News & Reviews Africa Kenya Review: Ol Jogi, Kenya

Rumour has it that when god saw Ol Jogi, he stood up, slow clapped and said, “that’s crazier than George Santos’ CV”.  He then had to counter it with something equally as mental, so created Liz Truss.  No, I’m still not over it.

This is going to be a hard sell, as I convince you that a house that looks like the Adamms Family designed it, whilst on mushrooms, is somewhere you should go.  Not only that, but you should go as soon as possible.

Ol Jogi is an exclusive-use, eleven-bedroom property in Kenya that, naturally, I decided to stay in with just my dad.  The property is on 58,000 acres of their land, built into a rock with an artificial water hole out front, offering spectacular views of wildlife and the surrounding landscape.  It might be one of the most important properties I’ve ever stayed in, as it made me reassess my idea of luxury properties.

Luxury first; that’s the principle I abide by.  Start with the most luxurious offering, then find the experiences around it.  Ol Jogi is my first exception to that rule.  Not because it’s not luxurious – although it’s definitely not perfect – but because previously, I would question who the clientele is.  I would question why anyone would choose a property like Ol Jogi over somewhere like Arijiju. Arijiju is far more modern, luxurious and beautiful – of course, it’s the best option.  I used to think that the hard product was everything and would wonder who would stay here when you could go somewhere else for a lot less and a more luxurious experience?  But if you can afford Ol Jogi, you’re not picking between properties; you’re likely staying in all of them.  And if the focus is only “best property” then you can miss out on a phenomenal experience.

Imagine all the places this fake elephant head missed out on due to his stubborn beliefs.

Three stages

These are the stages I went through at Ol Jogi.  If you find yourself experiencing the same, there’s no need to call your doctor, it will fix itself.

  1. Amazement.  The property’s sheer size, scale and extravagance will blow you away.  I found myself walking around in awe at the absurdity of having built something so grand somewhere so remote.  It’s not just the facilities, it’s the absurdity of having priceless art just hanging on the wall, of having a dedicated silver room, of having hidden, underground tunnels.
  2. Doubt.  Will I start picking away all the other faults until there’s nothing left to enjoy?  I was worried that after the initial joy wore off from seeing the sheer magnitude of the lunacy, I’d focus on the awful interior design.  And I did.  The dark woods, the darkness, the gauche design, the lack of modernisation.  My eyes were close to bleeding.
  3. Relief.   And then I started to love Ol Jogi.  Not because of the design (they didn’t drug me!).  The experiences make up for everything.  This is one of the best properties I’ve ever stayed in.

They even have monkeys that bring forward your inheritance.

Style

I feel sorry for you if you come here and like the design and even more sorry if you don’t like Ol Jogi.  If you’re into photography, expect to be equally fascinated, repulsed and angry – the latter, for you don’t have enough time to capture it all.  The design style must have come from a little-known era known as the Lunacy period.  And how do you capture insanity on camera?  It’s hard to comprehend what you’re actually seeing, but when the best-designed thing is the underground bunker, you know you’re in Crahaazzy Town.

I stayed in one of the two master suites, which seemed designed to trap any burglars that dared to sneak in.  It was like a maze, with the circular lobby reaching out to different doors, some of which connected to other doors.  Each master suite offers his and her bathrooms (sorry, it’s 2023, them and them bathroom?  It and yours?  Couples?), along with separate rooms for the wardrobes.  I need to emphasise this, I’m not saying there are wardrobes, I’m saying the wardrobes are so large they needed their own rooms.  Each dressing room was larger than where I grew up.  If my neighbours could see me now!  And the room is so big, maybe we’re still physically neighbours, and they can see me.

The two bathrooms are also so large you could have acted out Avatar: The Way of Water.  One had a jacuzzi, and another had an open-planned toilet, that even alone by myself, it felt like an invasion of my privacy.  That is the problem of having turned a house, which was never designed for anyone else, to have commercial use.  The shower even needed a guide beside it to advise how to use it; the light switches, of course, made no sense.  In fact, not much made any sense at all.  There are parts, like the golden taps, which are almost as tacky as Ritz Paris gold swans.  Then other parts….which are even more tacky.  And yet, it’s all forgotten when you’re in bed and can watch the wildlife through the huge, curved glass windows.  At night, there is the option to leave the floodlights on and the curtains open and just marvel at everything unfolding right in front of you.  It didn’t help with my sleep, as I would wake up frequently like a child waiting on Santa, but rarely would I awake and not see something special just metres from my window.

In between the suites is a living area with some fake rock that must have been made from the broken dreams of the original interior designers.  Outside was a shared lounge, which was super relaxing by itself, but more so because of the gentle noise from the water feature.  Truth is, I could go on and on and fill this review just by talking about the rooms, as next door, in the other master suite, it offered a different style, and layout and even came with an office and probably rooms I never discovered where previous guests are still trapped in.  Then there are still another nine rooms to go.  I think you get the gist of it.  There is no doubt it’s impressive in scale, but it needs refreshing to feel less dated.  You can create old-looking decor but feel modern, like The Lanesborough or Le Grand Contrôle.

The style is not for me, nor for you, nor for anyone.  But you certainly won’t forget it.

Elsewhere

I often see PR stunts by travel agents with offers like “world’s most expensive safari”.  Magazines love this stuff, because nothing gets people either enraged or intrigued more than excess.  Let me save you the bother: go to Singita Serengeti House, Ol Jogi, Arijiu and end up on the beach in Thanda Island.  The good news is at Ol Jogi you’re only a twelve-minute flight away from Arijiu, the bad news is to come from Serengeti House – which is in Tanzania – you need to stop at both the Tanzanian and Kenyan border, and then if your experience is similar to mine, wait around for about an hour for someone to show-up at work and stamp your passport.  Overall, it took about four hours.  

We were then greeted at the Ol Jogi airstrip by the main guide, Johnny, who was none other than an Englishman.  After a ten-minute drive to the house, we were then greeted by Fred, the French House Manager.  In a property in Kenya owned by Americans.  That makes Kenya more welcoming of immigrants than Brexit Britain.  Everyone I spoke to had been here between 15-40 years and were still proud – and so they should be.  Overall, there are more than 300 staff working here, across the house and conservancy.  There was also a consultant on site, but I suspect she was probably just here to assassinate me if I stepped out of line.

As they walked us into the property, the openness is extraordinary.  Where we would eat breakfast every day had no windows or doors, it was a direct view into nature.  Later that evening, I would come back to the same spot and find myself standing 10 metres from a hippo, with nothing in between us.  But speaking of being crushed and turned into food, the food.  The welcome selection was stupendously good.  Anytime wagyu shows up to the party, you know it’s gonna be a good one.  The arrival food was better than anything we had at Singita.

For the room setup, I couldn’t really tell what they had done.  It looked like most of it had been ignored.  What I could see though was an abundance of one of their white chocolate pastries I was fond of.  It not only showed up regularly in my room, but seemed to follow me around the property, ready to pounce into my mouth at a moment’s notice.  There’s a very caring feeling around this place.  People want to make you happy and know how to do it.  Fred knew my preferences right away, the Chef knew them and talked through how to create memorable dining experiences.  Every meal was exactly like you would expect on a safari – an overflow.  They don’t do things moderately here.  If you like something, expect to find it everywhere.  I kept finding Haribo snacks, even on game drives.

The presentation of each meal also adds to the madness.  The silver cutlery and crockery sets from companies like Dior are overkill, and having a buffet where multiple servers bring around each plate to you, rather than you going to them, doesn’t do much to dispel the madness.  The only time you’re reminded you’re in Kenya are those majestic views.

Yet whilst the huge breakfast selection and the views it offers are great, Ol Jogi really utilises its 58,000 acres and produces the best outdoor dining experiences I’ve ever seen.  Whilst most lodges have sundowners, at Ol Jogi they have festivals.  I know this is a review, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you.  It was just magical.

Even the baboons are looked after to five-star standards

Facilities

The facilities are incredible.  As with most things in Ol Jogi, it’s not so much the luxury of what’s on offer, it’s the abundance of it.  None of the rooms have a TV in, but fear not, there’s a cinema room.  It’s more like a room with a TV in, but I’ll be kind with the description.  The internet is high-speed, so you don’t need to worry.  There’s also a dedicated dining room, bar, library, and entertainment room, which has a pool table and a massive, fake elephant’s head on the wall, as you do.  Yet the coolest parts of Ol Jogi are those deliberately hidden from plain sight.  Like the hidden silver room, which you access through a secret door.  That’s pretty cool.  But nowhere near as cool as their underground tunnel, which takes you all the way to a viewing deck, metres from the animals.  Just a shame there’s no WiFi down there, otherwise, I could have spent the entire trip there.  But the icing on the cake goes to their hidden, underground wine cellar, which sits behind a real bank fault door.  It’s so large they have hosted parties down there.  It’s one of the most over-the-top things I’ve ever seen.  What I’m saying is: please bury me there.  What a place.

The spa is equally over-the-top.  The unheated (booo) pool is huge, but they’ve created an entire area around it that allows you to spend your day there.  The viewing deck above the pool is perfect for relaxing, or you can hang out around the bar.  Then there’s the steam sauna, jacuzzi, gym and treatment rooms.  The gym equipment has seen better days.  They also have a pilates room, a yoga room and an entire Hamann.  Remember, this is an exclusive-use resort.  So let me repeat: an entire area dedicated for Hamann treatments, with the welcome room, a separate plunge pool, the treatment room and then the steam room, all built into a single, beautiful structure.

Experiences

And all of this is very good and great to talk about because that’s ultimately the point of this blog.  How was the food, service, facilities etc.  But here’s where I’m going to steer off subject because the best part of Ol Jogi is the inexplicable part, the part you can only understand when you experience it.  And it’s that experience they offer you, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

First of all, you obviously have all the usual wildlife here, so safaris are definitely a thing.  Just from my room, I could see hippos, warthogs, zebras, baboons and rhinos.  As I left my curtains open and the floodlights on, I could regularly see rhinos and hippos walking right in front of my room.

Ol Jogi talk the talk when it comes to conservation.  Almost every safari lodge talks about it, and that’s not to say they don’t do it, but Ol Jogi is on another level.  On our second day they were so insistent about going on the conservation project that it felt like borderline kidnapping.  We were not keen to go, but they guilted us into it – I’m glad there’s still 3% of me left that can feel human emotions, as it was an extraordinary experience.  They go in-depth to show how they maintain the landscapes, their anti-poaching teams, their veterinary service and help the communities. A very cool experience.  But the real, stand-out offer is being right next to wild animals.  On foot.

Due to taking in injured animals, rehabilitating them and releasing them, you get the opportunity to get up close and personal.  The entire Ol Jogi offering is an experience, but the wildlife is on another level entirely. Between feeding an elephant, petting a rhino and hanging around with habituated baboons, it’s something I’ll never forget.  Everything they do is designed with the guest in mind, with conservation at the forefront of that.  The only thing is they once again forced us into dancing with a local tribe.  Is there a MeToo movement to stop this?

The Good

  • Food
  • Facilities
  • Spa

The Bad

  • My reluctance to wear suncream.  At Serengeti House, the bugs were trying to kill me, here it was the heat.
  • The decor

The Luxurious

  • 58,000 acres of land to yourself
  • Incredible experiences
  • A place like no other

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

When I think of gorilla trekking, my first reaction is not to start telling everyone about the quality of the food, or what bed linen they used, nor to even give a general overview of the lodge, even though Bisate was a great property.  My opening pitch with Ol Jogi is the same: look at the experiences.  When it comes to luxury, I’ve seen it all and staring at a beautiful room only does so much – I could go to any number of Four Seasons and admire how they all look the same them.  Here, I have memories that will last for years.  That’s not to excuse Ol Jogi, they need to modernise, but they’re like a magician using sleight of hand to make you look away from all of it because you’ll never want to spend time in your room anyway.

Ol Jogi was completely taken aback by my wanting to pay to stay here, but I felt it important as I want to write honest reviews, and it always sounded like the design, along with the general madness of the property, would leave a lot to be desired.  But I had nothing to fear – except for not having enough time to enjoy everything on offer.  Somehow, none of it makes sense, which means all of it makes sense.

The experiences are the crux of Ol Jogi.  If you’ve come to this part of the review and decided it’s not for you, it’s like going on a date with Margot Robbie, having the chef overcook the steak and deciding you never want to see her again.  Yes, there are definitely things that can be improved, but overall, this is one of the most enjoyable places I’ve ever stayed.  You don’t even need to leave the property to have a world-class experience; I spent over an hour metres away from zebras and giraffes in the underground tunnel.

Ol Jogi was built as a private home for the owners.  A place to delight.  Now it’s offering you the same opportunity.  Do take it whilst there’s still the opportunity left to experience wildlife in the, you know, wild.  It is not one of my favourite properties, it’s one of my favourite experiences.  You’ll just have to go there to know what I’m on about.

Room type: Exclusive use When: January 2023 Rates: from $14,000/n

Ol Jogi is available on an exclusive use basis from $14,000 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 22nd Feb '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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