Rondo Retreat – A nature lovers sanctuary in the midst of a rainforest

The Retreat

Rondo Retreat, a Christian sanctuary for nature lovers in the thicket of the Kakamega Rainforest. A very lush, green and peaceful base if you want to explore the only remnant in Kenya of the once great tropical rainforest that stretched across Central Africa, also known as the Guineo-Congolian forest.

DSC_6881I was pleasantly surprised by how well kept Rondo Retreat was, given that they started building it over 65 years ago and continued to add different elements to it as the years went by. Originally, Rondo was owned by a sawmiller from South Africa, Bob Turton. Upon his wife’s request, Bob built a home deep in the forest directly opposite an Elgon Olive, thought to be one of the largest in the forest. This is how the retreat began taking form. The Main House and Guest Cottage were completed in 1948.

In 1961, following a terrible accident, Bob left Kenya leaving the property to the Christian Council of Kenya which eventually was handed over to the Trinity Fellowship in 1966. The retreat was first used as a youth centre and orphanage, however, is now open to the public and run by the Reverend and Mrs. Godfrey.

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Rondo has a magnificent garden, perfectly manicured bright green lawns, tall trees, lots of different species of plants, birds chirping, butterflies dancing around, monkeys leaping from tree to tree, all this between a few Colonial inspired cottages. Rondo Retreat is truly a meditative sanctuary that brings you back to being at one with nature.

The retreat is home to 6 cottages with a charm like no other, perfectly preserving the history of the property. There’s Turton’s House, Turaco Cottage, Founder’s Cottage, Colobus Cottage, Isukha Cottage and Nandi Cottage.

We stayed in the Isukha Cottage which was very spacious, clean and made us feel right at home. It had a total of 4 en-suite bedrooms, a sitting room, verandah and a fireplace that we got going in the evening.

The retreat is booked on a full board basis serving hearty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They do have specific timings for meals, so try not to be tardy. We were there for two nights and were very well fed with delicious homely meals.

DAY 1:
Lunch – Salad, Vegetable Quiche, Poached pear with crème fraiche and chocolate.
Dinner – Broccoli Soup, French Chicken stuffed with spinach & wrapped in bacon, Guava Mousse

DAY 2:
Breakfast – Full English breakfast (eggs made to your liking), Fruit & Cereal Spread
Lunch – Salad, Shepherd’s Pie & Fruit bowl
Dinner – Pumpkin Soup, Coconut Fish & Rice, Mango Mousse

DAY 3:
Breakfast – Full English breakfast (eggs made to your liking), Fruit & Cereal Spread

I did take photos of the meals on a phone but it was recently stolen and not backed up (you live and learn) 😦 I was also being a rebel as phones were not permitted in the dining room, so my ‘disobedience’ went to vain… Is this how Karma works? I’m sorry, I did it for the blog!

Note: Drinks are not included and they do not serve alcohol, so please be mindful of that. However, they are happy for you to bring your own to enjoy in the cottages and gardens.

There’s a cute little chapel on the property as well. Rondo would be a perfect wedding venue if you’re looking for something low-key, peaceful and intimate.

 The Wonders of Kakamega Rainforest

Kakamega forest sits at an altitude of 1,500 – 1,700m and covers an area of 240 km2. The biological diversity is amazing in here, all the insects and animals are interconnected supporting the forest’s ecosystem. There are about 385 species of plants, monkeys, baboons, 350 species of birds, 450 species of butterflies, giant snails, forest squirrels, snakes, bats, insects, bush pigs and they all help to spread the seeds of the trees and pollinate the flowers.

Rondo Retreat has a few paths you can explore on your own, there’s one that leads to the pond and another to a waterfall. However, a guide is a MUST if you want to go deep into the forest (or you’re going to get miserably lost and there’s snakes in there!). Our guide, Job, was well versed and very passionate about the forest. We did a total of 3 hikes with him during our time there.

Hike 1: On our first afternoon there, we went into the forest and did a big loop around it. This took us about 3.5hrs. We didn’t see much on this hike but the clean fresh air was good enough for me! But we did see lots of different species of funghi on every hike.

Pepper Family
We found a plant from the pepper family that we gave a taste

Hike 2: Next morning. This was a long one, we hiked for a total of 5hrs, all the way to the Yala River that flows through the forest. We were pretty deep in the dense of Kakamega Forest which was thriving with life and we saw lots of it!

Kakamega forest is a bird watcher’s paradise. There’s the Great Blue Turaco, Emerald Cuckoo, cacophonous Black & White-casqued Hornbill and the majestic African Crowned Eagle to name a few. However, to spot them you have to be very patient even though you can hear them everywhere.

From the monkey family there is the Blue Syke, the Red Tailed, common Black & White Colobus, rarer deBrazza’s and Olive Baboons.

Kakamega forest is one of the best places in Kenya to see butterflies. Almost fluorescent in colours, they appear like the jewel of the crown in the rainforest.

Hike 3: We did this on the morning of our last day. Job was insistent that we see the forest canopy from the top, so we climbed up a hill to do so (1.5hrs).  And it was well worth it!

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Now, if you’re planning to hike the forest, there’s 3 things you can’t do without:

  1. Waterproof hiking boots (it’s a rainforest after all, it’s going to get muddy)
  2. Raincoat (again, it’s a damn rainforest, weather forecast is unpredictable)
  3. Water resistant track pants (unless you want cold, damp shins and ankles)

And then you want your backpack (pack water and stay hydrated) and a camera to capture all the pretty natural stuff in there.

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Western Kenya receives some of the highest rainfall in the country. Most of this rain falls between April and November, with a short dry season from December to March. During the day it can get quite hot since there is high humidity in the air, but always be prepared for rain! Night time and early morning can be quite chilly though.

Getting There:

If you’re planning a road trip then it should take approximately 7 hours to get to Rondo Retreat. And you can find it on Google Maps here.

You could also fly to Kisumu then hire a taxi to Rondo Retreat from the airport. Fly SAX usually have regular flights (approx. 11,000/- for a return flight).

Costs and Info:

Rondo Retreat is 6700/- pp per night. This is on a full board basis.

To book you can call +254 733 299 149, +254 735 894 474 or +254 756 577 990. However, service is very limited so keep trying if you can’t get through, or text them.

Alternatively, you can email them via their website www.rondoretreat.com

Guide costs – Hike 1 and 3 were 500/- pp each, and Hike 2 cost us 800/- pp. However, because Job was such a great guy we all paid 2000/- pp for the three hikes.

I’m so glad I ventured out to explore the Kakamega Forest in depth and had a really comfortable two nights at Rondo Retreat while doing so.

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Western Kenya is definitely worth the trip and there’s plenty more towns, parks, lakes and landmarks to see. Check out our previous blog on our four day roadtrip around Western Kenya here. We also put together a cool video of the trip that you should watch, click this link to see it: Explore more: Western Kenya Video

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