Bush sundowners are done in style at ol Donyo Lodge.

ol Donyo Lodge | Chyulu Hills Luxury Safari Lodge

Sleep under the stars, enjoy horseback safaris or mountain biking, or simply gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro, the distant plains or the much-visited waterhole at Kenya‘s ol Donyo Lodge. Set on a some 112,000ha of private wilderness with plunge pools, massages, and fine dining, here you’ll truly unwind.

The place

I see the distant vista of Mount Kilimanjaro before me; it’s one of the special occasions where the clouds open up to reveal this majestic mountain presiding over the vast savannahs surrounding ol Donyo Lodge. Perched on volcanic rock on the foothills of the Chyulu Hills National Park, ol Donyo is the only lodge on the Maasai-owned Mbirikani Group Ranch, 112,000ha of remote wilderness between the Amboseli and Tsavo National parks.

I see the distant vista of Mount Kilimanjaro before me; it’s one of the special occasions where the clouds open up to reveal this majestic mountain presiding over the vast savannahs surrounding ol Donyo Lodge. Perched on volcanic rock on the foothills of the Chyulu Hills National Park, ol Donyo is the only lodge on the Maasai-owned Mbirikani Group Ranch, 112,000ha of remote wilderness between the Amboseli and Tsavo National parks.

The room

As it’s off-season, we’re able to choose between three open rooms at ol Donyo Lodge, giving new meaning to the phrase spoilt for choice as none are quite the same. The main lodge, along with the 10 guest suites dotted among the volcanic Chyulu Hills, is a curved stone-and-thatch structure that merges effortlessly into the arid landscape, as if it’s been here forever. Each suite has commanding views of Mount Kilimanjaro, less than 65km away.Eventually we settle on the place we both love: a thatched-roofed, three-sided cottage with a private lounge and verandah from which to gaze at the endless succession of animals visiting the waterhole below. In front of the decorative four-poster, mosquito-net clad wooden bed – the stuff of safari dreams! – massive glass doors lead out onto our own private plunge pool. I love that our en-suite bathroom not only has a bath but two showers, one being outside. And best of all, our room has a rooftop star bed, where we plan to spend a night sleeping under the sparkling African sky.We laze on the verandah, keeping an eye on the waterhole in case any animals, large or otherwise, come to drink. My partner scans the horizon with the room’s Swarovski binoculars … Some dark dots in the distance reveal themselves as a dazzle (yes, that’s the correct word!) of zebra approaching the waterhole. We scamper like excited children down to the log-pile hide, a secret, shady spot where we can spy on the drinking zebra. It’s clear we don’t have to leave the lodge in order to enjoy the wildlife – it comes to you!Later, we tour the lodge’s main lounge with its grand stone fireplace, the small library, attached dining area and infinity pool before settling at the open bar. Joel, the Maasai bartender, informs us that ol Donyo means ‘the hill’ in Maasai. He proudly tells us that the Chyulu Hills, where he was born, are some of the youngest volcanic hills in the world and that they boast the second-longest lava tube. He suggests we do the lodge’s famed horseback safari out to see them.

As it’s off-season, we’re able to choose between three open rooms at ol Donyo Lodge, giving new meaning to the phrase spoilt for choice as none are quite the same. The main lodge, along with the 10 guest suites dotted among the volcanic Chyulu Hills, is a curved stone-and-thatch structure that merges effortlessly into the arid landscape, as if it’s been here forever. Each suite has commanding views of Mount Kilimanjaro, less than 65km away.

Eventually we settle on the place we both love: a thatched-roofed, three-sided cottage with a private lounge and verandah from which to gaze at the endless succession of animals visiting the waterhole below. In front of the decorative four-poster, mosquito-net clad wooden bed – the stuff of safari dreams! – massive glass doors lead out onto our own private plunge pool. I love that our en-suite bathroom not only has a bath but two showers, one being outside. And best of all, our room has a rooftop star bed, where we plan to spend a night sleeping under the sparkling African sky.

We laze on the verandah, keeping an eye on the waterhole in case any animals, large or otherwise, come to drink. My partner scans the horizon with the room’s Swarovski binoculars … Some dark dots in the distance reveal themselves as a dazzle (yes, that’s the correct word!) of zebra approaching the waterhole. We scamper like excited children down to the log-pile hide, a secret, shady spot where we can spy on the drinking zebra. It’s clear we don’t have to leave the lodge in order to enjoy the wildlife – it comes to you!

Later, we tour the lodge’s main lounge with its grand stone fireplace, the small library, attached dining area and infinity pool before settling at the open bar. Joel, the Maasai bartender, informs us that ol Donyo means ‘the hill’ in Maasai. He proudly tells us that the Chyulu Hills, where he was born, are some of the youngest volcanic hills in the world and that they boast the second-longest lava tube. He suggests we do the lodge’s famed horseback safari out to see them.

What sets it apart

ol Donyo Lodge knows how to deliver a slow-safari experience. Instead of rushing around from game drive to game drive you’re encouraged to simply take things as they come. The game drives themselves are leisurely affairs; we were offered complete flexibility in our schedules, going out whenever – and for as long as – we wanted. The vehicles even come equipped with a camera; we just transferred the images onto my laptop before we came home.I loved exploring the ranch on horseback, which was a completely different safari experience – the wildlife largely ignore you, and we were stunned to see a giant bull elephant up close. But most of all, the experience of gently drifting off to sleep in our rooftop star bed while listening to the sounds of the night was incomparable.

ol Donyo Lodge knows how to deliver a slow-safari experience. Instead of rushing around from game drive to game drive you’re encouraged to simply take things as they come. The game drives themselves are leisurely affairs; we were offered complete flexibility in our schedules, going out whenever – and for as long as – we wanted. The vehicles even come equipped with a camera; we just transferred the images onto my laptop before we came home.

I loved exploring the ranch on horseback, which was a completely different safari experience – the wildlife largely ignore you, and we were stunned to see a giant bull elephant up close. But most of all, the experience of gently drifting off to sleep in our rooftop star bed while listening to the sounds of the night was incomparable.

At a glance

  • Intimate safari lodge with log-pile hide, infinity pool and 10 large suites; each has a rooftop star bed, some have private plunge pools.
  • Private ranch, only six guests per safari vehicle, private vehicles available (additional cost), private dining available, flexible schedules and professional cameras and binoculars provided.
  • Game drives, night drives, walking safaris, horse riding, volleyball, soccer, fly camping, mountain biking, birding, Kilimanjaro flights (additional cost), Amboseli National Park day trip (additional cost), spa treatments (additional cost) and cultural visits (additional cost).
  • Children from five are welcome, and kids’ programme is in place.

  • Intimate safari lodge with log-pile hide, infinity pool and 10 large suites; each has a rooftop star bed, some have private plunge pools.
  • Private ranch, only six guests per safari vehicle, private vehicles available (additional cost), private dining available, flexible schedules and professional cameras and binoculars provided.
  • Game drives, night drives, walking safaris, horse riding, volleyball, soccer, fly camping, mountain biking, birding, Kilimanjaro flights (additional cost), Amboseli National Park day trip (additional cost), spa treatments (additional cost) and cultural visits (additional cost).
  • Children from five are welcome, and kids’ programme is in place.

Prices

  • Not only do African safari lodge prices shift with the seasons, they also change based on your length of stay, room type, travel party composition, special offers, if your trip involves stays at sister lodges – and for more reasons besides.
  • It’s worth noting that depending on your itinerary, your lodge cost will make up about 75–85% of your total safari trip cost.
  • Our safaris are tailor-made to match your personal safari dream, we’d be delighted if you’d allow us to create a bespoke proposal for you. Simply enquire now – our quotes are complimentary and obligation-free.
  • However, to help you get an idea of safari lodge prices we’ve created three safari-lodge categories with various price ranges, to find out more click here.

  • Not only do African safari lodge prices shift with the seasons, they also change based on your length of stay, room type, travel party composition, special offers, if your trip involves stays at sister lodges – and for more reasons besides.
  • It’s worth noting that depending on your itinerary, your lodge cost will make up about 75–85% of your total safari trip cost.
  • Our safaris are tailor-made to match your personal safari dream, we’d be delighted if you’d allow us to create a bespoke proposal for you. Simply enquire now – our quotes are complimentary and obligation-free.
  • However, to help you get an idea of safari lodge prices we’ve created three safari-lodge categories with various price ranges, to find out more click here.

When to Go

If you want to visit the Chyulu Hills National Park area, this is a good time to go. The weather is dry and cool, and as the bush gets progressively sparser (following the long rains of April and May) the wildlife get easier and easier to see. A trip to Chyulu Hills at this time of year is best combined with a visit to the Masai Mara, where you’ll be able to see the Great Wildebeest Migration, which returns to Kenya from July to September.

In this period, following the short rains, the dry season takes hold, and the vegetation thins out completely. In this water-scarce area, animals congregate around the remaining springs and rivers, making for excellent game viewing. Plus, as this is outside of high season, you’ll find there aren’t as many crowds to share your viewings with. A good idea would be to visit Tanzania now too, to catch the Great Wildebeest Migration, and the wildebeest’s dramatic birthing season.

Chyulu Hills National Park and its surrounding areas have long rains, which fall steadily throughout April and May. They’re followed by short rains in November – generally quick afternoon bursts. While muddy roads can make getting around a bit tricky, as it’s a quiet time for tourism the wildlife experiences are very exclusive. Also, as the vegetation is in a growth period the game sightings are plentiful. You’ll get good-value holidays during this time, but pack your sense of humour (and your gum boots!).

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