Kenya

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Kenya.

Mombasa Safari: Colonial History & Swahili Traditions

Several strands of Kenya’s past meet at Mombasa’s Fort Jesus junction. On one side is the entrance to the medieval Arab town, and on the other the colonial-style members-only Mombasa Club. Oddly, the statue in the traffic island here immortalises not some great historic Kenyan figure, but the local tradition of roadside coffee or kahawa, with a giant golden coffee pot. Mombasa was settled by the Swahili people nearly 2,000 years ago, but its customs have been shaped by the monsoon winds that brought maritime traders from near and far. Kenya’s second-largest city after Nairobi bears the cosmopolitan influence of its Bantu, Arab, Indian, Persian, Portuguese, and British inhabitants. Today, people are still drawn to Mombasa from all over the world, for its bounteous beaches, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and its access to some of the world’s best national parks teeming with wildlife.

OLD TOWN – I rendezvous with Taibali Hamzali, an architect with a yen for heritage conservation, who has been working towards preserving the buildings and ethos of old Mombasa. A friend of a friend, Taibali grew up in the Old Town and couldn’t be a better guide to its intimate alleyways. We convene at Fort Jesus, a 16th-century citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese and a popular meeting point for walking tours. The Old Town Tourist Guides Association, with its reliable registered guides is located here. A map of the Old Town at the entrance to Ndia Kuu, or Main Street, indicates various walking routes. I marvel at the dainty single-storey houses with balconies and balustrades, ornately carved doors, and even some art deco architecture. The scene is reminiscent of small-town colonial India Taibali tells me that indeed this waterfront settlement is a rich amalgam of the Arab-Omani, Indian, and British cultures that touched these shores, and left their mark on the country.

Fort-Jesus

Fort Jesus

Though mostly privately owned, the residential buildings are bound by heritage conservation laws. Still, some have been sold to unscrupulous builders and demolished. I am awed by the fretwork balconies and the teak doors with brass studs. Adorned with inscriptions of Koranic calligraphy and floral vines, these were the handiwork of the Kutchi craftsmen who were early immigrants from India. Meandering through lanes flanked by heritage homes, we come across the 16th-century Mandhry Mosque, believed to be the oldest mosque still in use in the city. Its obelisk-like minaret once served as a beacon to medieval Arab dhows, guiding them into the Old Port. “Old Town Mombasa grew as an Islamic trading post,” says Taibali, “and by the 1900s, finely-crafted stone buildings had been constructed along the main streets.”

The Old Post Office was constructed in 1899, in the British colonial style of arched windows and rich plasterwork decoration. It is from here that Indian indentured labourers sent news and money to their families. The post office is at Government Square, one of Old Town’s few open spaces and the perfect vantage from which to watch boats dotting the harbour. According to a plaque, such “small coastal trading vessels” sailed up and down Africa for thousands of years. I am intrigued by an unmarked door on a periphery wall abutting the ocean and Taibali reveals a darker side to the old port’s history: It was a departure point for slaves being sent to Zanzibar, East Africa’s main slave market.

Further north stands majestic Leven House, seat of the erstwhile British colonial administration, where missionaries such as Johann Ludwig Krapf, and 19th-century explorers John Speke and Richard Burton once stayed. Named after a British ship which ran anti-slaving patrols off the coast of the city, the renovated building now houses the Mombasa Old Town Conservation Office. Outside, in the narrow lanes, Swahili women in loose floor-length buibui gowns or boldly floral patterned khangas (sarongs) and men wearing kikois (lungis) and kanzus (long white tunics) sell souvenirs to tourists. Most of the buildings have curio shops on the ground floor.

 Leven House

Leven House

Though kitschy, many of these shops or dukas have good local handicrafts and items such as brass coffee pots. I mull over my day while sipping kahawaby a painted glass window in the Jahazi Coffee House. More than a cafe, Jahazi is a cultural meeting ground. Like other words in Swahili which have been borrowed from Persian, Arabic, or Hindustani, jafezs- is a familiar term meaning ship. With its carved wooden benches and tables from Lamu, Persian carpets and settees, it offers the ideal setting from which to watch the world go by. Make sure you get a plate of crisp Swahili samosas and kahawa, the signature spice and ginger-laced coffee. I imagine a traditional coffee seller with his trademark brass coffee pot and brazier full of coals peddling the strong brew to the idlers unwinding by the ocean.

mombasa-safari-1

Mombasa Safari

Colonial History and Swahili Traditions in a Diverse Kenyan Metropolis

Several strands of Kenya’s past meet at Mombasa’s Fort Jesus junction. On one side is the entrance to the medieval Arab town, and on the other the colonial-style members-only Mombasa Club. Oddly, the statue in the traffic island here immortalises not some great historic Kenyan figure, but the local tradition of roadside coffee or kahawa, with a giant golden coffee pot.

Mombasa was settled by the Swahili people nearly 2,000 years ago, but its customs have been shaped by the monsoon winds that brought maritime traders from near and far. Kenya’s second-largest city after Nairobi bears the cosmopolitan influence of its Bantu, Arab, Indian, Persian, Portuguese, and British inhabitants. Today, people are still drawn to Mombasa from all over the world, for its bounteous beaches, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and its access to some of the world’s best national parks teeming with wildlife.

OLD TOWN

mombasa-old-town

Old Town of Mombasa

 

I rendezvous with Taibali Hamzali, an architect with a yen for heritage conservation, who has been working towards preserving the buildings and ethos of old Mombasa. A friend of a friend, Taibali grew up in the Old Town and couldn’t be a better guide to its intimate alleyways. We convene at  Fort Jesus, a 16th-century citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site built  by the Portuguese and a popular meeting point for walking tours. The Old Town Tourist Guides Association, with its reliable registered guides is located here.

A map of the Old Town at the entrance to Ndia Kuu, or Main Street, indicates various walking routes. I marvel at the dainty single-storey houses with balconies and balustrades, ornately carved doors, and even some art deco architecture. The scene is reminiscent of small-town colonial India. Taibali tells me that indeed this waterfront settlement is a rich amalgam of the Arab-Omani, Indian, and British cultures that touched these shores, and left their mark on the country. Though mostly privately owned, the residential buildings are bound by heritage conservation laws. Still, some have been sold to unscrupulous builders and demolished. I am awed by the fretwork balconies and the teak doors with brass studs. Adorned with inscriptions of Koranic calligraphy and floral vines, these were the handiwork of the Kutchi craftsmen who were early immigrants from India.

Meandering through lanes flanked by heritage homes, we come across  the 16th-century Mandhry Mosque, believed to be the oldest mosque still in use in the city. Its obelisk-like minaret once served as a beacon to medieval Arab dhows, guiding them into the Old Port. “Old Town Mombasa grew as an Islamic trading post,” says Taibali, “and by the 1900s, finely-crafted stone buildings had been constructed along the main streets.”

The Old Post Office was constructed in 1899, in the British colonial style of arched windows and rich plasterwork decoration. It is from here that Indian indentured labourers sent news and money to their families. The post office is at Government Square, one of Old Town’s few open spaces and the perfect vantage from which to watch boats dotting the harbour. According to a plaque, such “small coastal trading vessels” sailed up and down Africa for thousands of years. I am intrigued by an unmarked door on a periphery wall abutting the ocean and Taibali reveals a darker side to the old port’s history: It was a departure point for slaves being sent to Zanzibar, East Africa’s main slave market.

Further north stands majestic Leven House, seat of the erstwhile British colonial administration, where missionaries such as Johann Ludwig Krapf, and 19th-century explorers John Speke and Richard Burton once stayed. Named after a British ship which ran anti-slaving patrols off the coast of the city, the renovated building now houses the Mombasa Old Town Conservation Office.

Outside, in the narrow lanes, Swahili women in loose floor-length buibui gowns or boldly floral patterned khangas (sarongs) and men wearing kikois (lungis) and kanzus (long white tunics) sell souvenirs to tourists. Most of the buildings have curio shops on the ground floor. Though kitschy, many of these shops or dukas have good local handicrafts and items such as brass coffee pots.

I mull over my day while sipping kahawa by a painted glass window in the Jahazi Coffee House. More than a café, Jahazi is a cultural meeting ground. Like other words in Swahili which have been borrowed from Persian, Arabic, or Hindustani, jahaz is a familiar term meaning ship. With its carved wooden benches and tables from Lamu, Persian carpets and settees, it offers the ideal setting from which to watch the world go by. Make sure you get a plate of crisp Swahili samosas and kahawa, the signature spice and ginger-laced coffee. I imagine a traditional coffee seller with his trademark brass coffee pot and brazier full of coals peddling the strong brew to the idlers unwinding by the ocean.

AN EVENING IN FORT JESUS

fort-jesus-mombasa

Fort Jesus – Mombasa, Kenya

Amid coconut palms and almond trees, boys in red jerseys play football by the four-century-old Fort Jesus. Fought over by the Omani Arabs and the Portuguese—the latter aided by men from their colony of Goa—the fort eventually fell to the British. It stands testament to the violent history of Mombasa, once called the “island of war.” In the late 19th century, after the city became the headquarters of the East Africa Protectorate, the British took control of the place and transformed it into a prison and it retained that avatar up until 1958 when it was designated a national park. Kenya gained independence in 1963 and Fort Jesus finally became a protected national monument. It was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. I watch the ocean waves crash against its walls as the retreating sun freezes the moment into a perfect picture.

HALLER PARK

haller-park-tour-experience-in-mombasa-kenya

Haller Park Tour Experience in Mombasa

On day two, I head to 3, modern Mombasa’s top-rated attraction. An emerald oasis sprung out of the derelict landscape of a spent limestone quarry, the park was mooted four decades ago by Swiss naturalist Dr. Rene Haller as part of the Bamburi Cement Company’s philanthropic efforts. The 200 hectares include a modest game sanctuary which is home to giraffes, cape buffalo, elands, and hippopotamuses, most of which are orphans or have been rescued. Arrive early to comfortably walk through the park.

While it is possible to explore on your own, it’s not a bad idea to hire a guide if you want to manage your time more efficiently and still discover interesting things. One of the highlights of this park is the giraffe feeding. On cue, the tall animals amble from the thicket towards a spectator gallery. Visitors feed them food pellets provided by the park for a nominal charge, and are kissed by the lanky ungulates in turn.

BOMBOLULU AND AKAMBA

akamba-handicrafts

Akamba Handicrafts

The best shopping experience in Mombasa is at Akamba Handicrafts, a co-operative of craftsmen from the Akamba tribe. The craftspeople work in tiny shacks behind the main shop and visitors can watch them carve intricate masks. The shop is chock-a-block with every conceivable type of Kenyan craft: ebony and rosewood masks, life-size sculptures of Maasai and Samburu warriors, soapstone curios, batiks of African landscapes, beadwork baskets and jewellery. (Off Port-Reitz Road, Changamwe; +254 41 3432241; www. akambahandicraftcoop.com.)

The non-profit Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre runs a smaller set-up than Akamba, where physically challenged people make jewellery and woodcarvings. The cultural centre showcases folk dances and recreated homesteads of diverse Kenyan tribes. Some may find it a tad gimmicky, however, the organization’s social and charity work makes it worth a visit.

THE IRON SNAKE

the-lunatic-express-today

The “Lunatic Express” today

The British East Africa Company inaugurated their ambitious plan to extend their power across Africa with the building of the Kenya-Uganda Railway in the 1890s. The unimaginable scale of this project led to monikers like the “Lunatic Express,” while the Africans called it the “Iron Snake” that crept across their land. Construction started in Mombasa and the line gradually extended across the country all the way to Kampala in Uganda. Mombasa due to its importance as a port was where the first station was built. It is also interesting that the large Indian diaspora in Mombasa and Kenya owes it existence to this railway as Indian labourers were brought in by the British to work on this line.

Though not on the tourist track, Mombasa’s old station is an interesting pit stop for the die-hard romantic who wants to hark back to the glory days of colonial rail travel. Charles Miller’s book The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in Imperialism fills in the gaps where the old railway station falls short. For those looking for an immersive experience, a classic overnight sleeper train called the Jambo Kenya Deluxe runs from this station to Nairobi twice a week. The journey is a throwback to the style of the colonial elite as they travelled between the two cities.

SUNDOWN SHOW-TIME

the-tamarind-dhow-cruiser

Tamarind Dhow Dinner Cruise

North Mombasa is full of hotels sitting smack on the beach. In the evening, places like Sarova Whitesands, Serena, Florida Nightclub & Casino and Bamburi become prime nightlife destinations for live shows and parties. On a night out, try the Kenyan favourite, Tusker beer, or pick from a range of South African wines. A more romantic night out can be had on a Tamarind Dhow Dinner Cruise. The Tamarind Dhow is a floating restaurant with excellent seafood. Imagine the view from an immigrant or trader’s perspective centuries ago, and soak in the skyline, the modern melding with the old.

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Enjoying The Relaxing Beauty Of Kenyan Nature

It is no problem, my friend. You just jump,” declares the snorkelling guide, gesticulating wildly towards the ocean. We are about a kilometre from the Watamu coastline in Kenya and he has forgotten the life jackets. I stare at him through the smudgy snorkel ling mask, and try to grimace. But my mouth is already twisted awkwardly on the breathing piece, through which I hear myself breathing hard. I have flippered, cold feet. I am not sure if it’s the rocking of the anchored boat on the choppy waters that is making me giddy or his absurd suggestion. But I had, in an impulsive airport purchase, bought the latest Go Pro eMasaispecially for this underwater event and I have to make it look good. The tiny camera is at the ready, encased in its waterproof housing, stringed tightly around my right wrist.

“Are you going or what?” he says with a hint of irritation. I take the proffered ring buoy and descend into the Indian Ocean. Hanging on to that buoy for dear life with one hand, the other clinching the GoPro, I keep my head down for over an hour until the guide wriggles up with the creatures of the ocean and coerces me back aboard. It isn’t as if I had not been surprised before in Africa. Five years ago, I had made an impulsive trip to Zanzibar from Tanzania with my fiance. I had read about the archipelago’s ancient trade routes that ferried slaves and spices but no one had told me about the dazzling beaches, the centenarian giant tortoises and other marine life. Indeed, when most people think of Africa and its wildlife, few think beyond the ‘Big Five’, or the marauding wildebeest and zebra herds.

Africa as the place of pristine, soft-sand beaches and turquoise waters that hide incredible marine life, or Africa as a place of humanity’s very origin, is lost in the mad, touristy’ ticking-the-animals-off-the-list game. The continent’s spectacular terrestrial creatures overwhelm the senses and anything else is just a bonus. Just a few days earlier, in Maasai Mara and Lewa Downs, we had had our moments with the Big Five in the brief drive to the airstrip. But there were no herds. It’s awful to visit the savannas when the herds arc gone. It was late December and, having grazed up the Mara plains, the wildebeest and zebras had swept across to the wider expanse of the Serengeti. And, as if to make up for the missing zebras, the Watamu reef below me bubbles with zebra fish, named for their black and white stripes.

With every morsel of bread that the boatman chucks into the ocean—not recommended, since this interferes with the fishes’ regular feeding patterns—schools of zebra fish appear from nowhere to greedily gobble up the morsels. The Indian Ocean, stretching from Southeast Asia to East Africa, is an astonishing cornucopia of marine life. Apparently, there hasn’t been adequate research on its array of species, many of which scientists believe still lie undiscovered and many that could simply be vanishing without documentation in the havoc caused by climate change.

Ocean currents circulate in labyrinthine coils across the expanse of the Indian Ocean. Therefore, any rubbish thrown off the Indian coast could wash up on the beaches of East Africa and vice versa. “We have been doing some research. We haven’t so far got any rubbish from India but we have from Malaysia and Thailand. It’s really interesting how the currents work,” says Steve Trott, a marine zoologist and chairman of the Watamu Marine Association. The water is nutrient-deficient in the tropics, which is bad for the ocean, but great for underwater viewing. In Watamu, you can’t just wade into the ocean from the beach and find the corals in the shallow, as you can off the beaches of Indonesia or the Maldives. Here you have to take a boat a kilometre or two into the ocean to hit a reef.

Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara

The reef I hover around mainly has boulder brain corals. These, as the name suggests, are brain-shaped with many tiny rifts, ridges and valleys in which tiny fish play hide and seek. Because of their slow growth and sturdy shape, they arc relatively resistant to coral bleaching compared to the other delicate corals. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon triggered by global warming. Warm water forces the coral to expel the algae living on it. The corals then look white or bleached. The El Nino event in 1998 bleached almost 70 per cent of the coral in East Africa, save the boulder brain coral.

The marine wildlife to really look out for in the Watamu waters are the green and hawksbill turtles. But, as elsewhere in the world, rampant development is encroaching on their traditional nesting sites on Watamu’s beaches. Evolution has designed the hatchlings to make for the ocean as fast as possible using the light of the horizon as a beacon. But the bright lights of the resorts confuse them—they then waddle the wrong way, becoming easy prey for predators. A visit to Watamu is incomplete without exploring Mida Creek, a 32 sq km tidal inlet that comprises a mangrove forest. A boardwalk takes you through this forest. But don’t expect the sort of polished, primed boardwalk you have at Sentosa in Singapore: here, wooden planks are strung together in a rough and ready way, many of them missing and others rotting.

Some of the heavier members in our group worry about the planks crashing beneath them as they wobble along nervously. At the end of the boardwalk is a bird-viewing platform from where one can feast one’s eyes on a host of migratory birds fleeing the European winter. Flamingoes congregate in huge numbers in the vast mudflats fringing the creek. However, in the midday sun we see only a smattering of birds. “If you come one hour before high tide you can see a great aggregation of sea birds. They say it’s the largest aggregation of sea birds in East Africa. They number over 10,000. September to April is the best time to come. You just need to time the tide,” says John, our guide. We descend to the mudflats and reach our dugout boats anchored in the shallows.

Lewa Downs

Lewa Downs

The walk forms a fascinating 20-minute study in marine biology. Every now and then, John swoops down to dig out or point at an invertebrate. He scoops up a triangle-shaped organism. It’s a razorfish and, like most organisms here, it’s a mollusc with a razor-sharp shell. “They say one square metre of this mudflat has the same energy as a full chocolate bar. I mean there are so many organisms living here,” John says, patting the loamy earth where we see nothing. But he scoops up the earth from right under and points to some squiggly, squirming organisms, exclaiming excitedly, “See, it’s so full of life. See!”

The dugout boat is made of the hollowed-out trunk of a baobab, a bottle-shaped tree that liberally dots the coast. You sit one behind the other in the narrow hold with the boatman rowing with a long pole behind you. And as our boats move, the boatmen sing. There may yet be a lot to sing about in this part of Africa, comparatively serene and unpolluted. But it isn’t fully protected from the scourge of over development. Apart from climate change, the biggest danger to the marine biosphere in Watamu, as elsewhere, is overfishing.

For example, the overfishing of predator fish and molluscs often leads to the proliferation of sea urchins here. The sea urchins then feed on sea grass unchecked. This destabilises the sea bed leading to more wave action. With no buffer, the waves erode the beaches. And so it goes. Marine conservation organisations such as the Watamu Marine Association have stepped up to the challenge and, from waste management to recycling to educating fishermen, they are fighting to protect the unique marine biosphere of East Africa. Let us hope they succeed.

Arijiju: The Top Luxury Safari Of Africa

Although Laikipia county in the Kenyan highlands is just a few miles north of the equator, the early-morning air is cool and tangy. When the sun reaches its zenith, shining brightly in arching, china-blue skies daubed with high, scudding clouds, there is a clarity to the light that makes it possible to see over great distances, and in incredible detail. The views from here, on the western reaches of the 32,000-acrearijiju Borana Conservancy, are of seasonal river valleys coated in acacia and wild olive trees across naked savannah and rolling foothills to magnificent Mount Kenya, etched on the horizon like an engraving.

The owner of this extraordinary house, who prefers to remain nameless, says he first came to Laikipia because the landscape reminded him of his childhood home in central Nigeria, where his English mother, a chemistry teacher, and Nigerian father, a lawyer, raised him and his two sisters. His parents, who met and married in England, moved to Nigeria shortly after it gained independence from Britain in 1960. Later that decade, when the country was torn apart by the Biafra War, he and his mother and siblings were rescued by Swedish aid workers and flown to the volcanic island of Sao Tome, and from there to Portugal before finally reaching England. His father stood his ground, and when the war ended the family were reunited in the peaceful highlands around the city of Jos. It was there, as a young lad set free in the African bush, that the owner says he had ‘the most idyllic childhood, running around with a catapult chasing guinea fowl. At that age – about 14 or so – all I wanted to be was a game ranger.’

Instead, he would go to Yale and then Harvard Law School, where he met the Norwegian woman who would become his wife. He got a job at McKinsey & Company in New York as a management consultant and, as a reward for his progress, was sent to Johannesburg to head up the company’s strategy for the Standard Bank of South Africa after Mandela came to power. The posting re-ignited his love for Africa, and so he took leave of absence from McKinsey and went off in search of investment opportunities in Nigeria – which he found. Many years later, he is now the CEO of an ethical energy company dealing with solar, wind and gas projects in the country of his birth. But he’s never forgotten his childhood dream of becoming a game ranger.

Arijiju – the house takes its name from the Maasai word for the hill on which it was built – stands on the Borana Conservancy, owned by Michael Dyer, a third-generation Kenyan. Originally a cattle ranch, like much of the land around here, it shares a boundary with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which has been at the forefront of rhino conservation in Kenya for more than two decades. Borana operates both as a working cattle ranch, traversed by the nomadic Maasai with their cows and goats, and as a wildlife sanctuary. It’s a balancing act that’s anathema to safari purists who prefer even the illusion of pristine wilderness, devoid of any sign of human habitation, but with the commitment and involvement of local communities it has proved a successful conservation model. The property is well stocked with plains game – zebra, giraffe, Grant’s gazelle, eland and hartebeest- as well as lion and enormous herds of elephant. But the big news is it recently became home to 22 black rhinos, translocated from Lake Nakuru National Park and neighbouring Lewa – which had reached its own carrying capacity of 70.

arijiju

Arijiju, Kenya

With rhinos constantly under threat from armed poachers, Borana has had to invest heavily in security to protect them, including an anti-poaching unit. To help raise the money, Dyer decided to lease three parcels of land to like-minded investors on which to build private homes, on the understanding that the houses would be made available to paying guests, the profits from which are fed back into conservation projects on the land. The owner of this, the most beautiful house of all, had already been visiting Borana for 12 years when the opportunity to build his own home came up. He says he wanted his London-based children to know Africa, and to experience the joy and freedom he himself felt as a child, and, with central Nigeria now too dangerous to return to, the highlands of Kenya have given the family a key to the continent. For the owner, the complex world of conservation is gradually taking precedence over high finance. ‘I am finally starting to do what I always wanted to do,’ he says.

Sunlight hits the bedrooms at Arijiju first and arrives at the cantilevered swimming pool and its reed-covered terrace in the afternoon. It took the owner three years to settle on this precise spot. Before any building got underway, he tested for wind direction and watched how the light fell and cast shadows. He tells the story of how a group of chameleons under an old olive tree, sheltered from the prevailing wind and warmed by the afternoon sun, helped mark the position of one of the verandahs. As for the structure, the owner knew what he didn’t want -an old-fashioned, A-frame, thatch-and-brick safari house – but other than that, little came to mind. Working with two architects Nick Plewman from Johannesburg and Alex Michaelis from London – ideas were teased out, discussed, ruminated on.

If an A-frame roof was out of the question, then it should be flat, but that ended up looking too modern; the owner was keen to create something unobtrusive and embedded in the landscape, so the flat roof was topped with turf, creating something more nuanced. Gradually, other ideas and influences began to emerge. Michaelis had always been inspired by Le Thoronet Abbey, a Cistercian monastery built in Provence in the 12th century, distinctive for its lack of embellishment. References to the buried, rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia came out to play; the owner’s need for peace and privacy were noted. And so the concept of this highly reductive retreat, almost spiritual in its simplicity and beauty, took shape. For five years he says he spent every free waking hour thinking about, or working on, the house. During its construction, he was on site every six weeks.‘Yes, he was very hands-on,’ says Plewman.‘He has real vision and was the driving force behind everything.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park

It turned out to be an amazing collaboration, with a big team of creatives and craftsmen all working together.’ Both architects credit local contractor Ben Jackson with delivering something which has far exceeded their expectations: a 21st-century house built with 12th-century craftsmanship – all the quarried Meru stone was hand-chiselled by local masons – that feels ancient and wise, honest and elemental, but also very contemporary. It is truly remarkable how well Arijiju sits in its landscape. Literally cut into the bedrock, it is reached down a winding path created by the British garden designer Jinny Blom; the heavy, studded front door is triple height, arched and reticent; the entrance hall like a tunnel into an ancient fortress. Within, the intense, equatorial light cascades into a cloistered courtyard, illuminating the living rooms and bedrooms that lie easily around it; above it, to one side, is a roof terrace reached by a hidden stairway.

Outside, smooth-cobbled verandahs lead off all the rooms; the pool terrace fans out at the base of a flight of wide stairs, and beyond that, obscured from view, is the gym, a traditional hamman and spa. Two exquisite guest cottages set discreetly apart from the main house. The interior design is by Johannesburg-based Maira Koutsoudakis, who also created the smart-but-relaxed look at North Island in the Seychelles – considered by many the benchmark for all private-island hideaways – and Segera Retreat, also in Laikipia and owned by the conservationist Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma. Where the internal walls have been left bare, all polished concrete or exposed rock, Koutsoudakis has introduced opulence in the form of large-scale chandeliers (even in the smallest rooms in the house and cottages), enormous French mirrors, limited-edition bronze tables from Cape Town, leather-and-raffia carpets from Morocco and outsize leather Campaign wardrobes and desks from India.

‘Nothing shouts, but everything carries enormous weight, or is richly textured, or has a smooth lustre that is restful on the eye,’ she says.‘Because the owner has roots on both continents, and is a very elegant man himself, it felt right to fuse the finesse of Europe with the rusticity of Africa.’ A keen runner and sportsman, the owner sent his regular masseuse (the best in London, he says) to train an already-brilliant therapist he found by chance in the nearby market town of Nanyuki. He made sure the gym equipment was up to his exacting standards, and the house has both tennis and squash courts. Beyond that, there are also traditional morning and evening game drives, guided walks, mountain biking on well-established trails, and horseback safaris across Borana and beyond.

Laikipia

Laikipia County

The owner is keen for Arijiju to be used as a base for exploration rather than a static safari lodge (‘A bit like a Colorado dude ranch with wildlife,’ he says). Each year he and his family have discovered new adventures on Borana. One of their favourites is a day out at Ngare Ndare Forest, on the south-eastern boundary of Borana, where a tree-top-canopy walkway meanders through towering red cedars and deep swimming holes are the colour of Tanzanite, edged with emerald ferns fed by rumbling waterfalls. But perhaps the best way to absorb the immensity of Laikipia County and the diverse East African landscape is to take a helicopter expedition with one of the scions of a well-known Kenyan family,

Jamie Roberts (his brother Willie has Sirikoi camp on Lewa; one of his other brothers owns Richard’s Camp in the Maasai Mara). In a Roberts helicopter it is possible to explore the snow-covered Batian and Nelion peaks of Mount Kenya and go fly-fishing on the mountain’s almost inaccessible Lake Michaelson, or follow the Ewaso Nyiro River north over Samburu County, landing on Ol Lolokwe mountain – which rises suddenly from the volcanic plains that surround it – with its primordial cycad forests and astonishing views north to LakeTurkana and Ethiopia. These are phenomenally high-octane, adrenalin-pumping safaris and easily completed in a day if you wish. So it’s good to know that beautiful Arijiju stands waiting, candles lit, logs crackling in the baronial fireplaces, the bar open for pre-supper drinks on the roof terrace under the stars. There can surely be few sights more serene, or welcoming, in all of Africa.

kenya-beach

Coast Wanted

For idyllic, white-sand beaches, extraordinary wildlife-crammed national parks and the trip of a lifetime, look no further than the tawny savannahs and turquoise waters of Kenya

A visit to Kenya will open your eyes to some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes – from the wildlife-packed savannahs of the Masai Mara National Reserve, to the dramatic vistas dominated by the peak of Africa’s second-highest mountain, Mount Kenya. Beyond the Big Five and incredible views, there’s 500km of dazzling Indian Ocean coastline to explore, meaning if you’re travelling for a full-on beach break, or a twin-centre adventure, you’ll find yourself in exactly the right place.

Just 45 minutes from Moi international airport in Mombasa you’ll find the popular beach resorts of Nyali and Shanzu, the perfect places to check in to a hotel and relax on a lounger with cool sea views. For wide, picture-perfect white-sand beaches, why not try Diani beach? Its handy location close to Ukunda airstrip makes it a perfect partner for a safari and beach break in one.

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Funzi Island

Further along the unspoiled coast you’ll discover the secluded beaches of Galu and Kinondo, Msambweni and Funzi Island. Here, turquoise ocean breaks on to remote stretches of soft sand, and pretty boutique guesthouses make the ideal place to stay after a busy day of relaxing and discovering the shore’s villages.

Just a two-hour drive north of Mombasa you can explore Malindi, a small town that sits in the middle of the idyllic beaches on the north coast. Then 30 minutes further south is the sleepy village of Watamu, which boasts wide, white beaches and villa-style accommodation. A trip here can also be twinned with a visit to the Marine National Park, home to over 600 species of sea life and the inspiring Watamu turtle rehabilitation centre.

Prefer an active break? Trade winds along the coast make Kenya a great place to hone your kite-surfing skills, while the country’s numerous safari parks are only a short air transfer away. With so much variety, it’s whatever type of holiday you want it to be.

 

Enjoy Serene Relaxations At Tune Hotel Nairobi Without Breaking Your Bank

From July 18th onwards, travellers have another option for their stay in Nairobi, Kenya. Tune Hotel Nairobi is the latest kid on the block, costing an estimated US$29million for the 280-room facility. This establishment is strategically located in the suburb of Westlands with easy access to local business parks, city central business and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. With strong international hospitality experience acquired, the hotel aims to promote a refreshing and rejuvenating stay within its fresh and stylish rooms. The accommodation takes up 11 floors, each offering something unique for various visitors.

Rooms come in the form of double, twin, triple and family type so that there is something suitable for everyone. Each guest room is equipped with an en-suite thermostatic power shower, in-room thermostatically controlled comfort cooling and most important, quality bed and linen for a good night’s rest. These are essentials in achieving an undisturbed sleep and, when paired with fixed elements such as a high quality of service, security and design, the hotel aims to provide the best it can within an affordable range. The rate savvy customers are the bulk spenders in the region, and hence, form up the main market potential.

Room

Tune Hotel Nairobi, Kenya

On the ground floor, expect to find the 164-seater Utamu Casual Dining Restaurant, serving up a wide spread of continental cuisine. Grab a quick bite within the Grab & Go Coffee Shop which offers sandwiches, salads, paninis and drinks – all available for dining in or taking out. Crowning the building are two rooftop bars that offer fantastic views over the city and countryside. Although both Kilele Rooftop Lounge and Tusker Lite Sky Bar offer drinks all day, the latter also provides live sporting telecast from around the world. The hotel is also strategically located within the hot spots in town, some of which are a mere 5km away.

Electric Avenue is a quiet city street in Woodvale Grove by day, but transforms into a party haven at night with more than 30 international and local bars coming to life. Shopaholics will be pleased to pay a visit to Sarit Centre Shopping Mall, a local shopping town placed under one roof or if you have a thing for designer goods and cafes, drop by Westgate Shopping Mall for the best retail experience within East Africa. Heritage buffs will love exploring the National Museums of Kenya and MICE planners should have their eyes on the Kenya International Conference Centre, an iconic building within Nairobi’s skyline.

Masai Mara: Into The Wild Of Kenya

Our Land Rover crested the hill and there before us were plains full of animals: elephants, wildebeest, zebras, Thomsons gazelle, a herd of some 30 giraffe – the most I had ever seen in one place. The morning sun had turned the plains rich gold and the sky was the deepest blue. This was Africa’s most iconic wilderness. The Masai Mara at its finest. My companion and driver was Gerard Beaton, owner of several camps in the Mara and the son of Ron Beaton, one of the guiding lights of the movement to save this incredible patch of wild Africa. We had just driven from the Mara’s south-east corner, having spent the night with Calvin Cottar, another significant player in the salvation of the Mara, at his luxurious tented camp. The previous night, in the company of a roomful of like-minded Kenyan conservationists and safari operators, we had debated, argued, wrestled over the fate of this special part of Africa.

This wasn’t just dinner table chitchat – the Mara is at a precarious point in its history and the next decade will determine whether it continues as a pristine wilderness, a haven of biodiversity in a rapidly overpopulating Africa, or collapses under the weight of human demands. On this morning drive I’d insisted that Gerard show me the other side of the Mara, the dark side of human inhabitants encroaching, littering and generally messing up the wilderness. So we drove through a place called Talek, a settlement of between 3,000 and 4,000 people that is glowing in the higgledy-piggledy manner of so much of Africa’s human gathering places. Gerard had appeared somewhat reluctant.

Fly-camping in Naboisho - This involves a day of walking with the camp's guide and then camping overnight in a remote place.

Fly-camping in Naboisho – This involves a day of walking with the camp’s guide and then camping overnight in a remote place.

He wanted to show me his remote, pristine safari camp, which represents all the good things about the Mara, rather than this dishevelled shanty town that is wedged between the game reserve and the group of wildlife conservancies that are Beaton’s pride and joy. “You really want to see Talek?” he’d asked, genuinely perplexed. “It isn’t somewhere we normally take visitors.” Competition for land is one of the region’s biggest problems as population growth in Maasailand is 17% a year, among the fastest in the country. So, I needed to see this collection of squat, ugly concrete buildings, tin shacks and ragged trading stores because if the current attempts to rehabilitate the Mara don’t work, this is its fate.

Conservation nation? The Masai Mara wilderness is made up of a 1,510 sq km National Reserve and a cluster of Maasai-owned group ranches, many of which now function as privately run wildlife conservancies. These conservancies started emerging around ten years ago and were the brainchild of several white Kenyans, among them Gerard’s father Ron and Jake Grieves-Cook, a former chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board. They managed to persuade Maasai landowners to set aside large sectors of their land for wildlife, thus agreeing not to live on that land and only graze their cattle there at restricted times. In exchange they receive a monthly rent that is agreed, whatever the number of tourists. Jake Grieves-Cook says the conservancies have achieved three things: “They’ve added protected habitats right next to the reserve so wildlife numbers have increased, they allow’ the Maasai landowners to derive real benefits for setting aside land for wildlife conservation, and they give a more rewarding safari experience to visitors who can see wildlife without minibuses.”

Tourism overcrowding has increasingly become a major problem in the Mara; due to corruption, companies have been allowed to build lodges and hotels within the reserve and along its borders. In many parts of the Mara, wagon trains of white minibuses emerge from 200-bed hotels like rush hour at Piccadilly Circus, making the wildlife experience overwhelmingly unpleasant. One of the many positive aspects of the conservancy model has been to reduce the numbers dramatically. In and around the reserve there are now an estimated 7,000 tourist beds, double the number there were a decade ago, while in the conservancies there are between 500 and 600 beds. The conservancy formula is one tent/two beds for every 700 acres.

The overcrowding horror show is at its worst during the annual wildebeest migration, which sees a massive movement of wildebeest, zebras and accompanying ungulates from the neighbouring Serengeti reserve in Tanzania to the sweet red-oat grasslands of the Mara plains. It has been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World but, although the famed wildebeest Mara River crossings do represent an extraordinary wildlife spectacle, the experience is largely ruined by the presence of hundreds of tourists in minibuses jostling for space, yelling, crying and generally behaving like cartoon versions of homo sapiens.

Mara River wildebeest crossings it is the Mara’s greatest attraction and, at the same time, its most criticised, overcrowded experience.

Mara River wildebeest crossings it is the Mara’s greatest attraction and, at the same time, its most criticised, overcrowded experience.

For these reasons the Mara is both loved and loathed – loved because of the sheer exuberance of the wildlife experience and loathed because of the crowds. There is now, however, a concerted move to rehabilitate the greater Mara ecosystem. The emergence of the conservancies, driven by the tourism industry’s private sector, is a big part of this, but there has even been progress at government level to reform what has essentially been decades of corrupt administration practices. A new constitution and elections saw’ the appointment of a new governor, Samuel Tanui, who has promised to cap the number of vehicles in the reserve, stop hotel development and work closer with the conservancies.

The war on tourism – Half an hour after our visit to Talek we arrived at Beaton’s camp. Naboisho is set in a 200 sq km conservancy of the same name. Although the nine tents are large and luxurious, they are so discreetly placed that from a distance you would not know a fully functioning safari camp operates here. Unlike the giant camps both inside the reserve and running along its eastern border, camps such as Naboisho not only perform an important community-relations function but also provide safari-goers with a much more authentic bush experience. This was affirmed within hours of my arrival as I found myself walking almost beside the zebras and wildebeest grazing around the campsite.

I then heard tell of an incident, just two days earlier, when a lioness chased a topi through the mess tent area as guests eating their dinner looked on in amazement. “That,” Gerard noted, “is a wildlife experience they’ll remember for the rest of their days.” Naboisho and the other four camps in this conservancy pay the Maasai landowners more than US$1 million a year, whether they have tourists or not. Right now, the camp was quite full, with eight of the nine tents occupied, and there was a reasonable occupancy for July and August, peak season for the Mara; however, after that the numbers diminish rather dramatically. “We’ve had cancellations,” said Gerard, “and we are now beginning to think that tourism alone is not going to support these ecosystems.”

Since the terrorist attack at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September 2013, in which 67 people were killed, the international tourist cancellations have gathered momentum. Several terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast in 2014, followed by US State Department and British Foreign & Commonwealth Office warnings, and the decision by two British tour operators to pull their customers out of the country, have resulted in a serious downturn. Tourism contributes a billion dollars a year to Kenya’s economy so it simply cannot afford an international tourist stay-away. Most importantly, wilderness areas such as this depend for their very survival on the presence of international tourists. As Gerard said, this situation needs sorting out immediately.

Guiding lights – After taking an outdoor shower – and there is nothing quite as authentic as a bucket shower in a bush camp – I resumed my wanderings around Naboisho. This is a beautiful, unspoiled wilderness, an ecosystem of wide-open plains, acacia woodlands, gorges and ridges. It is big sky country. After scattering a few feeding zebras I ran into the camp’s manager-cum- walking guide Roelof Schutte, a South African who was worked in the bush in his home country, and then Zambia and Tanzania before arriving in the Mara. He told me that this is the richest ecosystem he has worked in. “This is a great walking area,” he said. “We walk to places where there are no roads, no vehicles, no people. You are alone with the wild animals.

Tracking lions - The best guides know their local lion prides well enough to have a sense of when they’ll hunt. Kills are never guaranteed but outstanding guides dramatically narrow the odds of you actually seeing one.

Tracking lions – The best guides know their local lion prides well enough to have a sense of when they’ll hunt. Kills are never guaranteed but outstanding guides dramatically narrow the odds of you actually seeing one.

There are few places in Africa where the wildlife viewing and interaction with nature is as easy and immediate as it is here.” Naboisho offers its guests the opportunity to spend a day walking with Roelof, and then to fly-camp afterwards. At a time when luxury lodges with hot-and-cold running water, flush toilets and Wi-Fi connectivity are becoming the norm, this return to the traditional pleasures of safari life is particularly pleasing. Wildlife guides such as Roelof are key to getting the most benefits out of your time in the bush. It is the unpredictability of nature that makes an African safari such a compelling event for regimented, pressured, clock-watching Westerners, and the best guides are the ones who manage to persuade those Westerners to fall in with the rhythm of nature. Guiding is another aspect of the Mara that has been improving significantly over the past decade. And again, Gerard Beaton’s family has played a significant part.

Ten years ago most Mara wildlife guides barely knew the difference between a Thomson’s gazelle and a kudu and were little more than vehicle operators. Then Ron Beaton built the Koiyaki Guiding School, near Naboisho camp, and everything changed. With the help of people such as Jackson Ole Looseyia, Gerard Beaton’s friend and business partner and one of the Mara’s most famous guides, young Maasai were taught the subtle arts of wildlife guiding. More than 200 guides have graduated from the school and most are now guiding in the Masai Mara. According to Jackson this has had a profound effect on visitors’ experiences in the Mara. He told me that bad guiding has been a major contributor to the overcrowding that has given this wilderness a bad name.

“A good guide,” he said, “will plan the day to avoid the crowds, leaving earlier and moving off sites when other vehicles arrive. He will encourage you to get away from the ‘big five’ mentality and go and look at birds and smell the flowers.” At the end of my week in the Mara I found myself standing in the morning sunshine at Ol Seki airstrip waiting for the Cessna Caravan to pick me up and return me to the general chaos that is modern Nairobi. I could see a herd of elephants on the distant horizon and was reminded of Karen Blixen’s line about elephants crossing the plains as if they have an appointment at the end of the earth’. There is nowhere in Africa like the Mara. And the glimmers of reform, rehabilitation and progress offer real hope for its future. I couldn’t wait to return.

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Pemba Channel Fishing Club – Shimoni, Kenya

A Sea Angler’s Paradise

Hemingway wannabes leave the inland wildlife to others and happily head for this coastal mecca, famous for exhilarating, record-breaking fishing safaris. This small, delightful, and exclusive club near the Tanzania border offers glorious days aboard five state-of-the-art boats in the fabled corridor that separates the southeastern Kenyan coastline and Pemba Island.

The channel is widely known as home to the biggest fish that Kenya – even the whole of Africa – has to offer. These are the waters said to have inspired Ernest Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea. In their translucent depths live marlin (three types), sailfish, swordfish, wahoo, and yellowfin tuna, not to mention the vicious mako shark and its cousin, the tiger shark. It is not unusual in the course of a thrilling and exhausting day to reel in a 100-pound tuna or 300-pound marlin; the club has set national records for each fish, at 193 pounds and 800 pounds, respectively. (The club holds 70 per­cent of all marlin records in Kenya.)

There are photographs throughout the club of 700-pound monsters being hauled into the boat, but most are tagged and released – it’s the memory that stays with you. If you’re more intrigued by the prospect of scuba-diving, the club’s 67-foot M.Y. Kisiwani live-aboard yacht is at your disposal for viewing the spectacular tropical reefs and pristine waters surrounding the spice island of Pemba, part of the Zanzibar archipelago.

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Mount Kenya Safari Club – Nanyuki, Kenya

Unashamed Luxury in the Shadow of Mount Kenya

The up-country Mount Kenya Safari Club has been a Kenyan tradition since American movie star William Holden fell in love with its blend of romance, history, and extraordinary scenery and bought it, with two friends, in 1959.

Built directly on the equator (the tennis court crosses the line) and along a dramatic ridge 7,000 feet above sea level, the hotel boasts a magnificent view of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain. Peacocks, ibis, cranes, and marabou parade across the sweeping green lawns; forested foot­hills extend from the impeccably manicured 100-acre property. Its casual elegance harks back to earlier days as a private club, when its roster of celebrity members was as impressive as that of today’s guests.

Of the wide range of accommodations – almost all with verandas, views, and wood-burning fireplaces – the ones with the most character are the older William Holden Cottages; the most luxurious, the new riverside villas. Distractions include game viewing, horseback riding, and golf. But the hotel – a microcosm of Kenya’s majestic beauty – is itself worth the trip.

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Little Governor’s Camp – Masai Mara, Kenya

An Authentic Safari Camp That Keeps the Excitement Alive

The Governor’s family of camps is known as the doyen of all safari camps, the first to open in the legendary Masai Mara in 1972 on a romantic spot reputed to have been one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite campsites. Soon after, something a little more intimate and even more remote was created: Little Governor’s Camp.

It remains a favorite old-fashioned canvas-tent safari camp; built around a small lake teeming with birds and wildlife, it is accessible only by boat. In such a rough bush setting – epitomizing the land­scape that inspired Hemingway and adventurers the world over – the high level of professionalism, quality, and luxury is rather amazing.

There are a few things you won’t find at the Ritz, such as giraffes wandering into camp or the wake-up call of a hippopotamus. Surrounded by the Masai Mara, the “theater of the wild,” you are guaranteed an abundance of game viewing in wide-open vistas where the grasslands seem to roll on forever. Can the Ritz match that?