News & Reviews Africa Kenya Review: Lengishu, Kenya

Imagine you have a dream: to create the best home.  You pick the best location with the best views; you use the best materials, designed by the best architect and built by the best builders.  By every metric, you have achieved your goal.  Problem is, you’ve only gone and put it next door to the Palace of Versailles.  It doesn’t matter how great your masterpiece is; you’re not going to compete against a place renowned for someone getting their head chopped off because of their pro-cake views.  Now replace Versailles with Arijiju.  But we’ll get to that.

Eat the rich!

Lengishu is an exclusive-use, six-bedroom property on the Borana conservancy.  Borana covers 32,000 acres shared between a single camp and four exclusive-use properties, including Sirai House and Arijiju.  It’s not private land, but it’s pretty close to it.  I’ve often seen it described as the place to go after your real safari experience, such as in Singita Serengeti House or Angama Mara/Mara Plains.  However, during our stay, we had genuinely extraordinary viewings.  But we’ll get to that.

When it came to staying here, I was not so much on the fence as I was being thrown from it as it electrocuted me.  I first heard of Lengishu back in 2020 and was recommended it at the advice of a superb African supplier.  They were fans, but my eyes were not.  Their website looked like a GeoCities site from 1999 designed by your grandma.  It was mentioned multiple times over the last few years – each time I clicked and saw the website, it became a sharp “no, thanks”.  Yet I finally relented, which is great proof that if you repeatedly ask someone something, they will eventually say yes.  Actually, that’s awful advice, ignore that.

We visited here after Ol Jogi, a mere 12-minute flight, followed by a 20-minute drive.  For such a short flight, it was a surprisingly significant drop in temperature due to the higher altitude.  The first impressions were: this is way, way better than the website led me to believe.  Unfortunately for you, they have redesigned the website since I visited, so you can’t appreciate the eye-bleeding torture that existed before.  Lengishu is the most surprising property I’ve ever been to – I had the lowest expectations, and they were quickly smashed.

Not only was the property far better looking than I imagined, but they also had the best room setups and handled every single preference.  It was far beyond what the established companies – even my beloved Singita.  They even managed to get me some Robinsons squash, which I can’t remember ever seeing anywhere in Africa before.  I normally only throw it in to cause their guest relations sleepless nights.

Reenactment of me sending my stay list.

You arrive at the Main House, with a rustic design that relies heavily on stone for the flooring and wood dominating the view above eye level.  Everything has been made with local materials that help it blend into the surroundings.  The result is a relaxed design that mixes modern touches with older styles.  It’s classy and non-offensive – there’s no way anyone can be upset by it.  It doesn’t have the glamour of other some other lodges (must….not….mention….them), but it’s really comforting on the eyes.  They have done an excellent job of making it authentic without falling into the trap of simplifying it or downgrading the luxury.

Walking through the corridors, the first room is the study.  So so, you’ll probably think.  It’s just a room with some books and a TV.  Yet turn right and you’re in possibly the grandest room I’ve ever seen in a lodge.  It’s part living room, part dining room, more part living room, all encompassed by a gigantic, tall ceiling that resembles a cathedral.  It feels like the kinda place someone important should be murdered in Game of Thrones.  

Elsewhere you have the Pool Area, which, unsurprisingly, is both a pool and an area.  This is where we would spend time during the day, although the pool is not heated, which we can all agree is a war crime.  Besides the pool is a gym, dart board, changing rooms and games room with a bar and pool table.  The gym is small in equipment (a few cardio machines and a bench press), decent in size, and excellent in views over the pool and the landscape.  Naturally, this is the most eye-pleasing place to be.  With the loungers, dining table, sofas and shaded areas, it is extremely relaxing.  They also offer Sonos to make it even more relaxing, so I could listen to BBC News 24 and relax to the soft sound of the world ending.

Whilst the Pool Area is the best part of Lengishu, it’s also one of the biggest issues.  It’s not exactly close to the rest of the property.  I’m not saying it’s a 15-mile hike through a minefield to get to, so the physical aspect isn’t a problem, it’s more the mental element that it feels so far away, and when you’re there, you feel so far and disconnected from the rest of the property.  If most of your group only wants to be beside the pool and you don’t want to, you may as well stay in another resort.  Also, blackspots by the pool couldn’t get WiFi, which is war crime numero dos.  Overall, whilst it has a lot of the facilities of the not-to-be-named competition, it doesn’t work in a way that makes the property unmissable, to make it a resort you would be happy to spend all day in.

Near the Main House is a studio, which has become a makeshift treatment room for massages.  It’s generous to call it a spa, so I won’t, and not even Lengishu do.  Treatments are included, so I thought I should be thorough in this review and have one.  I filled in those annoying forms where it asks what pressure etc., then she asked me what pressure I wanted.  I could hear the masseur breathing the entire time.  I prefer mine not to breathe for 60 mins.  It’s not too much to ask.

There was no boutique, which offended me.  I thought it was mandatory for every property on earth to have one.

There is a choice of six bedrooms spread out across the property.  Four bedrooms are found in their cottages: a bedroom sits on either side of the shared living area,  kitchenette and large balconies with uninterrupted views.  They’re aptly called the Upper Cottage or the Lower Cottage for reasons that probably don’t need explaining.  They’re identical in layout but differ slightly internally with colour themes.  And one is higher up than the other.  Ok, I explained it; I just wanted to be sure you really got it.  The Lower Cottage is quite the trek from the others, so if you’ve got bad knees then I suggest asking your doctor or ChatGPT how to overcome this.

My Dad was in the Upper Cottage, whilst I decided to stay in the master suite, which they call Fish Eagle.  Behind Fish Eagle is the sixth bedroom, called Goshank.  Why are these called this?  No one ever said, but as the owners are fellow Brits, I’m sure alcohol was the reason.  It’s 90% the reason behind anything we do.  The Master Suite was very close to the Main House and a little bit closer to the pool.  It takes an open planned style, with a large living area that’s separated from the bedroom by the fireplaces – they’re not entirely cut off from each other as there are no doors, except into the bathroom or the spacious storage room.  The real showstopper is the view.

Every evening they lit the fireplace, put hot water bottles into the bed and asked if I wanted a bath.  They also have a bath menu, which includes kids’ bath with toys.  I’d never seen that before.  I’d also not seen a property with quite as many snags as this one, seeing it’s about three years old.  My Dad, from the building trade, couldn’t help himself when it came to some of the rattles and minor faults.

Two people privately made comments to me about the food, and not in the way you’re hoping for from a Michelin inspector, but we enjoyed it.  I don’t know why safari has become about stuffing yourself to the point you can barely move – it just makes it easier for the lions to hunt you.  Meals are discussed with the chef and then served as three courses with a cheese course at the end.  It’s not exactly traditional African, but it worked.  The portions are very small, with the bread looking like it was designed for midgets, but they offer more later on.  I prefer this over the alternatives of “here, we pillaged a city, looted all the food and that’s your dinner”.

They will set up different areas for dining, although we stuck to the Pool for lunch, the Main House for dinner (too cold elsewhere) and outside the Main House for breakfast.  Breakfast has a menu, which is mostly eggs with sides, and each day they bring the same fruit play, yoghurt, granola, different juices and a pasty.

Like with their efforts on the stay list, they really focus on the small details at Lengishu, such as the effort to add blackouts to my room.  The grounds are beautifully maintained by a passionate group of gardeners and their work shows up around the property, with fresh flowers in every room.  You know by now that any property that hands out lollies around the pool is already going to win my favour.  Sheila, the manager, was very warm and receptive, especially to any feedback.  However, they were much more absent than at Ol Jogi, so we’d have to go find people at times.  Sheila did mention they would adapt to us depending on our preferences, but my preference wasn’t a complete absence.  I would have liked to see them get the balance a bit better, but I feel the property doesn’t lend itself well to this, due to how spread out it is.

Being in Borana conservancy, there’s a lot more on offer and far more flexibility than say the Mara.  It’s as restriction-free as you can ask for, with the ability to do night drives, walks, horse riding – basically stuff beyond sitting on your arse all day in a vehicle.  Maybe that’s why the vehicle looked like it had seen better days.  When we got a flat tyre on a drive that helped cement that viewpoint.

I could understand about 30% of what the guide was saying, but there was a lot of blood and gore and that’s a universally loved language.  We had some of the most incredible sightings, including a cheetah mum with 5 cubs going on a  hunt, as well as seeing a rhino stampede some lions, kill two of the cubs and the rest of the pride then eat the lions.  When you pay this kinda money, this is the least you deserve.

The Good

  • Food
  • Rooms
  • Service

The Bad

  • Lack of spa
  • Those pesky competitors

The Luxurious

  • Extremely private
  • Gorgeous design
  • Large number of activities beyond game drives

Rating

Good

Conclusion

Ok, so I can’t write every review and compare it to Arijiju.  You get bored of it.  My wife yells at me for it.  Yet in this case, Lengishu is a matter of minutes away from Arijiju, so give a man a break.

Lengishu is a brilliant property.  They offer an exclusive experience, perfectly designed for groups or families, within a truly luxurious property.  It boasts beautiful rooms, facilities, views, food and fantastic opportunities to do activities beyond the norm.  Their problem is it’s like setting up your easel stand next to the Sistine Chapel.  It has one more bedroom than Arijiju, but there’s no spa, hot tub, tennis court, squash court, cinema room or elephants drinking from the pool.  It’s not as impressive in the scale of it or the implementation.  It doesn’t have the same feel to it, the type that makes you never want to leave.  Being higher up, you’re also subjected to much stronger winds, but then it does come with much better views.

I try putting myself into other shoes to understand who I would recommend this to.  The fact is, Lengishu exceeded my low expectations within seconds of arriving and then surpassed my highest hopes.  It continued to get better and better, so I can confidently say it’s one of the best lodges in Africa.  A lot of love has gone into this property, which is understandable when you remember it’s someone’s home, who later decided to rent it out.  But with Arijiju breathing down their neck, I ask again: who am I recommending this to?  That’s the trouble they have because I came away a fan of Lengishu and recommend it.  But only if Arijiju is sold out.

Room type: Exclusive use When: January 2023 Rates: from $10,000/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 7th Mar '23

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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