Lockdown dashed our plans to stay at Kinondo Kwetu on Kenya’s south coast last Easter. I was gutted to cancel. It had never been on our watchlist, but visiting friends from South Africa invited us to join them there, and as I read up on the lodge, I relished the possibility more and more.
But surely it would cost an arm and a leg, I realised, as I looked at their rates. But to our surprise, they had a stand-alone house, the residence of the Swedish owners when in the country, at a fraction of the cost of the main hotel. At that time, it was Ksh 24,000 a night, a steal when compared to other coastal villas. (Sadly, that rate is no longer available, and it now costs Ksh 44,000 a night.)
We finally rebooked it for December, and packed our car and kids for the long drive down to Kinondo, which sits round the headland from Galu beach. As the manager reeled off the list of activities we could do – from horse riding along the beach to morning yoga to tennis on a floodlit court – I found myself wondering when we would get any downtime.
But downtime we got – in this lovely, lovely lodge right on the beach, the rooms, dining areas and pool spread out over the huge property. Although the lodge was full when we stayed, it is pretty small in terms of beds and never felt busy. There was enough room to barely make eye contact with the other guests, even when it seemed we spent hours in the pool, a large chunk of it pleading with our seven-year-old to get out NOW.
We haven’t done a whole lot of beachfront activities with our kids on previous holidays – when I arrive at the coast, an apathy steals over me, and I rarely raise my eyes from my book. This time, I took my eldest daughter for her first “free” canter along the beach, waded our horses into deepish waters and played an uninspiring game of tennis with my middle child. The highlight was a roughly 90-minute sail in a galowa, a traditional trimaran from Tanzania, where the kids were towed along. “What’s the word for when you’re both excited and scared?” asked Rosie, my eldest. “Thrilled?” I suggested. After that, everything was thrilling.
Although we had planned to exclusively self cater (well, we did for our kids), we couldn’t resist a grown-up dinner in the hotel, with one night becoming two and so on. Indeed, the food was some of the best I’ve encountered on the coast.
Would we go back? If the price was right, yes. But I fear we may be priced out in future, as travelling with children comes with a hefty additional price tag. But it was fabulous, and I recommend it to those looking to splurge in a place that’s actually worthy of the cost.
FB rates vary from 20,500 pp per night for the cottages to 52,500 pp per night for a larger cottage or superior room. The Alex House costs Ksh 44,000 per night with a mandatory full-board supplement of Ksh 6,500 per adult and Ksh 4,500 per child.
Tel: 0710 898 030
We like driving to the coast – driving back, not so much. Leaving Nairobi, we’re filled with anticipation, our car is fairly clean, and the kids haven’t yet broken out into World War Three. The return journey is a different story – a sand-filled car, food that’s starting to smell, and some seriously disgruntled kids.
While we did hit it straight in our childless days, experience has taught us that a well-timed break makes the journey a little easier to endure, and we have taken some interesting detours off road that make it an adventure in its own right.
Time, on this occasion, was short, however, and we decided to take the journey as directly as possible. There are a few options for overnighting on the route (Kamboyo in Tsavo West – lovely, but self-catering; Nyika Bird Sanctuary – inexpensive with rustic charm, and again self-catering; Voi Wildlife Lodge – big, lacking in soul; Hunters Lodge – a bit too close to Nairobi on the route down with unimpressive food).
This time, we settled on Ngutuni Lodge. It’s a big, rambling lodge, built in the old double-decker style overlooking a watering hole in a private conservancy. In dry season, you might see herds of elephant – but in the wet season, the pickings are slimmer.
Since our last visit, the hotel has been much improved with the addition of a swimming pool, for it was blisteringly hot as we clambered hot and dusty out of car. The rooms are fine and have their own private verandahs, facing, too, towards the watering hole. What it lacks is a central living room area, with the large dining room and platform over the watering hole doubling up as an area for relaxation.
The hotel has been built with tour groups in mind, one suspects, and in pre-Covid times would have played host to safari-goers from overseas. But this time it was quiet, probably for the best when in a moment of desperation we allowed our three children to huddle behind their devices over an early (and quite tasty) dinner.
Non-stop, it takes around between five to six hours to reach the lodge from Nairobi, and is a handy stop-off for both the north and south coast. Cost-wise, it doesn’t break the bank – for a family of five, we paid 22,000 Ksh for B&B.
Tel: 0733 311 141 (for the main office in Mombasa)
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.