I’ve spent much of 2018 in and around Kenya’s Central Highlands, from the Aberdares to the northern edge of Laikipia. I ventured this way again last weekend, for a night at El Karama Eco Lodge – a place that I’d heard lots of good things about from friends and family, and that pops up regularly on my various social media feeds.
The 14,000 acre El Karama Ranch skirts the Ewaso Nyiro River in the heart of Laikipia, and is just 43km from Nanyuki. After 9km along the road towards Rumuruti, turn right in the direction of Naibor, and continue along this stretch for 24km, until you reach a stone on the left painted ‘El K’. Turn down this road, and follow the signs for about 10km to the lodge, which sits on the bank of the Ewaso.
The lodge has slowly evolved over the last few decades, having originally functioned as a simple campsite. In 2006, Murray Grant designed and built the majority of the existing lodge infrastructure. With materials sourced from the ranch, Murray and his team hand-built six stone, thatch and canvas cottages, as well as a large, central mess and kitchen area. Over the years, the same team have added a solar-powered eco-swimming pool, two thatched pool houses, an office/gallery, an interactive bush kitchen and two secluded river cottages.
Murray’s eye for detail, as a sculptor of fine wildlife bronzes, is evident throughout the lodge. The exterior of the family cottage is particularly striking, with a large, spherical window amongst a mosaic of angular stone, and beneath neat rows of thatch.
The brand new river cottages – where we stayed – are more luxurious, and also make good use of materials found on the ranch. Smooth stones from nearby rivers and luggas line the bathtubs in each cottage, and the countertops were hand-carved from fallen fever trees. The interiors are elegantly furnished with soft blues and pinks, and their position in a quiet corner by the river is perfect for couples or small families looking for a bit more privacy.
As an award-winning eco-lodge, the team at El Karama do all they can to ensure that their activities are as low impact as possible. In addition to being built from recycled natural materials, the entire lodge runs on solar energy, and managed amounts of water are used in its daily operation. The swimming pool is 100% chemical free, and uses a clever system to recycle water without any harmful effects.
The excellent food they serve is sourced locally, too, or grown in their own organic garden. For dinner, the staff had arranged a barbeque in front of the mess area by our cottage, and we were joined by Lodge Managers Della and Rich. Della was born on Ol Pejeta, and grew up on the neighbouring Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, so is very familiar with this part of the country. Considering there were 45 other guests at the lodge at one point, we appreciated how attentive Della, Rich and the rest of the staff were all weekend.
As soon as we finished our dinner, we met up with our guides Bobby and Joseph for a night game drive. They told us that an elephant had died near the lodge a few days before we arrived, so we headed straight to that spot to see whether anything had been attracted to the carcass. Sure enough, we stumbled across two very fat male lions, and a jackal browsing nervously between them for scraps.
The highlight for me, though, was undoubtedly my first ever sighting of a striped hyena. We saw two, in fact – 11 month old siblings. Head Guide, Joseph, who has been on El Karama for 20 years, knew the location of their den, and we returned to the spot for a bush walk early the next morning. Walking is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the bush, especially in the hands of such an experienced guide. Walks can last 2-3 hours, or even longer if tied on to fly camping.
Kids can enjoy the thrills of animal tracking, too, using plaster casts of tracks at the lodge. They can also paint or draw in the gallery, sculpt using termite clay from the bush, help the chef make bread or pizzas, or visit the dairy farm and garden. There were 10 children at the lodge last weekend, and they never looked bored!
You can also attend a wide variety of retreats, talks and courses at El Karama, including ‘Pilates in the Wild’, on 16 and 17 March. If that’s not your cup of tea, there will be plenty of other courses on offer, including creative writing and wildlife photography. To find out about their events this year, and for more information about rates and reservations, visit www.elkaramalodge.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their Facebook page, or call +254 (0)702996902.
Photo: Anja Scherer