Have you ever been on a safari where several jeeps have thronged around an animal, with multiple cameras clicking away? Most safari experiences are like that – you hardly have the time to observe animals before you have to make way for another safari jeep. This is why my experience at Ol Jogi came as a complete surprise. And which is why I can confidently say that it is absolutely the best safari in Kenya.
Flight to Nanyuki
After spending a few days in Nairobi (read my guide here), my guide Denis and I climb into a Twin Otter propeller plane for a short 30-minute flight to Nanyuki. We fly north over Nairobi National Park, and Kenyan coffee and tea plantations. The jagged peak of Kenya’s highest mountain (and the one that gives it its name), Mount Kenya looms ahead.
Drive to Ol Jogi
From the airport, we head towards the Laikipia plateau driving past miles of golden-brown scrubland, dotted with acacia trees. At one point, the tarred road ends abruptly. Our sturdy safari vehicle then bumps along a dusty path. The landscape changes slightly – there are more bushes and amidst the flat landscape, dramatic rock outcrops called kopje rise up.
I see a movement from the corner of my eye and I turn to see two zebras looking at us inquisitively. We slow down and I notice that these zebras look a bit odd. “See those Mickey Mouse ears? These are Grévy’s zebra, the most endangered of the three types of zebras”, Denis informs me. Apart from the distinctive ears, they have thinner stripes compared to the more ubiquitous plains zebra. Less than 2,500 of Grévy’s zebras remain, mostly in Kenya and a few in Ethiopia. Of these, 400 live in Ol Jogi, the largest population in any one conservancy or place.
Welcome to Ol Jogi
A large kopje rears up ahead, and spread around its base is a series of thatched-roof cottages, some interconnected, some stand-alone. “Welcome to Ol Jogi”, says Jamie Gaymer, the conservancy’s wildlife manager who has come to receive us. Ol Jogi looks like a tropical paradise. There are cascading bougainvillaea of every imaginable colour, natural streams and fountains, and chirping birds flitting about.
I can safely say that this is THE most unique luxury accommodation I have stayed at. For more than 40 years, the entire ‘house’ was the private home of the Wildenstein family, a Franco-American dynasty of art dealers. It opened to guests in 2013, though it’s still family-owned. The Wildensteins clearly had a taste for the flamboyant. Each suite is individually designed and decorated with handcrafted furniture and exquisite artefacts. The bathrooms have elaborate stained-glass windows with an animal motif and Hermès amenities. Plus Jacuzzi or free-standing bathtubs and rain showers.
Ol Jogi has a gorgeous pool and a luxurious spa as well.
Stay at Ol Jogi
I have the Mbogo suite, one of the two master suites. The bedroom has a huge picture window overlooking a watering hole and salt lick that attracts a steady stream of animals.
Even without stepping out of the comfort of my bed I can see giraffes, zebras, impalas, elands, and the relatively rare and rather elegant gerenuk.
Later in the evening, elephants and hyenas pay a visit.
It’s easy to lose my way inside my suite! Check out the video below (plays music) and you will see why.
It has a large central circular foyer/lobby with several doors. Each door opens into a different room. There’s a master bedroom, a junior bedroom, separate his and her bathrooms, separate walk-in wardrobes, and a study. My boudoir-like bathroom is bigger than many standard hotel rooms and is done up in white marble laced with 18-karat gold. May I just add that one of Hollywood’s biggest stars has stayed in this very room?
Dining at Ol Jogi
Meals at Ol Jogi are an elaborate affair.
An antique Murano chandelier hangs over the main dining table. The veranda is an informal seating with views of the watering hole and Mount Kenya beyond. French chef Sylvain Bel and his team whip up a series of local and international dishes. The dinnerware is custom-made and changes for every meal.
The meal settings also change. One night, we cross a candle-lit suspension bridge to an island in the Nanyuki River. Here, I watch a Maasai dance (see video below – plays music), which is followed by a bush dinner.
The next morning, I go on a rigorous trek through the Ol Jogi ‘Grand Canyon’, which is a unique ochre landscape created by centuries of water erosion.
At the end of the trek, we arrive at a hilltop where a Mongolian barbeque lunch is laid out. It’s truly a lunch with a view, as we have the entire conservancy spread below us.
Safaris at Ol Jogi
I go on several game drives during my stay at Ol Jogi.
We set out in an open-sided, four-wheel drive custom-built jeep to drive around the 58,000-acre conservancy. I spot a gaggle of baboons, herds of impalas, and grazing zebras and giraffes.
A huge herd of buffaloes assumes a protective position as soon as it spots our vehicle.
I see innumerable small herds of elephants, many of them with cute babies. And the icing on the cake is spotting two mama rhinos out on a walk with their babies.
I miss seeing the big cats at Ol Jogi, but a subsequent trip to Masai Mara makes up for that.
Since Ol Jogi is a wildlife conservancy, it routinely rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned animals. We come upon two semi-wild elephants and Jamie nonchalantly hops off the vehicle. I follow with some trepidation but the elephants are gentle and accustomed to people. The accompanying ranger offers me a bucket of carrots; I grab a handful and approach Maisha, the younger of the two elephants.
She immediately puts out her trunk and devours the carrots quickly.
Ol Jogi is home to 53 black rhinos and 22 white rhinos. Jamie reels off horrifying statistics about the endangered animals. From more than 20,000 black rhinos in the 1970s down to just 700 of them, the animal is facing an unprecedented human threat. Hunted relentlessly for its horn (one kilo of it can fetch as much as US$65,000), the rhino needs all the protection it can get. At Ol Jogi, more than 150 rangers guard the conservancy. They are armed with weapons and attack dogs to keep out poachers (and also for visitors’ security).
They also rescue and care for abandoned rhino calves, one of which is Meimei. She was born blind and was separated from her mother. Meimei’s eyesight is now fully restored after treatment at Ol Jogi. She is hand-raised in a special pen and is bottle-fed twice a day.
It was a truly special experience feeding her as she hungrily devoured the fortified milk formula.
Experiences at Ol Jogi
Back at the house, Jamie guides me past the bar and down a staircase into a long tunnel that ends with a black curtain. I walk past the curtain and into a hideout with eye-level windows. I’m underground, just a few metres from the animals at the salt lick! I’m fascinated by the giraffes splaying their legs to lick the salt.
I watch the elands put their heads down and eat like no tomorrow. The zebras seem to start at my very breathing. I find myself here at all times of day and night…
The best part about Ol Jogi? I have the entire house and conservancy all to myself. Ol Jogi exclusively lets out to small groups (minimum 4 people), which means you have complete privacy and your own exclusive safari experience. Gather up your family or friends and have a once-in-a-lifetime holiday at Ol Jogi. It’s hands-down the best luxury safari in Kenya.
Book through Micato Safaris for the best deal.
This post is partly based on an article commissioned by Travel + Leisure India, which appeared in their December 2017 issue. Read it here.