When you arrive at Tortilis Camp, on the edge of Amboseli National Park, Kenya, the groomed grounds and stylish Lanai-style buildings with ultra-high ceilings immediately make you feel like you are entering a special enclave.
The charming hostess and manager, Manuela, immediately comes out to greet you with her warm presence and her Italian accent. Inside there are fresh flowers and handsome Masai men to continue your greeting with a wet washcloth and an offer of fresh juice. You have just stepped into a little bit of heaven.
Traveling in Kenya and having stayed in other safari lodgings, we were already used to the hospitality and the pampering, along with the delightful African art styles often made with elements of the surrounding nature, and Tortilis Camp was no disappointment.
And yet there were some extra layers of thoughtfulness and consideration at the Tortilis Camp (named after the tortilis acacia tree that looks like a big magnificent umbrella) that were not expected.
The homemade pasta and other Italian gourmet specialties were among the first things we enjoyed, as lunch was promptly served in the large open-air dining room. Homemade tagliatelle was served along with a plethora of salads, homemade breads, appetizers and desserts.
We were asked if there were dietary requirements. When told I was a vegan, Manuela not only nodded agreeably but actually mentioned soy milk and tofu. She was singing my song. Come to find out the vegetables are all homegrown in a large vegetable garden on the premises. Co-manager Andrea explained that because he and Manuela are Italian, they specialize in Italian gourmet food. At some of the other properties of Cheli & Peacock, which Tortilis is part of, the managers are from different countries and offer other specialties.
Imagine going for a morning safari ride out in the bush and then having your driver pull up under a big acacia tree where Tortilis Camp chefs are preparing a warm breakfast! Table is set and waiting for you! What? You have to dash behind a bush for a minute? Another surprise: team Tortilis has dug a hole, brought a toilet seat and propped it up for you. It is waiting behind the bush along with a roll of toilet paper!
And the water system at the camp has been completely upgraded to one-hundred-percent filtered and safe for drinking, even in the bathroom taps. This is very unusual and not experienced before in the bush, even rarely in the cities we have visited in Kenya. The management wants to get away from using plastic, explained Manuela, so all the water is served in glass pitchers.
Another unique feature is that the grounds are completely wired for electricity and wi-fi available 24 hours a day. This is something we take for granted in the West in most places, but here in Africa, and especially out in the middle of nowhere, is an utter luxury. So you can sit with your laptop in the evening and listen to the singing of the frogs in the decorative pond just outside the lobby and bar area.
Or you can enjoy your wake-up call complete with fresh coffee and tea. Step outside the tent on your private porch and watch the sunrise. If there is a problem in the middle of the night, a walkie-talkie is provided in your tent for your safety.
There are many lounging areas in which to sit and enjoy the magnificent African skies, the backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, and the occasional wild animal that comes to drink from the nearby watering hole. Or take advantage of the services of Allan and Stella, massage therapist and manicurist.
You can take a dip in the pool or browse in the gift shop, when not going on a game drive in the famous park. Unlike most camps and lodges, the Tortilis Camp is fenced in, so no worries about running into a wild creature when you are walking back from dinner.
Amboseli is famous for its elephants and for the renowned wildlife researcher Cynthia Moss and her Amboseli Elephant Trust, which has been monitoring and studying elephants for more than 50 years. Her organization is a Kenya- and USA-based kowledge and awareness program to promote elephant conservation through long-term research projects, training, community relations, public awareness and advocacy.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of individual elephants is the notches on the ears.
Over the past four decades, the Amboseli Elephant Research Project has identified more than 2,800 individual elephants, named and numbered them and detailed their life histories. Some of the biggest elephants in Kenya live here.
Andrea told me all about the school they are supporting for the Masai children. Since 2010, Tortilis Camp's donations have helped create the brand-new Esiteti Primary School, which opened in 2011. The Tortilis Community Trust is now fundraising for the construction of a girls' dormitory. Many of the young girls walk long distances through the wilderness and are at risk going to school on a daily basis.
The Tortilis Community Trust also supports anti-poaching in the area, an ongoing effort that has become so important. They give generously to the Big Life Foundation, which combats elephant and other wildlife poaching. Donations are sent to the Big Life Foundation, which trains scouts to look out for poachers. It all works in cooperation with Cheli & Peacock Community Trust, which takes nothing in administration fees. Donations from visitors and others are greatly appreciated.
This is why, Andrea explained, he loves working with such a wonderful organization. Besides helping the wildlife and the communities, the administration is on call by any of the other managers who might have a problem, any time day or night. It is one classy operation, for sure.
While we were visiting, although during the low season (highly recommended - less expensive, fewer tourists, same animals) we were joined by other guests from the US and around Europe. Most of them seemed to be sophisticated and seasoned adventurers who had learned to be selective in their choices of places to stay. Tortilis Camp is such a jewel that it is hard to keep away (and hard to keep it a secret when you get home).
I am not the only one who recognizes the wonderful aspects of this great and fun camp. It has received many awards. Here are but a few:
-Silver Eco-rating Certification, Ecotourism Kenya, 2011 / 2012
-Finalist Best Eco Property, Best Safari Cuisine & Best Safari Guiding Team – The Good Safari Guide, 2011
- Nominee Kenya’s Leading Safari Lodge – World Travel Awards, 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011
-T&L 500 Best Hotels – Travel & Leisure Magazine - 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
Cheli & Peacock Nairobi Office and Tortiis Camp, Ltd.
Physical Address: Lengai House, Wilson Airport, Nairobi.
Postal Address: P.O. Box 743, 00517 – Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, Kenya.
Phone: +254 (0)20 6003090/1
Fax: +254 (0)20 6004050
Reservations: email: [email protected]
Lodge email: [email protected]
Direct Lodge phone: +254 714 606960, +254 704 915305