A Quick few notes on Kenya: November 2010
A quick few Kenya notes: October/November 2010
For the full story of our travels, you’re welcome to have a look at the Blog on www.pictureafrica.org or PictureAfrica.org. The purpose of this thread is to mention the places we stayed in Kenya, how much we paid and how we found it. I’ll also mention the annoyances of the country to hopefully prepare future travellers a little better.
Kenya Roads and Money Matters.
We were told to expect the worst roads you can imagine in Kenya. The main roads however were fairly new tar; the secondary roads were very potholed and really not fun to drive at all! The dirt roads varied from nice smooth and fast going to horribly corrugated and chassis breaking. Nothing different to any other country in Africa then…
At time of writing the exchange rate was about Khs80 to 1US$. Stanbic ATM’s had the highest transaction limit at Khs40 000 per transaction. Apart from National Parks we did not need any US$, but there are plenty of places to change money. Diesel, at the time of writing was around Khs85 per litre.
Nakumat is the name of a big supermarket chain. We found them expensive and made the effort to ask the local expats where they shopped. That saved us a heap of money.
Entry from Uganda at Malaba Border post.
Our plan was originally to go from Sipi in Uganda to the Suam Border north of Mt Elgon. We struggled through mud and rain to within 12km front hat border to find that a land slide not only took the road out, but also buried two villages. We did meet someone later on who managed that road three weeks before us, but took four days, paid a fortune to locals to help recover him and contracted Malaria from sleeping in the car and not under mosquito netting. So yeh, not really worth it.
Malaba Border post, for all the horror stories took us 25 minutes to cross. From Uganda you take a “Car Chanel” bypassing all the trucks. On Kenya side we paid $25 for UK passport 90 day visa and free for 30 days of South African passport. 30 days is NOT enough for Kenya and it is a ball ache to extend the visa in Nairobi, so get the 90 day from the start. I would probably not advise using this border if you’re coming from Kenya as the line of trucks are about 12km long and there is no easy way to pass them. For Bikes it would be easy.
Delta Crescent Camp (N1 02.097 E34 50.691)
It’s not on T4A. This must be one of the strangest places we had ever stayed! The owner introduces himself as Cpt. Davies and insists on telling you his life story. He advertises that he is 5km from the Mt Elgon NP gate when he is in fact 9km away, but who’s counting…. In the area it is the most suitable place to camp, but their pricing system pissed me off a little. He quoted a camping price and when it came time to pay they charged us an entrance fee and a vehicle fee as well. The total added up to around $15 for two people with one car. We were the only people there. The camp site itself has a thick carpet of perfect lawn, pit toilets and hot water showers from wood burning boiler. It’s hard to recommend the place as I saw the fee and advertising as slightly dishonest. However, for camping your only other choice is in the National Park at $20 per person. We did visit the park, drove the car to about 13 000ft above sea level and hiked to the summit. It was a very adventurous day and should probably not be done in the wet season.
Naiberi Camp (T4A N0 26.869 E35 25.342)
Anyone visiting the Eldoret area that does not stay at Naiberi missed out big time! The colourful owner, Raj, has no less than 7 dogs that come for a nightly visit to the bar. The massive, cave like restaurant and bar is fantastic and the food is excellent! Raj will engage you in heavy drinking, but usually on his own account, so don’t be shy. The camp site itself is really well planned with Bandas at every parking point. Although it covers a small area, they have managed to create a sense of privacy with hedges and walkways. The facilities are good with flush loos and hot showers, a sparkling swimming pool and extensive gardens to get lost in. The staff is magically friendly and the fee of $15 for a couple per night is well worth it! Raj is also a director in a company called Ken-Knit which amongst other impressive things make most of Kenya’s Masai blankets. We paid half of the average street price from them there. On top of everything else, Raj knows every soul in Eldoret, so getting maintenance done or things fix is very easy and very cheap. You will find it hard to spend less than three nights there.
Tea Hotel (T4A S0 21.968 E35 17.493)
What can I say…? This completely out of place converted Manor house was nothing more than a stop over for us. Their camp site was neglected and basic with facilities a few hundred meters away at the swimming pool. Those facilities were however clean and functioning, so I guess OK. The fee was almost $10 each which is expensive for Kenya. The guidebooks paint pictures of crystal clear trout streams and idyllic walks through tea plantations. The staff looked at me as if I was mad when I asked about these. The reason for the successful tea growing is the sheer amount of rain they get on a daily basis, so if you’re not geared from that, best move on.
Jungle Junction (T4A S1 17.327 E36 45.636)
I don’t think there is a lot I can say about JJ’s that has not been said before. It has become an absolute must for every overland traveller passing through Kenya and Nairobi. Chris, the owner is a phenomenal man with knowledge and contacts to get anything and everything done well and efficiently. The free Wifi in the camp site is the fastest you’ll experience in Africa. The fee for us with a 4x4 was $15 a night. The facilities are well kept, clean neat and maintained. The house becomes a fantastic place to hang out and chill on a sofa after months of camping and they even offer a dorm and rooms for those who don’t like the garden camping. There is seriously no need to even consider any other accommodation in Nairobi, but be aware: You can check out any time, but you’ll rarely leave on time. It is very easy to hang out for a week or two and do nothing.
Groga Castle Lodge (T4A S3 26.970 E37 44.394)
We had the wrong co-ords for the Red Elephant and ended up in the completely wrong area at the end of a long day. The only accommodation close by was this place, which is a castle on a massive hill that towers up out of the massive plains of Tsavo on the border to Tanzania. They were still renovation and the manager was away. The man in charge gave us the phone number of the owner, Vicky. One short conversation later she said that we were most welcome to pitch our tent in their car park, but also kindly offered us a room in the lodge. We explained this to the caretaker who disappeared off to get a key. By the time he came back we had received a phone call from Vicky telling us that we had to pay $100 for this room in an incomplete hotel which could not provide meals or drinks. We eventually reluctantly agreed on a fee of $25 to camp… with zero facilities. To be honest, the place was a dump and I had the feel of the rich owner’s private playground. My advice would be to try your best to avoid it.
Red Elephant (S3 22.260 E38 35.651)
IT IS NOT AT S3 23.774 E37 50.277 as per T4A! It is just outside the town of Voi and right by the Voi gate to Tsavo East National Park. Although they do offer camping at $10 a person a night, they don’t really have a camp site per say. They give you a key to a room for facilities which are lodge or hotel standard. You pitch your tent next to a swimming pool which is really welcome in the intense heat of the place. The staff was friendly and welcoming with their biggest asset being the Askaris who come and call you when animals go to the water hole on the other side of the lodge. It’s conveniently located for a stop over between Nairobi and Mombasa. There are other lodges in the area who also offer camping, but we did not investigate them.
Edelweiss (S3 53.780 E39 47.258)
German owned this house with massive gardens and huge welcoming swimming pool is about 30km north of Mombasa. The facilities are good and people and dogs friendly. It is within walking distance of a beach that is not really worth going to. The beach is made of coral and the beach boys relentless! You can’t really swim in the ocean and the pool in the garden is so nice that there is really no point to move. The house is however on the edge of the village which makes it horribly noisy on weekends with those 24 hour African discos. The owner, Ulli has a well equipped workshop, offers storage from vehicles and seems to have his finger on the pulse of what travellers need. The fee was less than $10 a night which makes it a place well worth a visit.
Kitspu Cottage (S3 18.112 E39 59.841)
Close to Watamu this is definitely the pick of the bunch! It is strangely located right next to the main road, which strangely became very quiet after dark, so there was no disturbance from that at all. The friendly manager is also the bar man and the prices are more than fair! The camp site is no good for Roof Top Tents, but for backpackers and ground tents it is fantastically located in a small forest behind some rooms. The rooms were charged at $30 a night which seemed fair, but we pitched the RTT in the car park for just less than $10. The most worthwhile sight nearby is the Gede Ruins, but Watamu as a town is really not worth the effort.
Yumbe House (S2 15.983 E40 54.046)
This old Swahili house on Lamu Island is a fantastic place to stay! En suite rooms with good facilities were $25 a night. We did negotiate the “Resident rate”. Lamu old town is a mini version of Zanzibar with less people, more donkeys and slightly less tourism. You really don’t need to look any further that Yumbe for suitable accommodation.
The road from Malindi to the ferry dock becomes worse and worse until you arrive. It should take about four hours from Malindi though. There are many police road blocks and one friendly officer may engage you in conversation for a while. We had the idea that he was bored. There is man, Mohamed that has built shaded parking at the port and charged us $4 a day to look after our car. To get to the island you can just hang around the dock until the first person offers you a speed boat for Khs100 a person. ($1.10) It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the Lamu port where another tout will offer to take you to your accommodation. It’s much easier to just let them, as it is a free service. The same person will try and sell you other activities as well, which is where they make their money. The town tour is simply not worth the money! It is the exact tour that is described in the Lonely Planet and the people are friendly and accommodating and not camera shy. There is no need for a guide there.
The good old Lonely Planet will talk about Dhow trips from Lamu for Khs500 a person. They are slightly outdated as the rate in October 2010 was Ksh 2 500 each. (About $30) It is a full day trip with includes snorkelling on a shallow reef, fresh grilled fish on an island with white sandy beaches and a few hours sailing and it is well worth it.
There is no point in taking your own food to Lamu as the restaurants are cheap and cheerful with the best seafood you can imagine! However… There is little to no alcohol on the island and what there is is very expensive. We were told about a bottle store close to the police station after we had left the island, but my advice would be to import your own.
Mombasa Backpackers (S4 01.217 E39 43.470)
We reached this bizarre establishment from Lamu in about 6 hours. They have some posters around advertising where they are and what they offer. We found it by accident as the only sign around was the huge “For sale” sign on the gate. The two young entrepreneurs who run the place were renting off the owners at the time and we were not entirely sure that the owners knew what they had turned it into. The mansion has a small lawn in front for camping, but for roof top tents, you’re stuck in the car park again. The fee was an attractive $9 for the two of us. The toilets were great and clean but the showers were salt water, and so was the water that came out of the kitchen taps. They had no less than 4 Askaris at night which was probably there to warn them before the police raids came. There were no less than 8 people skinning up on the good old green stuff around the bar counter and two more passed out on the living room floor by 8PM… They are, according to the owner, a ten minute walk from a really nice beach, but we never investigated. In all fairness, we had a peaceful and relaxing stay fro one night.
In Mombasa we did a guided tour of Fort Jesus and Old Town which was pricey ($25 for two) but well worth it!
Masinga Dam resort (T4A, but the camp site is at S0 53.458 E37 35.636)
This was another stop over point which was in the perfect area, but not worth going out of your way for. The camping fee was $10 each, the facilities good and the security also good. The offer safari tents and lodge accommodation where you are not allowed to bring your own food, but we cooked in the camp site without anyone giving us hassle.
Timau River Lodge (T4A N0 05.132 E37 15.186)
We drove around Mt Kenya from Masinga Dam and were heading for Kentrout for some fishing. We eventually found it at N0 04.016 E37 15.017 and not where T4A had it marked. The place was deserted, offered no fishing and although theoretically you could camp there, we did not see any facilities. Timau on the other hand was FANTASTIC! Family run with intriguing log cabins, big private and shady camp sites and rustic but functioning facilities, it suited our needs perfectly. They had a nice restaurant and bar overlooking a small waterfall and a really pleasant atmosphere. We stayed for only one night, but it would be easy to chill out there for a day or two extra.
Mara Aruba Camp (S1 26.445 E35 12.468)
This is right outside Talek Gate to the Masai Mara. The price was a shade more than $10 for two people, making it one of the cheapest places we had stayed. They offer Safari tents and a nice restaurant, but food and was definitely priced for lodge guests and not campers. The lodge is right on the river and sitting outside the restaurant you often see animals coming to drink. The camp site is however removed from the river. The facilities were basic but clean and nice. The Askaris know the animals and their movements well and can advise you on where to drive and what to expect. They will also act as guides, for a fee, but if you have an extra seat in your car, it’s probably worth it.
The Masai Mara and the Migration.
Every person you speak to will tell you a different story on current affairs. Our fist visit to the Mara was the first week of October and we were told that the migration was over. Our second visit was a month later and there were still mega herds around crossing the Mara River by Serena point. I’m sure the crossing points change slightly every year, but the biggest one, as per the National Geographic video footage we have all seen is at S1 22.782 E35 00.508. The tracks in the reserve change every season, but you can just point your nose in the general direction and you’ll eventually find it. There is one other important river crossing point at S1 24.311 E35 06.198 just past a runway. It was not really possible to cross that river with a car anywhere else.
Carnelly’s Camp (T4A S0 49.579 E36 20.263)
Probably the pick of the bunch by Lake Naivasha. The cost was $12 for the two of us and the place was idyllic! Camping was on the huge lawn with massive fever trees shading the whole site. The interesting and inviting bar had fairly inflated prices, but was worth a look. Take your own booze to the camp site though. They had flush toilets and the hottest, nicest and most incredible showers we had experienced in all Africa! The offered boat rides at quite a hefty rate and can recommend where to buy fishing permits of you wanted to. They are right next to Fisherman’s Camp, an old favourite and owned by one of the original Fisherman’s Camp brothers.
Backpackers Camp site (T4A S0 19.015 E36 05.045)
This is inside the Lake Nakuru National Park. It rates as one of Kenya’s premium parks and therefore the most expensive. 24 hour entry was $60 per person, $5 for the car and $20 per person for camping. OUCH!!!! We were the only people to stay there and they had glacier cold showers and flush toilets. The camp is right by the park gate and pretty and comfortable and offers the closest proximity to the Flamingo flocks for an early morning photo session.
Bogoria Spa (N0 21.305 E36 03.126)
Bizarre looking colonial type country hotel with 25m long swimming pool. Their camping was Ksh 2 000 ($24) for the two of us and felt like quite a rip off. That does give you access to the natural hot water spring which is dammed into a tiled swimming pool. They had showers fed from the natural hot spring and clean and nice flush toilets. The ablutions actually belonged to the swimming pool, but camping was only a dozen meters away. It is the closest place to stay outside the Bogoria reserve, but I would seriously recommend paying the entrance money and staying at the Fig Tree Campsite (N0 11.545 E36 07.371) with long drop toilets and a fresh water stream to wash in.
Robert’s Camp (T4A N0 36.730 E36 01.413)
Arguably the pick of the lot at Lake Baringo. We paid $6 for the two of us to camp. The camp site is huge and shady and they have clean long drop toilets and showers that are hot in the middle of the day due to sun baking piping. They have Crocodiles and Hippos wandering through camp, so ask the watchmen where to set up your tent. They also do a boat transfer to Island Camp which includes a buffet lunch and a swim in an infinity pool for about $20 per person. We did not do it in favour of feeding fish eagles for a little more money and regretted it.
Kogoni Camp (N0 01.253 E37 05.458)
We met up with a friend in Nanyuki and his company rented a block of rooms in the lodge. We asked the owner about camping which was possible at Ksh 500 ($6) per person. There were no facilities for camping, but you could use the toilets in the really nice restaurant. We ended up staying in a room rented by our friend’s company, so I don’t know the rate. We inspected the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel and the Nanyuki River camp and neither of them was nice at all. A little further south out of town the Mt Kenya Leisure Lodge and Camping (T4A S0 10.885 E37 05.400) was recommended to us, but we did not stay there.
El Kharama Ranch (T4A N0 12.366 E36 54.244)
Right… they try very hard to discourage camping and charge $100 for their campsite. I think that is for the whole site, so if the group is sizeable it may be worth it. It also includes a night watchman. They also have Banda’s on the river for Ksh 4 500 ($55) per person. We fortunately arrived when they were closed and managed to negotiate a very small fee for abusing their hospitality. The place was really nice and offered the cheapest beds in the area, but hardly catered for the independent traveller. It only took an hour to drive there from Nanyuki, so you’d be better off staying in town for cheaper and leaving an hour earlier.
Maralal Safari Lodge (T4A N1 04.804 E36 41.322)
The famous Yare Camel Club is no more…. Rumour has it that they did not pay their taxes and that the town council closed them down. The only other camping we could find was at the Safari Lodge. They charged us Ksh 500 ($6) per couple. They also don’t really have a camp site, but you can park by the swimming pool, use the toilets at reception and jumps in the cold water if you feel the need to get clean.
Lekuka Campsite (T4A N2 05.760 E36 54.926)
It was described as having basic facilities and that was just what it had. There was a simple shower in a tin shed and a hole in the ground with a concrete floor in the next field. It all worked and was clean though. We paid Ksh 300 per tent ($3.60) for the night. The drunk owner wanted to charge us more for a guard but we refused. Privacy is NOT possible here as the camp site is not fenced and you will be the most interesting show in town. It is perfectly safe though. As we drove out the next morning we saw another sigh for another camp site around N2 06.275 E36 55.359 which would have been worth investigating. We were the first guest in 11 months to camp there.
Palm Shade Camp (T4A N2 45.385 E36 43.258)
Absolutely fantastic oasis in a very harsh area. We parked right on a thick grassy lawn in the shade of some huge trees. The fee was $12 per couple but the facilities were good. Clean long drop toilets and mineral water showers. You can drink straight from the taps and fill your tanks. The owner is a fantastic man and the is cheap! Beware of people offering to sell you fish or bread. It’s a scam to get money out of you and disappear with it. It was also insanely windy when we were there. Parking as far away from the palm trees as possible is the best way to get some sleep.
Sibiloy NP Korso gate (N3 39.413 E36 18.922)
OK, Park fees are $20 per person and they charge another $15 per person for camping. We somehow convinced the gate guard to let us camp at the gate (Not official camp site) for no charge. There is water tank and hole in the ground for a toilet and we managed to sneak our vehicles in behind the buildings for some shelter from the insane wind that never stopped. There was no obvious safe place to bush camp close by, but on the road between Moite and joining the main North Horr road you would be able to.
Illiret Catholic Mission (N4 18.738 E36 13.651)
Step one as you get into town is to meet Charles, the very impressive, friendly and nice police chief. You can free camp at the police station with no facilities or camp at the Catholic Mission for Ksh 500 ($6) per couple. Parking was on the top of a hill overlooking the traditional and poor community village and the lake. Once again, you will be the hottest news in town, so don’t expect to be left alone. The mission boasted showers and flush toilets and had a lounge we hid in until the sun went down. The wind was relentless but completely died down once it was dark and the children also left after sunset. Robert, the manager came to socialize and told us long sad stories about poor children with no money. When we paid the agreed fee the next morning he was visibly upset.
Places we did not stay:
Sikh Temple (S2 16.953 E37 49.312)
We did not stay here, but were told that you can have a room in this temple free of charge. They appreciate a suitable donation. It is half way between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Mt Kenya Leisure Lodge and Camping (T4A S0 10.885 E37 05.400)
We also did not stay here, but were told that it offered the best view of Mt Kenya and it was recommended. Saying that, we spent two days in the area and saw nothing but a big black cloud in the area the mountain was supposed to be.
Thanks for the posting
Just came across your terrific posting while searching for recco's on a place to stay in Mombasa while waiting on my container to arrive. Can't believe nobody has thanked you for providing such a detailed posting - so wanted to be the first. The info is much appreciated and will be of great benefit as I cross Kenya.
Hubb is a strange site - lots of lookers, few responders ...
I'd also like to thank you for the post. Lots of helpful info including the visa's (as Im also travelling on SA & UK passports).
Thanks from me too!
Me too! Just came across it now seeing as it was bumped. Wonderful, detailed info - will make a big difference to us once we finally get to Kenya on our overland trip.
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