Cheli & Peacock’s eco-friendly, luxury safaris combine old world charm with new world practices
Kenya endures a laundry list of prejudices and hardships. However, if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that you must visit. Cheli & Peacock (C&P) is the independent safari operator to support for a luxury, eco-tourism experience (see sidebar “Eco-Tourism at its Finest”). With poaching and habitat loss threatening the African ecosystem, small footprint safari companies not only offer the experience of a lifetime but also foster the conservation efforts needed to maintain this crucial environment. For the ultimate Kenyan adventure, three of C&P’s properties take luxury “glamping” to the next level.
One of C&P’s greatest accomplishments is its commitment to Meru National Park. In 1999, there was talk of the government de-gazetting this 540-square-mile area in East Kenya, which was struggling due to lack of lodging and tourism. So C&P built Elsa’s Kopje, a boutique hotel, which rapidly gained worldwide acclaim for its safari and lodging experiences, reviving the area and its wildlife. Elsa’s was once the site of conservationists, George and Joy Adamson’s original camp. Widely recognized for Joy’s book and subsequent movie, Born Free, the Adamson’s raised Elsa the lion on Meru land. (Fans can visit Elsa’s grave on the edge of the park.)
Tucked on top of Mughwango Hill, overlooking the grasslands, Elsa’s hosts nine open-air, thatched roof cottages, each perched on their own outcropping of the “kopje” (that’s Dutch for hill). Meticulously decorated with woven rugs, wood furniture and large poster beds, each cottage’s expansive views may make you feel exposed at first, but the privacy and placement of each cottage immerses you in the sights and sounds of nature with just the right amount of exposure. The warm, friendly staff is accommodating and discreet. You’ll quickly adjust to the daily routine of Elsa’s—a bush breakfast, morning game drive, relaxing afternoon, al fresco lunch, late afternoon tea, evening game drive and dinner by candlelight—and find yourself longing for the lifestyle long after you’ve returned home.
With winding paths and bridges nestled into the hillside among the trees, the whole experience is a journey back in time. Elsa’s captures the historic elegance of an old-world safari and adds updated practices for the perfect eco-tourism experience. Open-air common areas and an infinity pool invite guests to curl up on a lounge chair and watch for big game on the savannah below. A hike to the top of the kopje gets you an even better view of Meru from all directions; bring binoculars and keep an eye out for elephant and giraffe on the horizon. For a closer look at the fauna, Elsa’s guides devote their time and expertise to showing you as many animals as possible. Meru is home to zebra, cheetah, buffalo, leopard, hyena and more than 427 species of birds. My guide, Philip, brought us to Meru’s Rhino Sanctuary, an almost 50-mile area protected by fencing and rangers, where he showed me firsthand the majestic black and white rhinos that need the protected safe space from poachers.