A holiday, contrary to popular notions need not be an expensive affair. In fact, some of the most enduring memories are made of low-cost hacks, and Kenya is not sort of them.
From the coast to the mountains to the Great Rift Valley, it is possible to enjoy the holidays on a shoestring. Here are a few options for a family-friendly vacation.
Kamboyo Guest House
Located in Tsavo West National Park next to the park headquarters, Kamboyo Guest House is managed by Kenya Wildlife Service. It is one of over a dozen such accommodations managed by KWS within the national parks. The former warden’s house has four bedrooms; a master ensuite, a double, a twin and a single. The house comes complete with clean linen, hot water, tidy toilets and house attendants. The kitchen is equipped with a gas cooker and requisite utensils.
From here, family groups or friends travelling together can, from the balcony, view the wildlife that frequents a nearby waterhole including elephants, buffaloes, zebras, and occasionally, lions. This minimises the need to drive around the expansive park looking for animals.
Other attractions here include the famous Mzima Springs located 23 kilometres from Kamboyo House. The springs that spew out 50 million gallons of water daily are fed by an underground aquifer from the nearby Chyulu Hills. This is where famous filmmaker, Alan Roots, documented his close encounters with hippos and crocodiles in his 1983 film, Mzima-The Portrait of a Spring. However, you can view the aquatic life from an underground observatory.
Then there is Shetani Lava, the eight-kilometre-long lava flow from the Chyulus. Here, uneven chunks of solid magma go five metres deep and contain razor-sharp rocks that must be approached with care. Try your stamina by taking a hike at Chaimu Hill.
Availability: Book in advance through Kenya Wildlife Service
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Cost: Sh15,000 per night. Can accommodate eight people
At Kereita, the southern tip of the mighty Aberdares, the Forest is more than trees. Since 2017, the small clearance in this forest has been the centre of adventure. The Forest is one of Kenya Tourism Board’s Signature Experiences meant to showcase the country as an adventure hotspot.
For a start, Kereita has the longest ziplines in East Africa. The Forest is perhaps one of the best locations to engage your family in therapeutic nature walks. Then there are paintballs, archery, foot golf, mountain biking, horse-riding, and nature walks and your adventure repertoire is complete.
The kitchen at The Forest’s adventure centre curates some of the best meals served under the forest canopy. The hefty hamburgers and fries served here could as well be your menu in any high-end city eateries. The Forest is run in partnership with African Forest Lodges, and government conservation agencies such as Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service.
Availability: Open Thursday to Sunday
Costs: Sh200 entrance fee for adults and or Sh50 for students and those under 18 years payable to the Kenya Forest Service. Other costs depend on chosen activities.
This is perhaps one of the most popular family holiday destinations apart from the coast. From here, excursions can be made to Hell’s Gate National Park and Mount Longonot. Popularly known as ‘Vasha’, the region has become popular thanks to the new Safari Rally wave. The shoreline to Lake Naivasha is lined up with hotels and camping sites to suit all types of pockets. From as low as Sh2,000, it is possible to find a place to spend the night.
From the outset, this may not look like your regular holiday destination. However, Ngong Hills are among the most romanticised in the continent, partly due to the escapades of Karen Blixen and her two lovers. “I had a farm in Africa...” so starts the book, Out of Africa by the Danish writer. The hills featured prominently in her book.
Biking, archery and zip lining are key activities on the hills. However, security concerns may restrict young children from taking part in some of these activities. In any case, carry some card games to engage the young ones. While there are no accommodation facilities up the hills, Ngong town offers affordable options that include Airbnb’s.
Availability: All year round
If you happen to be in western Kenya, squeeze in a visit to the Kakamega Forest, the only remnant in Kenya of the unique Guineo-Congolian forest ecosystem and one of the key water towers in the country. The forest is partly managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service.
From the main gate, a short drive takes one to the forest offices where you are briefed on the diverse sceneries in the forest. There are more than just trees here as it is a haven to black and white colobus, Olive baboons, and the bearded De Brazza’s monkey. Are you a bird lover? The ornithological diversity draws visitors from around the world. The forest is home to more than 300 species of birds. As for the slithering creatures, Kakamega Forest boasts of 27 snake species hence the need to approach the forest with care.
A brief hike to one of the highest spots in the forest highlights another facet of the forest. Multi-coloured butterflies hop from one bloom to another – 400 species in total.
As for accommodation, Rondo Retreat, a family-themed house is the place to be. The exquisite lodge is a former sawmiller’s residence converted to a charming, overnight stopover, its vibrant white a sharp contrast with the green spaces.
Availability: All year round
Costs: Adults, Sh300; children, Sh125
Mama Ngina Waterfront, Mombasa
Mombasa has vast and varied repertoire of holiday hotspots. It is nearly impossible to single out one item from the deep bucket of activities to do in Mombasa. While the sandy beaches and Fort Jesus are a must for many, Mombasa has other attractions that are little spoken about.
One of them is Mama Ngina Waterfront, which is patterned after South Africa’s waterfront in Durban. The waterfront was refurbished at a cost of more than Sh400 million. Hey, this is a public investment that should not go to waste. Unlike the previous bland grounds, the new spaces have enhanced security, proper eateries and well-laid rest areas. This is the perfect place to take in a cool breeze from the ocean as you watch large ships head into and out of the port.
Of course, Mombasa has a vast array of accommodation to choose from, ranging from Airbnbs to budget hotels within the town or towards Mtwapa. Here, your pocket determines where you can stay.