is on ice, coffee is ready and a selection of juices. The chef is located a few meters away where he will prepare a full cooked breakfast along with a selection of fruit, muesli, pancakes and pastries.
It's the most beautiful way to end your morning game drive and relax in the fresh open air.
Being a Relais and Chateaux member the title speaks volumes for the food served. I mentioned the breakfast above, lunch is light and focuses on many different sharing plates. All dietary requirements are noted before arrival so the meals are all catered to suit your needs. From a selection of salads and a meat or vegetarian dish all served with rose wine or your choice of beverage.
An example of a shared lunch would be:
Stuffed chicken meat balls with spiced tomato and basil
Zucchini, corn and ricotta fritters
Wild brown rice salad with mushrooms and raisins
Dressed fennel, snow pea and onions
Red, white cabbage slaw, combined with peppers, ginger in a peanut dressing
Mixed fresh vegetable leaves with gooseberries, almond flakes and poppy seeds.
Mango and berry meringue roulade and a selection of cheese, crackers and dips
During the day the team will let you know what is for dinner in order for you to choose your three course meal. If you go on an afternoon game drive, dinner will be served anytime from 7.30pm and for late night game drives dinner will be served earlier.
An example of dinner options are:
Bacon and asparagus crescents with grilled zucchini
Carrot and ginger soup with corn fritters
Duo of grilled lamb chops and roasted lamb breast with garlic, mint jus and veggies
Pan seared teriyaki wahoo fish, with lemon mango salsa with roasted vegetables and turnip puree.
Vegetable and chickpea tagine served with herb couscous
Baked stuffed eggplant served with yogurt and pomegranate.
There are many options for kids too. In fact the chef is flexible to cook anything your heart desires.
I can honestly say the level of cuisine was incredible, nothing was too much and everything you ate was an explosion of flavors.
This untouched wilderness where Maasai herdsmen live in total harmony with nature is awe-inspiring. This truly unique entity boasts a relationship between conservation and livelihood, as you see cows grazing on one side and on the other lions, hyenas and wildebeest.
During our stay we saw many large elephants especially by the water hole, giraffes with their babies, an abundant of zebras, ostrich, hyenas, and a pride of 7 lions.
Ol Donyo is so unique in the fact that it has many experiences other than game drives because of the large open plains. One of the most incredible things I have ever done on safari was horse riding on the open plains at Ol Donyo. Lana who is Kenyan, is the Equestrian manager and also a polo player runs the stables which has 19 horses mostly brought in from South Africa. The stables are beautiful and enclosed in an arena in order for all riders to have a quick assessment before you go out riding. The minimum requirements are that you must have rode a horse before and have basic control, stop, start and trot. Once approved by Lana depending on your level of skills you can either ride through the thick bush onto the plains or meet on the plains to start your ride.
The absolutely incredible thing about riding a horse in the bush is that you get super close to all the other animals as they don't see you as a threat. The horse can smell if a lion/cheetah is close by and its really down to the rider on how you react but being more experienced is certainly a lot safer. I didn't see any cats but they were in the area; I felt very comfortable being so close to a giraffe and zebra who basically ignored us and continued with what they were doing. I hadn’t been on a horse for a couple of years, yet my horse Kimbia was so good which added to the enjoyment of being out in the wild of Africa which was not only liberating but also extremely therapeutic.
This is a must do while at Ol Donyo and don't worry if you don't have all the gear with you – after all this is a luxury lodge who have thought of everything and is fully equipped with the most stunning leather riding boots, chaps, helmets and trail saddles.
If you want something a little more extreme you can go mountain biking through the plains and up the Chyulu hills. Guided bush walks are also a lot of fun. And if you can’t live without running, there is an experienced runner who will run alongside you – but be careful he is Kenyan so that means he has some serious speed in his legs!!
I would recommend staying at the Ol Donyo Lodge either at the start or end of your Kenyan holiday, as you can really relax, take in the incredible views and enjoy the slower pace of life.
The two bedroom family suites are great for families with older children but sadly the property is not open to children under 10 unless on an exclusive basis.
Also if you love taking pictures but dont have a professional camera or lenses, then dont worry as every suite at the property is provided with a CANON camera, lenses and binoculars to use during your stay. At the end all your pictures will be uploaded to a memory stick for you to keep.
This is a massive advantage considering the internal flights are very strict on luggage allowanece!
Watch my video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOf554NwOwo&t=3s
Riding in the plains: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CUksCIHo4lG/?utm_medium=copy_link
The NGO, ‘Big Life Foundation’ is a partner of Ol Donyo and Great Plains Conservation, which protects over 2 million hectares of wildlife.
The property is one of the major donors of the Big Life Foundation, annually donating several hundred thousand dollars. Cattle rearing is an essential part of the Maasai way of life, who are shareholders of the land which is under conservation around ol Donyo Lodge. When predators and cattle mix, it is usually predators like lions that are killed by the Maasai protecting their cattle. This ultimately places the lions on a path to extinction. Richard Bonham, the creator of the Big Life Foundation, realized many years ago that in order to save the wild animals he had to tell the locals how valuable wildlife is for conservation tourism. He also initiated anti-poaching operations. Since then biodiversity breathes easier.
The founders and visionaries
In collaboration with National Geographic, award winning filmmakers, photographers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Jouberts have been helping to save wildlife and their habitats for over 30 years.
Ol Donyo is owned and run by their company Great Plains Conservation.
To find out more visit about the camps which are located in Kenya, Botswana and Kenya and are members of Relais & Chateaux: www.greatplainsconservation.com
To understand more about the foundation : https://greatplainsfoundation.com
Who are Dereck & Beverly Joubert?: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/explorers/joubert/
See more Great Plains Safari posts:
For a bespoke itinerary and exclusive rates contact Unique Family Travels.
A heli pad is also close to the property for guests who are traveling by helicopter.