The Peponi Hotel is the nicest hotel in the world! And I mean that sincerely! I have been to some of the best hotels and resorts around the globe - Caneel Bay in St. John, Amandari in Bali, the Four Seasons in several countries, and the Peponi is my absolute favorite. Everything about that place has a little - or a lot - of magic. The setting is impossibly scenic. The island of Lamu is an old (settled in the 15th century) Arab trading port where a blend of cultures over the centuries, namely Arab, African and Portuguese has resulted in a rich and lasting heritage of culture - beautiful stone buildings made of ancient coral, the famous carved wooden doors with brass moldings, and a tangle of narrow streets leading to exquisite views of the Old Stone Town. No vehicles allowed on the island - save one car and 2 ambulances, one of them for the ubiquitous donkeys, who roam the streets and beaches freely.
The Peponi is set down the island from Lamu town on Shela beach, a 12-km long expanse of pristine sand and sparkling turquoise water.. The hotel is perfectly situated a few steps above the beach so you catch the sea breezes and see all the action on the water - and there is SO MUCH action to see! The ancient Dhows - beautifully hand-carved fishing sailboats made out of local teak or mahogany - all come and moor in front of the hotel - either to pick up tourists for sunset sails or early morning fishing trips, or just to gather their own friends for lunch, where they set up little wooden BBQs right on their boats.
The rooms are all open, sea-facing, with beautiful local antique furniture - Lamu's specialty. It seems that every room has its own private veranda, or some place with a wonderful spot to lie down - a hammock, or a double-sized chaise longue, or a patio with tables and chairs. And each room is totally unique, with quite a lot of privacy, even though they are usually right next to another room. They might be on slightly different levels, or with different staircases all leading to a sense of individual privacy. And the grounds are utterly lovely - the pool has been cut out in between massive Baobob trees, so it is curved like a kidney bean, with various levels for sitting along the edge. Though I was also able to also do a few laps in it. Around the hotel, there are so many nooks and crannies to hide with a book - hanging beds tucked under trees, hammocks strung beneath private verandas, beautiful ancient bathrooms with carved walls and sunken tubs. Ancient pots line the walls. Tables and chairs where you can have meals, far far away from the restaurant or other hotel guests.
And the food - oh the food! Utterly amazing. Fresh fresh fresh. Fish pulled out of the water (sometimes in front of you!) that day - crisp and inventive salads, briny shellfish - and a co-mingling of local herbs and spices with classic favorites from abroad: I ate a crab hand roll almost every day, with crab from the mangroves across the bay tumbling out. Spiced Mango soup, fresh curries, calamari salad, and wonderful homemade ice creams and desserts. Frozen mango cheesecake with passion sauce? Wow. Still dreaming of that here at home. We tried food elsewhere on the island but regretted it - nothing was as good as the Peponi food. Even in Nairobi you can't find anything as good as the Peponi food.
This is also the safest I have ever felt in Africa (where we now live and travel extensively.) While we locked our passports and wallets in the room safe for peace of mind, we left all our phones, ipads, laptops out ALL DAY, even when we went into town for the morning or out on a boat. We let our 12 and 13 year old kids wander the streets on their own. And I am an overly-cautious mom elsewhere. I could finally totally relax there. I hadn't done that in a long time. UTTER RELAXATION.
And what magic! The first day we saw two turtles fighting right outside our room. The next day a HUGE leatherback turtle was tagged and released into the sea in front of the hotel. The next day I caught 2 big tunas in a sunrise fishing trip. The next day we saw a huge chameleon with a blue head and yellow body. We found 20 sanddollars along the beach. We raced dhows at sunset. The list goes on.
But above all, the most important aspect of a stay in the Peponi is the service. Carol the owner, Andrew the director, Mwanasee (the manager?), Rose (the head of housekeeping?), Emmanuel our housekeeper, the waiters, the grounds people - every single person is interested in your having the best stay possible. Every one is concerned about you - every wants to help you. (And not in an obsequious or annoying way.) From doting conversations about what kind of trips you'd like to take, to what kind of special meal you'd like to have (off the menu) to where you'd like to have your meal, to how to make your stay more pleasant in the smallest ways, everything is thought of and cared for. You could ask for almost anything there and someone would try to do it for you. I needed something (rather obscure) from town, they sent someone in to locate it and buy it for me. I felt like having a special meal - it was made and delivered to my room. And all this is not at exorbitant hidden costs. I don't think they even charged me, except for the item itself. This is not a hotel where they are trying to gauge you at every turn. This is a hotel where above all they want you to be happy.
The Peponi is a special place. I do think it is the nicest hotel experience our family has ever had. And we hope to be back - as soon as we can! But like any hotel, it may not be the right place for everyone. If you need AC, a perfect internet connection, 45-minute meals, and a sterilized and predictable resort experience, stay away. If you want beauty, peace, an authentic island and culturally rich experience, amazing food and wonderful service, plus a whole lot of magic, go to the Peponi! You will not be disappointed.