Some twenty years ago, Stefano and Liz Cheli officially unveiled their very first property – Tortilis Camp. Nestled in its own private wilderness – the protected Kitirua Conservancy – on the south western edge of Amboseli National Park, this small boutique camp has, over the past 20 years, made quite an impact and is widely-considered to be the first eco-lodge of its kind in East Africa.
Year on year, Tortilis Camp has won awards for its ground-breaking design and innovative approach to sustainable tourism. In 1996, the camp won British Airways’ coveted Tourism for Tomorrow Award, scooped Best Safari Camp at the 2012 Kenya Tourism Awards and has featured, on numerous occasions, in the Condé Nast Traveller Gold List, Virgin’s HIP Hotels and Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards. The awards cabinet is positively bulging!
As is fitting on any landmark birthday, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past 20 years and share with you our 20 favourite memories and surprising facts on Tortilis Camp:
1) A vertiginous vista
Tortilis Camp enjoys arguably the best view of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world and the highest peak on the African continent.
2) David over Goliath
Tortilis Camp was almost piped to the post by a 200-bed hotel. If it weren’t for the local Maasai landowners approaching Stefano and Liz regarding a camp more in keeping with its surrounds, Tortilis may never have been.
3) Swapping spears for spades
Stefano and Liz set about building Tortilis Camp with the help of the local Maasai. However, until an impromptu armoury was built to keep their precious beautiful spears safe and sound, no one broke ground!
4) A family affair
The camp and its surrounding land are still owned by the same local Maasai family. The head of the family supplies the camp with delicious local produce and often calls in for Sunday lunch!
5) The oldies are the goodies
A great many of those that built the camp were taken on as staff, a majority of which still work at Tortilis Camp today.
6) Let there be light!
The Silver Eco Rated Tortilis Camp is the first camp of a substantial size in Kenya – if not all of Africa – to operate 100% on solar power, 24 hours/day.
7) Busy as a bee
Our resident hive of bees spends all day, every day kindly making our guests’ stays that bit sweeter. Having moved our buzzing friends from their rather usual haunts around camp to their lovely new homes on the hillside above camp, they’re busy making honey which should be ready for our breakfasts and souvenir jars by the end of this year.
8) Gold standard guiding
Tortilis Camp’s guides are some of the best in the country – Joseph Chege has just received his Gold KPSGA qualification and the level of his guiding work is comparable with that of a PhD thesis! Meanwhile, fellow guide Leperes Pilot is quite the linguist, happy to converse in Japanese!
9) Leading Kenya’s culinary charge
Stefano’s mother trained the very first chef – a wonderful chap and highly talented chef, who sadly passed away in 1994. He is very much missed. Today’s current chef, Hamza is trained each and every year by Mama Cheli, who keeps a very close eye!
10) The Italian Job
With Italian owners and camp managers at the helm, Tortilis Camp’s pasta prowess is impressive! The chefs make tagliatelle, ravioli and tortellini from scratch, on a daily basis.
11) Tortilis goes ‘techy’
A brand new iBrochure can now be downloaded, for free, from iTunes! Find it here.
12) A Garden of Eden
Tortilis Camp boasts Kenya’s most impressive shamba (vegetable garden), measuring 2500m². A staggering 20 kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown in this verdant little corner of Amboseli – all of which are eaten by the camp’s guests…and occasionally Adam, the visiting elephant!
13) Something to make a splash about
Tortilis Camp is the only property of its kind in Amboseli to have two swimming pools – one beautifully cool pool surrounded by verdant gardens, and one brand new, private infinity pool for ‘Little Tortilis’ – the camp’s secluded Private House and Family Tent.
14) Take it easy at Tortilis
Tortilis Camp has not one but two masseuses – Stellah and Alan – who are expert at helping you unwind.
15) Big Life makes a big difference
Tortilis Camp supports Big Life Foundation, a non-profit organisation that manages the Kitirua Conservancy and employs 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting two million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. At the helm of Big Life is the internationally-acclaimed photographer Nick Brandt who regularly stays at Tortilis Camp while taking his iconic shots of Amboseli’s elephants.
16) Back to school
Through the Community Trust, a great many of our guests support the local Esiteti Primary School. Since late 2012, we have donated USD$20,000, mounds of school uniforms and sporting equipment, vast quantities of books, and a mere 377 pairs of shoes! Two separate visiting families have also taken the time to build a school volleyball court and football pitch!
17) Four-legged fame
Amboseli is globally-renowned for its magnificent elephants – over 1,000 stroll its vast dusty plains, the most famous being Echo and her family, who were the stars of the BBC wildlife series.
18) Studies on safari
Amboseli is home to the world’s longest-running elephant behaviour study by Cynthia Moss – the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Guests at camp are welcome to visit, with a donation of $800 (for up to 10 people).
19) Animal antics
Every day brings remarkable wildlife sightings, but some of the most unusual include a den of snakes following a herd of gazelle, and sounder of warthogs sharing a den with a cackle of hyena.
20) Where it all began
The Kenya-Tanzania borderland area is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world and the birthplace of humankind. This area includes some of the best-known protected areas in the world, including Amboseli.