Kembu is a super chilled spot just north of Nakuru – all the better for the dearth of decent accommodation in this part of Kenya. The accommodation is situated on a horse breeding farm, and is an eclectic mix of wooden cottages, wagons and newer pied-à-terres.
Little has changed in the years we have visited Kembu. We visited last year when Kenya’s government limited travel for Nairobi-ites to just five counties at the height of the pandemic and so our plans – along with many others’ – to head to the coast at Easter fell through. Kembu was a lovely alternative – we headed up with some friends, and ended up not minding at all about that missed beach holiday.
Perhaps the loveliest of all of the cottages is Beryl’s Cottage, named after intrepid aviator and racehorse trainer Beryl Markham, who spent much of her childhood on the Njoro farm. It’s spacious with bags of charm, and an open-plan kitchen and seating area. Meals invariably take place on the long verandah overlooking its own private lawn.
The other cottages are also charming – although I haven’t seen in all of them – and are of varying sizes to suit their guests’ needs. Not all are as well set up as Beryl’s Cottage though in terms of cooking facilities, so it’s always worth checking that out beforehand. If you decide not to self cater, there is a convivial restaurant and bar area with its own pizza oven where campers and cottage dwellers alike can meet, or meals can be brought to where you are staying.
We had feared that our kids might find it difficult to stay on a horse farm when they couldn’t ride the horses, but just being around them seemed reward enough, and they would spend hours grooming and chatting to them at the nearby stables. We, meanwhile, took ourselves off on walks around the farm, or tried a spot of archery with the kids. There is not a huge number of things to do, but it’s a decent base for day trips, and if you’re just up there for peace and quiet, then it’s really quite perfect.
Prices (without meals included) start at $65 a night for the smaller accommodations, such as Cobb’s Carriage and the Treehouse, going up to around $165 a night for the larger cottages, sleeping four (although extra mattresses can be added).
www.kembucottages.com or Tel: +254 722 361 102
Camel trekking is a wonderful way to see Kenya – and is particularly popular in the north. Looking for a more adventurous trip to take with our kids some time ago, we headed to the Laikipia base of Karisia Walking Safaris, an outfit offering the camping “lite” experience to the full-blown luxury expeditions.
Camping – luxury? Oh yes. We started our trip at the Tumaren camp, located in the Laikipia heartlands, and our home for the night. The camp, more of a glamp, is semi-permanent with elegantly-furnished bedrooms, delicious meals and a tented living room open to the wild.
The next day, we were introduced to the camels – surly-looking creatures that deigned to give us a ride. If you’ve ridden camels before, you may agree that they are not the most comfortable mode of transport, so we alternated between camel rides and walking through the wilderness, where plains game strolled, and deadly snakes slithered across our path.
Mid-morning, we stopped for a spot of rock climbing, our young daughter proving more adept than either of her parents at scaling an apparently sheer rockface, before heading to our bush camp on a bend of a river, where we found our tents set up for us and a mess tent erected for lunch.
Elephant crossed the river during the afternoon, and we got closer on foot than we ever had in a vehicle, a viewing all the more enhanced by the solitude and peace as the only ones there.
Not a natural camper, I don’t entirely look forward to a night in a tent, associating it with uncomfortable nights on with paper-thin roll mats, or wet sleeping bags from an invisible leak, but this was quite different. Mattresses, decadently made up with copious bedding, provided a more than comfortable place to lay one’s head, and our children headed to bed with rare excitement.
While we did this trip before the pandemic, little appears to have changed. Karisia offers a full range of camping experiences from the simpler dome tents to more spacious tents. Guests have the option to stay at Tumaren base camp and head out on day trips, including visits to schools, camel creches and a baboon research centre, or take longer walking trips of up to seven days, staying at different camps. The many staff involved in these trips ensure a smooth transition at every point, with camels doubling up as pack animals on the journeys.
Prices start from around $280 per adult per night on a full-board basis for mobile safaris (minimum three nights) or $200 per night if staying at the Tumaren base camp.
Tel: 0721 836 792 or email: email@example.com www.karisia.com
The slog to and from the coast can be just that … a long slog. Particularly with children. Nevertheless, I prefer to drive over taking the plane – it’s much cheaper, for one, but it can also be an incredible road trip. We usually add one or two nights to and from Nairobi – ideally at a half-way point.
A year ago, we stayed at Kipalo Hills on our return to Nairobi. Its location close to Voi means that it isn’t quite halfway back to Nairobi, but it was surely one of the more memorable places at which we’ve stayed.
From our starting point in Kilifi, we drove north to Malindi, and then took the fast, empty and newly-tarmacked road to Sala Gate on the edge of Tsavo East. From there, it’s a beautiful drive along the Galana River to the Manyani gate on the Mombasa Road. Kipalo Hills is an approximately 40-minute drive from the gate back towards Voi.
It’s a beautiful, rugged drive to the lodge itself, which is situated on the slopes of a hill with commanding views towards the Ngulia Hills and Mbulia Conservancy. As a place to stay after a relaxed week at the coast, it was ideal. The lodge was luxurious enough to feel like we were still very much on holiday – the family tent was exceptionally spacious – and a welcoming group staying at the lodge added to the experience.
Very much part of the appeal is the swimming pool with a view, and we enjoyed our sundowner nibbles on the rockery nearby. Sadly, we didn’t take part in any activities for time was short and we wanted to hotfoot it back to Nairobi the following morning. But guests have access to both Tsavo East and West, and can also go fly camping along the Galana or Tsavo rivers.
Its rack rates are now at the higher end, but they do sometimes make special holiday season offers. Until the end of this year, full-board is Ksh 16,000 pp (low season price), sharing, or Ksh 18,000 per single. Children under six go free. From 2022, FB starts at Ksh 18,500 pp sharing, or Ksh 20,700 for a single.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel +(254) 737 199 870
Sandai positions itself as a place from which to access the eastern Aberdares, which of course it is. But it’s just as much of a destination in its own right if you’re looking for a place to chill and mingle with other guests.
The last time I made the journey, I went with a friend, leaving all but my youngest child behind. Which was perhaps just as well as we managed to get terribly lost during a drive in the Solio conservancy, a good place for spotting rhino. Getting lost with a friend and a baby is a bit of an adventure, but getting lost with children who can understand their predicament is usually frantic.
Situated in farmland to the north of Nyeri, Sandai is a sprawling, wooden farmhouse with eclectically-furnished rooms, communal dining and simple, healthy food provided by German owner, Petra Allmendinger. The farmstead consists of several rustic self-catering guest cottages, and six guest rooms, two of which are within the house itself. The biggest draw – for me – is dining together with other guests. I am hardly a social animal, but I do enjoy the experience, all too rare these days, of sitting round a table with a bunch of strangers and swapping stories.
Last time I was here, I went on a shopping spree at their wonderful carpet workshop. Petra employs and trains people living locally to make beautiful, simple and affordable rugs, and a large grey rug from Sandai is the centrepiece in our house in Nairobi. We didn’t ride this time, but many guests go riding on horses kept at the property and the surrounding farmland is good for hacks. Or take a picnic lunch into nearby Solio, and try not to get lost.
Pre-pandemic, Petra used to host yoga and painting workshops and hopefully those will be reinstated in the months to come.
In a country where the price of accommodation seems to be going up and up, prices are among the friendliest for residents, with a single on full board costing Ksh 9,000, or Ksh 16,000 for a double.
Tel: 0721656699 / Email – email@example.com
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.