What more can be said that hasn’t already, of Arijiju?  A rather large amount actually, as after having been open 5 years, the lack of reviews makes this feel like a world exclusive. As usual, it’s left to me to sort out the worlds biggest problems and I’m up for it, as it’s as close as I’ll ever get to a breaking announcement – my previous “hotel is shit” reviews rarely broke the 6pm news.  At $9,000/n you might not get many people prepared to go here on the basis of doing a write-up, but fear not, my daughters university fund has been put to good use.  She’ll read this review one day and realise education is overrated, assuming she can actually read.

Arijiju is a tough property to review.  There’s so much to it and so much to do, that were this to be a true in depth review I would have needed to stay at least a week, preferably two.  Ideally for free.  Hint, hint, Arijiju marketing folk.  Yet here’s what I can tell you: situated on the Borona conservancy, Arijiju is a magnificent, extremely private, 5-bedroom home, available only on an exclusive use basis.  That’s right, cough all you want, no other guests will be here to judge you.  Like most of my favourite properties, it has no intention of ever making any money, so once again I get my holidays subsidised by someone significantly wealthier than me. Long live printed money; may your presses and your children’s presses be blessed forever!

Whilst we’re on the subject of unlimited money: Laucala. That’s the most relatable property I can compare Arijiju to.  The origins sound oddly familiar: a private residence with an owner present for only a few months each year.  The outcome: staff leaving due to endless boredom or standards unable to be kept.  It turns out thumb-twiddling and achieving nothing makes people quit their jobs, although sadly it cannot be said of Boris Johnson.  So how do you maintain consistency, exceptional high standards and team morale?  You invite people like me to the property.  No, wait!

Where it starts to merge even closer to Laucala is what’s on offer.  This is not a safari lodge, it is in fact a lodge that happens to offer a safari.  The activities, most of which are included, are vast, but before I get there, there’s the facilities.  Let’s remember that Arijiju is on a private conservancy lodged in between middle and nowhere, so when I say that having a tennis court, squash court, hammam, cinema room and spa is impressive, the only way you’re doubting me is if you already have these in your third country home, in which case congrats and please adopt me.  Laucala has the “that’s ridiculous” factor and, taking into consideration where Arijiju is, it’s not doing a bad job of competing.

Finally, the website is a boiling sack of liquified fungus, which it also shares in common with Laucala.  That’s probably the point I stop comparing a property in Kenya against one in Fiji and let me give Arijiju its own space.

Not that it needs anymore space

Arijiju resides on a hill in the Borona conservancy, a 32,000 acre, private reserve, with only a handful of lodges, most of which are also exclusive use.  It’s basically the Beverly Hills of Kenya and it’s so secluded that we did not see another vehicle.  Not an open top bus in sight.  Even if there was a flock of tourists, the property is so well hidden that they’d miss it – to the extent that on arrival you may think you’ve just been conned into spending $9k/n on a slab of concrete; the website really is that bad that they could even argue it’s not false advertisement.  Yet once you walk down the stairs and see the courtyard, it begins to become clear that you’re about to experience something very special.   That’s about as descriptive as I can be, as everything else is so awesome that even a bi-partisan enquiry would come to the same conclusion, just as long as there’s something about microchips and space lasers in the footnotes.

I thought you said it was exclusive?! Get this critter away from my bloody pool

When does a safari lodge stop becoming a safari lodge?

If a Pope takes a dump near a tree in a forrest and no one’s around….oh, I dunno.  I won’t get too philosophical here in pondering the great mysteries of laziness, as it’s too much hard work.  If you had told me I was going to Kenya to spend the majority of time at the property doing nothing, I’d have told you that you knew me too well.  I’d then have argued I was going to see the wildlife and your face is stupid.  I obviously didn’t account for what would happen when an unstoppable force met an immovable object, by which I mean I couldn’t be bothered to move.

Arijiju is not there to compete against the safari lodges, it’s to compliment them and add another dimension.  Rather than waking up at 5am and going out on two drives, I took the more, let’s say, scenic route to safari, by requesting they send out a guide to find the lions every day, see if they’re hungry and if so call me.  That call never came, as lions are both vicious killers and the slobs of the jungle.  The issue was never finding them, but finding them prepared to do anything, also very much like politicians.  The viewings were significantly better than Segera, but it will not compare against the Mara or Serengeti and neither do they claim to.  Arijiju should be somewhere you visit after your safari.  However, if you like rhino’s then it’s definitely going to keep you interested as there’s about 93 trillion of them around, give or take.  If my three days here were a movie, The Ghost and the Darkness it was not, more like some indie film where nothing happens, like any Wes Anderson movie.

Mr. R. Hino played by Bill Murray

If you want to do your daily game drives then it’s available to you.  You can also do night drives, walks with rangers, runs with rangers, maybe even sprints and marathons with rangers?  Power rangers?  Probably.  Best to test these things to breaking point.  You can definitely go rhino tracking with them, or go for a run with a vehicle tracking you, in case you come to your senses and realise running is terrible and want to immediately return to Arijiju.  Hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, quad biking and an itinerary of paid helicopter excursions mean you will never get bored, particularly when there’s the unlimited spa massages, tennis court, squash court, croquet and a games room.  They do classify sleeping on the roof as an activity, which I suppose by definition it is, because I would quickly walk downstairs and go back into my own bed, where there’s WiFi.

I’ve already given you an amuse-bouche of the facilities on offer here, but let’s go through them all.

The aforementioned squash and tennis courts are a minute or two walk from the courtyard, which means psychologically they’re a pain in the arse to get to, although not even that arduous one-hundred-and-twenty second walk could prevent me going to see one of the House Managers being humiliated at squash by my 67 year old dad.  To save you the hassle of bringing shoes for squash, tennis or even running, they have a room just for this.  Let’s take a moment of silence to pray for the person’s nostrils that has to regularly clean this room.

Not even my wife has this many shoes. NB: not fact checked.

There is a brilliant games room, which divides into a cinema.  They even include the ability to get whatever you want on their iTunes account to entertain yourself.  Being the mature adult I am, I definitely was not looking up adult movies to buy so it would be present for the next guest on the “Recently Viewed” list.  Then there’s a bunch of other rooms we never used: the office, a bar, the drawing room.  Rooms we definitely did use: the spa.

The Internet was as good as I’ve ever seen in a safari lodge; the Sonos sound system was superb, but Sirai Beach’s Sonos implementation was far wider reaching and much superior.  It was let down by having to use a bluetooth speaker system in the bedrooms, whilst Sonos universally available would have been much better.  Every time I tried to connect to it was time I could have used in the spa.  That’s at least a minute of compensation they owe me.  There’s even a hot tub, although it’s wood powered and I asked them to put it on so often, only to forget to use it, that COP26 may need to replan their deforestation targets.

There even isn’t a boutique!  That’s how amazing Arijiju is.  Although I’m being reliably informed that one is coming, which just proves that nothing great lasts forever.

The usual focus of a property is the pool and the surrounding area here, with the bar containing a pizza oven and incredibly comfortable loungers makes it so.  Yet it’s really let down by being so damn cold.  It’s not a surprise there’s a hot tub next to it, as spending more than a few minutes in this pool would give you frostbite.  It apparently can be heated 27-29C, but that might be in imperial measurements which I think translates to “did one of my fingers just freeze and drop off?”.

Which suite would sir want?

Outside the courtyard you have two additional rooms, both the same size as the Master Suite.  I see Arijiju as having 3 Master Suites, just one benefitting from proximity to the dining area/lounge/bar, and the other two offering more privacy.  Inside the courtyard there are two smaller bedrooms, suitable for children or people you like, but not as much as they think you do.  There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just missing about half the living space as the other rooms.  The space, I should clarify, I never once used, but I still want it.  But what space it is; you have a fire place, multiple indoor lounging chairs, a huge balcony, bathtub, indoor and outdoor showers.  The bed was perfectly positioned to watch the sunrise, whilst waiting for it to rise above and light the rest of the property.  I wish I had more time to spend in the room, but the rest of the property was so spectacular I suffered guilt.  Plus I should have at least pretended to spend some time with my dad.

Ish

Service could best be summarised with “ish”.  All they ever needed to know is whenish you wanted somethingish and you’d get it, sans ish. The service was perfect.  They offered to unpack for me, which I wasn’t going to say no to.

Like Sirai, your time here will very much be determined by the House Managers, both of whom I knew from their previous gig at Mara Plains.  History alert: I did not like the property, nor some of the attempted forced guest/host interaction.  Rich is the main guide, whilst Della is most focused on guest comforts.  Both are awesome and made our trip spectacular.  We watched Dynasties, a BBC nature documentary, together one evening, then had dinner another night.  I’m not sure if that’s punishment or praise.  My favourite memory is forcing asking Rich to swim close to the elephants that drink from the pool.  The pool temperature provided the biggest risk of this, but it was either him or me and you don’t get to the stage I am in life, a blog writer with about eight readers, by not trampling your way to the top.

A lot of properties focus around the swimming pool, and whilst it is a magnificent place due to the wildlife we saw, from the buffalo, rhinos, giraffes, warthogs and the gregarious elephants, there is so much more on offer here.

What else is clear is that they’re not happy with themselves if you just show up and admire the property, like you’re starring at the Egyptian pyramids.  The stay list was near perfect, with so much junk food around the house that I could have started my own chocolate side-business.  Not too many customers out that way, so luckily I’d fall back on this highly commercialised and extremely successful blog to pay my way.  They couldn’t manage to find me a Tempur pillow, though they did manage to get Robinson’s Squash, meaning like an insomniac alcoholic, I went to bed hydrated but unable to sleep.

The food was less ish and more delish.  That may be the worst sentence I’ve ever written, but because it rhythms it makes it structurally factual and I’m so ashamed my mind even thought of it that I’m leaving it in to make sure it never happens again.  I’ll never learn otherwise.

I often start by saying there was not a single bad meal, but at Arijiju there was not a single meal that wasn’t brilliant.  Whether it was make your own pizza, their home made ice cream, curry nights, they excelled in all of it.  Well, except making bacon, but no one’s perfect.  They even emphasised that the water is drinkable, unlike most lodges, although I wasn’t too keen to go to an all inclusive lodge and spend my time figuring this out.  My reviews can be in depth, but even I have limits.  I had already spent hours upon hours running around trying to photograph Arijiju, I wasn’t prepared to become both a plumber and doctor to verify their claims.

How long do you have?

This blog is all about luxury, which is the existence of something exceptional.  So when a property offers all inclusive massages, that is one way to get my attention.  Yet when it trains them to the extent it sent one masseur to Thailand for a month, I’m quite sure it’s trying to show off.  This is what the owner wants for himself and we’re just fortunate bystanders in the process.  At any other property you’re in for 60, maybe 90 minutes for a treatment and it’s quite precise, here I was asked “how long do you have?” and that’s how long the treatment is.  No clocks, no deadlines, just until they consider it finished.  My first was nearly two hours long, with my Dad sneaking in over 10 hours in three days.  It’s the first place I’ve ever been where it lasted as long as needed, and a rare place where I was happy it would go on longer.  I went back again and it was even better.  You can mix in between a treatment, a quick visit to the hamman, followed by the plunge pool, then back to another treatment, or maybe drop by the yoga pavilion.

Improvements

Excluding some misunderstandings about the near religious experience of how to make bacon, as well as the difference between bananas and strawberries, the service really was flawless.  It was neither overbearing that they were breathing down your neck, nor too standoffish that you were left fending for yourself and competing for food with the hyaenas.

There are, however, a few things that Arijiju need to focus on, but one is clear: invent some fly killing device. It’s a no win situation, as you can either have no animals coming near the house, or you can have no flies.  I felt like I was becoming a horse, having to shake my head perpetually to get rid of them.  I don’t know why Jeff Goldblum voluntarily turned into one, but he’s off my Christmas card list.  Flies are only second in annoyance to mosquitos, as at least they don’t bite you.

The safari vehicle is also extremely uncomfortable, making my arse as numb as someone’s foot that touched the ice cold water in the freezing pool.  The rooms are remarkably well insulated.  Perhaps too well insulated.  I’m unsure if there will be a point where the lack of air conditioning makes it hard to cope, but it was certainly toasty at times during our stay.  There’s no WiFi in the gym, which I kinda understood as it’s next to the spa and I get the desire to not include it down there, but without WiFi it meant I couldn’t do any Peloton workouts and continue to educate everyone how great my scores are.

And to repeat: heat that pool.

The Good

  • Not a single mosquito.  And you can quote me on that, or at least have it on my headstone “Malaria pills? Phhhft”
  • The abundance of activities, most of which are outside the norm of a safari lodge
  • Safari, but not as we know it

The Bad

  • Like erm the tap comes on too fast in the guest bathroom
  • You still need to go the Mara to get your Kenyan safari fix

The Luxurious

  • Unlimited spa treatments
  • Superb food
  • Extremely flexible service
  • World class facilities

Conclusion

Arijiju was the cornerstone of this trip.  Whilst I stayed in six properties, it was Arijiju that the entire trip was based around, which is fortunate as they were extremely accommodating at my repeated changing dates.  If they didn’t have the availability I would have postponed the trip to next year.  And it’s lucky they did, because due to repeat guests and the desire for exclusivity in the post-covid world – who wants to mingle with the commoners that can only afford a $4,000/n resort – it’s been their busiest year and is increasingly difficult to find any availability.  I have wanted to visit since being introduced to the property in 2018, so I had built up a lot of internal hype.  It did not live up to those expectations; it smashed them.  In a way the lack of information made it even more magical when arriving and seeing what you can accomplish with just a humble dream and millions and millions and millions of dollars.

Yet for all the magnificence on offer on the property, what surprised me is how little safari I did and how comfortable I felt with it.  I only went on one drive, on the first day, as I felt like I was missing out by not being around to watch the sunrise from my bedroom, or see the light transform the property during sunset.  Even on the final day I would discover a new area, or a detail that I couldn’t believe I had missed.  Before you start getting all judgy, we spent 10 hours a day on drives in Angama Mara, so I definitely did my bit for conservation and eradicating whatever other guilt I need to pretend I had.

There are warnings around heavy rains in November.  It only rained for about 30 minutes during our stay, but the clouds kept making an unwelcome appearance and showed absolutely no regard for my photos.  When the sun is out I want to spend the rest of my life here but when it’s not I’m only prepared to stay here until I turn 150.

We arrived into Arijiju having already stayed in Sirai Beach, another magnificent, exclusive use property, so standards were pretty high at this point. This is not to say that Arijiju beats Sirai Beach in every area, not least because they’re different propositions, but it’s clear why Arijiju is double the nightly rate.  There is not a definitive correlation between cost and enjoyment with luxury hotels; it’s very easy to charge a lot because your marketing team are the Chemical Ali of PR.  Arijiju delivers.

Whilst Singita dominate Tanzania with a superb luxury offering, Kenya has gone the other way and decided that luxury should only be limited to owner based, exclusive lodges.  I’d hope to visit them all one day, but I’m now hooked on Arijiju and may never get the chance.  

Room type: Master Suite Duration: 1 > 4th November, 2021

Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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