Good Value at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

It had been a few years since I had last visited Ol Pejeta Conservancy. As a family we often stayed at Serena Sweetwaters when we had foreign guests, and I have many fond memories of the place. I am envious of the one trip I missed – I am reminded every time I look at a painting in our house of one of the wild dogs they were so lucky to see… So when two friends of mine were to visit Ol Pejeta recently, I jumped at the chance to tag along.

Most people who’ve been to Ol Pejeta recently will have noticed their effort to rebrand. New logos and themes appear on their online user interface. It’s not just fancy marketing. Along with the effort to capture more of the local tourism market, there is a strategy to create coherent and imaginative educational opportunities. They want every visitor to have an immersive learning experience. Their tag line is ‘conservation you can touch’.

The well-run Morani Information Centre has a variety of exhibits, and it is the central point for most activities, reserve information, and school visits. You can also see Baraka there, a blind black rhino. The Morani’s Restaurant is there too. It is now open from 9am to 5pm, except on Mondays. And the food is delicious. Special offers, as there was for Father’s Day, are regular, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the website.

Then there’s the unique Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Opened in collaboration with KWS and the Jane Goodall Institute, this impressive facility provides a safe and more natural home to chimps that have been rescued from the illegal pet and bush meat trades.

It is opportunities and facilities like these that set Ol Pejeta apart. Unlike many conservancies in the region, Ol Pejeta is open to the self-driving public. Often compared to visiting a National Park, some people criticise the slightly higher entrance fees for locals. However, the justification is the added value of all the extras I’ve just mentioned, the ease of access, and great game.

By the way, just because there’s easy access doesn’t mean you can’t have nature to yourself. The eastern ‘Sweetwaters’ section is usually busier, mainly due to Nanyuki’s proximity, higher game concentration, and well signposted roads. However, crossing the Ewaso Njiro River takes you onto the remaining majority of the conservancy, the much less visited ‘wilderness section’.

The accommodation options cater for most budgets. There are mid- to high-end luxury camps such as Porini Rhino Camp, Kicheche and Ol Pejeta Bush Camp. There are self-catering options such as the Safari Cottages and Pelican House. Then there is camping, with a number of campsites that can only be booked out exclusively. A site costs Khs.7,000 for up to a week, and then Ksh.1,000 per adult per night. These fees include firewood, a water bowser and toilets.

We stayed in the newly advertised ‘The Stables’. As the name suggests, part of the building used to be housing for the previous landowner’s horses. It has long since been converted into comfortable little single rooms that are mostly used to accommodate researchers and volunteers. Now they are available to the public, and the deal is one of the most pocket-friendly available anywhere.

At USD.45 per person, the price includes WiFi and all meals – a simple breakfast and hearty lunch and dinners. Bathrooms are communal, except if you book one of the only two double rooms. These are set into ‘rondavels’ outside which can comfortably fit a family of four.

There was a real community spirit there. Meals are eaten communally at set times, and the mix of people at the table was fascinating. We had journalists, biologists, Nairobians and even a pair of Japanese comic-book artists. At lunchtime various staff members from Ol Pejeta come to eat there. If anything, the place lets you feel even more connected to the conservancy’s work.

Currently the Ol Pejeta website has The Stables listed only on their USD booking system, but you can contact the Tourism Office on +254735801101 to book in shillings.

I genuinely feel that Ol Pejeta can be rated as one of the best weekend outings. It is a comfortable three hours’ drive from Nairobi; it has good value accommodation, and a whole host of attractions are included in the conservancy fees. A huge plus is the ability to book a ranger at Ksh.1,200 for the day to help with orientation and information. Then there is the array of other activities, which can be booked for USD.40 each. These include night drives, tracking lions, bushwalks, behind-the-scenes chimp access, meeting and training with the tracker dog unit, seeing the last northern white rhinos in existence, and meeting and interacting with Ringo, the rhino calf.

Remember that online interface I mentioned? Go check it out – booking on http://www.olpejetaconservancy.org entitles everyone to a 10% discount on conservancy fees.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation