Forest bathing: Nyeri hospitality investor stumbles on a wellness attraction


Ms Gacheke Simons leads a wellness session at the Le Pristine Hotel arboretum in Nyeri. The group assemble to practice yoga in nature for their mental and spiritual well-being. FILE PHOTO | POOL

When King’ori Wathobio, a civil engineer, turned his former colonial-style house into a hotel, it was just a retirement pet project.

The thinking was to build an arboretum that would serve as an escape for city dwellers looking for a sanctuary.

Then he started seeing an increase in the number of people who wanted to visit to listen to the sounds of the forest, smell the scent of the trees, see the sunlight playing through the leaves, and just appreciate the fresh, clean air — things that give a sense of comfort.

That is when he added the concept of forest bathing at his Le Pristine Hotel in Nyeri. Besides offering staycations, forest bathing has gained currency, attracting people who come to do yoga, jog or pray.

At the hotel, nestled with forests, the garden blooms with red, purple, pink, and white flowers. Mr Wathobio has more than 250 species of indigenous trees.

“You do not have to be a lover of forests but by just walking or standing while engaging all five senses amongst the flora and fauna of such a place there is a natural healing effect. You will feel it,” he says.

He is also inspired by a need to restore trees that were endemic to the Mount Kenya region which is on the verge of extinction for posterity.

“We are also engaging in different conservation methods while restoring some of the endangered species so that the young ones can come and learn,” adds Mr Wathobio.

Forest bathing is a concept borrowed from Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise that allows people to observe nature around them whilst breathing deeply which helps de-stress, and boost their health and well-being.

In Japan, the exercise is called shinrin-yoku.

Over the years, especially after Covid-19, forests have witnessed an increase in the number of people who spend their weekends walking or jogging through nature trails.


Mr King'ori Wathobio, owner of Le Pristine Hotel in Nyeri which has an arboretum with over 250 species of indigenous trees. FILE PHOTO | IRENE MUGO | NMG

Over 4,000 Kenyans and foreigners flock to Karura Forest every weekend, said Dr Winnie Kiiru, a conservationist and biologist, in an interview with the Business Daily four years ago, to walk, jog, ride bikes or hold picnics. The number could have risen over the years.

Other forests that people visit for wellness purposes include Kaya Forest in Diani, where one can do tree-hugging therapy, Oloolua Forest, and Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary in Nairobi.

“You do not need to be a nature lover to practise forest bathing… you just need to come here and immerse yourself in nature… there is a lot to learn from our different shrubs and trees, their smell and feel that when combined they work on your system fostering a healing experience,” Mr Wathobio says.

He adds that a majority of the visitors are holed up indoors most of the time and rarely spend time outside enjoying the sunlight and sounds of nature.

“Once in a while people must go outside and listen to the sounds of the forest –the chirping birds, see different species of butterflies and insects, enjoy the sunlight playing between the leaves and the freshness of the air in the forest. It is healthy,” he observes.

At his property, he has planted trees from different countries, whose seedlings he picks during his travels.

“There are not so many hotels that have a repository of indigenous trees. That is why I take time whenever I go hiking regardless of where I am, I make sure I collect seeds to come and propagate for planting in the forest,” he says.

The forest that he has nurtured for more than five years now is home to birds that were endemic to the Mount Kenya region and attracts others such as the Northern colour bird which is not common in Kenya.


Ms Gacheke Simons leads a yoga session at Le Pristine Hotel’s arboretum in Nyeri. FILE PHOTO | POOL

“We are now seeing a lot more birds nesting in our trees that were endemic to the region and new ones that migrate depending on the seasons. People with a keen eye for birds can watch and name them,” he says.

There are billions of shillings untapped in birdwatching in Kenya.

In the US, birdwatchers are estimated to spend over $2.5 billion (Sh250 billion) each year, and 40 percent of American bird lovers are willing to travel to discover new birdwatching opportunities.

In his home library, Mr Wathobio has a book with definitions and names of each of the trees, flowers and shrubs that he has grown in the forest.

“This makes it easy for me to take people through every species of tree we have… people are mesmerised to learn the history of our culture through trees,” he says, adding that the spiritual connection to trees as dictated by the Agikuyu forefathers stands.

“You cannot fell a tree for the sake of it. It is advisable to replace it once it is down as a means to conserve the environment,” he emphasises.

Mr Wathobio says though they are yet to quantify the number of people that have frequented the arboretum, the turnaround of the business in the past two years has been significant and it is gaining traction.

For those that visit and feel that they need more experience with nature, Le Pristine has made arrangements with the Kenya Wildlife Services and Kenya Forest Services to take the guests for hiking or walk excursions in either the Aberdare or Mt Kenya forest.

According to Gacheke Simons, a certified yogi who holds her session at the forest every Saturday, combining yoga and nature heals the body spiritually, emotionally and physically.

“It helps us de-stress and heal inner wounds which gives myself and the team an overall balance of wellbeing,” she says, adding that people must spend quality time in nature to wad-off ailments.

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