To get to the Shimba Hills Lodge, you have to walk down a rustic wooden ramp, which winds and dips through a dense forest of trees in the very heart of the Shimba Hills National Reserve. The lodge is built right among the trees, its wooden facade camouflaged in the vegetation surrounding it. It is an enchanting place, and there is nowhere else on Earth like it.
An Oasis of Calm
As we entered the lodge, we found ourselves on an open deck, with a view up into the blue skies above. The architects built the lodge around a central stairwell, filling it with plants and palm trees. It felt like we had entered a tree house – or rather, a tree palace. Its main structure is on high stilts, hovering over the muddy banks of the large lily covered watering hole, which is the main attraction for both guests and animals.
The tranquillity is astounding. Here, the sounds of nature blanket us entirely, from the rustling of leaves and branches as monkeys rush through the treetops, the sound of water lapping against a shore, to the sound of insects and birds calling out in the forest. Most of all, we loved feeling the forest breeze on our skin and the sweet smell of fresh air that one can only find in a place like this.
The Rooms of the Shimba Hills Lodge
All the rooms come with decks overlooking the watering hole, and I spent many hours leaning over the bannisters, feeling the wind and marvelling at the paradise before me. Many of the guests who visit the Shimba Hills Lodge come for precisely this, the experience of being surrounded by nature.
The rooms themselves are simple, rustic and comfortable. I thought the decor was done well and conveyed the atmosphere we were here to experience. The large sliding doors and glass panes looking out into nature reminded us of where we were, providing a clear view of our incredible surroundings. All the time we were there, we felt like adventurers on an expedition.
Shimba Hills Lodge Forest Walk
One of the best things about the Shimba Hills Lodge is its forest walk. Exit from the bar, and you’ll find an extended deck which winds its way into the forest, almost at the height of the tree canopy. Tree branches hang over the side and curve above the walkway. The light here filters through the green and golden leaves that hang above your head. It is like walking through a wild and magical garden.
Around you, squirrels timidly rush through the trees and scamper along the bannisters of the walkway. Sometimes they look up expectantly at you. After all, for them, humans mean high-calorie, tasty food.
The walkway ends on a large platform built on a clearing, around a large tree. Once the clearing ends, there is a dense jungle wall with no more than a few metres of visibility. There are animals in there, and you might hear them. Seeing them, though, is another story. You’ll have to wait till they leave the forest cover to come out onto the watering hole for a drink.
Many small monkeys dash through the golden-green leaves. They are almost impossible to catch sight of, being so well camouflaged. But with patience, you could get a good photograph of these adorable creatures.
The Watering Hole at the Shimba Hills Lodge
The main attraction of the lodge is the watering hole which all the rooms overlook. Large, beautiful lilies fill the pond, and there is an ethereal quality to it. It is like something from the paintbrush of an impressionist painter.
The watering hole is where it all happens. The lack of cover means animals don’t linger on its banks for long. But it’s easy to spend an entire day on the decks of the Shimba Hills Lodge, observing the pond’s visitors and residents.
Monitor lizards prowl its banks and hunt in its waters, large kingfishers wait on branches by slender reeds, diving into waters when they see prey. As late afternoon arrives and the day cools, bushbucks, antelopes and other herbivores that live in the surrounding forest come out for a drink. Life is slowed down here, and things happen in their own time – but happen they do, and it is magical to sit and watch as nature’s patterns unfold before you. It is a place to sit and meditate before nature.
Strange Noises at Dawn
One morning, we were awoken by a din of scrambling, banging and other most peculiar noises that seemed to have penetrated the serenity of the forest. Curious, we got out of bed and went to investigate. We were surprised to find that the culprits were a family of Colobus monkeys going about their morning routine on the lodge roof.
The sun rises towards the Shimba Hills Lodge, bathing the rooms in a warm golden dawn light. The monkeys enjoy warming up on the roof here, which is the best place to take in the morning sun… if you’re a monkey. They run and jump and tumble each other on the roof, occasionally dashing into the forest, perhaps to get food, and returning to relax in the sun. It is a fantastic sight, to see how these creatures have claimed this part of the lodge for their own.
Lunch with Squirrels and Dinner with Bush Babies
One of the main attractions of the Shimba Hills Lodge is the fantastic restaurant. The restaurant, like the rooms, overlooks the watering hole. But it’s not just the view that should give you a reason to enjoy a meal here. Squirrels and the otherwise impossible to spot bush babies also come out for a taste of your meal.
The squirrels tend to come out during the day, at breakfast and lunch. They are shy at first, but once you start feeding them, they become bolder. At the end of our stay, they were practically coming up to us, getting food right from our hands.
Bush babies fill the forest around the lodge, although it is almost impossible to see one. Sometimes, we would hear the leaves rustling and look into the tree canopy, hoping to see one. Only on one occasion, in the early pre-dawn hours, did we see one outside our room. However, there was one brave bush-baby who approached us as we were being served dinner. She was quite a bold one, coming right to our table and reaching out for the bread. She was no problem, however, calmly accepting our offer of bread until she was full, and then keeping mostly to herself at the other end of the restaurant.
This was the only time we saw bush-babies up close on our trip in Kenya, and we have to say there is nothing quite like it. Seeing them from afar, with only their eyes illuminated red in the dense bush isn’t very satisfying. But here, up-close, they are something else. These are truly incredible looking creatures, and there was nothing else quite like them on safari.
The Staff at the Shimba Hills Lodge
We stayed at the Shimba Hills Lodge in September 2020, when the capable lodge manager, Catherine, had recently taken responsibility for this truly unique property’s operations. The lodge had moved on from foreign ownership to a local one, and we feel it was all the more better off for it.
Catherine and her team were warm, welcoming and attentive. They took care of our every need and prepared delicious Kenyan meals on request. Catherine herself planned our trips into the Shimba Hills National Reserve, Sheldrick Falls, the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and more. Her staff made sure we had enough food and water for the day, for all of these trips.
We also enjoyed long chats with her and her general manager Eva, and her housekeeping head, Grace. Getting to know the people who live and work in the lodges and national parks was a big part of our travels in Kenya. Through their stories, we learned a lot that cannot be gleaned from guidebooks, and formed a better understanding and appreciation of their beautiful country and the stunning natural wilderness they worked in.
Her staff noticed how much we loved Kenyan food and our interest in it, and offered to demonstrate how to make one of their staples, chapati. One afternoon, the chef took some time off to showcase how he did it. The chef made making chapati seem so easy and effortless and impressed us with his skill. We know making chapati is anything but simple.
Our Rating of the Shimba Hill Lodge
Shimba Hills Lodge is a place you should stay in if you get the chance. It is such a unique place, with nothing else quite like it in Kenya. It would be a real pity to miss it if you were in the area. If you are looking for a meditative retreat in nature, staying here is an absolute must. Many of the guests come to Shimba Hills to stay here and soak in nature. There is no better place for a “forest bath”. Surprisingly, despite how dense the forest is, and how warm the surrounding parks can get, the Shimba Hills Lodge is always calm and breezy. Mosquitos are also not a problem here – not one mosquito bit me while I was in the lodge.
Although the rooms are simple, they are comfortable and done well. Their rustic decor continues the impression of being an adventurer in the jungles of Africa.
Before we end this post, we’d love to give a shoutout to Catherine, the manager of the Shimba Hills Lodge. During our travels in Kenya, we met many inspiring Kenyans who, from humble beginnings, built up so many great things, inspired others and elevated their communities. Catherine is one of these people.
She made our visit to Shimba Hills a truly special one. Because of her, we got to meet and befriend many interesting people who worked on interesting conservation projects in the nature reserve. Each meeting was a priceless experience. We visited in 2020, which was a trying year for everyone. Despite difficult times, Catherine and her superb team made sure everything was perfect. Thanks to this capable woman, we departed Shimba Hills Lodge with warm hearts and many new friends.