Lewa Downs – Sirikoi Safari Lodge

Kenya has many faces – from the slums of Kibera to the unbelievable luxury of some safari lodges, from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi to the vast emptiness of the savanna, from the stunning views of the Rift valley from the open windows of a matatu bus to the stunning views of Mount Kenya from the window of a luxury Cessna plane, from the scorching desert of Samburu, covered in termite nests, to the lush green hills of Nanyuki, covered in flowers and banana trees. We were so lucky to see so much of it – and Chris’s extraordinary stroke of good luck allowed us to take a peek into some aspects of life in Kenya that we would otherwise never have seen. And so, after our stay in the stunning Sassab lodge, we hopped on to another of these little Cessna planes, which was to take us to our next destination, a private conservancy called Lewa Downs.

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Lewa Downs, a sprawling expanse of 250 sq. km at the foothills of Mount Kenya, used to be a private cattle ranch. Its owners became increasingly concerned with the welfare of the nearly extinct Black Rhino, and turned part of their land into a Black Rhino sanctuary in 1983.  The management of the entire ranch has been passed over to the non-profit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, turning all of the land into a wildlife sanctuary which is home to great populations of  Black Rhino and Grevy’s zebras.

The conservancy is serious about remaining exclusive; safari tours can’t enter it, and you are only allowed to visit with a guide if you are staying in one of the very few lodges within the park (all of which, needless to say, range from very expensive to insanely expensive ). There is no such thing as a safari jeep traffic jam around poor harassed lions there. Wildlife is abundant, and human life is discreet and well mannered – we had heard that it is one of the best places in Kenya for wildlife viewing. And for a bit of namedropping, this is where Prince William proposed to Kate a few years ago. The actual place where we stayed was where they used to go for drinks. Quite posh, hey? Having heard all that, I must admit I was quite curious to see what it would be like, and prepared myself to be impressed.

As we flew in above the park, we realized we were just about to see yet another one of Kenya’s enchanting faces – after the serene beauty of the Masai Mara and the sun-drenched charm of Samburu, the sobering vastness of Lewa was just as staggeringly beautiful.

lewa landscape

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We were picked up at the airstrip by our guides, Peter and James, and arrived at the sumptuous Sirikoi Lodge, where the charming managers, Penny and Johnny, and their lovely helper Olivia, were waiting for us with cold drinks and a delicious meal. After driving around in the unforgiving Lewa sun, it felt so nice to step onto the shady oasis that is the Sirikoi lawn.

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We were shown to our tent, which was much less flashy and more discreet than the spectacular one at Sasaab,

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 but as soon as we entered in, we stepped into a cozy  and stylish colonial-style safari hideout:

bedroom

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Despite the undeniable air of sumptuous luxury, Sirikoi is a place of discreet and tasteful elegance, full of an old world charm – as you enjoy a G&T by the fireside and get to know the other guests over stories of the day’s wildlife sightings, you half expect Baron Blixen to walk in and join the party.

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It’s just that kind of place – the kind of place where one dresses for dinner and exchanges witty remarks over one’s impeccably cooked meal. It is a throwback to a different time – or rather, a peek into a completely different lifestyle, one of sumptuous but extremely well-mannered luxury. It even has a croquet set.

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I  kept getting visions of young people in white playing croquet on the perfectly manicured lawn on Sundays, after church, under the vicar’s watchful eyes.  It reminded me of this short story. As it is, the lawn seemed to be most enjoyed by the resort’s rather unusual pet, N’ditu,

nditu_pool

…as well as a host of wild visitors:

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Sirikoi is on a diffent level – the service is faultless, the accommodation is luxurious, and the food is delicious. I was especially intrigued by that last bit – we were in the middle of nowhere! How did they manage to have such mouth-watering fresh produce all day, every day? The answer was at the back of the house, and Johnny was like a proud papa as he showed us around the place where the magic happens: the garden!

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If Sirikoi’s lawn feels like a little oasis, then its garden, tucked away from view, is like a delightful little garden of Eden. It is amazing how they manage to produce everything they need when it comes to fruit, veggies and flowers.

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They even have a few plump and cheery free-range hens :

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Talk about farm-to-table meals! No wonder everything was so delicious – it took about five minutes to get from the garden to our table.

Sirikoi seemed to be doing everything right – it is financially inaccessible for mere mortals, and yet an easy-going and relaxed place. And the day we spent there was full of excitement! But more on that in the next post – this one has been long enough :-)

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