Recently knighted for his work in conservation and responsible for building some of Kenya’s most iconic camps and lodges, Stefano Cheli, CEO of Cheli & Peacock Safaris, is a leading personality in the East African tourism industry. Travel Africa caught up with him to find out about community initiatives, the Land & Life Foundation, and his childhood in Kenya
What was it like growing up in Kenya?
I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed a childhood in Kenya; for families wanting to introduce their children to Africa, we recommend a trip from around the age of nine.
You have built a number of camps and lodges including Elsa’s Kopje, Tortilis Camp, Kitich Camp and, most recently, Loisaba Tented Camp. Which one was your biggest challenge?
Elsa’s Kopje because every room is designed differently and the lodge needed to blend into the landscape, incorporating surrounding trees and rocks. It was also difficult transporting the materials, as the men needed to carry them on their shoulders from the bottom of Kopje Rock to the top.
What do you look for in a location when choosing where to build a new lodge or a camp?
There needs to be absolute privacy and no other tourism operation nearby; a spectacular view is a must, plus water, shade if possible and, of course, plenty of wildlife.
Of all the local community initiatives you have overseen, which one are you most proud of?
My wife, Liz, and I founded the Cheli & Peacock Community Trust (now called the Land & Life Foundation) and this was a great achievement as it enabled us to solidify all of our ideas and with the help of a CEO, turn them into reality. One of the most successful projects is the Wildlife Warrior Programme, its central aim being to take top conservation scholars to post-graduate level.
What do you perceive to be the biggest threat to East Africa’s wildlife?
The increase of the human population.
What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter?
There are simply too many to mention over the last 32 years running Cheli & Peacock. However, watching elephants play in the river at Kitich Camp is up there as a favourite.
How have your Italian family routes influenced your business?
They have certainly influenced the decor of the lodges and camps. We are also passionate about the fact that our food should be the best in East Africa!
Where do you and Liz choose to go when you need a break?
We love Lamu and the island of Manda, so we often spend Christmas and New Year at Manda Bay. We really enjoy Italy, and Umbria is our latest find, a sparsely populated province with wild boar, wolves and fantastic history going back to the pre-Roman period.
Where is on your bucket list to visit in Africa?
We love Africa and have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of areas. Kenya remains my favourite country and I believe it is the most diverse.
What is the one essential you take on safari?
What has been your strangest guest request?
I struggle to understand Satphone on safari and now there is an obsession with wi-fi. I feel it spoils the wonderful feeling of remoteness in the wilderness.
What would be your top three tips for someone booking a safari?
Relax, let the guide take charge, put your watch, iPad, iPhone and computer in a drawer and only look at them when you have finished your holiday.