It was in Nanyuki where a railway map infamously vanished in the 1930s, a myth goes, bringing the process of laying the track up north to a halt.
While that legend may associate the town with debauchery and lack of promise, real estate agents and developers are telling a different story as they lead their customers to the Rift Valley town, which is also the headquarters of Laikipia County.
The town, perched on the northwest of Kenya’s tallest mountain, Mount Kenya, which is also on the leeward side, is attracting heavy investments, with land buyers seemingly interested in its promise in the hospitality space.
Nanyuki has never been short of attractiveness despite its generally dry conditions. It is currently the main airfield (airbase) of the Kenya Air Force.
The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) has a base at Nyati Barracks and conducts infantry exercises in Laikipia County and on Kenya’s Ministry of Defence land at Archer’s Post, in Samburu County.
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Nanyuki’s attractiveness as a tourist hub for visitors coming to enjoy game parks, conservancies, the equator and mountain climbing is now driving investment in hotels, resorts, homestays and vacation rentals.
Miliki Space Properties, a real estate company based in Nairobi, recently sold out 80 eighth-acre (50 by 100 feet) plots in Nanyuki in three weeks.
Samuel Macharia, the property consultant with the company, says that in future, the company will be able to sell even more, and faster.
The company has now embarked on phase two of sales of plots in the area, with 159 plots of the second batch in the offing, 20 per cent of which they have sold in one week.
What would convince investors to so hungrily go for these plots, even amid uncertainty that is making investors hold back this electioneering period?
“It is always important to invest where the government is investing,” says Macharia.
“The government has pumped Sh1.16 billion into Laikipia County for infrastructural development. There will be so many developments coming up water, roads, electricity - all the facilities that these developers need.”
In May 2022, Kenya’s cabinet approved the Laikipia County government’s request to borrow Sh1.16 billion through a domestic infrastructure bond at the stock market. This saw the county become the first since the advent of devolution to float a bond to raise money at the Nairobi Securities Exchange.
Mr Macharia says a good number of investors are buying huge tracks of land intending to go into the hospitality business. “Cottages, Airbnbs and resorts do well because Nanyuki is a tourist town,” he says. “The good hotels in the area that were set up years ago are, and have been, doing really well.”
He says that three-quarters - 75 per cent - of buyers want to buy to develop hotels and resorts. The rest are buying intending to speculate, hoping that the eighth-acre plots they are buying for Sh350,000 will give them very high returns after a few years.
“Nanyuki is a cosmopolitan town and buyers who are buying to sell in the future will make very high returns on their investment. The land here is and will always be, appreciating at a high rate,” he says.
Charity Njoki, a property strategist at Certified Homes, says the completion of the dualling of the Kenol-Marua road will be a boost to business in Nanyuki, with easier and speedier access to the mountain town.
Certified Homes have also been selling land here at a cash price of Sh349,000 or instalments totalling up to Sh399,000 for 50 by 100 feet plots.
Ms Njoki says the upgrade of the Nanyuki-Nairobi railway line, which was done in December 2020 amid much fanfare, has also opened up Nanyuki, and its immediate environs, to more people and more business.
This translates to a bigger need for accommodation.
Ms Njoki also says that many visitors seek to sight some of the other tourist attractions in the region, such as the Aberdare National Park, which is home to famous places such as Queen’s caves.
The caves were used as a hideout by some of the Mau Mau during the fight for Kenya’s independence and were later visited by the UK’s reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth and the Treetops Hotel where, in 1952, she ascended to the throne after her father’s death.
“There are other attractions here such as Lolldaiga Hills, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (in Isiolo) and Mt Kenya National Park itself,” she says.
She observes that part of the soil in Nanyuki is black cotton, which is suitable for the growth of crops such as wheat, cotton and groundnuts, agriculture is also attractive in Nanyuki. Such soil is rich in calcium carbonate, potash, lime, and magnesium carbonate.
Njoki says the presence of the British Army also boosts the town’s security.
The hotels in the town, however, remain Nanyuki’s best-selling point, and investors hope for an undisrupted electioneering period so that they can continue to invest in the hospitality industry.
“Many people are considering buying now because after elections if all goes well, the value might rise at a very fast trajectory,” says Macharia.