If you’re stuck in Nairobi this festive season, you might think there’s not much to do in or around the city. But there is! Whether it’s a gallop through the forest that takes your fancy, or a sneaky night away near the city, but not quite in the city, then we’ve got a few ideas for you.
THE RIVER HOUSE
Walk into another world at the River House. A world away from conventional design, the River House – conceived and designed by owner Jonny Dwek – is made up of eclectic design, tiny nooks and crannies that conceal stairways, ladders, bathrooms, you name it. As Jonny says, “It’s the opposite of architecture.” This treehouse-style home was made with his kids in mind, to give them the kind of childhood he dreamed about. And it may well bring out the child in you too. Three doubles, plus a deck-style room for a child. House available only when the owners are away (which is usually over Christmas / summer). $129 per night on AirBnB.
THE RIVER COTTAGE
Next door to the house is the River cottage, a quirky little one-bedroom Hansel & Gretelstyle house next to the river, and visited by animals from pigs to dogs to chickens. Vintage armchairs surround the hearth to one side of the small kitchen, but there’s a large outdoor sitting room – again, fitted with vintage pieces and antiques – for more space during the day. Take a picnic to the river’s edge, or go for long walks in the fields adjacent to the house. Hemingways, the five-star hotel next door, is just a shortish walk away for a sunset cocktail. $50 for the cabin, book via AirBnB.
Within Nairobi National Park is this boutique lodge, run by Emma and Anthony Childs. This lodge is pretty unique in that it’s a quick 45-minute whizz from the airport (via the park), and a host of celebrities have stayed here, among them Madonna. Out here – as regular visitors to the park will know – it’s hard to imagine that Nairobi is just on the other side. The hotel has 10 spacious rooms, a pool (into which a buffalo or two has plunged), and a pretty good restaurant. Thanks to its location on the edge of the park, guests can take walks through the nearby Kitengela conservation area, or benefit from their hosts’ knowledge to find the park’s elusive rhinos. Contact the lodge for resident rates.
Right up on the boundary of the Nairobi National Park (near the Maasai Gate beyond Ongata Rongai), this rustic self-catering little cottage in the tranquil Silole Sanctuary is a great weekend getaway for families. The cottage has two main bedrooms, although kids can be squeezed into two attic rooms – accessible via a steep set of stairs, so not for very young ones – a small sitting room, and an airy and well-equipped kitchen. The owner, Will, lives just a short walk away, and is usually on site to welcome you, and take you on tours of the park (and farther afield) if you wish. The drive to the park takes a few minutes, and although you’re allowed to enter via this gate, you’ll need to pay at one of the bigger gates within the park before exiting. Ksh 10,000 per night for the whole cottage.
KITENGELA ECO COTTAGES
There are two ways of getting here – by car, or by taking the terrifying walk across a hanging bridge, suspended above a gorge with the odd crocodile or two. This is the home of Nani Croze, who has over 40 years built up a glassworks, eclectic cottages, and a menagerie of creatures, including a pet vulture. We particularly liked the pool house, sleeping 6-8 people, which has bold, colourful designs, a combination of glass, mirrors, and flamboyant bedspreads. Glass house, which as its name suggests, is a colourful collage of glassworks, sleeping two. Cecilia’s Cottage, which involves a steep climb up some rickety stairs, is perhaps the most rustic of the cottages. A pool – of course, no ordinary pool – is available. Cottages start from Ksh 6,000. Meals provided on request.
ZIPLINING AT THE FOREST
A 45-minute drive from Nairobi is the Forest, an adventure retreat that offers the longest series of ziplines in East Africa along with a wealth of other activities such as mountain biking, archery, paintballing and fly fishing. Open just over a year now, the Forest has become a hugely popular destination for those seeking a bit of adventure not too far from the city. It’s usually packed out at weekends, so head there during the week if looking for some peace. An Alpine-style cafe overlooks the Aberdares. The full zipline tour – speeding you across six ziplines – costs Ksh 2,500 per person. Open on public holidays during the festive season from 9 am to 5
HORSE-RIDING AT MALO STABLES, NAIROBI
For experienced riders, a hack in a new city can often be a disappointing experience upon broken-down, plodding horses, with a short canter thrown in. But at Malo, owner Anja du Toit has transformed the “hack” experience into something much more exciting, although you pay a hefty price for that pleasure. Anja, who also breeds warmbloods, has a collection of lively mounts, which you’ll meet at a nearby Dagoretti forest for an exhilarating ride, with enough speed for those who want it. Ksh 5,500 for an hour’s hack, and Ksh 11,000 for two hours (at weekends, minimum of two hours). Open during the holidays.
WALKING IN OLOOLUA FOREST
Less known than Karura on the other side of town, Oloolua, wedged on the edge of Karen, is nevertheless a pretty spot for a hearty walk, made more appealing by its waterfall and long caves. For the most part, the 4.5 km circular walk is under forest canopy, with the occasional glade. Run by Kenyan Museums, this forest is much quieter than Karura, and on weekdays you’re likely to be among a handful of walkers. There a couple of picnic spots, and it’s also possible to camp in the forest with prior arrangement. Ksh 200 for citizens, Ksh 400 for residents. Open on public holidays during the festive season from 9 am to 6 pm.