Borana: Our full report
Borana is an imposing lodge, privately owned by the Dyer family for three generations and set on the ranch ...... of the same name. With a vast swathe of wilderness and few of the usual park rules, Borana treats its guests to an exclusive safari experience and offers a wide array of activities, while staying in understated luxury.
Set atop a rocky hill, Borana has views and a location that were, to us, its main identifying features. With stupendous vistas from each of its eight cottages and all the main areas, you can't help but be impressed, especially when there are animals drinking down at the waterhole in front.
Borana's shared areas are split across two separate sites – with different views. On one side of the hill, with lovely views of the waterhole, you'll find a sparkling blue infinity pool, where sunloungers, a big shaded day bed and a table with cushioned chairs invite you to chill out. Adjacent is an open-sided lounge area and bar, with built-in cushioned sofas, chunky African furniture and animal paintings on the walls. It's rustic and simple in style, yet finished to a high standard. Above the pool is a fine, open-fronted dining area, usually set with one large group table where lunch is often served, and nearby there's a stylish shop, well stocked with beautiful handcrafted bags, belts, shoes and curios. It's worth pointing out that there are lots of stairs at Borana leading between the various main areas and some of the rooms.
Borana's facilities go much further though; on the other side of the hill, down some stairs, there's a large stone-walled thatched house with big glass doors and windows. Inside, in a huge lounge decorated in the style of an English country home, guests tend to gather before dinner for a drink beside the enormous protruding fireplace. As well as another lounge area, there's a long wooden bar boasting an impressive array of drinks, while upstairs, a correspondingly huge indoor dining area features an inviting fireplace, splendid ostrich-egg chandelier and beautiful wall murals depicting the landscape and wildlife outside. An adjoining outside lounge with rustic chunky furniture and flagstone floors offers a shaded spot to gather for afternoon tea.
Borana's eight cottages are all individually designed and slightly different: four have large double beds and four have twin queen-size beds, while two are double-roomed, so perfect for families. All, however, share a natural and rustic style that, in keeping with the rest of the lodge, is designed to be comfortable while at the same time fitting in with the surroundings. Polished wooden or stone floors, stone walls and high thatched roofs complement the heavy wooden furniture crafted from local and sustainable materials. Leather furniture and tartan fabrics offer a typical colonial feel. A fireplace makes the cottages cosy and warm in the evenings and each is well appointed with a safe, hairdryer and storage space for clothes.
Mirroring the style of the bedrooms are vast en-suite bathrooms with twin wash basins, a bath and a large walk-in shower. Hot water is plentiful, and toiletries are provided.
For families, as well as the various double- and twin-bedded guest rooms, there are much simpler "kid's rooms" designed for children aged 5 to 12 and offered at a greatly reduced price. Please ask about these if you are planning a family stay. More adventurous children will love the thrill of having their own room separate from parental oversight. They have 24-hour power, a shower and twin beds. In addition, for families taking the "Family Room 5 & 6" cottage (a double and a twin), if there are third or fourth children in the group, they would sleep in the "¾ room" of the cottage and be charged at the special "kid's room" rate.
The activities at Borana are hugely varied:
- Game drives, day and night, allow you to explore the area in depth, and being able to drive off road means that you can make the most of any wildlife sightings. Elephant, cheetah and lion are often seen here as are the more unusual plains game such as beisa oryx and Grevy's zebra. While the game viewing here is pretty good, it's not comparable to places like the Mara – but the lack of other visitors at Borana is a real treat and more than makes up for it.
- One of the key activities is horseriding. Borana has two stables and around 50 horses altogether. The first of them, next to the Ngare Ndare River, has horses suitable for beginners and novice riders. The other stables are a 20-minute drive from the lodge; with beautiful, ex-polo horses, catering for experienced riders and offering longer guided trips. Riding through this stunning terrain in Kenya allows you to appreciate the scenery in silence and get close to plains game such as giraffe, zebra and eland. Whilst here in 2019 we rode out across the plains, cantering past giraffe and coming close to a herd of elephants. We found the horses to be very well trained and very responsive. At present there is a 90kg weight limit for those wishing to go riding.
- Walking safaris with an armed guide (carrying a .375 rifle) can easily be arranged. Getting out of the vehicle to explore the landscape on foot, brings a completely different dimension and comes highly recommended from us.
- In 2013, 21 highly endangered black rhinos were translocated from Lake Nakuru National Park and from neighboring Lewa Conservancy, and they're easily viewable as you drive around the ranch. It's the chance to track these beautiful animals on foot with the rangers that is the biggest attraction. In September 2014, the fence between Lewa and Borana was opened up so that the wildlife can roam between the two conservancies. In the past few years two white rhinos have moved into Borana, joining the black rhinos, and we expect plenty more to follow. During one of our visits in 2017 we were very fortunate to witness a pride of 12 lions chasing two porcupines on an evening game drive. Fortunately for the porcupines managed to escape!
- If guests are interested then it's also possible to arrange a trip to the conservancy headquarters. Here you will meet the rangers on the frontline of the anti-poaching unit. We headed over to the headquarters during our stay in October 2019. After listening to a very formal and military-style briefing, there was the opportunity to ask questions, before driving out to deploy two rangers at a vantage point where they will spend the night on the lookout. Learning about their successes and seeing tangibly how tourism was helping to protect this species was one of the highlights of our stay. This visit can easily be built into an afternoon game drive
- If you're feeling active you might also want to take out one of the mountain-bikes, go fishing, take out a quadbike (NB: It's essential that you read the Quadbike warning in the 'Health & Safety' section below for our comments on insurance issues regarding this activity.)
or visit the working ranch and farm which has around 2,000 head of cattle and provides nearly all of the lodges produce.
- Another popular activity from Borana is to visit the nearby Ngare Ndare Forest. There are some beautiful rock pools and waterfalls, fed by crystal clear spring water, that guests can spend the afternoon jumping into and swimming in.
- Borana also happens to be just a five-minute drive from the rock that is said to have inspired 'pride rock' in Disney's animated feature film The Lion King. Every guest that stays at Borana will drive past this setting which, for many, is a huge draw.
Although it's all very informal, and a bit like a family home, Borana is a highly professional setup that runs seamlessly. Part of its charm is the unfussy style, and the fact that guests are encouraged by the delightful hosts and staff to relax and treat the place as if they'd lived here for years. We love this lodge, and although it may not be ideal if you're looking for wall-to-wall wildlife, it will suit you if you'd like the chance to get out of a vehicle and experience the bush in a variety of ways. The arrival of translocated black rhinos in 2013 – very visible as you move around – has also added a string to Borana's bow.
- Laikipia, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- At least three nights to experience the array of activities on offer.
- Most guests fly from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to Lewa Downs airstrip, which can take between 40 minutes and two hours depending on the routing of the flight. It is then an hour's straight drive to Borana, or up to two hours if game viewing along the way. There is also an airstrip on the ranch which is used by charter planes and this is only a 10-15 minute drive away.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Weather permitting, breakfast is usually served outside where you can expect fresh fruit, fruit juice or smoothies, cereal, freshly made bread, pancakes or eggs cooked to order with sausages and bacon. Tea and coffee are always on offer as well. Many guests will opt to take breakfast out with them during their morning game drive. This was one of our best breakfasts in Kenya on our 2019 trip, we enjoyed the menu system and it was refreshing to have something a little different. We tucked into eggs benedict followed by pancakes and a breakfast smoothie.
A light lunch, served in the open-sided dining area by the pool, is a buffet of cold dishes. On our most recent visit we had a filo pastry tart served with coronation chicken, green salad, roast cauliflower and broccoli. Dessert was a chocolate brownie and a fruit skewer.
Dinner was a larger three-course meal, and just as delicious. Starters are served in the lounge whilst sitting on the cosy sofas, with the main and desert served on the communal dining table on the upper level.
We started with crispy onion rings and vegetable spring
rolls served with dipping sauces. This was followed by beef burgers made with Borana beef, accompanied by roast potatoes and fresh vegetables. We rounded up the meal with profiteroles, chocolate sauce and lemon mousse.
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Borana can do room service but this needs to be arranged in advance, as there are no phones in the rooms.
- Drinks included
- Borana includes most drinks apart from Champagne and specially imported wines and spirits. The tap water in the rooms is filtered and safe to drink, however bottled water is also provided.
- Family holidays
- As well as game drives, there are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained. These include: horse riding, mountain biking, conservation activities, forest visits and fly camping. Children under five stay free at Borana.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Riding holidays
- Borana’s two stables house around 50 horses. The one located near the Ngare Ndare River has horses suitable for novice riders, while the other has beautiful, ex-polo mounts to cater for experienced riders as well as to offer longer guided trips.
- See ideas for Riding holidays
- Walking safaris
- Set on a private ranch, Borana offers ample opportunity to stretch your legs: visit the Ngare Ndare Forest with its crystal-clear pools for swimming; join a guided bush walk; call in at the local farm; even join the rangers on a rhino patrol.
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- Stone-walled cottages featuring rustic, locally made furniture reinforce Borana’s understated luxury. Each has a fireplace, where a log fire will be lit for you on request. A large infinity pool overlooks the lodge’s waterhole and has magnificent views across the Borana Conservancy.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Borana welcomes children of all ages.
- Property’s age restrictions
- No restrictions. Under 5s are free of charge.
- Special activities & services
- They can offer babysitting if needed, though please note that this would be a member of their housekeeping staff and not someone specially trained in childcare. They will also happily arrange early meals and will cater specially for children.
- Borana has a cot for infants, and board games for older children.
- Generally recommended for children
- We feel that Borana would suit older, teenage children who are able to make the most of activities such as mountain biking or horseriding.
- Borana is not fenced and there are animals around. There are also some drop-offs in front of the rooms and main areas, so it’s not ideal for small children. However, activities like fishing, riding little ponies and treasure hunts makes it quite family-oriented.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Borana
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Borana have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- Borana has a 74kw solar farm which is powered by 280 solar modules, this provides around 99% of Borana’s electricity. There is a backup generator, however this is rarely used.
- Borana has WiFi in the reception, which can also be accessed in your rooms.
There is also good cell phone signal here.
- TV & radio
- TV in the manager’s house can be used on request if there is a special event.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Borehole and bottled water is supplied for drinking, however the tap water is filtered and this is suitable for drinking.
A wood burner provides hot water to each room, although this can take a few minutes to warm.
Implementing a system of regenerative agriculture
The team at Borana takes pride in treating their guests to some of the most appetising and exquisite local dishes. They say a good magician should never reveal their secrets, however the chefs at Borana Lodges enjoy sharing the story of their fresh organic farm food – mostly locally sourced or grown from their own farms and those of their neighbours.
Cattle is fed fresh green grass and alfalfa daily, and chickens are left to roam freely the fields- the key to nutritious and tasty beef, fresh milk and cream as well as tasty eggs.
Crops are harvested using concepts of regenerative agriculture, a farming system that rejects pesticides or artificial fertilizers. A much more sustainable and responsible way of farming, regenerative agriculture aims to increase biodiversity and enhance eco-systems.
With the new concept of farming, came a new layout of the farm to improve water conservation. By following the natural contours of the lands, approximately 15km of Swales were dug, allowing all rain that falls or water leakages to sink into the ground refilling water reserves.
Employees and nearby communities are involved in the process and encouraged to learn more about the benefits of this ecological farming method. Guests are also invited to partake in farm tours and taste the organic crops straight from the source.
See more great sustainability projects in Kenya
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- Borana runs a mobile clinic for the community employing three nurses who are based on the ranch. The nearest doctor is in Nanyuki, about an hour's drive away, at the locally renowned Nanyuki Cottage Hospital. Borana also has links to the flying doctors service.
The managers have done a trauma first-aid course and other team members are trained in basic first aid. There are basic first-aid kits at the lodge and in the game-drive vehicles.
Quadbike warning: quad-biking is sometimes available as an activity from Borana. As with any potentially dangerous activity, it's vital that you take responsibility for ensuring that you have adequate travel insurance prior to getting involved. Be aware that some insurances cover quad-bike activities only for bikes with lower engine ratings: check such clauses particularly carefully before you get on a bike.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Askaris patrol the property day and night, and escort guests back to their cottages after dinner. There are electronic safes in the rooms.
- Fire safety
- Fire extinguishers are dotted around the property and are regularly tested.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Full Laundry Service - included (but they don't do ladies' underwear - washing powder is provided).
- There is a safe in each room. Borana can exchange small amounts of cash, depending on what they have available.
- Accepted payment on location
- Borana accepts cash in most major currencies. They also accept MasterCard, Visa and AMEX, though these incur a 3% surcharge.
Other lodges in Laikipia
Alternative places to stay in this same area.