Near Kenya's southeastern border, the rippling Chyulu Hills give way to wide-open plains, and mighty Mount Kilimanjaro towers on the horizon. In this forgotten wilderness, hidden between two popular national parks—Tsavo East and Amboseli—bands of elephants march across the savanna, animals of all manner clash in fights for survival, and fiery sunsets offset solitary acacia trees in brilliant shades of orange and yellow. On an unassuming hillside that rises above these arresting scenes is ol Donyo, a collection of superb thatched bungalows designed by leading conservationists that are perfectly positioned to take in some of Kenya's most stunning nature displays.
With Africa's highest mountain a constant backdrop, the views from ol Donyo are grand and breathtaking. Yet the lodge's seclusion amid the foothills of the Chyulu Hills presents guests with a truly intimate experience, a rare opportunity to be immersed in the essence of the Kenyan wilderness. On game drives, bush walks, and horseback safaris, you’ll have the land and its creatures to yourself. And when you're not out exploring—whether you're stretched on on the veranda, watching elephant bulls drink at the nearby watering hole or gazing up at the night sky from your open-air “star bed”—the magic of East Africa is always in the air.
When safari legend and conservationist Richard Bonham hiked to this ridge with Maasai friends in the mid-1980s, he knew right away he would build a cottage here. Soon there were a handful of cottages, and Bonham and his wife Tara were deeply involved in the welfare of the local Maasai communities and the wildlife that share their space. Enter longtime National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert, the conservationists and filmmakers behind Great Plains Conservation. They became involved in ol Donyo in 2008, and replaced Bonham's basic cottages with exquisite bungalows designed to celebrate every part of this place, from the stars to the savanna below. Great Plains Conservation specializes in “conservation tourism,” the idea that, in the right hands, a safari lodge can become a powerful engine for good, creating an economic model in which local people have a stake in protecting the lands they inhabit—and protecting wildlife from poachers. Ol Donyo is located within a community "ranch" owned by 4,000 Maasai, who lease the land to the lodge owners.
The Chyulu Hills present an ideal ecosystem for conservation tourism, as the surrounding savanna is home to some of Africa’s largest herds of free-roaming, large-tusked elephants. With programs in place to protect these herds, ol Donyo provides guests with an amazing opportunity to observe elephants in their natural habitat while contributing to the preservation of these magnificent animals.
Guests who reserve their space through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World are invited to set out with a guide on an exclusive morning horseback ride into the bush. Observe wildlife and take in magnificent views on the way to a picturesque acacia tree, where a delicious breakfast awaits.
The lodge is set within the 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch, a property owned by more than 4,000 Maasai families. All of the lodge’s lease and conservancy fees are paid directly to the Maasai communal landowners to support the local community's efforts to actively protect the land.
Through its affiliation with Great Plains Conservation, ol Donyo is involved in numerous programs to preserve local wildlife and communities. The lodge has developed a strong relationship with the Maasai through the initiatives of the Big Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grew out of the early conservation efforts of lodge founder Richard Bonham. The foundation aims to protect the region’s threatened species using innovative conservation strategies. One such strategy is the Community Rangers and Informer Network, which employs 130 Maasai community members as rangers of Mbirikani. The program also offers financial incentives to locals who provide information on area poachers.
Please note: A State Department travel warning for Kenya is currently in effect (click here to view the State Department's information page on Kenya). We are closely monitoring local tensions in the region. We will do our best to alert booked guests to any significant developments about which we are made aware.
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