Reviews of El Karama Eco-Lodge
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
We loved El Karama
If you like luxuriously appointed 'designer' lodges, El Karama probably won't be for you but we loved it.
The buildings, overlooking a river, are largely constructed from materials sourced on the ranch itself and blend into the landscape perfectly. We enjoyed a mixture of game walks and drives led by our excellent guide, Joseph, and eagle-eyed driver, Andrew, and were lucky enough, over a period of four days, to get perfect views of the sequence of animals feasting on a buffalo carcass - lions, jackals, vultures, tawny eagles etc. - among many wonderful wildlife sightings.
Every mealtime was a mini-safari with a variety of colourful birds waiting for the leftovers and a visiting genet ready to take advantage of any lapse in the waiter's security regime. This a refreshingly unpretentious place that offers an authentic, back to basics safari experience but with all the comfort and convenience you need.
El Karama Eco-Lodge review
A fantastic lodge, with a very 'different' feel from the Mara. A much more laidback place with barely any vehicles and much fewer people.
The property itself was lovely and the addition of the pool is a great idea as it creates a natural place to relax other than your room. The style of the property is pretty unique and Murray was a very good host. The pool area is finished to a high standard and there are some nice shady areas under tree's. It's a bit cold in winter time like now but I am sure it will be nice and warm in summer.
Food and staff were excellent. Game drives were good in terms of animals but not comparable with the Mara. I saw a single cheetah when I was at the property over the four days, no lions. I think opening up other tracks within the property which I know Murray is working on may help in this regard. I would say that this place is more about the lovely people and sweeping views with some nice concentration of elephants and other animals rather than lots of cats or the Big five. If you are coming to Africa for safari though I would suggest it needs to be balanced with the Mara which is much more touristy but you see more animals. When you do see a cat at El Karama its a lot more special I would suggest as it feels more 'private.'
Overall a really fantastic stay and would definitely recommend. The mara trip and El Karama work really well together..
El Karama Eco-Lodge review
Staff we're very friendly and helpful.
The pool and rest areas around the pool were excellent.
Guides were very knowledgeable and we loved our early evening bush walk.
Wonderful Safari for Three Generations
El Karama was a delightful place for the three generations of my family to go on Safari. My grandchildren, ages 8 and 5 were really catered to by Sofie, Joseph and Lovii and that made the experience wonderful for all of us. My 5 year old grandson went fishing with Lovii and caught a small fish which was then cooked for him into fried fish fingers for his dinner. The Banda accommodations were amazing. The food was fresh and delicious. The new swimming pool was perfect for a midday swim between game drives.
We saw so many animals on our twice daily game drives all of them so elegant in their natural environment. One night with a spotlight we saw a family of hippos come up the River and climb up the opposite bank right in front of our dining room. Out in the bush we saw zebras, rare Endangered Grevy's zebras, families of giraffes, gazelles, impalas, endangered Jackson’s hartebeests and wild dogs, just to name a few. The birds were also beautiful to watch.
We loved El Karama!
There is amazing warmth and personal care at El Karama. We arrived to juice and a wonderful lunch, served from fresh, organic veggies grown on their adjoining ranch and a swim in their new pool. The bandas, like all of their buildings, are works of art. The accommodations are comfortable, roomy and have thoughtful touches like filtered water and torches/nightlights.
The game drives were fantastic. We saw a wide array of animals: lionesses and cubs, hippos, elephants, giraffes, wild dogs, hyenas, jackals, all sorts of impalas and gazelles, both kind of zebras, birds galore - I felt like we saw a wide array of African wildlife. We had a bush breakfast one morning with giraffes that was spectacular, and our guide, Joseph, and our driver, David, were both friendly and helpful.
We took our 5 and newly 8 year old to El Karama. Kids are warmly welcomed there and both have already asked to go back. Sophie, her family and the team welcomed the kids like family, and made all sorts of activities available, from casting tracks with plaster on a game drive to painting daily in the gallery to a passport with activities. Lovii, the host, made sure the kids ate well and took my son fishing, and the chef cooked up his fresh catch! At all times we felt very safe, as did the kids, and they loved every minute. The morning and twilight game drives were short enough to (mostly) keep their attention. The river was also a huge attraction, and we spent time there every day.
El Karama is a beautiful place with beautiful people, and we enjoyed our time there and wouldn't hesitate to return.
A very special place to stay
Our favourite lodge of the trip. The location is charming, overlooking a murmuring stream and surrounded by bush, Joseph, our guide, was a lovely man and Lovi looked after us splendidly. Sophie and Murray are an inspirational couple. The newly opened swimming pool adds enormously to the facilities and raises the profile of the place.
We found the game drives in the rough terrain somewhat strenuous but the abundant animals, particularly elephants, zebras and gazelles, and the grand distant views with Mount Kenya in the background were very rewarding. The only other vehicles occasionally seen belonged to the ranch. The walks with Joseph were a real pleasure, and our last one ended with a dash back to the car to drive to see at close quarters two lionesses devouring a young zebra.
Suppers were nicely varied and wholesome.
Into the Wild
Again, we saw some amazing animals on the drive to the lodge. We received a warm welcome as all members of staff came out to greet us as we arrived at the ranch. We immediately warmed to the kind and genuine staff. We liked the emphasis on environmental conservation and the principles of the lodge. We enjoyed the food with our favourite dinner being a kenyan meal (which we requested on our last night). There were, however, various drawbacks to our stay.
We were the only guests, so we had all the staff to ourselves. We were looking forward to meeting the artistic owners and to lounging around the swimming pool, but the owners were away and only came back on our last day and the swimming pool wasn't ready yet (but it looks beautiful - which made it even more painful). The swimming pool (or expectation of one being available) was a key reason for choosing this lodge over other similar lodges in the area (e.g. Laikipia Wilderness). We were therefore highly disappointed to find that it wasn't available to use. We also made a conscious decision to choose a lodge where the owners had young children in the hope that our daughter would have someone to play with (again Laikipia Wilderness was the other option). We were therefore disappointed that the owners were not around for the duration of our stay (and had not been informed of this beforehand. Perhaps if we had been, we would have changed our travel dates).
Staying here made us realize how valuable it was to have the owners around as a link between us wazungu and the Kenyan staff. We felt a bit left to our own devices. As this was our first safari experience, we did not know what to expect or how best to plan our days. As Karen and our daughter did not go on a game drive in the morning, they basically had the whole day to fill around the camp without any concrete activities or people to engage with. It felt a bit like we were killing time rather than making the most of the wonderful surroundings. In hindsight, we feel that the owners could have helped us to better plan and make the most of our time. Moreover, there were other small details that undermined our confidence in the lodge: e.g. being served soured milk to go in our tea, continuing to use a table cloth that a bird had poo-ed on (!), letting the fire burn out on a cold night, threadbare towels. Whilst these are minor points, they did highlight some lack of attention to detail which would not be expected when one is paying a significant amount of money to stay.
It was a bit scary, but enjoyable to paddle in the hippo river that runs past the lodge. It was also a bit scary to go to the toilet at night, as our hut had its toilet in a separate hut 4m away. Four scary meters of potential leopard or hippo attacks... We only heard the hippo wheezing past at 5am, we didn't see it.
I enjoyed the walking safari with Joseph very much. Walking where our earliest human ancestors first started to walk and talk filled me with awe. Feeling exposed to the hidden eyes of deadly creatures made me feel more sympathetic with the ubiquitous gazelles.
We also enjoyed our visit to the ranch. Our daughter loved touching the cows and the calves - and we witnessed the birth of a calf. The lush vegetable garden was a revelation too. Coming from the UK where the seasons dictate what can be grown, we were impressed with the equatorial possibility of growing anything at any time of the year.
On the last day we got to meet Sophie and her daughter and Lavinia, the mother-in-law and artist whose paintings and drawings were all around the lodge. It was lovely to meet them and we felt the experience would have been very different if they had been around from the start.
With the swimming pool in operation and the owners around this would have been an amazing lodge.
Expert Africa comments
The owners have responded to these travellers' comments, saying the swimming pool not being ready was a big disappointment to the lodge, for which they sincerely apologise, and which was caused by a delay in a part arriving from Europe. The owners were away when these travellers stayed and will be taking on board the comments about the importance of the owners being present, especially as these travellers were first-time visitors to Africa. The owners went on to apologise for the lack of attention to detail, during their absence, which they have raised at a staff meeting. A new range of towels has now been put into all the rooms.
El Karama Eco-Lodge review
Overall outstanding. The site itself is much prettier than I had expected and having the sound of the movement of the stream just below us was wonderful - could have curled up on the verandah with a book for a week or so, just checking out the occasional passers by and the birds. ( In fact a bunch of travel weary Aussies arrived as we were leaving to do just that, had enough excitement on their horse safaris.) Very well appointed accommodation, again, had expected something more modest.
Service/staff: A very good feel, led by the very charming Sophie, all the staff were introduced, jobs specified and there was an atmosphere of mutual respect. People were confident with us, which gave us opportunities to talk to them in broader terms, their own families etc - great. (Set a good tone for the rest of our trip, even where relations may have been less informal, we adopted a similar mode...) All very good.
Food: best we had, not least because they have that veg garden up the farm and have been increasing the veg content of the menu. Jess and I were invited to join Sophie to fetch the vegetable basket, were admiring the fennel, oh you like fennel, out it came and was served at the next meal! Had a lovely 'picnic' (with Michael the chef in attendance in his chefs uniform!) at the riverside Twiga's crossing. And the giraffe came and after hesitation, crossed.
Activities: very happy with the rides and walks we were taken on. Saw lots of game, learnt even more about the combined ranching/game management model, viewed the recent dam extension,met the new cross bred calves. Occasional showers meant sploshing through red puddles - which we loved - and viewing glorious skies. Sophie very good on birds.
Facilities: All delightful, particularly enjoyed browsing through the core books on display in the mess, including mother in law Lavinia's 2 published books about life on the farm. The office/shop/gallery is lovely and pressure will have to be put on Murray before his sculptures, or at least models/pictures of them, are added to the display. (Sophie wants them represented)