Posts tagged ‘Serena Hotels’
A NairobiNow’s Guide to Exploring Sauti za Busara Festival, February 9-12 2016 @ Stone Town – Zanzibar
Map of Zanzibar Stone Town – most of the action will be happening at Old Fort
Sauti za Busara Festival is here with us again with two days before the official kick-off in Stone Town. Having participated in the previous edition of the festival in 2015 (in 2016 the festival did not take place due to funding constrains). I thought it would be nice to share some of the things to look out for – especially for a first timer to Zanzibar Island.
The highlights are based on this year’s festival line-up – the official programme plus also the insights gathered in the previous festival.
Day 1: Thursday, February 9, 2017 – Carnival Parade and official Kick-Off of the Festival
The festival officially starts on Thursday, February 9, 2017. However, between now and Thursday there a number of events – concerts in selected hospitality Sauti za Busara partners and guided town walks through the Old Town. However, should you arrive at the Island on Wednesday or Thursday morning do make time for the carnival parade. This will be nothing like you have ever seen.
The carnival starts far from Old Fort -the centre of activities during the four day musical extravaganza – at an open space called Mnarani. This is around 2 KMs from the Old Fort. The carnival starts at 3 pm. It is advisable to go earlier at the Fort and leave with the people who will be going to Mnarani – they know their way around and you don’t want to get lost on the first day!
Wear light clothing and carry lots of water – the carnival can take the toll on you if you are not used to the blazing Zanzibar heat.
The unique thing about the carnival is that is rich in cultural identity and the residents of Zanzibar and Tanzania in general adore their traditional garb and sing along the way through various streets of Zanzibar – signaling the official opening of the festival to all and sundry.
Also, through the carnival parade watch out for the influences in the architecture of the city – like there are housing estates which were built in the early years of independence – which are clearly influenced by the East. Also, now that China is back in the continent – you will not fail to miss their presence – especially in the infrastructure outlay.
Lastly, the political elite know that there is a big Gig in town and as such there are billboards to that effect – you won’t miss them (unless they were there in 2015 because Tanzania was approaching the elections in 2016)!
Thereafter the action going to Forodhani stage which is the stage outside the Fort. At that point in time the food vendors will be setting up at the Forodhani gardens and if you were drained by the carnival, that is the perfect time to snack up and prepare yourself for a long evening!
One of the things you will learn is that the festival starts at five pm and ends past mid-night. Eight/Nine pm is when juices flow which gives one some ample time to catch the sunset, do dinner and possible freshen up.
The headlining act for day one has not been indicated in the festival programme – one was hoping it would have been Yamoto Band but since this has not been announced it seems a good bet to check out the Ethiopians – Sami Dan & Zewd Band.
Day 2: Friday, February 10, 2017 – Sarabi Band (from Kenya are the headlining act!)
Depending on how you indulge on day one – whether you decide to do an after party after the last performance, on day two you ought to be pretty free in the morning hours. However, expect to be woken up by call to prayer at 5 am if you are residing next to a mosque.
It is advisable to do your morning errands early in the morning before the heat becomes unbearable. However, during the morning hours you can also do the old town tour or do a spice tour.
In the afternoon, if you are among the lucky few invited to the movers and shakers forum (a busara xtra event) – then you can participate in deliberations on digital opportunities for musicians with practitioners’ from all over Africa. (please note this an invite only event and the dates for extending the invitation have lapsed.)
However, worry not if you are not among the select few – there are endless things to do in the island. An afternoon swim near Old Town is ideal – however, you can also plan to get out of Old Town and a good spot to unwind is Upendo Resort which overlooks the Rock! This is a one and a half hours jorney on the eastern side of the island and as such you ought to go there early so that you can leave in time for the evening performances.
On the second day, Sarabi Band are the headlining act – performing at midnight. Do carry a Kenyan flag if you can – if you intend to go the full throttle in supporting the Kenyan boys and a girl band. This is the second time performing at the festival having made their debut in 2015. They seem to be a favorite of Yusuf Mohamoud – the Mzee wa Busara! Also, they have a new single out – Hakuna Matata – take a listen to it here.
Day 3: Saturday, February 11, 2017 – Hart the Band (from Kenya are performing from 8.20 pm)
By day three you will have got the hang of Island life! Saturday should be pretty much like the previous day. However, it being a week-end you will notice more residents of Zanzibar – especially those one’s who were bogged down by office work.
This would be an ideal day to take a cruise to Pemba Island and/or indulge into other outdoor activities. You will find almost everyone in Zanzibar has or knows someone in the industry offering one thing or the other! Seek recommendations from either your hotel or someone you know. Also, the Sauti za Busara programme and/or vendors inside the Old Fort can be of assistance.
On day three don’t forget Hart the Band are performing early – at 8.20 pm – if you intend to catch them and playing. Otherwise, itakuwa ngori!
The headlining act for the day is Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band from Ghana.
Day 4: Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Shake Your Dreads with Rocky Dawuni (Headlining Act from Ghana)
On the last day – shake your dreads with the festival headlining act – Rocky Dawuni and indulge in a number of post festival activities lined up in the island.
A number of Sauti za Busara Xtra events are lined up for the day and I would recommend you try the Soulful Beach Brunch at Upendo – Michamvi. Ideally, there should be a bus leaving for Upendo resort outside the Fort at or around 10 am.
Also, you can unwind at the Serena Inn listening to Culture Music Club. Serena has a excellent viewing area where you can catch the memorable views and you wind down the official four days of festivities.
Download the festival-programme (pdf).
Best of Belgium with Chef Olivier Bruckner & Chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud, Feb. 17-20 2016 @ Nairobi Serena
Belgium Dinner with Chef Olivier Bruckner
Dates: February 17-20, 2016
Venue: the Mandhari Restaurant, Nairobi Serena Hotel
Time: daily from 7pm
To book your table, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or 020 282 24 57.
Chocolate Workshop with Chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud
Dates: February 19-20, 2016
Venue: Nairobi Serena Hotel
Contacts: email@example.com and/or 020 282 24 57
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).
Date: May 23, 2015
Venue: Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Cost: KES 16,500 (inclusive of accommodation at Sweetwaters Serena Camp – Morani Wing)
The bush dinner is a private event.
Read our review of Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge here