Serving as a crucial corridor linking Amboseli National Park to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo, Kimana Sanctuary is located near the small town of Isineti, Kajiado County in Southern Kenya. As an integral part of the Amboseli eco-system, the 5,700-acre sanctuary is the first community conservancy in Kenya, presently owned by 480 local Maasai, who in 1996 had the vision to set-aside this land. Today, tourism provides an important income to the community as well as provides funds for the ongoing conservation of this crucial wildlife area, in conjunction with Big Life Foundation and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 22 rangers provide wildlife security throughout the sanctuary and work tirelessly to mitigate any conflict between wildlife and the bordering landowners, ensuring the safety of both people and wildlife.
With Mount Kilimanjaro on one end and plenty of marshland and woodland, the views in Kimana Sanctuary are spectacular.
Visitors to the sanctuary can opt to camp at the three DIY campsites (two with long-drop toilet and bucket shower facilities and one without) or stay in the self-catering Kimana House. We opted to stay at Kimana House as it has all the amenities (i.e. a decent toilet for your girl).
The sanctuary is home to majestic elephant bulls and family herds as they undertake their seasonal migration, the occasional lion and cheetah (we were told a lion was in the sanctuary during our visit and in fact, just crossed the garden of the Kimana House, where we stayed the night before we arrived), among other diverse woodland and savannah species. Plenty of yellow fever acacia trees line the river banks, where if you keep your eyes peeled you can spot a croc or two. Out on the open plains, there are Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, zebras, eland and a thriving population of warthogs.
The river and the surrounding swamps fed from Mount Kilimanjaro are the reason the sanctuary is such a haven for such a large concentration of wildlife in such a relatively small conservation area. 4×4 vehicles are recommended at the sanctuary, though when we went during the dry season, a smaller car could’ve managed; however, with the rains, a 4×4 is necessary.After spending 30+ minutes in the sanctuary trying to find Kimana House as there are no signboards, we reached the house at 5:40pm.
Kimana House is a beautiful self-catering four-bedroom home set on the banks of the river. The entrance to the house had two steps, meaning I needed assistance to get in and out of the house, but the house itself was all flat and fully accessible.With a large living area with a huge dining table, comfortable sofas and a fireplace, the interior of the house is very welcoming. The mazeras stone floors and the large, glass windows create a homey feel in this stunning piece of architecture. I loved the gorgeous artworks and exquisite photographs and maps of the local area and community placed on the walls. The house can sleep eight people comfortably in three double rooms, one that can be split into twin beds or as a double bed, and one twin room, all with en-suite bathrooms. Since we were 10 people, all four of us shacked up in a room, but it was so spacious that it was hard to notice that there was an extra bed. The bathroom is also huge with a bathtub, a shower, a sink and a toilet.Kimana House, at the turn of 2018, was a dreary space with ghastly tinted windows, peeling paint and an overgrown bush covering the entire front yard. When Big Life Foundation backed by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust signed a lease until 2046 from the local Maasai owners, the house was renovated. Soon, what was once a pastor’s house turned into a stylish, warm space.
The house has a solar power system with an inverter fitted, along with hot water provided by a combination of a wood-burning boiler and a solar water heater. The kitchen comes with drinking filtered water, a gas oven with four hobs, pots and pans, and a large chest fridge.Just like Amboseli Bush Camp, we had to carry all food and drink with us. While firewood is provided, guests must bring their own charcoal to use the provided BBQ.
Outside, the house has a nice patio with rattan furniture to lounge on along with a nice wooden table to enjoy meals al fresco. A short distance from the house is a little gazebo with sofas to lounge on and on the other end, a little wading pool created on the river flowing through the garden.
And to just soak in the views, the benches provide a relaxing respite on the river banks.
There were two steps to get to the garden from the house and I think, a simple ramp can be added to make the garden more accessible.
The wonderful on-site manager, Joshua, did all the housekeeping duties along with the washing up during our stay. There’s also a chef available at an extra cost: Ksh. 2000/- per day paid directly to him.
After checking in and settling in, we enjoyed a cup of tea, and then while Dad and his friends made dinner, the rest of us chilled, playing a couple of rounds of Monopoly Deal. As we hung out, we realized that the house has decent 3G Safaricom signal at the house, but the Airtel signal is patchy to none.
At 9PM, dinner was served. Chilli paneer, bateta nu shaak (potato curry), salad, rice and mandazis were laid out on the table and we indulged in the delicious home-made food.
After we ate, we set out for a night game drive at 10PM with Joshua, who acted as our guide. Night game drives are unique in that you get to see the game that only tend to come out at night. We saw lots of hares, squirrels, zebras and antelopes.
Returning to the house at 11PM, we went to bed ready for a night of restful slumber after a busy, long day.
The next day, we got up at 6AM and got ready by 6:45AM. After freshening up with tea and coffee, we headed for a game drive at 7:30AM with the aim of finding some big tuskers.
And what can I say? We got lucky and spotted Tolstoy and his boys (bull elephants).
Then, we found Tim, one of Africa’s largest and most magnificent elephants, hiding behind some bushes flanked by his squad of bulls. It was a two-hour long waiting game to see him come out after his squad made an appearance first, but time flew.
When he finally revealed himself to us, it was breath-taking. We were in the presence of a mighty legend, Tim, an Amboseli resident approaching 50 years old who is thought by some to be the largest living elephant (and thus the largest land animal on earth).
Then at 10AM, we went back to the house where we found breakfast ready for us. One of my aunts who had skipped the morning game drive had a brunch spread awaiting us: French toast, eggs made on order, paneer chappati, pan-fried toast and freshly-made parotha, alongside steaming mugs of tea and coffee. A super scrumptious spread!
Still on a high from seeing Tim, we reluctantly packed up and left Kimana House at 11:45AM to head home. After a brief stop for ice cream in Emali as it was very hot, we were home by 4PM.
Honestly, I had my heart set on Kimana Sanctuary when I first came across it and I’m so happy I got to visit it. I can already see myself heading back soon for some R&R as Kimana House is beautifully set up.
With gorgeous views of the Kilimanjaro, lots of ellies and not too far for a quick weekend getaway, what’s not to love. And the priceless memories of seeing Tim is something I will always cherish.
Here’s a short clip of the highlights of Kimana Sanctuary.
Photos and videos by Hitesh & Diva Shah