Travel reviews by Mr & Mrs J from Hanwell
Total number of trips
Lodges stayed in
My Feb 2022 trip
Kenya between 11 Feb 2022 and 23 Feb 2022
Very pleased with the advice we got about our trip (including when one of our original accommodation choices shut and we had to make a change), also got helpful & practical information about the various Covid rules & restrictions."
"It's good to be back!"
Nairobi Elephant Orphanage visit
"Baby elephants - what more is there to say?"
12 Feb 2022 • Morning excursion
The elephants come out to be fed in two groups, and one of the managers tells you a little about each elephant and how they came to be there. There's also an opportunity to ask questions.
There's a reasonably large number of visitors, but it is controlled so everyone gets a good view & a chance to interact with the elephants.
"Still wild heaven"
Different? Well firstly the weather - last time we came it was in the rainy season, everything green and the tracks slick with mud; this time we were in the middle of a drought and the river was seriously drying up. Secondly the wild dogs, who we spent a lot of time watching before, were denning and therefore not really possible to see. There's plenty to Laikipia other than dogs, and it was interesting to see how the environment changed and an object lesson in the importance of the rains.
As far as wildlife is concerned, drought equals easy pickings for predators and the leopards were out in force. They barely even needed to hunt - the local livestock seemed to be doing rather worse in the dry conditions than the wildlife and the leopards were more than happy to provide a disposal service for any cow that expired. We got some terrific daylight sightings - a pair appeared to be enjoying a romantic Valentine's meal of carcass - and also twice saw the gorgeous melanistic leopard (big) cub who is living near the camp.
Laikipia though, is really less about what you see than how you see it. There's no luxury trappings or conventional creature comforts- but I've rarely found somewhere where I feel more comfortable. Every meal we had was delicious and often improved by being eaten out in the wilds. All the meals are taken with the guides and other guests, and evenings usually finished by sitting around the fire with a drink swapping travellers tales!
It's a great place to go if you love walking in the bush - our guide, Dan, had recently arrived in Kenya after guiding in Zimbabwe but was very knowledgeable and clearly very experienced as both a walking and a driving guide. He was ably assisted by our spotter, Simon."
"Live the high life"
The design of the camp is spectacular - you start at the top of the hill, at the splendid thatched dining area, then make your way down past the small but welcome pool to the elevated walkway out to the rooms. Perched on stilts in the forest, every room is located just above elephant-height. The local tuskers are regular visitors to the camp's watering hole, so there's every chance of spotting a trunk waving around below your feet as you walk around.
The two Sarara camps are owned and run by the local community, who also manage the conservancy where they nestle; the trustees are the Samburu elders; and a stay here isn't just about Kenya's wildlife, it's also about meeting Kenyans and experiencing the local culture. It's far from being an awkward "cultural experience", however; because your guide and the staff are all members of that local community they're able to introduce you to it in a way that feels very natural. Nothing feels like it's a show put on for tourists. Our guide, Peter, was very aware of the importance of conservation and tourism in enabling the Samburu way of life to continue. If that sounds a bit worthy don't worry - you will find you learn a lot, but in the context of talking about wildlife, your lives, families and life in general. Peter and our genial spotter/man with the rifle, John, were great company.
The experience here is, to be fair, less about big game (apart from the elephants!) and more about the natural world in general. Both drives and walks are on offer, the walks perhaps more rewarding. If you feel like you've been getting fed too much cake then the hike up the mountain is definitely recommended!"
"A pool with a view"
So we approached on foot, finding ourselves wandering up past the camp waterhole, avoiding the elephants but finding some surprisingly (to us) relaxed giraffe. (Not surprising to Peter, who explained some of them were raised at the lodge).
That waterhole is positioned just below Sarara's rather magnificent pool, hewn out of the natural rock, and a heavenly place to wallow in the hot dry heat of the day. From the pool, you can watch giraffe, elephants, antelope and more at the waterhole. If there's nobody in the pool, the local wildlife moves in there - you might see electric-blue vulturine guinea fowl or a family of baboons ranged along the brim.
Sarara, like its Treehouses cousin, is beautifully designed and located, with excellent and plentiful food, charming staff and a focus on making sure the local population benefit from conservation and tourism. Similarly, however, this is not the place to go to see spectacular number of game (with the exception of the elephants and the very nonchalent giraffe). You may well see more animals over lunch at the watering hole than on your activities; this is more a place for those who want to have a more rounded safari/African experience than just ticking off the animals.
We were really pleased that we had the same guide at both lodges; we had got to know him very well & he was also able to advise us on, for instance, which activity worked best at which camp."
Reteti Elephant Orphanage visit
"Elephants and more"
20 Feb 2022 • Morning excursion
There aren't just elephants here - there are also baby giraffe and rescued antelopes just wandering around - but the elephants are the main attraction. They rush out for their feed and then there is general carnage as they head for the mud wallow.
If you like watching baby elephants rolling around together in mud (and who doesn't), you'll love it.
A brief taste of Namibia
Namibia between 21 May 2019 and 30 May 2019
The self-driving was a bit of new concept for us (on African trips I have only driven in South Africa before as most safaris in Zambia, Kenya etc are not practicable for self-drivers) but, although the drives were long and everything seemed to take a bit more time than I expected, the roads were no worse and in many case much better than they are in South Africa."
We arrived late as we had an extremely long drive all the way up from the airport (most guests seem to do this as a stop-off between closer places) and arrived after the afternoon activity(school and village visit) had departed; the only criticism of the service that I have is that the place seemed deserted - we had no trouble following the track up from the main road (it's closer to 50k than 40 from Uis by the way) and it was well signposted, but we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do when we got there! We found somewhere to leave the car and I think we were spotted wandering up the track to the camp, as the very nice & helpful Ruti then met us and showed us to our tent.
The food was good and the atmosphere at the camp very sociable once the other guests came back. The next day was the main event - the elephant tracking. We'd had a briefing about this from the EHRA guys the night before. The tracking is all from their expertise - in following tracks, knowing where the elephants hang out and also talking to the local people. Although Ozondjou itself feels very wild, it's actually in quite a populated area with lots of cattle, goats and donkeys around - which makes this quite distinct from the sort of safari experience you might get in Etosha - it's about seeing how elephants and humans can live in the same environment.
We had two good sightings of the elephants - firstly a single male eating seed pods (and shaking the tree quite impressively!) and then, after lunch, a lovely family group wallowing in mud, rolling around and generally rather enjoying themselves. This was clearly quite a regular location for them and it's right next to a little kopje - we were able to get out of the vehicle, climb up and get a terrific bird's eye view of the action from right above the elephants. The guides know them well and can tell you about the individual elephants and their stories.
The elephant tracking takes up the whole day and covers a lot of ground - so be aware that you will spend quite a lot of time in the vehicle and, as the focus is on finding the elephants, there's less going on between sightings than on a standard game drive. Make sure your possessions are well secured - it can get windy and with the vehicle sometimes travelling on bumpy surfaces, things can fly out - my sunhat managed to go missing at some point during the day!
Elephant sightings are not guaranteed - apparently the last couple of days they had not found them - but the expertise of the guides means you have every prospect of seeing these fascinating animals that have adapted to the desert conditions. Ozondjou would probably be of most interest to travellers who have been on safari before and want to see something that's a little bit different from what they may have seen in national parks - it is also good as a stop on a longer trip as it offers something quite distinct from the other lodges in the area. I would not recommend staying for less than two nights - the elephant tracking would not be possible - but as this is the only day time activity, you would not need to stay for longer."
"Back to the wild at Mundulea"
Mundulea is the vision and passion of Bruno Nebe, a project that he has invested his life in in more ways than one. He's aiming to bring what was cattle farming land - over grazed and denuded of most of its wildlife - back to its original state. He's a pioneer, who has spent the last 20 years working out how this can be done - with a bit of trial and error. He's had a quite astonishing life - you'll have to go there to get his stories, I couldn't do them justice - which you'll gradually learn about in your time at Mundulea, as you walk through the bush, drink a much-needed beer by the fire or enjoy the food. This is cooked in a bush kitchen and as far as possible from the resources of the property (warning: you may be eating what you've been looking at, but trust me, spicy wildebeest stir-fry and home-cured eland salami are delicious). The bread is baked in an oven fashioned from an old fire extinguisher!
Anything that isn't done by Bruno is done by Tommy, the only member of staff - the feeling you get is very much that you're joining them at their bush camp, rather than staying as guests in any conventional sense. Although it's called a bush camp there's plenty of hot running water and good solar lighting at your tent; the camp is next to a water hole with hides so you can see who's out there. At night, prepare to be absolutely gobsmacked by the stars - the Milky Way in full view - which you can appreciate from your open-air shower after the afternoon walk!
We reckon we were probably walking around 10k per day - mostly with lots of stops to look at things, but in some cases requiring a reasonable level of fitness. I think he would adjust this according to the guests but you do need to be comfortable being on your feet and walking for 3 or 4 hours. I would not recommend this as a first safari - you are unlikely to see, for instance, the big predators (and you might not want to as all activities are on foot!) - but if you've got an interest in getting a little further under Africa's skin than you might do on other safaris, this place is ideal."
"Much more to Okonjima as cats"
The villa is a much smaller property that the principal camps at Okonjima and is also out in the reserve rather than in the fenced off area where the other camps are (wilder, but also, as we discovered, colder!). It's quite a "luxury" property - white fluffy towels, a bath, outdoor & indoor showers, quite a change as we were coming from a more bushcamp-style property at Mundulea! The villa was originally designed as a private safari house for one large group but it's now available to all - there is a large central house with a pool and dining area, and a very welcome fire, overlooking a well-used waterhole, and two freestanding smaller villas which are the guest rooms. There's a chef, a manager and more staff than were staying there, although the villa is not staffed all the time - but there are always drinks available for you to help yourself. From the deck you can see lots of animals - antelope, birds, giraffes, warthogs during the day, and brown hyena and a whole family of porcupines very close at night.
What we did not expect was the quality and variety of animals we saw on our activities. Like most guests, our first evening was spent tracking the collared leopards, and Nova took a little while to find. When we did find him, he obligingly wandered around near the vehicle in good light for a while. Rohan, our guide, had helped out his colleague from Plains Camp and their vehicle joined us; we were then heading off to leave Nova to go about his business while we had our gin and tonic. The other guide then called Rohan to say there was a honey badger - we did an about turn and found a young honey badger digging in the bed of the river where we saw the leopard. We were pretty excited by this - they're usually shy, if ferocious, and noctural, and we'd only seen one before in some 15 year of fairly regular safari going. Then we realised the leopard was back. He walked straight past our vehicle and sat about a metre away from the honey badger, who was oblivious, digging his hole. After thinking for a minute or two, the leopard leapt - and was spectacularly repelled by the much smaller honey badger! When even the guides are getting excited (you can find Rohan's footage on Instagram) you know you're seeing something special.
That wasn't all the evening held for us; after a delayed gin and tonic, we headed back through the darkness to camp and came across another first - an aardvark.
And that was just the first night. By the time we'd finished, as well as seeing our cheetahs (the rescued cheetahs at the foundation), we'd walked with rhinos, and seen not one but two more aardvarks! (One with another leopard sat on the other side of the vehicle, wondering why he wasn't the star of the show for once). Rohan, our guide, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and really went out of his way to make sure we had a great time and some special experiences - not just big animals, but also the endemic south-west African birds and a lot of the smaller stuff.
Okonjima is a very well managed reserve with comfortable lodges - we visited Plains camp and although it would have been much too big for us, it was well-designed and I think would be ideal for families - that is easy to access and would be a real highlight of a first visit to Africa. But more experienced safari-goers will find something for them here too, although you're clearly not in the kind of pristine environment you might find in, for instance, the big national parks in Zambia. The reserve takes its role in conservation and research very seriously and if you are interested, there is a lot to do and learn. The villa is a very spiffy and more than comfortable place to say, but it was the wildlife experience that really stood out for us.
And one last aside - we found when we left that the gardener had very kindly washed our car for us, and I think the car rental guy had never had such a clean vehicle returned to him before!"
The European-style fine dining (albeit focused on local Namibian ingredients) feels a little out of place if I'm honest - but it's an interesting experience. Our room was good, with a seating area in one of the little turrets which was quite fun! The staff were friendly and helpful - service probably wasn't quite as smooth as you might expect in the equivalent European hotel, but this was more than made up for by their charm and cheer."
My Nov 2015 trip
Kenya between 6 Nov 2015 and 17 Nov 2015
Richard's recommendations of the Emakoko and Laikipia Wilderness were perfect for us, with real style. Saruni Samburu was spectacular but probably not quite our style, although I think some people would love it. Air Kenya is what it is, a magical mystery tour.
Very happy overall."
"The Emakoko review"
It's not the bush, of course. But at the wonderful Emakoko, Anthony and Emma have managed to create a genuine safari experience that feels miles away from the mobile phone ads, shopping malls and mini-buses. It's in a secluded corner of the park where a wide open-sided dining room and bar overlooks the pool and river. Arriving from London late at night, we were driven (after a slightly worrying approach through a shabby industrial estate) into the National Park in the darkness (one of the very few times KWS will allow driving in a National Park at night) past grazing hartebeest, and warmly welcomed with a late supper at the lodge. Next morning, a rhino had come down to the river to say hello, and we were out in the park early before the local tours arrived. (Every car would stop and say "Have you seen anything?". We soon realised "anything" just meant "lion". There is a lot more to Nairobi NP than lions. Though they are there).
The owners used to run Elsa's Kopje, a lodge with a strong reputation, in the much more remote Meru NP and have brought a number of staff including guides and chef. The food is certainly excellent and many Nairobi residents come to stay just for that. Our guide, Elizaban, had come from Meru and was knowledgeable on all aspects of the wildlife in the park, including birds as well as mammals.
The rooms and public areas are all well-designed and have the feel of a lodge rather than a hotel. There are lots of nice touches like the old photographs of East Africa and Kenyan roses from a local farm. Each room has a large bathroom with bath as well as shower, and a deck overlooking the river, where birds and mammals can be seen wandering. Emma & Anthony are great hosts and more than happy to share their vast experience of safari life over a Tusker beer or generous gin and tonic (made by the enterprising Patrick, who is also the lodge carpenter) in the bar.
Nairobi NP is not a bush wilderness, but at the Emakoko, as darkness falls and the tour buses leave the park, you'll feel for a while like the city doesn't exist."
"Who let the dogs out?"
The Laikipia area is a series of conservancies, rather than National Park, which means a far wider range of ways of seeing the bush is available to you than in the parks themselves. Wildlife tourism and wild animals also co-exist with the local community and their traditional farming, meaning you come across cows, goats, beehives and even camels from time to time. Despite this the animals are properly wild, as shown by the presence of those most endangered of predators, African wild dogs. There are two packs in the area, and thanks to the camp's involvement with the monitoring programme, you probably have a better chance of seeing them here than anywhere else in Kenya. We saw them both from the vehicle and on foot, which is pretty exciting. We also saw the only cute hyenas I have ever encountered, which is a bit of an achievement.
Laikipia's ethos is all about getting you out into the wild, and we walked, river-rafted and ate in the wilds. The rainy season arrived with a vengeance when we were there, hence the bush sleep-out was rained off, but it did make for some pretty thrilling 4x4 driving through disintegrating roads and river beds! Our guide, Barend, and tracker Stephen, were from very different backgrounds but both experts and true enthusiasts, able to talk about animals, birds and plant life, although our insect interests were obviously a bit unusual!
Evenings usually ended around a fire, either in the mess tent or in the bush, chatting with Barend, Steve or the other camp staff about Africa, animals, life and everything.
Although we only saw Steve and Annabel's kids briefly (school has to happen sometimes!), the place has a family-run feeling about it all the time, helped by the large number of pets (dogs very friendly, cats rather more aloof), giving it a real blend of warmth with the wilderness. To say the service is excellent seems somehow wrong - basically they employ lovely staff who look after you very well because they're nice people - it doesn't really feel like "service". We felt extremely comfortable and more like guests of very hospitable friends than clients.
Laikipia Wilderness is not for everyone. If your main aim is to tick off the Big Five from the seat of a vehicle, don't come here (no rhino for a start). If washing in river water bothers you, or the thought of insects in the bathroom, you'll probably be more comfortable somewhere else. If a large (domestic!) dog deciding to share your chair is a problem, it's not ideal either.
The food is not fancy, but it's tasty, filling and fresh (they grow their own herbs and salads). And, as Arthur Ransome once said, food always tastes better when it's eaten in the open air. In fact the whole place has a rather Swallows and Amazons feeling about it - it's no wonder families seem to have such a great time here, which wouldn't be true of many safari camps - and it's also the perfect place for the grown-ups to regain their sense of adventure."
"Style in the Bush at Saruni Samburu"
The lodge itself is perched on top of a huge rock with wonderful views and fantastic rooms. In fact the rooms were so fantastic, we had a spare living room we didn't really know what to do with. However, during the rain, this was great as a comfortable place to sit and read. Food was good in general with everyone eating on one or two tables unless they wanted to eat in their rooms on their own. Service was really good, with a nice mix of Samburu style and genuine friendliness from Kennedy and from everyone else. The Samburu dancing over dinner was also a good experience, which seemed to be genuinely enjoyed rather than a bit forced as we have seen elsewhere in Kenya.
While we were at the lodge, we saw it in two different states. Initially, it was pretty quiet with only four customers there. However, on the weekend, a lot of people came in from Nairobi for celebrations, with a wedding, anniversaries and engagements all going on. One word of warning is that although the lodge is described as having six luxury eco-chic villas, each villa actually has two entirely separate rooms, so the lodge probably takes closer to 24 people than the 12 one might have imagined. When the lodge is full, it does feel a bit busy as a result, seats around the fire are at a premium and service can be a little frayed.
On the wildlife side, we had Lepaion as our guide. We liked him and he was knowledgeable when asked but perhaps a little shy in telling us what he knew. He was more than willing to help in our eccentric interest in birds, though and again was knowledgable on this too. On the driving side, the lodge is quite a long way from the park so, in the dry season at least, there is quite a long drive through the concession before seeing any wildlife. The route into the park is normally roughly the same too, so make sure you like dik-diks or birdlife to keep you entertained. There was some flexibility about how long one spent in the park though to make the most of the time available. Walking was available and well-organised, although I think hard core walkers would need to specify this: I think the camp is more designed with saunterers in mind on this front. We also went on a night drive which gave some nice variety although it was pretty quiet on the night we went.
Overall, this is an interesting lodge to review. The site is excellent, the rooms wonderful and the service good but it feels a little separated from the wilderness itself. On the wildlife front, being outside the park means that you can walk and do night drives but you may well get long spells of being in a car without much to see, so that balance is better-suited to repeat safari-goers than first timers. On the wildlife front, Samburu itself sits somewhere between the Maasai Mara (with huge amounts of game and many tourists) and more esoteric destinations like Meru or Laikipia with lower game density but fewer tourists and perhaps better guiding."
My Oct 2013 trip
Kenya between 14 Oct 2013 and 21 Oct 2013
Still good though."
There are a couple of things to note. The new building fits in beautifully but the giraffes don't go there for their food so it does not quite have the same charm. Also, when we were there, there was a big group, so we ended up having dinner in the breakfast room rather than on the communal dining room where we ate last time we were here. althoughh the experience was still excellent, this took away fom the country house atmosphere that this place otherwise does so well."
he staff and management were superb. Relaxed and friendly and extraordinarily well-organised. Guiding was fantastic. Dominic was great as long as you don't mind Arsenal fans. The park was good and was a great contrast to the Mara due to being so quiet.
I couldn't really recommend is place more as long as you don't mind the heat and the dust."
However, organisation of the camp was a little weak when we were there. Everything was too relaxed really, so we had to shift our own luggage ( I have no problem doing this but it is kind of annoying when someone says they will bring it: we arrived after a four hour flight, keen for a shower and after ten minutes I just went to fetch the luggage myself). Power for the lights did not get switched on until an hour after dark one night. Showers were forgotten on occasion too and it was hard to find someone to sort these fairly minor issues out.
We enjoyed ourselves and the guiding was good but changing guides each time was odd (although all were good). Despite a lack of organisation on our visit, they were flexible so we did everything we wanted. However, we had a sense of being a little abandoned in comparison to the excellent service and management at Offbeat Meru."
Minutes after the usual chaotic immigration at JKIA, we were installed in a Land Cruiser with a cool box of welcome Kenyan beers, and twenty minutes of Nairobi traffic later we were entering the National Park in pitch darkness, and laying bets with our guide as to which would be our first wildlife spot (he won - bat - but my nightjar was a close second).
The lodge's location is as extraordinary as ever - an oasis of bush experience within touching distance of the big city. Waking up the next morning to a game drive, we knew we were back in Africa! We were pleased also to say hello to some of the staff we remembered from our last visit.
Of course it's not the same as being out in the more remote parks & reserves, but it does a very good impression of it. It's the perfect place to decompress and recharge your energy after the flight, before moving onto somewhere more adventurous. The Emakoko has very much a safari lodge ethos, with beautifully designed rooms overlooking a wooded valley - although I doubt you would find the quite remarkable outdoor funicular lift in any other safari lodge."