When we plan a break, it usually involves a frenzied search on Airbnb. With three children, hotels and lodges are getting increasingly out of our financial reach, and a house is often the most economical of the offerings out there. Yes, yes, we could camp… but we are not natural campers.
And so – to Nanyuki. We had our eyes on Tapendoi for a while – but on the main house, which was only occasionally up for weekend rentals. Then the Hurt family did up a neighbouring cottage on the same property, adding two safari tents to expand the space, giving us the opportunity finally to stay there.
The house itself has been very well done – it has a country cabin feel, thanks to the main wooden structure, a log fire and comfy armchairs. Accommodation is in the two fairly fancy safari tents to either side – one a twin which suited the kids, and the other a pretty spacious double, both with ensuite bathrooms.
While I might have been content to stay at the cabin unwinding, our kids required something more stimulating. Tapendoi enjoys an enviable position just 10 minutes’ drive from Lolldaigas, a private game conservancy that is accessible via prior arrangement. It is a spectacular piece of country, and thankfully recovered from the wildfires that ripped through here in 2021.
Meanwhile, our children wanted to ride horses – desperately. After we rang round all of the lodges – guests only, sadly – we found Everything Altitude, a rustic but well-run stable just outside Nanyuki with some good riding in the surrounding area. For those looking to surround themselves with horses, then Everything Altitude also has its own cottage, also on Airbnb.
Most surprising was the facelift that Nanyuki has had in the last couple of years, not least the addition of the Mt Kenya climbing gym, an outdoor wall (we spent quite a few sessions there), and the deli restaurant Shop 14, a serene little spot selling fine foods, most of them locally-sourced. It has a playground, too. By contrast, Cape Chestnut, which we tried for lunch one day, felt a bit dated by comparison. And if we didn’t fancy cooking, then there are several options to buy ready-made, home-cooked dishes for collection, our favourite being the Food Fairy.
At the end of a hectic day, it was always a pleasure to return to the warm hearth of Tapendoi.
Tapendoi is booked via Airbnb. There's a minimum two-night stay. Expect to pay in the region of Ksh 35,000 a night after service charges and bank fees.
More things to do around Nanyuki: The blue pool at Ngare Ndare is well worth a visit and has exciting canopy walks. Ol Pejeta, just south of the town, is a game conservancy with very reliable game sightings. Of course, Nanyuki is the base for ascents of Mt Kenya, and a good place to acclimatise. For mountain bike hire, contact Nixon on 0708 499 875.
Illawana House is straight out of the Italian countryside. The house – arches, distressed furniture, and dusty mirrors – feels like something born out of someone’s wistful imagination.
Although it’s not much from the outside, the house itself has a unique charm. I imagine that it’s a house for congenial, grown-up parties. There is much attention to detail to lift the ambience. Ornate candle holders adorn the long table on the verandah, wispy white curtains hang artfully over the blue shuttered windows, and vintage lamps dotted all over the house bestow a warm glow. The house is also well-stocked with board games, which we played in the evening in front of a roaring fire.
Despite its European feel, the location is very Kenyan. The house is owned by the Marrian family and several of artist David Marrian’s pictures hang on the walls. A Jacaranda tree – in bloom during our stay – is a beautiful sight to wake up to in the gorgeous master bedroom, by far the loveliest room in the house. Two more bedrooms adjoin – both airy, with light streaming through the windows.
The aim is lofty, and more than partially achieved, but the execution is marred by some maintenance issues, such as missing or loose floorboards in the bedrooms. Then for a family, there is not a huge amount to do. We made use of the swimming pool at Kilima Kiu manor a kilometre down the road – the actual hotel was closed when we were there, but is due to reopen soon – and walked and cycled (we brought bikes) in the surrounding area. One morning, we made the trek up to Ulu forest conservancy, although we saw no animals on our drive.
It would, though, make an excellent weekend getaway for those content just to relax and potter around the neighbouring area, or a stop on the way back from the coast. The house is a two-hour drive from Nairobi.
The house is booked via Airbnb, and is advertised at around $130 (Ksh 14,500) a night for a family of five. That sounds pretty reasonable, but once service, cleaning and bank fees were added, the total cost came out at Ksh 58,000 for three nights. At nearly Ksh 20,000 a night, it felt a little pricey.
Things to note: The house has three main bedrooms, and one smaller bedroom. The house is not on mains power, so a generator is turned on at dusk until the last guest goes to bed. The gas-powered fridge is semi-effective at keeping food cool, but the freezer works well. The kitchen is very well-equipped.
It was always the same - holidays were approaching, and I was all out of ideas of where to stay. There was that place in Laikipia that a friend had mentioned - what was it, "Ole, Ale, Ome.. something" and no amount of Google searching would bring it up. By now, all that remained on Airbnb were cramped, down-at-heel dwellings that held little appeal. Searching for hotels brought up the same tired booking sites aimed at mass tourism. What I really wanted was a quirky little place to rest up for a few days. There was a need, I felt, for a website that listed all these places - whether it's laid-back coastal spots, hotels set up for young children, or a super lodge for that large family gathering planned for next year.
I warn you - this a highly subjective list. Every place listed here passes some kind of chaotic checklist, whether it's charm, value for money, location or something a bit more unique. It's a curated list of the very best places that we think Kenya has to offer. Search by category or simply browse by destination. Many places are not listed - either because we haven't been there, or we just didn't like it that much. But those that we do like - well, have a look. We are not a booking site - we don't take any payment from any of the places listed - and we pay our own way. If we don't, then we'll tell you. But it won't make any difference to how we rate it. We are always on the road, and our list will keep on growing.
About the Author
I'm a former travel magazine editor, focused on Kenya, before which I covered news in Africa and beyond. These days, I travel with my kids.