Posts filed under ‘Tembea Kenya Series’
Lamu Archipelago which consists of Lamu, Manda and Pate Islands is perhaps one of the best destinations, if not the best tourist destination, to visit in Kenya. Late last year, end of November and beginning of December 2015, NairobiNow had the chance of visiting Lamu Island to cover the 15th Lamu Cultural Festival. The county has been positioning itself as a destination for festivals under the new county dispensation, partly to prop up with the limited number of tourists who have been flowing to the archipelago due to travel advisories, and also to introduce and possibly increase the number of domestic tourists. During the set of seven days NairobiNow was in the county, we took some time to discover the Lamu archipelago and what it has to offer.
There are two ways of getting to Lamu Island; one is by road which should take you approximately 24 hours or more from Nairobi to Lamu, using public means. This mode might also involve taking a stop in Mombasa or Malindi since vehicles connecting to Lamu from either Mombasa or Malindi leave at specific times. The journey by road also has a fair share of roadblocks and the route from Malindi to Lamu involves waiting for Police escort, which you might have to wait at some point. If you choose to use this means, make sure you carry a form of identification, either your national identification card or passport. If you decide to drive yourself, note that you will leave your car at Kikoni, as no cars are allowed at the Island.
A more detailed account of getting there by road has been penned by Safari254.
However, an easier and no frills method of getting to Lamu is by taking a flight which will see you land at Manda Island. There are a number of operators which ply this route with the latest entry being the low cost carrier, JamboJet flying to and from Lamu at least once a day from JKIA. If you book really early you will enjoy competitive prices. Other carriers, which operate from Wilson Airport, are Fly540 and Safari link. The latter usually cater for charted flights and might be ideal if you wish to fly directly to Manda Bay, a private resort within Manda Bay.
Once you land in Manda Island, you will take a boat that should take you across the strait to Lamu Island that is if you are staying in Lamu town. Alternatively, if you are staying in Shela village, which is still on Lamu Island but a little further away, in an area that has got private villas and is opposite the famous Majlis Hotel.
If you are travelling to the archipelago and you need to really immense yourself into the culture and traditions of the island, Lamu Island is the place you need to stay. However, during the festivities, as was our case, it can get a little noisy especially if you are staying near Mkunguni Square – the space in front of the Lamu Fort where all the action happens.
Where to Stay within the Island
There are a number of establishments within the Island, where one can stay and with exquisite views of the ocean such as the well-priced Petleys Inn to the more cost friendly establishments such as Jambo House.
However, for an unforgettable stay within Lamu town, Subira House is a highly recommended home away from home. The house used to be a Liwali House. Liwali is equivalent to a present day Governor, used to be the representative of the Sultan of Zanzibar, when the island used to fall within the ambit of Sultanate of Zanzibar. The house is behind the Lamu Fort and the current owners Christina and Paul Aarts, from Sweden and Netherlands respectively, have owned the house from 1991 and have renovated the joint, adding a few floors as well, but retaining the essence and soul of the initial structure.
Christina and Paul Aarts, who met in Pate Island in 1975 and later resettled permanently to the Island in the early 1990’s are also extremely well acquainted with the local Swahili Culture and are deeply involved in efforts to preserve and maintain the Archipelago’s unique ecosystem, through initiatives such as Save Lamu.
Subira House has an excellent garden and nice lounges, outside the rooms, where one can read from and also boasts of a number of books, although most of them are Swedish. The rooftop also provides an excellent vantage point to catch the sunrise – instead of walking all the way to the jetty.
What to do while in Lamu Town
Lamu is more than the Old Town, the Museum and Swahili House
A few residents who are lived within the archipelago will indicate to you that Lamu is more than the Old Town, the Museum and Swahili House.
Lamu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001 because of the Old Town. Therefore, it is quintessential to have a guided tour around the Old Town, if you are staying in Lamu. The Old Town has unique architectural designs and narrow streets that one can easily get lost and as such one ought to have someone who knows the place. However, should you wish to take a walk, you will find the locals are more than eager to assist you, should you get lost in the puzzle that are the narrow alleys that form patterns similar to a maze.
18 Century Swahili House Museum
Near the Old Town is a typical 18th Century Swahili House, which was refurbished by proceeds from Museum Society and funds from the Swedish government, currently it is operated by the National Museums.
The Swahili House showcases how typical well off Swahili family lived and the resident curator and guide offer’s visitors with an elaborate account and explanation to boot.
Entry to this house is KES 100 and the money is paid at the Lamu Museum.
Without a doubt, Lamu Museum is one of the places worth visiting in Lamu town; the museum is very well maintained and features Swahili artefacts excavated from the early coastal settlements found within the archipelago dating back as early as the 9th Century to items that might have been found in a Swahili home.
There is also an exhibition currently running at Lamu Museum on Muhamadi Kijuma, a poet, writer, scholar and interpreter. Kijuma, who was born in Lamu around 1855, worked closely with the Germans in the late 18th Century/early 19th Century as an interpreter. This fascinating exhibition, which among other things features poetry frontispiece to the edition, ‘The Advice of Mwana Kupona upon the Wifely Duty’ published in 1934.
This exhibition was been running from the year 2007, when it was officially opened by the then German Ambassador Walter J. Lindner and Suleiman Shakombo, then Minister for State and National Heritage.
The Museum also showcases the Indian Ocean Trade routes and how Lamu featured in that equation, mainly the supply of Ivory and Rhino horns. The first floor also a well curated section on the Marine Industry of Lamu over the centuries, from the designs and replicas of Dhows that once plied to Arabia and Indian but now operate along the East African Coast.
Other equally important and fascinating places to visit in Lamu town are;
a. The German Post Office Museum,
b. The American Corner,
c. Lamu Fort,
d. Donkey Sanctuary
There is nothing to write home about the German Post Office, however, if you are a German then perhaps the one room on the alleys of Lamu might prove to be sentimental. An entry of KES 100 is charged to see this room.
Surprisingly enough, within Lamu, there is an American Corner! The Library and well stocked resource centre has materials on the good old US of A. This is an ideal place to read from and possibly read your mails from. They have some functional WiFi.
The Lamu Fort presents the perhaps the vestiges of yesterday years, from the canons that sit outside the fort and present the superior firepower of yesterday years to the Fort that used to be the seat of the Governor who was a representative of the Sultan of Zanzibar in the Archipelago. The Fort does not have a lot running but it is usually the venue for most of the official functions carried out by the county government with the area in front of the Fort, Mkunguni Square, serving as the Town’s Public Square.
Since the mode of transport on the Island is donkeys, it only makes sense to have a donkey sanctuary. The town has a donkey sanctuary near the American Corner facing the Seafront where old and rescued donkeys are brought. The centre also serves to encourage good treatment of ‘man’s best friend’ in the Island!
What NOT to do while in Lamu Town
Lamu town is inhabited by people from all walks of life but it is predominantly a Muslim town and as such one is expected to maintain good etiquette, dressing modestly and not drinking beer in public.
Shela Village, which is still located on Lamu Island, unlike Lamu town, is dotted by villas and vacation homes owned by the rich and famous. It is reported that one of the private residencies along the Shela beachfront is owned by an aristocrat from Monaco. As such, the conservative traditions which might apply in Lamu town, do not necessarily apply here especially on the private properties and villas.
Where to Stay in Shela
There are a number of establishments to choose from in Shela, from the villas which dot the beachfront to Forodhani House. Also, across Shela Village on Manda Island is Maljis Hotel.
What to do in Shela
There is a lot to do in Shela Village from swimming and/or walking on the immaculately clean and clear beach to viewing the sand dunes that have formed near Shela Village.
During the morning and the evening, one can take a dhow cruise to watch the sunrise and sunset in the evening you can enjoy a drink either at Peponi Hotel and/or club hop across the channel to Majlis Hotel on Manda Island. There is also the much talked about Floating Bar near Shela Village, which practically there is nothing to write home about apart from catching up on the latest gossip in town – most of the boat captains unwind there as well as they wait for their late night passengers!
Other things one can indulge in are taking a cruise to Takwa, on Manda Island, and visiting the Takwa ruins, one of the early Swahili settlements along the archipelago and probably hiking and picnicking on the Sand dunes.
Manda Island has a few high end hotels on the beach opposite Shela Village with Majlis Hotel getting has high as they come. It is reputed that when the political class comes calling in Lamu, they stay at Majlis Hotel.
However, should you prefer a more exquisite high end address while in Lamu archipelago, then Manda Bay is highly recommended. Manda Bay, which is around 20-30 minutes from Lamu town, can be described as a hidden gem within the archipelago.
Manda Bay not only provides one with a unique private beach for one to indulge oneself with, it also has Buffaloes a short distant from the resort. The population of Buffaloes, estimated to be around 50, are said to have crossed to the Bay, when the water levels permitted them to cross to the Bay. Fuzz, the proprietor, takes care of the Buffaloes by providing them with water, Manda Bay has problems with fresh water, and in drier times he provides them with hay.
Fuzz Dyer, also serves as the chair of Lamu Tourist Association, and has a private airstrip on the bay. The resort can also organize flights in and around the archipelago for its guests.
What to do in Manda Bay
Apart from viewing the Buffaloes, which like clockwork come to take water around 5.30 pm, one can also visit the 9th Century Ruins on the Bay, Manda Ruins which were occupied by people before they moved in to current Lamu town due to lack of fresh water.
For the more adventurous folks, they can organize to visit Pate Islands from the resort and visit Shaka la Paa at around 6.30 to view birds which come to rest in evenings in that particular area.
1. The ride from Manda Island to Lamu Island and/or Shela Village will cost you roughly KES 500-1000 (if travelling alone in a boat). If you are boarding a boat with many people, this cost reduces drastically. The best thing is to ask beforehand or to ask the hotel to make arrangements for you.
2. Accommodations range from as low as KES 1,500 to KES 10,000 for Bed and Breakfast. Also, depending on the season, in this case, if there is a festival in town or not with prices being more affordable when there is no festival in town.
3. For more information on Subira House, download the guide to Subira House (pdf).
4. Entry to the 18th Century Swahili House is KES 100 and the monies are paid at the Lamu Museum before proceeding to the Swahili House. The same cost applies for residents to enter the Lamu Museum and the German Post Office Museum.
5. There are motorboats that operate from Lamu town to Shela village/beach. They charge KES 100 per person sharing with other persons and can also be hired starting from KES 500-1000.
6. View complete list of festivals and their dates
Located over 400 kilometers from Nairobi by road, Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge is between five to six hours’ drive from Nairobi. The amount of time you will spend on the road will depend on a few factors such as; the time spent on the Namanga border crossing, this is the Kenya–Tanzania border point, the vehicle you are using to ply from Nairobi to Lake Manyara and the traffic along the Nairobi-Arusha road.
Getting there – Different Options
If you intend to use public means, there are a number of options to choose from, but the shuttles which operate between Nairobi and Arusha are the safest bet of getting you to Arusha. These shuttles can be accessed on Monrovia Street, opposite Jevanjee Gardens and for our trip we used Riverside Car Hire and Shuttle Services.
Most of these shuttles leave Nairobi at 8 am in the morning or 2 pm in the afternoon. It might be a little difficult to get a public service vehicle past 2 pm because on the Tanzania side, they do not allow PSV’s to operate at night.
The other option to get you to Lake Manyara would be through air, for this you would have to connect via Kilimanjaro International airport from either Wilson, through charter flights, and/or Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Once you are in Kilimanjaro you can either connect by road or through a connection charter flight. Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge has an airstrip which operates only during the day time.
If this is your first time in Tanzania, you will need to have a yellow fever certificate and your travel documents, either a passport or temporary permit for Kenyan’s. No visas are required for Kenyans to enter Tanzania.
Once you cross the border, it will take you almost one and a half hours to reach Arusha town. Arusha is a diplomatic hub since it hosts the secretariat of the East African Community and as such there are a number of nice places to visit. However, in our case we had a scheduled entourage to Lake Manyara, which is 124 KM’s from Arusha City.
The journey to Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge by road is quite fascinating, this is because you get to see, feel and experience the different landscapes. The road is quite impressive and as such, if you have some time, this mode is highly recommended.
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, Mto wa Mbu, Tanzania
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge is located on the edge of a towering terracotta escarpment which gives it, spectacular if not, panoramic views over the glittering alkaline waters of Lake Manyara.
The Lodge is grouped around a central ‘vanishing horizon’ pool, this highly unusual lodge features a simple timbered reception area, built in traditional African style, which is accessed via a bridge over a small stream. Beyond reception, lies the central dining room, bar and veranda, below which lies the pool. Perched on the very edge of the cliffs, with stunning views of Lake Manyara National Park is the pool bar and observation point. Dotted around the grounds, all with views over the lake, are a series of circular two-storey ‘rondavels’, which house the rooms.
Designed, by PTA – Peter Thomas Associates, to reflect the brilliance of Lake Manyara’s unique birdlife, the architectural motif melds swooping avian curves with the gentle concentric patterns of traditional Maasai ‘Bomas’ , while the vibrantly coloured wall frescoes depict the colourful intricacy of bird migratory patterns.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge offers a unique blend of safari opportunities, peace and tranquillity, wildlife discovery, and ornithological richness. There is an unprecedented range of high-adventure sports, which include mountain biking – arranged/indicated in advance, archery and high altitude nature walks, while cultural activities include tours of the neighbouring villages and dance displays by the local Iraqw and sukuma people.
There is also a dance troupe that comes to the lodge every day in the evening to entertain guests from 6 – 7.30 pm
a) Guided Nature Walks / Bird Watching
If you love nature, then a nature walk with Yotham – the resident naturalist should be something on your cards if you are visiting Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge. These walks normally take place early in the morning from 9.30 am after breakfast and usually take two hours. During this nature walk, you will see unique flora and fauna found in that part of the world and Yotham will keep you engaged by asking you questions before sharing the facts. You will learn the history of the rift valley among other things.
The nature walk transverses around the Lodge and you will be able to see the airstrip, the escarpment and the lake from the edge of the escarpment.
b) Viewing the Lake / animals from the Swimming Pool Lounge
The swimming pool is the central and unique feature of the Safari Lodge and from the lounge pool you can view the landscape below, where you can view the Lake using the string binoculars available at the lounge area.
The pool also attracts a wide range of birds, which come to quench their thirst there and as such if you are a bird watcher, this is a unique place to view birds from.
c) Visit to the Lake Manyara National Park
A visit to Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge would not be complete without a visit to Lake Manyara National Park. The Park is synonymous with tree climbing lions, something that the lions adapted to due to the terrain over time. However, apart from the tree climbing lions there are other animals to view as well from a manmade viewing point, the hippo pool.
d) Visit to Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge sits on the northern tourist corridor and one of the top destinations by tourists from across the world is usually the Ngorongoro Crater. This is primarily because it has been listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
If you visit Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, and wish to visit Ngororo crater, a day trip can be organised for you by Mustafa – the Lodge Manager and his team, and Tarangire National Park.
Lake Duluti Serena Hotel, Arusha
On our way back to Kenya, we passed by Lake Duluti Serena Hotel for Lunch. The Hotel is 20 kilometers from Arusha and 60 kilometers from Kilimanjaro International Airport.
The Hotel currently stands in what used to be coffee plantation and very impressive landscaping with a magnificent view of Lake Duluti which can be viewed from the main hotel and cottage-styled rooms.
If you are flying into Arusha through Kilimanjaro International airport, this is a perfect destination to cool off as you wait to transact business in Arusha and/or if you are on a layover.
The main attractions/activities one can indulge in, while at the hotel include; walking, mountain biking, canoeing on the lake, and trips to the nearby Arusha and Mount Meru national parks.
1. Information on the issuance of temporary pass, for those without passports to travel to Tanzania, from the directorate of immigration’s, Kenya.
2. Location of shuttles to Arusha, on Monrovia Street opposite Jevanjee Gardens.
3. Download Tanzania Road and Air Packages.
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by TPS Serena Kenya and Tanzania
Out of Nairobi/Travel: 24 Hours in Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Laikipia County
Located 227 Kilometers from Nairobi and 57 Kilometers from Serena Mountain Lodge, Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the home to two Serena Hotel properties, namely, Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House.
The two properties can be accessed by both air and road. By road, the drive will take you approximately three to four hours from Nairobi. Alternatively, if you are accessing the conservancy by air, it should take you less than one and half hours to be at either of the two Serena properties. The air route will first take you to Nanyuki airstrip ostensibly from Wilson airport where light aircraft carriers can be chartered. The flight from Wilson airport in Nairobi to Nanyuki airstrip is a 30-45 minutes flight, then you can have a transfer to the conservancy organised by either Serena Tented Camp or Serena Ol Pejeta House depending on your destination in advance. This is ideally what is recommended however you can also make your own transfer arrangements from the airstrip. The distance from the airstrip to the conservancy is roughly 15-17 kilometres.
The only point of concern to make at this time is that the stretch of road to the conservancy from the Naro Moru – Nanyuki main road is currently under renovation and as such it is advisable to have a car that can handle that stretch of road that is if you are driving yourself from Nairobi. Also, due to the road maintenance the stretch of road can be very dusty especially at this time of the year.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a private conservancy affiliated to the UK Charity, Flora and Fauna International, but managed and owned by a local subsidiary, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which is incorporated in Kenya.
The history of the conservancy is very rich and getting acquainted to the origins and getting to know some of the famous previous owners of the current conservancy/previous ranch was one of the highlights of the trip to both Serena Sweetwaters tented camp and Ol Pejeta House. As I later came to comprehend, the present day conservancy was a cattle ranching area which at one time was owned by Lord Dalamere. However, over the span of years, after independence, the land has changed ownership from Marcus Wickham Boynton to Adnan Khashoggi and then to Lonrho Africa (which at the time of ownership, Tiny Rowland was the head of the group and had the ears of African heads of state’s) to the present day owners, the Flora and Fauna International.
All previous owners of the present day Ol Pejeta Conservancy are interesting in their own right however it is Adnan Khashoggi who built the lavish Ol Pejeta House that is the most interesting of all the previous owners of Ol Pejeja Conservancy as we now know it. To fully understand the magnanimity of his impact in the place, a visit to the Ol Pejeta House is highly recommended. The only downturn to this is, there is no fully fledged museum of the history of the previous owners of the conservancy. However, if you interact with the staff of the Ol Pejeta House, esp. Zainabu you will get a firsthand account of the rich history of Ol Pejeta House.
Over the years, the 110,000 acres of prime land originally used as a ranch area has been turned into a conservancy esp. after the property was acquired by the present day owners, the Flora and Fauna International, who had a deep desire to conserve Flora and Fauna biodiversity of the area. This private conservancy, partly due to the efforts of the present day owners, now boasts one of the highest wildlife-to-area ratios. This wildlife-to-area ratio is far better than even any of the Kenyan national parks!
The conservancy plays host to all the members of the ‘Big Five’ (namely; elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard).
The conservancy is also synonymous with Rhino’s this is because they have been on the forefront of conserving both black and white rhino with the latter being an endangered species. The other sanctuary found in the facility is a chimpanzee sanctuary, which is the only chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya that shelters a large numbers of the rare and endangered species. This sanctuary is run by Jane Gondall Foundation.
The conservancy boasts itself a role model for conservation, which it is.
Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp
The Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp is a sheltered oasis, clustered around a water hole and set in the pristine calm of the private Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This tented camp offers a charming blend of under-canvas ambiance and superb Kenyan safari luxury.
Located on the plains of Mount Kenya, the camp features fifty six* luxury tents, each with its own private veranda overlooking the water hole. The central Rhino Restaurant is housed in the former manager’s house of this once colonial farm, and offers both regional and international cuisine. Also within the house is the Kashoggi Bar and lounge, which centers on a blazing log fire. The Waterhole Bar, built in the style of a game-viewing hide, overlooks the waterhole and offers unrivaled wildlife-watching.
* Serena hotel chain has recently put up sixteen new luxury tents in the area adjacent to the watering hole in what is now called the Morani wing, from an initial thirty nine tents, despite the downturn in tourism, to bring the total number of tents to fifty six tents.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
a) Luxury tented camp accommodation
The tented camp accommodation offers a unique experience from your normal accommodation that one is used at home. The tents are spacious and come with all the facilities that one has come to expect in a Serena Hotel.
Due to the extreme fluctuation in weather temperatures, during the day it can be very hot and at night very cold. The hotel provides hot water bottles to help you keep warm at night!
b) Colonial-styled lounge and bar | Water Hole
Unwind you day at the well-stocked Kashoggi Bar and lounge which has a vantage view to the water hole. As you quench your thirst, the animals as well will be coming to the water hole to quench their thirst and you will be able to have walk to the water hole, if you need to, for an up close with the animals that frequent the water hole during the day.
During our stay there, we witnessed elephants at night which came to drink water and graze near the tented camp. Also in the morning, we got to see this rhinoceros couple whom we were told had made the watering hole their spot. They sleep there every night.
Also, if you wake up early you can get to view the sunrise either from the verandah of your tent or near the watering hole.
c) Camel treks, guided nature walks and/or bird spotting
The Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp has extensive grounds in which one can indulge on a camel ride. This is ideal activity, especially if one is accompanied by their family, for the young ones and young at heart. The Camel treks usually go around the fenced Serena Sweetwaters property and during the camel ride, the guides get to share with you interesting tit-bits and facts.
If you are not a camel type of person, during designated times usually in the morning, there are guided nature walks around the facility. This way, you get to do your morning exercise while learning a thing or two.
Other activities one can indulge into while still at the Sweetwater Tented Camp is bird watching.
d) Other activities
At an extra cost one can undertake the following activities while at either Serena Tented Camp or at the Ol Pejeta House;
i) Day and night game drives daily
The Serena drivers who have a great understanding of the sanctuary will give you a two hours game drive. Due to the high wildlife to area ratio you are bound to see most of the big five in the span of the two hours game drive. However, if you want to increase your odds of viewing the lions, you can arrange for the lion tracking option (under this option, you pay an extra fee which goes towards the conservation efforts). This option is available between 0630-0930 Hrs and 1530-1830 Hrs.
ii) Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Rhino Sanctuary
During the day visit the Sweetwaters Chimpanzees sanctuary which is run by Jane Gondall Foundation. Learn about the foundations work and how they are going about saving Chimpanzees which come from Burundi.
The other sanctuary to visit obviously while at Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the Rhino Sanctuary. Get a chance to interact with Baraka, the blind Rhinoceros.
The Ol Pejeta House
A short drive from the Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp is the once grand ranch house of multi-millionaire Adnan Kashoggi, now the Ol Pejeta House, which is a facility run by Serena Hotels.
This imposing and magnificent house stands at the centre of the private Ol Pejeta Conservancy very near to Nanyuki. Set in extensive grounds, with glorious views of Mount Kenya, this opulent mansion features a series of reception rooms, including an elegant drawing room with baronial fireplace and a series of scenic verandas, which extend right around the house.
The Ol Pejeta house was a house built by the then owner, Saudi Arabian born and Western educated Adnan Kashoggi. The house was built in the late seventies/early eighties and it served as a vacation home to the then richest man in the world, who is reported, built the house for his wife. The house also served as a party central of sorts since Mr. Adnan was as Gatsby as it gets and it is reported that the high and mighty in the early eighties at some point in time, they might have visited the house for a little party in the ranch!
Mr. Adnan fell out with the powers be in the aftermath of the 82 coup and was unwelcome to the country thereafter. Lonrho Africa took over running Mr. Adnan’s ranch after he was kicked out of the country.
The current house does not have anything that would tell you of its unique historical past apart from the interior décor esp. in the living room and the exquisite paintings that hang on the walls, which show a widely travelled and cultured man, Mr. Kashoggi was. And perhaps all arm dealers are, as it is purported he was! There is nothing else that indicates or showcases of this treasure trove apart from the occasional staff that are well acquainted with the stories of the houses past.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
The Ol Pejeta offers almost similar activities and interactions as the Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp. However, the house is most ideal destination for small delegation that wishes to have their privacy from the high turnover Sweetwaters Camp. Also, weddings which could make use of the extensive Ol Pejeta House grounds and afterwards a honeymoon for the newlyweds!
1. Download Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House Fact Sheet (pdf) which is available on Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp website and Ol Pejeta House website
2. Download the Ol Pejeta map which can be accessed also from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy website.
3. Photographs by Niazaro Kala
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by Serena Hotel (accommodation).
Located 193 kilometres, which is slightly under 3 hours’ drive from Nairobi, Serena Mountain Lodge offers a unique getaway away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. The fact that Sagana State Lodge, which has been dubbed as Kenya’s own version of United States reclusive Presidential getaway Camp David, is located a few kilometers from Serena Mountain Lodge speaks volumes about the ideal settings of the lodge. It is no wonder that whenever the President is conducting official business in that part of town, most of his guests end up staying at Serena Mountain Lodge. A few notables have spent the night there which includes, the current Deputy President, the former Chief of the General Staff and the current CS for Devolution and Planning who coincidentally happens to come from that region. Other guests who have found it fit to unwind in the reclusive and tranquil lodge are the British Army soldiers who happen to have a base in Mount Kenya region.
One of the things that immediately hit you as you approach the lodge is the clear fresh air, this is because the lodge is located inside Mt. Kenya Forest and it is located at 2,134 meters above sea level. The other laudable thing about the lodge is the all tarmac road up to the lodge. This is something you get to appreciate especially if you are driving yourself to the lodge as was the case with us in a small salon car.
The other interesting observation made about this lodge is, unlike others Serena properties which I have visited in the past, the Mountain Lodge is operated by Serena Hotels not owned by the Chain.
The lodge is built in a location which was identified by a game hunter who noticed its uniqueness in in the 1950’s since animals would always come to the present day watering hole to drink water. It is with this in mind that he suggested this location as a prime place to set up a lodge and in immediate post-independence period the lodge was put up. It was initially run and operated by a separate entity before the Serena chain took up the management.
The architectural style of the lodge is cabin styled and timber-built, and it has 42 rooms with private balconies overlooking the watering hole. The interior décor especially of the lobby echoes Kikuyu Culture with pictures of the community which date back to pre-British colonial settlements. The rooms have hand woven hangings which one would presume have been done by the surrounding community.
The lodge has high speed free Wi-Fi, which as you would expect seems like a basic need in this times we live in, so even if you take your holiday or getaway, you can still be in contact with the rest of the world. The location also has clear Safaricom coverage, which is what I use and as such you can still receive and make call, if you wish to be in touch. Otherwise, you can choose to switch off, relax and enjoy your stay at the lodge. As you would expect the place to be cold by the day and even colder by the night, the lodge provides hot-water bottles.
Dining, Bar and Hospitality
The lodge has a central dining room which is raised to tree level offering long views over the forest canopy which is ideal especially as you take your lunch or breakfast. The hotel offers personalized meal experience with a 3 course menu to choose from as opposed to Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp which we visited next during the course of our itinerary. The diner also has a wide range of red and white wines to choose from offering an assortment of both local wines and South African wines.
At an extra cost, the lodge offers rooftop candlelit dinners and sundowners. We were able to experience the former, a candlelit dinner in the presence of Mr. Kathurima Mbuguru, the Lodge Manager, who was an outstanding host during our say at the lodge.
Adjacent to the main dining room is an exceptionally well-stocked bar; mind you they have Remy Martin and Napoleon Courvoisier! The bar has its own private game-viewing terrace which is similar to private box stands you would have in a stadium. This is an ideal location within the lodge for a delegation on hang around and for business delegations; this is an optimal place close a deal or two.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
There are quite a few activities that one can indulge into while at the lodge;
a) Guided Forest Walks
The lodge offers a guided forest walk under the leadership of the extremely well versed resident naturalist, Mr. Benson Maina. These walks normally begin at the lodge by being given the correct set of clothing, gumboots and raincoat followed thereafter by small induction of what to do and what not to do in the forest by Benson.
Thereafter, Benson takes visitors to the Kikuyu heritage Museum he is trying to set up which has items and artifacts from the Kikuyu community. Here he offers a brief overview of the community, to some of the cultural practices, that were observed by the Kikuyu people in the pre-colonial period. After this rather interesting encounter with some of the Kikuyu community customs and practices, the nature walk gets in Mt. Kenya Forest under the escort of 2 armed rangers, one in the front and the other at the back of the line.
During the 2 hour walk, one is able to observe, different bird species, come across interesting flora and in between Benson Maina would give lectures on different facets of the mountain ecosystem. Also, during these stop-overs, Benson would be able to respond to any queries such as, ‘what do you do when you come across a charging buffalo?’
What do you do when you meet with a charging Buffalo? Serena Mountain Lodge naturalist expounds your best options.. pic.twitter.com/Bl8o95uSfx
— Robert Njathika (@Njathika) August 15, 2015
In between this afternoon walk, which usually takes place between 3-5 pm, there is a tea break smack in the middle of the forest. The lodge has a prime picnic location in which one has tea, seated on a fallen log of wood with ‘tables’ made of vertical rounded timber trunks. The tea comes with the option of milk (white tea) or with ‘elephant milk’ (which is black tea with Napoleon French Brandy).
b) Trout Fishing in Mountain Streams
The lodge is located near a trout hatchery, which is the biggest trout hatchery in East and Central Africa. One of the quintessential things to do while at the lodge is to visit the trout hatchery. Here you will be shown the whole process that goes in the hatchery, from the harvesting of eggs to seeing the fully grown trout that are sold in the fish market in a nearby town centre at KES 600 per Kilo. While at the hatchery and with enough time, one gets to fish for their own lunch (that is if they want to have fish for Lunch!). However, in our case due to a tight schedule, no one in our delegation was able to capture a fish in the over 30 minutes fishing 101 we had with Benson.
c) Walking on the high moorlands and Luxury ascent of Mount Kenya
For visitors that have an itinerary that is more than five days, the lodge offers luxury ascent to Mt. Kenya. This package includes potters, and all the necessities that will make your scaling of Mt. Kenya easy and memorable.
For the guests that might not have the time to scale the mountain, walks to the moorlands can be organised by the lodge.
d) Viewing animals overlooking the Lodge’s water hole and Mount Kenya
In case you do not have the time to venture outside the lodge, special cases and circumstances where you have a conference in the lodge, then worry not about missing our since the lodge’s watering hole attracts a wide variety of game during the day and you can sign to be woken at night should an animal of your choosing be spotted at the watering.
Also, if you wake up very early in the morning or on cloudless days, one is able to view the peaks of Mt. Kenya from the balcony of your room.
The lodge offers a tranquil environment which is ideal for either an out of town getaway, wedding and honeymoon destination, and conference and event facilities. If you are planning a family getaway, please note that the lodge does NOT permit children under 7 years of age.
1. At the time of writing the room rate was $221, however, you can get in touch with the hotel through firstname.lastname@example.org to get the prevailing best rate.
2. Most of the photos are by Niazaro Kala
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by Serena Hotel (accommodation).
Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge has this blend that exists between it and the ecosystem around it. From a far it would be hard to tell if the lodge does indeed exist! Trees have been planted around the lodge and the Masai architectural design of lodge minimizes disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem. The only give away about the lodge’s existence is the constant traffic of vehicles plying to and from the lodge.
Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge is located inside the Amboseli National Park which is in Kajaido County. One can access this lodge using two fronts -either from Tsavo National Park (from Nairobi-Mombasa node)or from Nairobi-Namanga Road
In our case, we accessed the lodge from Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge and as such we connected through the road that cuts through Tsavo West National Park. This road cuts across the no man’s land / Tanzanian Kenyan border – tour vans are accompanied by armed KWS wardens. This is because in the late eighties bandits used to ambush convoys but this is no longer the case. There has not been any reported incident in the recent past.
KWS offers security to tour vans leaving Tsavo Park to Amboseli at 8 and 10 am and also for the reverse traffic. When you use this stretch road, you will get to to see Shetani Lava Flow. This is an area where volcanic activity took place a few hundred years ago and the local not understanding the phenomena named it shetani which is Swahili for the devil.
This road cuts across the Masai heartland and on a clear day you can view Mt. Kilimanjaro on the background. Occasionally, you will meet with Masai herd’s boys with their cattle who normally herd they cattle next to the road so as to make an extra buck from curious tourists. The traffic along the route has also resulted to some form of entrepreneurship – Masai folks who sell beadworks. Occasionally some will propose you pose with them for a photo in exchange for a few bucks! When using this stretch of the road prepare for some dust – this is a dirt road and the vehicles normally move in a convoy.
1. Lunch | 1 pm
The lodge offers buffet lunch with a wide selection to choose from offering and caters also for the vegetarians. Lunch is served from 12.30 to 2.30 pm.
Buffet Lunch Menu
From The Salads Counter
A selection of
Fresh Garden Salads, Cold Platters
With a Choice of Dressings and Condiments
Cream of Carrot and Grinder
Mutton Broth Flavored with Turmeric
Hot Chaffing Dishes
Beef Strongnoff, Chicken Drumsticks,
Grilled Red Snapper Set on Leeks Fondue,
Steamed Rice, Boulangere Potatoes, Njahi,
Fleshly tossed Vegetables in Season
Parathas, Creole ice,
Ghobi Mattar, Green Daal,
Papadums, chutney, Pickles and Condiments
A choice of stir fry vegetables and pasta
Selection of deserts, pastries, cakes and sweets
Tropical Fruit Slices and fruit salad
Kenyan Cheese Board with Crackers and Relishes
Freshly Brewed Kenyan Coffee, Tea or Herbal Infusion
Selection of Serena House White and Red Wine (paid separately)
2. Afternoon Game Drive | 2.30 pm
Amboseli offers a wide selection of game one can view and in our case we were not disappointed. It is easier to spot animals in Amboseli as opposed to the Tsavo East where terrain and trees hinder one from viewing the animals.
If you are doing a game drive you are assured of spotting the elephants, zebra, hyenas, buffaloes and ostriches. You will need a lot of patience if you intention is to spot the big cats. However, with a measure of luck and a good game driver you are assured of making the drive memorable. The drivers normally exchange information on places where they have spotted certain animals
3. Bush Barbeque Dinner with Masai Traditional Dance and Drinks | 8 pm
For an extra cost* you can have a seven course dinner bush barbecue dinner accompanied with Masai traditional dance. The setting for the seven course meal is impeccably done in one of the open spaces near the lodge. While enjoying your dinner you can view the sky and listen to herbivores that normally grace within the vicinity of the lodge.
If you are having a family event or an office retreat – the Bush Barbecue Dinner is highly recommended.
Bush Barbeque Dinner
A Selection of Fresh Garden Salads and Cold Platters
With a Choice of Dressings and Condiments
Puree of Vegetables
Clear Essence of Chicken
Grilled Medallion of Beef Served with Thyme Reduction
Broiled Red Snapper Fillet Served with Lemon Butter
Freshly Tossed Market Vegetables
Baigan Masala, Risi Bisi Rice,
Chana Chole, Daal Aloo Palak,
Papadums, Chutneys and Condiments
The Active Cooking
AChoice of Stir Fry Vegetables with Pasta
The Desserts Buffet
Selection of Desserts, Pastries, Sweets, Cakes
Tropical Fruit Slices and Fresh Fruit Salad
Kenyan Cheese Board with Crakers
Freshly Brewed Kenyan Coffee, Tea or Herbal Infusions
ARNISTON BAY (chenin blanc)
Hat tip: You need to have ready for the seven course because it is not a joke!
4. Morning Game Driver (Sunrise in the Amboseli) | 6 am
Catching the sunrise should be one of the things you need to do while in Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge. One need to arrange in advance with their tour driver so that they can be picked from the lodge by 6 am. The sunrise is best observed in the park, since the is few vegetation.
5. Breakfast at Observation Hill | 8 am
If you choose to obviously at an extra cost*, you can have breakfast served overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro and Elephants in the vicinity. The additional cost incurred for this is totally worth it and on a good day you can spot elephants in a marsh that is close to the viewing hill.
Ideal for place for celebrating special occasions.
The lodge also provides sundowners overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro on the same spot.
6. Tree Planting | 10.30 am
Tree planting initially started as Corporate Social Responsibility initiated by one of the previous managers of the lodge.The noble project grown over time and hotel guests are invited to leave a tree footprint around the lodge. This idea has also been bought by KWS and they are now partners of this project. The end goal is to plant more trees around park.
7. Swimming, Shoulder Massage or Bird Watching? | 11.30 am
If your schedule does not allow you – there are lots of activities to do within the lodge such as take a dip in the immaculately cleaned swimming pool or reward yourself with a massage. Their masseuse is really fantastic and you are bound to forget you Nairobi problems momentarily!
As a result of the tree planting around the lodge, you are bound to spot some bird species and it is not uncommon to spot birders.
8. Lunch / Check Out | 11.30 am
One can check out by 11 am and have lunch which is advised, especially if you are using the road to get back to the city.
Bush dinner will take you back – $ 35/40
Breakfast at the observation hill – $ 30
Game Drive – $ 50
The room rates depends on the season – check out the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge site for the best rates.
ION: The lodge has been nominated by World Tourism Awards as one of the Kenya’s Leading Safari Lodge
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by Serena Hotel.
In between Nairobi and Mombasa cities lies the Tsavo East and West National Parks, now in Taita Taveta County. Tsavo is more synonymous with the man eaters of Tsavo – the lions that brought havoc to the railways constructors in the late part of 18th century. Coincidentally, the railway is being constructed this time not by the British but the Chinese. While there I did not come across any news of a re-occurrence of the fate that befell the British. Maybe the lions like the Chinese!
If you access the Park by road like we did, you will see a high level of activity on Nairobi-Mombasa Road – the building of the Standard Gauge Railway.
Of the two Tsavo’s the West is more a popular destination and Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge is located inside. By road the Safari Lodge is a 5 hour’s drive from Nairobi but it is also accessible by air. We were informed there is an airstrip within which you can access the park. If you can the 1 hour’s flight from Nairobi is highly recommended.
Since Tsavo West boarders Tanzania, one of the things you need to be aware is, the phone network might be an issue especially Safaricom customers – it is recommended you have an Airtel line. Otherwise, you can buy an Airtel or Orange sim card from the gift shop.
1. Lunch with a View | 2 pm
Our group arrived at the Lodge a few minutes after two and upon arrival one of the things that hit us was the watering hole which is next to the dinner/restaurant area. The watering hole is also visible from the rooms.
At this time of the day, there were few animals at the watering hole – we were able to spot Zebras, Thomson Gazelles and Baboons. If you planning on visiting the lodge it is advisable you carry a pair of binoculars and a camera to snap the animals.
The lunch offered here is a self-service buffet which is included in package but the facility does allow one to drive in for lunch [reservations recommended]
2. Drive to Mzima Springs | 3 pm
Drive to Mzima spring was the next item in our itinerary after having had late lunch and checking in to our rooms. The Spring we were duly informed is the source of water to the residents of Mombasa. The park has constructed walking pavements along the spring with an underwater observatory. During our visit we were unable to spot any crocodiles – the only animals we were able to see were the monkeys and hippos who seemed to be playing a hide and seek game with us!
However, to and from the spring we were able to see a number of animals; masai giraffes, hornbill birds and some gazelles.
3. Dinner – Chyulu Bar and Night Vigil around the Watering Hole | 7.30 pm
Chyulu Bar is where we had our dinner; an area reserved for groups that wish to have some privacy and is situated next to the conference room. Thereafter, we proceeded to the observation area to view the animals at the watering hole.
At night chances of spotting the cats are significantly higher as opposed to the day. The lodge has a resident nature officer who is usually at hand with any clarifications one might have. Also, the lodge has a room call for any visitor who wishes to be woken up in the middle of night in case they spotters are able to see a specific animal one is interested in.
4. Breakfast and Checkout | 8 am
The lodge does not have a gym but has a football field where one can jog in the morning and two bicycles in case jogging is not your thing. Also, their swimming pool opens at 7 am and in my case I was able to do a few laps before breakfast.
Breakfast is served from 6.30 to 10 am and in the morning one can spot a few animals at the watering hole – such as giraffes and buffaloes. At that time of the day it is usually not very hot.
Since we were going to Amboseli, we were not able to do a morning game drive. (game drive usually costs KES 4000 pp).
– There is no television in the rooms – the lodge is set out in a manner gives the visitors more time to interact with the environment as opposed to staying indoors watching TV. However, in the conference room there is a television – in case one wishes to catch up with the news.
– The lack of indoor entertainment (TV) is made up with very good Wi-Fi – which is free.
– The reception area has an excellent running exhibition with photos of railway line construction under the British to some very interesting photos of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta visiting the Lodge watching the elephants at the watering hole.
– Paintings in the rooms are by Yony Waite.
– There are caves within the vicinity which were used by the British durung World War I when fighting the Germans who had control of Tanganyika by then.
If you are traveling to Mombasa and need a place to recharge, then Serena Safari Lodge is most ideal. Also, for tourists visiting the coastal circuit and wish to have a game view the location of the lodge on your way to the coast offers convenience to any Safari itinerary.
Reservations recommended but walk in guests accommodated as well.
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by Serena Hotel.
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