Chyulu Hills camps - Ol Donyo Lodge

Ol Donyo Lodge

The view from Ol Donyo must be one of the most sublime in Kenya. In front of the lodge are 300,000 acres of open plains, iconic flat topped acacia trees and soft rolling hills. Behind, the Chyulu Hills, one of Kenya's youngest volcanic ranges, rise to over 8000ft in a series of verdant, whale-backed summits. To cap it all, Mt Kilimanjaro is only 40 kilometres away to south.

On a clear day, not surprisingly for a 19,000 ft mountain, it's difficult to miss, full-screen and breathtaking. When there's a bit of scattered cloud around, and visibility's not so good, people make the mistake of looking too low for the snow capped peak. It's sort of a running joke here - up there? It can't be!

When Richard Bonham approached the Maasai of Mbirikani group ranch in the early 90s, to discuss building a small lodge (also to be his home) at the foot of the Chyulu Hills, it was something of a pioneering concept in Kenya; Ol Donyo Wuas was one of the first community conservation projects.

Today, this idea has become the accepted way to allow those to whom the land belongs to benefit from its use by tourists. In theory this is a virtuous circle, where incentive and reward reciprocate and the land is protected.

In reality, politics is inextricable from the mix, so it would belittle the efforts of those involved to claim it was quite so straight forward, but the involvement of each party and the different perspectives they bring, makes for an unusual and interesting way to see this stunning part of Kenya.

Most of the staff at Ol Donyo Wuas are Maasai and from Mbirikani. This in itself makes for a great 'soft' cultural experience, in the sense that you'll be in a position to chat with them throughout your stay; chances are that the man who brings your coffee in the morning (it's particularly good here) has hunted a lion in his youth.

What's a certainty is that his family still live in a traditional Maasai manyatta by choice and that the thorn bomas they build around them aren't for show. Lion and hyena, of which there are plenty at Ol Donyo Wuas, have a (un)healthy appetite for cattle.

Ol Donyo Wuas itself is a very comfortable small lodge; a place to relax and read a book by the pool as much as to hike to the volcanic crater at the top of the Chyulus, or ride out on horseback amongst the scattered plains game.

There are plenty of animals here, but don't come impatient to have it all on a plate, or you could end up frustrated. Ideally you should head to the Maasai Mara to get your fix of game, then come to Ol Donyo Wuas for a few days to take things a little slower. Once you're in that frame of mind you really can't go wrong in the Chyulus.

Incl. FB, soft drinks, beer, house wine & spirits, laundry, activities within the ranch, airstrip transfer. Excl. cellar wine & premium spirits.

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