Kamboyo Guest House, Tsavo West
I don’t like to think of myself as someone who can only stay in luxury places. After all, as a gap year traveller in India, I saw my share of manky mattresses speckled with blood – presumably from bedbugs – and worse. Sometimes I was lucky to have a bed at all. As I have got older, my expectations have risen, but sadly I don’t have the salary to match my now-exacting standards. So I’m perpetually on the hunt for lovely and quirky places that don’t break the bank. Of which Kamboyo Guest House is one.
The Kenya Wildlife Service has a variety of accommodation, varying quite substantially in standard, probably dependent on the tourism traffic it receives. In Rumo, for instance, a little-visited national park in Western Kenya, the house is so dingy and run-down that I’d have to be pretty desperate to stay there. But I was very pleasantly surprised when we decided to stay at Kamboyo (sometimes called Komboyo), a former warden’s home, in Tsavo West.
First off, its location. It boasts its very own watering hole, frequented by large and small game alike. Secondly, it is airy and spacious with four bedrooms, sleeping nine, and has a remarkably inviting dining / sitting area with log fires in the evening. Another bonus, in my view, is that it’s just 10 minutes from the Mtito Andei gate, so after a long drive there isn’t much further to go.
We have stayed here on several occasions in the past few years, most recently last month on the way back from the coast. It has its downsides – the mosquito nets and frames are flimsy and barely fit for purpose; its kitchen is a little difficult to work with thanks to a lack of small pots and a fridge that doesn’t close; and at certain times of year, the insects can be a nuisance.
But it’s terrific value for money – Ksh 15,000 a night, easily sleeping two families – and has a very convivial communal area and is a superb sundowner spot in its own right. Book through KWS reservations.
Tel: 0726 610 533
Ngutuni Lodge, Voi
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)
Kipalo Hills, Mbulia Conservancy
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
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.