Editors' Picks

Ol Donyo Lodge

Intimate, rustic-luxe, family-friendly

ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

+27 87-354-6591

See Website

Indagare Adored

At a Glance

There’s nothing quite like waking up to views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, which is how days begin at Ol Donyo, a Great Plains Conservation lodge with just nine suites; it is also a Relais & Châteaux member—one of only three in Kenya. Ol Donyo is the only lodge that sits on nearly 275,000 acres between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks, and it's designed on a model of low-impact conservation tourism.

The Standout: Spotting some of Kenya’s last living Super Tuskers, critically endangered bull elephants whose tusks weigh over 100 pounds, each (there are less than 30 Super Tuskers left in the world)

Don’t Miss: Horseback riding or mountain biking trips in the savanna, with Mount Kilimanjaro as the backdrop (followed by a bush breakfast or sundowners)

Indagare Loves

  • The range of safari experiences, including open vehicle, walking, mountain bike and horseback safaris—as well as getting an up-close look from the sunken waterhole hide (overnight camp-out experiences can also be arranged here). Other top excursions include fly-camping in the Chyulu Hills, visits to Maasai villages, bush breakfasts, day trips to Amboseli Park and learning about the conservation efforts of Big Life Foundation, especially surrounding Super Tusker elephants.
  • The chance to experience rare East Africa landscapes, like the nearby high-altitude “mist forest,” Kilimanjaro lava fields and the famous "twin" hills. In the words of Indagare COO Eliza Harris: "The landscape is iconic, with endless fields of tawny grasses, roamed by zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and cheetahs, ringed by a cluster of blue mountains, with Kilimanjaro looming above it all."
  • The guest suites' private perks, like plunge pools and star-gazing decks, which are less common for safari camps


Ol Donyo Lodge, founded in 1992 by Richard Bonham, helped pioneer Kenya’s concession model of conservation tourism. The legendary safari guide, who also founded Sand River Selous in Tanzania, picked this spot for his own home and his groundbreaking sustainable tourism program. With this model, investors lease a large tract of land from local Maasai farmers and give a percentage of their tourism revenue to the Maasai. In exchange, the Maasai agree to curtail all livestock ranging and wildlife hunting on it. The concession agreement grants Ol Donyo exclusive use of 275,000 acres in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills—otherwise known as Hemingway’s “Green Hills of Africa”—which are located halfway between the Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks. That works out to over 15,000 acres, per guest, if you consider that Ol Donyo now only consists of nine thatched-roof cottages.

In 2008, Dereck and Beverly Joubert's Great Plains Conservation group acquired the property and renovated it, making enhancements but preserving the original look, feel and ethos. Each of the eight deluxe suites and the two-bedroom family suite is solar-powered and constructed from local materials, and each has its own private deck with a plunge pool and star bed, with amazing views over the surrounding landscape (each suite has one wall completely open to the views of Mount Kilimanjaro). The bedrooms are simple but comfortable, with high ceilings and mosquito net canopy beds; the bathrooms have soaking tubs and overhead showers, as well as outdoor showers.

There is also a welcoming main lodge space that serves as a communal living and dining area, with a cozy bar and breathtaking observation deck. Private dinners can also be arranged in the wine cave and poolside dining room (in addition to the private plunge pools, there is a small infinity-edge main pool). Throughout, the design is organic—stone walls, thatched coconut palm ceilings and beds and tables fashioned from fallen olive trees—and that complements the fact that the lodge has been built into the hillside and is lush with greenery. The décor is consistent with that of other Great Plains lodges, highlighting leather and Maasai-red wool throws, large-format, black-and-white prints of the Jouberts' award-winning wildlife photography, crackling fireplaces, vintage accents and stacks of old safari guidebooks. There is no spa or gym (although massages can be booked in-suite), but the Ol Donyo boutique is lovely.

The staff and safari guides at Ol Donyo are exceptional, and most of them grew up in the area, hailing from nearby Maasai communities. Writes Indagare COO Eliza Harris of her November 2023 trip: "At Ol Donyo, our group was completely taken by our guides Jackson, a wise old soul whose insights on game carried over into life advice, and the hilarious Isaac, whom we referred to as The Legend. (Isaac cemented this lofty status for good when he rescued one of our group’s iPhones from the middle of the plains, after it had flown out of her saddlebag while riding.) Ol Donyo’s equestrian manager Laura Hutchinson, an impeccably self-possessed 24-year-old, had us riveted at cocktails with tales of facing down a charging lion while she was on horseback. “You can’t break eye contact,” she cheerfully explained. “You have to charge back and not show fear.” (As our group liked to say, “Only food runs.”)" Continues co-owner Dereck Joubert: "We have often had to pry children off the necks of guides because they fall in love with them, with the activities in our Young Explorers programs and just because it feels like home." Because of the guides and the unique landscapes, the activities on offer at Ol Donyo are some of Kenya's most unforgettable—and for intermediate and advanced riders, the horseback safari is not to be missed (email bookings@indagare.com for more information regarding safety and logistics).

The other major focus at Ol Donyo is conservation. Richard Bonham established the Big Life Foundation, a conservation organization focused on preserving the wildlife and habitats of the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem, and the Maasailand Preservation Trust, which helps fund local schools and community health clinics. Great Plains has continued these partnerships alongside its own initiatives, which guests can engage in, with the mission of being an agent of conservation that also creates phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences.

Who Should Stay

Solo travelers, couples and families with children ages five and up. Ol Donyo is a must-include stop in a classic Kenya safari itinerary; however, travelers should note that the game-viewing here is not typically as prolific as in the Maasai Mara, so if you are seeking consistently action-packed game drives, it would be best to begin there. Ol Donyo is also a wonderful choice for more seasoned safari travelers, who will appreciate the unique topography—and privacy—of the Chyulu Hills landscape, the Super Tusker conservation initiatives and the adventure activities like fly-camping and horseback riding.

Written by Indagare

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