Shimba offers some of the best encounters with forest willife in Kenya – like this bush baby…
Shimba Lodge: Our full report
Built in 1986, Shimba Lodge is set on the edge of a large waterhole in a patch of dense forest in the Shimba Hills National Park, less than an hour’s drive from Diani Beach. The lodge is a simple ‘tree-hotel’, modelled after Treetops in Kenya’s Central Highlands, but better in almost every way.
You reach the lodge by driving down its access road through dense forest, then leave your vehicle in the small car park and walk down steps into the forested valley where the lodge is located. The set-up at Shimba Lodge is firmly angled towards wildlife lovers rather than sybarites: the rooms are basic and comforts are fairly rudimentary by the standards of many Kenyan safari lodges.
What the Shimba Lodge experience lacks in finesse, however, it more than makes up in terms of wildlife experience and sheer fun: living tree branches grow through the public areas; foliage hangs outside many rooms; and arboreal animals (including bushbabies, genets, squirrels and bats) use the lodge’s decks, rails and wooden walls as a highway, a larder and a playground.
The lodge’s central areas consist of a simple dining terrace and lounge-bar, open to the waterhole. You can get WiFi in the lounge.
All 30 rooms, in the lodge’s five wings on three floors, are waterhole-facing. 23 of them are small twins, not en suite, with just enough space to unpack and change. They have ceiling fans, mosquito nets hanging from small rings (not very easy for larger people to avoid touching the net while sleeping under it), three-pin, UK-style plug sockets, a bench-style writing/shelf area under the mirror with a small stool, and a small veranda (but no seating for it). There is a limited amount of clothes-hanging space. Free bottled water is supplied.
There are also five slightly larger triples (equally not en suite) and two decent-sized suites with double beds. The suites have comfortable lounges with sofas and armchairs, fridges with minibar supplies, and superb balconies that seem to be almost part of the high branches of the nearby trees. We would very much recommend a suite if one is available: with the limited time you will spend at Shimba, using any of it to queue for a shower strikes us as a poor way to save money. Equally, the fact that they have spacious balconies with directors’ chairs means you can retire in privacy to watch the waterhole, or relax with a drink from your fridge whenever you like. The possible downside of the suites is their location – at the quieter, northern end of the lodge, where your views over the waterhole are slightly obscured by the exuberant foliage of nearby trees.
Shower and toilet facilities for Shimba’s standard rooms consist of one men’s and one ladies’ bathroom in each of the lodge’s five wings. The gents’ bathrooms each have two showers, three urinals and one toilet, plus a row of basins. Ladies’ bathrooms have two showers, three toilets, plus the basins – and the ladies’ bathrooms also have full-length mirrors. The walk-in showers, with shower curtains, could do with being modernised, and the hot water is not always sufficient.
When the lodge is full, as many as 60 people can be sharing the 20 showers and 20 toilets, which requires some tolerance and flexibility at busy times of the day.
Night-time at Shimba Lodge is heaven for entomologists, with countless bugs and moths attracted by the waterhole spotlights. Fish in the lake keep the mosquito numbers low, but the combination of frogs and insects can make for a deafeningly loud racket, characteristic of the tropical forest, that some guests find a little too noisy to sleep through: earplugs are recommended.
Game drives in Shimba Hills National Park, bush walks to Sheldrick Falls and a sundowner on a rocky outcrop in the park are the main activities at Shimba Lodge. Many guests find they’re happy some of the time just staying on the lodge terrace absorbing the surrounding forest environment – or wandering along the aerial walkway to the jungle deck for a sundowner in the forest overlooking the smaller of the two waterholes.
Among the wildlife you will see around the lodge, it’s the regular appearance of elephants that usually causes the greatest excitement among guests. They don’t put in an appearance every day, but when they do they can be highly entertaining, especially when bathing at the large waterhole. The nightly appearance of endearing greater galagos, or bushbabies, is almost as popular, but as they gradually become less fearful of humans, they’re beginning to become a nuisance, since they grab food from tables and can carry diseases that may affect humans. Very cute, but keep your distance.
Also at night, genets come to feeding tables below the dining terrace while bats and some spectacularly large moths whirl around the lights. There are leopards living in the woods close to the lodge, but you have to be lucky to see them – most often on the track to the gate either first thing in the morning or at dusk while driving on the track to the lodge gate
The most frequently seen daytime wildlife are the large monitor lizards that slink through the lilypads of the waterhole, and the impressive pair of fish eagles, for which the waterhole and various look-out perches in the surrounding trees are home.
Shimba Lodge is unique on the Kenyan coast and, while comparable to Treetops, The Ark and Serena Mountain Lodge in central Kenya, it is smaller and more in harmony with its environment than its larger highlands cousins. You need to be prepared for basic rooms, shared bathrooms (unless you opt for a suite) and simple, wholesome food. But we think the overall value of Shimba Lodge is superb, giving you a tropical forest experience, both in the daytime and in the vividly noisy night, that’s genuinely absorbing and magical.
Ideal length of stay: 1 or 2 nights
Directions: The nearest airports are at Diani or Mombasa (scheduled flights) with transfer to the lodge of 2-3 hours (Mombasa) or 1 hour (Diani). From Kwale airstrip (private charter), the transfer takes ten minutes. If you're transferring to or from from Mombasa, the Likoni ferry crossing, linking Mombasa Island with the south coast mainland can sometimes add significantly to journey times, especially at rush hours.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Shimba offers standard hotel fare, ranging from acceptable to good, but the cuisine is not a key part of the experience. When quiet, meals are plated; when full, there’s a buffet.
Breakfast is served 7.00–10.00am.
At lunch (12.30–2.30pm) and dinner (7.30–9.00pm) there is always a choice of main course plus a vegetarian option.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: No, all drinks are extra, but very reasonably priced.
Further dining info: Only in suites. Guests can take drinks to their rooms.
Birdwatching: Shimba Lodge is excellent for a birdwatching trip in Kenya: a pair of fish eagles lives around the waterhole and regularly pose on the branches opposite to engage in their discordant duets, or swoop over the lake to grab a fish.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Kenya
Photographic: Shimba Lodge is a delight for photographers. Night or day, just set up somewhere with a tripod and start shooting: there is always something fascinating to watch around the very large waterhole, in the trees on the other side of it, or in and around the lodge itself.See more ideas for Photographic in Kenya
Walking: For those interested in walking on holiday in Kenya, Shimba Lodge offers walks with an armed KWS ranger to explore the forested terrain of the park. You can also swim in the pool at the base of the falls if you fancy cooling off.See more ideas for Walking in Kenya
Attitude towards children: ‘We try to have a quiet atmosphere to encourage the animals, so we do not encourage guests to bring young children, though we can be flexible’
Property’s age restrictions: 5+
Special activities & services: None
Equipment: One highchair
Generally recommended for children: Great for older children, who adore the tree-house architecture, tree walk and animal visitors, especially the bushbabies. However, there are multiple places at Shimba Lodge where falls are a risk and we actively advise against bringing young children as parental supervision would have to be non-stop and would spoil the experience for the adults. We also think under-tens in groups would be hard to supervise and likely to be noisy.
Communications: Shimba has a Safaricom (Kenya’s biggest mobile provider) line with booster and internet. There’s free WiFi in the bar.
TV & radio: None
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There’s a first-aid box in the office, and staff usually undergo regular first-aid courses. A doctor can be called from Diani Beach Hospital (40 minutes’ drive in an emergency) or Flying Doctors would land at Kwale airstrip, a ten-minute drive away.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Shimba Lodge's gate near the road is 1.5km from the lodge car park and protected by armed rangers. This gate provides the only access to the lodge; there is no access from the surrounding forest to guest rooms.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers throughout the lodge. Quarterly fire drills take place and there’s a fire assembly point in the car park.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: There’s a safe in the manager’s office. Forex is possible, in theory, but we can’t imagine they would have much cash available.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa, MasterCard and Amex accepted with no surcharge.