Arriving at Kipungani Explorer there's a good deal of wow factor to the setting…
Kipungani Explorer: Our full report
Located on a peninsula on the sunset-facing west coast of Lamu island, this desert island-style complex consists of fourteen simple palm mat-and-makuti thatch cottages behind the beach. A mangrove-clustered tidal inlet separates the northern part of the property from Lamu’s “mainland". There's a large pool and a bar and restaurant decorated with driftwood and beachcombings. Unfortunately, as of 12 July 2014 we cannot recommend this property because the UK's foreign office has advised against travel to this area – the Lamu archipelago.
Arriving at Kipungani Explorer at low tide is impressive, with a vast stretch of beach between the water’s edge and the lodge. At high tide, your transfer boat will tie up at the end of the lodge’s pier. Staff will meet the boat to carry your bags up to the main lounge where you’ll be greeted with a drink and a cold face flannel. The lounge, full of comfy seating and plenty of cushions (and a large shop, stocked with local souvenirs and essential supplies for the beach), follows through past the library/book exchange to the bar area, and then down to a large, shaded decked area near the pool where meals are often served.
Access to the rooms is along sandy paths, partly laid with palm matting to make walking easier, across well tended lawns of wiry grass dotted with palm trees. The lodge is very Robinson-Crusoe throughout, but more manicured and hotel-like than neighbouring Kizingo while being less luxurious and exclusive in feel than Manda Bay .
The rooms at Kipungani Explorer are large, individual wooden-framed bandas (cottages) constructed largely of palm-matting, with palm trunk floorboards and roofs of makuti palm leaf tiles. Five of the rooms are spread out south of the main, central areas and pool, and seven more are ranged along the beach front to the north. The comfortably furnished rooms include very nice, sprung mattresses on the beds, full-length mosquito nets, writing tables, and hanging daybeds and recliners on the large verandas. The bathrooms are relatively simple and a little dark, but include all the necessary features, including hot water, showers and single washbasins, and flush loos.
Kipungani Explorer is very fire-conscious: smokers have to walk down onto the beach, or go to the smoking zone near the creek at the back of the hotel where a thoughtful little smokers’ hut has been built.
It would be easy to spend days just lazing here, but there are appealing activities on offer, including free use of kayaks, sailboats and windsurfers (if experienced). You can easily arrange a free visit to Kipungani village (where a number of staff come from) and see examples of the lodge’s community work at the clinic and primary school as well as seeing boat-builders and repairers at work. Equally, a member of staff will usually be available to accompany you if you’d like to walk or jog through the dunes behind the lodge, or along the shore to the point where the coast turns northeast along the island’s impressive, dune-backed beach (no charge). The lodge also sets sail in its own dhow, Zahra, for sundowners every evening, again at no extra charge. And you always have acres of beach to stroll, with not a beach boy in sight.
Paying activities, from quite a long list of possibiltiies, include:
- Snorkelling and dolphin-watching trip to Kinyika rock (US$70 per person);
- Water-skiing, tubing or knee-boarding (US$35 per 15 minutes)
- Snorkelling and beach trip to Manda Toto (US$90 per person);
- Guided tour of Lamu town (US$35 per person);
Our viewWe were very impressed: although we didn't stay here and only visited for a couple of hours, the welcome was warm, the food excellent and the beers super-cold. Not only that, which might be expected, but the spacious rooms were all in great shape, tidy and fresh-looking. We got a very strong feeling that the staff take great pride in this lodge.
Ideal length of stay: 3 nights-plus
Directions: From the airport jetty, the speedboat transfer through the creeks takes about 30 minutes.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Heritage Hotels
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Although our short visit isn’t a fair test of Kipungani Explorer’s food and drinks offering over a typical visit of several days, we were knocked out by how good our lunch was. An excellent pumpkin and coconut soup was followed by a crispy Greek salad, and then very well prepared fillets of local kole kole fish accompanied by perfect rice and a creamy coconut-based sauce in a scallop shell. We finished with a top-notch passion crème brulée. The beers were frosty cold, too.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are not included, but reasonably priced for a lodge in such a remote location. Ice-cold beers and glasses of house wine (South African red or white Chamdor) are about US$4, sodas US$2, spirits from around US$4 for a double shot and cocktails around US$5-7. Wines by the bottle start at about US$12, but most are around US30.
Further dining info: Room service can be organised by pre-arrangement. Dinner on the beach is easy to arrange at no extra charge. Dinner on board the lodge’s dhow is fun, and costs extra.
Attitude towards children: Kipungani Explorer is family-friendly.
Property’s age restrictions: None.
Special activities & services: If you need babysitting services – while you have dinner or go on an excursion, for example – a member of staff from housekeeping or the massage area will sit for you.
Equipment: The lodge has baby cots and sponge-filled chair rises for little ones at meal times. Non-motorised watersports equipment is all available to children, for use under parental supervision.
Generally recommended for children: With its outdoorsy feel, great pool, activities and informality, Kipungani Explorer is probably one of the most child-friendly beach hotels in the Lamu area. Having said that (and granted staff are very good with children, and will often spend time entertaining them even while off-duty), sociable kids may get bored if there are no other children staying. And little ones will need supervision around the property, especially at the unattended pool.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator is normally powered up twice daily, from 8am to midday and from 6pm to midnight. While it’s on, you can charge batteries in the UK-style three-pin power points in each room.
Communications: 3g mobile network is available but somewhat patchy.
TV & radio: There are no guest TVs. Guests are welcome to join staff to watch sporting events on TV in the staff common room.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: The lodge has its own wells.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There are first-aid kits and staff have had some training in first aid. Kipungani Explorer has set up a community clinic in Kipungani village, next to the lodge. The clinics and hospitals in Lamu town can be reached in about 30 minutes. In an emergency, a helicopter could land on the beach.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: Askaris patrol the property day and night and when the lodge is busy administration police officers are also stationed here.
Fire safety: Kipungani Explorer is very fire-conscious: there are fire extinguishers throughout the public areas and sand buckets by every room. Staff fire-training takes place periodically.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry can be done for an extra charge. It’s hand-washed, line-dried and ironed.
Money: There is no foreign exchange facility. There is a safe in the lodge office.
Accepted payment on location: All the major currencies (US dollars, Pounds sterling, Euros and Kenyan shillings) are accepted for cash payments, as are Visa, MasterCard and Amex with no surcharge.