Leleshwa is a high-end bush camp in a remote part of the Mara ecosystem.
Leleshwa: Our full report
Leleshwa, one of the smallest camps in the Greater Mara eco-system, is located on the wooded banks of the little Ropile River, in the Siana Conservancy, northeast of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This is a relatively remote area of mixed herding and wildlife, which has dense concentrations of plains game, including elephant and giraffe. There are virtually no other camps in the area.
You know that a stay at Leleshwa is going to be a bit special from the moment you get out of the 4x4 that has brought you along bush roads from Siana airstrip. From the small parking area, a wooden footbridge leads to the mess and dining tent and lawns above the steep banks of the river.
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Narrow sandy paths, winding through dense bush, lead from the central area to the guest tents. Leleshwa (named after the wild camphor bush that is often used as an air freshener and sanitiser in Maasai homes), is prone to being visited by wildlife, as the grisly leopard ‘larder’ (the dried remains of an impala hanging in a tree in camp) attested during our stay. Escorts are essential after dark to accompany guests to dinner and back again.
- The camp has six tents, four of which are standard – two twins, two doubles – with the doubles having super-kingsize beds of 2.1m x 2.1m (7ft x 7ft) and the single beds being 2.1m x 1.05m (7ft x 3ft 6in). The two suites are usually taken by families: each includes a double bed and two day beds, which are most suitable for children. Extra beds are available, making triples possible in standard tents, though that is a bit tight.
- The tents are large without being self-consciously massive, and that style – doing things very well and properly, but not trying to create false impressions – extends to the sensibly tiled bathrooms, understated washstands and shower areas with designer toiletries and nicely bottled filtered water rather than throwaway plastic bottles.
- The tents have outside veranda or lounging areas, some overlooking the stream valley and each tent is nicely separated by dense bush from the others, making them all quite private.
- Each tent has a tea and coffee chest (staff bring hot water at your wake-up call), which also includes a torch and alarm horn.
The manager will ask you what activities you want to do. Day one of most guests’ stays is typically a full day in the reserve. The opportunities for walks and drives in the Siana Conservancy are limitless and you’re sharing tens of thousands of acres largely with other Leleshwa guests only. The guiding is top-rate and the Siana area has plenty of plains game, but guests normally visit the reserve for better chances of seeing big cats. We saw large numbers or elephants and giraffe, jackals with a Thomson’s gazelle fawn kill, some particularly grumpy buffalo and a pair of secretary birds on their nest, as well as dozens of other species.
Morning and evening drives are also popular at Leleshwa, as are bush walks, which can be long or short and may include a vehicle component or be purely on foot depending on your energy level.
Leleshwa (named after the wild camphor bush that is often used as an air freshener and sanitiser in Maasai homes), has good cultural contacts with the local Siana community and guests can participate in a range of cultural activities. In the early morning, guests are often driven into the local village and may walk out to the grazing areas with the herders and their livestock. School visits are often done later in the morning, following an early game drive or game walk and a bush breakfast. Market days are Tuesday and Thursday. In the late afternoon guests may walk in with the cattle; when there are calves in the herds there’s often a lot of colourful activity.
With advance notice, Maasai blessing ceremonies for couples can be arranged, running from late afternoon to midnight and involving up to two or three dozen loval Maasai participants. The price, which includes keepting the specially made Maasai ‘wedding attire’, varies from US$300 to US$500 per couple.
For more adventurous guests, there’s the option of a one-night fly camp near the main camp, and a (minimum two-night) mobile camp on a Talek special campsite or in the Loita Hills east of Leleshwa.
These activities need advance notice.
Our viewVery small and personably hosted, and oozing with bush atmosphere, this is a camp for safari-lovers who really want to get away from it all. The guiding is top-rate and the camp has a good relationship with the local community. Very comfortable tents and particularly good food make staying a pleasure. With thousands of acres to explore, shared only with other Leleshwa guests, this is a very likeable and highly recommended camp.
Ideal length of stay: Three nights minimum suggested, four nights ideal. Also they often do a one-night fly camp near the main camp, and a (minimum 2-night) mobile camp on a Talek special campsite or in the Loita Hills east of the camp.
Directions: Siana airstrip, 30 mins to camp without stopping to watch wildlife. Can also collect from Keekorok airstrip for an extra charge. Depending on group size, season and airline, not every flight to the Mara will be able to drop at Siana.
Owner: The Leleshwa Safari Company
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: We found the cooking at Leleshwa creative and very appetising, employing lots of herbs and spices. There are always vegetarian options.
In the morning, there’s often a bush breakfast buffet. We had a wonderful bush breakfast at the end of a good walk, while dozens of giraffe strolled past us.
Lunch is usually a buffet in camp above the river. We had roasted herb chicken, roast, multi-bean salad and aubergine ‘crisps’.
Dinner is usually plated and always three courses, starting with soup. Local dishes are offered to guests at least once during their stay, often in the course of a bush dinner, or as part of a barbecue outside the mess tent.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Included. In practice, they don't have drinks in camp that they would feel compelled to sell as extras. If guests have special requirements, they would be happy to bring them in at an extra cost, or guests could bring their own bottles. These arrangements are usually very informal.
Honeymoons: Honeymoons are happily catered for within normal arrangements. Maasai blessings ceremonies are popular and charged extra. They normally run from late afternoon to midnight and involve 30 to 40 community members (both men and women) and a bush dinner.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya
Photographic: Leleshwa guides understand the needs of photographers and know how to position a vehicle to get you the best shots. For birders, the riverbank location is particularly rewarding in terms of subject framing and positions, as you can spot birds on branches opposite comfortable spots for setting up with a camera.See more ideas for Photographic in Kenya
Traditional Cultures: Leleshwa has very good contacts with the local community and engages guests with a variety of cultural activities, including school visits, walking with the herders and their cattle, and market visits.See more ideas for Traditional Cultures in Kenya
Walking: Game walks are standard at Leleshwa. With big-game encounters possible – and likely – all around the camp, and an armed guide available to accompany you, the experience is always worthwhile, and often very exciting. A river walk is being planned.See more ideas for Walking in Kenya
Attitude towards children: 'Very positive'
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: Ayahs (nannies) are available to help if required, and askaris can sit with a radio outside your tent. Spotters are often used for informal afternoon fun, making blunt spears, bows and arrows and taking youngsters on nature and animal dropping walks.
Equipment: None – but the camp ‘would figure it out’ if required. Day beds are three-sided, so can be turned to the tent to create a kind of cot.
Generally recommended for children: Yes. Older children who are into wildlife and the concept of safaris will love Leleshwa, athough all children would need supervision. The camp is unfenced and some of the tents are very close to the river.
Notes: The fact that after dark you have to be escorted when moving around camp should indicate its suitability for your children. And there are no children’s entertainments as such. No charge for under 4s. 4–14 kids prices. 15 and older: adult prices.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: There is an alarm horn in each tent. Cellphone coverage is barely available anywhere in camp. Leleshwa aims to avoid having cellphones and laptops being used in the lounge.
TV & radio: The TV (DSTV) in the staff quarters may be visited for major sporting events.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There’s a first-aid kit in camp, and the manager is trained in first aid. Less than 30 minutes’ drive from camp, Siana Springs Lodge has a good clinic. Missionary doctors are available at the end of the tarmac from Narok, within an hour’s drive. All guests are required to have Flying Doctors/emergency air ambulance insurance cover.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: In the daytime, the camp is patrolled by an askari and scouts. Security at night is provided by a team of askaris. Escorts to and from guests’ tents are obligatory at night.
Fire safety: The bush has been cleared around the kuni-boosters. Every tent has a fire extinguisher and every member of staff has been fire-trained. Leleshwa has recently had a security and fire assessment by KK from Nairobi.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: There’s a safe in the office, and lockable trunks in tents. No currency exchange is possible.
Accepted payment on location: Rarely needed except for the shop and village visits, for which pounds sterling and Kenya shillings or US dollars are preferred. Visa and MasterCard can be processed, but due to network problems it’s fiddly (and there’s a 5% surcharge).