Ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya Review – A Peak Experience of Luxury and Nature

Big views of big tusker in his glorious habitat
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Big Sky, Big Landscape, Big Tuskers! 

If you were one of the most wealthy and artistic people in the world, and you also had a great love of nature and wildlife,  it’s hard to imagine you could come up with more spectacular lodging than Ol Donyo Lodge in Chyulu Hills, Kenya. Or that you could help wildlife conservation more. 

From the moment you go through the entrance door you are not leaving but going into nature

Never have I nor my husband experienced the degree of perfection and style in such a magnificent setting. Ol Donyo is up on the beautiful green Chyulu Hills looking down on the vast fields and plains and forests below it.  There is wildlife everywhere, and the structure is set up to have the very best viewing while its guests are living like royalty. And we were blown away to find out that Ol Donyo, like other Great Plains Conservation projects, is managed so as to be 100% sustainable. 

Vast view and sunset are visible from everywhere inside the lodge. Here’s a great place to have dinner

When we were shown to our suite at Ol Donyo Lodge, we were completely enchanted.  First of all, we couldn’t believe that the massive and museum-like room we entered was only the living room!  Not only was there room for sofa and chairs but also tables, desks, and glorious African art – all done with top design and placement. And we hadn’t even seen the luxurious bedroom yet.   

Private viewing of nature with our own patio and pool

The west side of the suite looks out on the strategically placed watering hole and has no wall.  You can cover the entry with a curtain, or you can just step outside onto your own beautifully sculpted patio. And you have your own private dipping pool. This palatial resort is part of the “conservation tourism” that Great Plains strives for – with low-volume and low-impact tourism. 

Enormous museum-like living room with no wall towards the view

Both the bedroom and bathroom have massive glass doors which lead out to the patio, as well.

Huge and artistic bathroom adds to the charm. A large stone shower is inside the bathroom, with another one just outside on the patio in case you feel more outdoorsy.  The toilet had its own special little room

Yoga mats are provided in case you get an urge to do an asana.  One afternoon I did, and it was one of my most memorable times. While I was doing a warrior pose, I was actually watching a famous big tusker, OneTon, drinking water at the nearby water hole.

From my living room doing yoga, I was able to watch the famous OneTon at the watering hole. Maybe he was watching me, too

The night sky is bright and near – like hanging lights on the ceiling. From the patio, there is a set of steps going up to a rooftop and to the upper deck, which holds the “star bed.” If you want to sleep or even rest for a while on the bed, the staff will come up and make it up for you.


Our lovely manager Anne shows us our “star bed” on the roof. The staff will make it up, complete with mosquito net!

There are a few steps leading down along a manicured path, which you can take all the way down the the level of the field at the watering hole. It’s like a tunnel made of vines and flowers. The shelter for you at the end of the path is called the “blind.” Once you are there, you can sit in one of the chairs at the counter in the little stone area, which is oh-so-close to the watering hole – and you quietly gaze at the wild animals.


When you go down the hill, in a tunnel of twigs and flowers, you will get to the “blind,” where you can watch OneTon from just a few feet away

You never know who will show up!

Some of OneTon’s friends also like to come to your backyard

When you return from dinner in the evening, besides the well-stocked  tea case by your bed, there is also a bottle of aged sherry and a couple of silver goblets to top off your night.

Dining is inside or near the pool. Eat community-style or privately. It’s always up to you, and you will be asked personally. It’s always a white table cloth and elegant service
If you love wine, I understand the selection is hard to beat!

Chyula Hills is the only place I am told where you will see and have such access to the few “big tuskers” that are left. Sadly, most of these gigantic ones with tusks down to the ground have been decimated by poaching. Chyula Hills and Ol Donyo are extremely well guarded by rangers from Big Life Foundation. The famous OneTon figures prominently, as does Big Life itself, in the 2016 Netflix documentary, Ivory Game.

Everyone has a personal guide. James is very educated and loves to share his knowledge. Here he examines an animal footprint

The headquarters for the Big Life Foundation are just a half-hour’s drive down the hill. This is the organization started by noted conservationist Richard Bonham, who also used to be sole proprietor of Ol Donyo. I’m told it was more rustic then. He realized the animals were being poached and the trees were being chopped down. He set out to do something about it. (Please see my companion articles about Big Life.)

Big Life Foundation Review– A Model For Africa and Beyond- Part I

Every party has its own personal safari drive. You don’t have to share your vehicle or your guide with other guests

One of the many amazing things Bonham has done to help the community and save wildlife was to sell some participation and collaborate with many equally committed partners. Great Plains Conservation is one of the prominent ones he works with. Ol Donyo was revamped into an incredible first-class, top-notch luxury lodge. The place attracts people who love nature and are able to help support those efforts. By staying at Ol Donyo, visitors pay conservatory fees, most of which go to Big Life.  The lodge also creates a plethora of staff jobs help support members of the local community and engage them in conservation.

Welcoming committee. Personable and helpful staff meet you at the entrance every time you leave or come back

Everything at a Great Plains lodging is done with both personal service and conservation in mind. Rainwater is saved and used, and even shower water is filtered for some purposes. All the toiletries and products are biodegradable and do not hurt the water or filtration system. There are no plastic bottles anywhere. When we go for a safari drive, metal bottles of freshly filtered water from rainwater and a private well are supplied. These policies are strictly adhered to everywhere in the lodge – from preparation of the top-chef cuisine to the private bathrooms. The food is fresh, original, and made to order. Its presentation could be featured in a gourmet magazine –  even the picnics, which include tablecloths and cutlery.

Even for the meals served out on the range, everything is freshly made to order. I especially remember the delicious and original vegan kale cakes made just for me. Mmmmm!

Great Plains Conservation and its partner Great Plains Foundation were started by the Joubert family. They have created many amazing properties that support luxurius, sustainable tourism as a way to provide funds for wildlife. They run lodges and camps not only in Kenya but also in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Derek Joubert, CEO, states, “We are in the midst of the Battle for Africa. We find and fund projects that will rehabilitate, enhance, and save Africa’s wildlife.” He feels we must concentrate on elephants, rhinos and lions.  In this regard, Great Plains is a huge supporter of the Big Life’s very successful Maasai Olympics, which teaches young warriors to change from hunting lions to competing for trophies.

Javelin thrower at the Maasai Olympics (photo by Jeremy Goss/Big Life Foundation)

Everything at the lodge is inclusive, including  horseback riding on the plains with the wildlife. We took an afternoon ride out on the savanna. It was thrilling riding close to the giraffes and zebras – which look in amazement at the four-legged creatures that look like them with tall beings on their backs!

Horseback riding for any level – on beautiful, well-kept and trained horses

The elegance, style, and conservation at Ol Donyo, catering to your every need, are unbeatable.  The staff is also available to teach you about the strides they are making in educating people about conservation. They will tell you fascinating stories about the many original projects Big Life has successfully initiated and is currently carrying out. It’s all a truly remarkable experience. I will treasure it forever.

OneTon and his friend are waiting to see you!


Georja Umano is a journalist, actor and animal advocate. All uncredited photos are by Georja Umano


For more information, please go to:

ol Donyo Lodge




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    • Thank you very much for your positive feedback. I appreciate it and hope to present more quality articles. Please see my entertainment articles under Los Angeles as I review productions at LAOpera

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