The overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa is one of the world’s classic rail journeys as well as a rare colonial gem.
An old diesel pulls out of both stations simultaneously at 7pm and dinner is served immediately — the waiters trying not to spatter soup on their tunics, or you. The rattling of the carriage rocked me to sleep immediately, but make sure you wake early for sunset to see animals on the savannah if you’re coming up to Nairobi or the Manugu plains as you descend to the coast and Mombasa.
After the cool of Nairobi and the highlands, when you disembark in humid, tropical Mombasa it feels like you’ve arrived in a different country.
Most backpackers in east Africa want to bag Kilimanjaro, so Mount Kenya feels more off the beaten path, and is cheaper to climb too.
As it’s on the equator but rises to 5,199m in effect you go through several climate zones in a couple of days and see plants straight out of Day of the Triffids that only exist here, like the “water-holding cabbage”. From the top you can see for miles over much of Kenya. Take all your hiking gear with you as it can be hard to find there and take plenty of warm clothes and a good sleeping bag — it’s freezing at night.
To stay for a couple of nights for a fairly cheap price, I don’t think you can do much better than the Heron Court Hotel. Anything cheaper seems to be a bit nasty, and there is quite a jump up in price to the Norfolk/Stanley etc.
Many of the travel companies booking the resorts south of Mombasa will offer you a couple of nights in a 'Treehouse'.
Mostly tiny, with two or three individual cabins scattered on a hillside, butler service, river-water jacuzzis heated by sustainable wood fires, roving elephants nearby, and four-poster-beds that can be wheeled out to sleep under the stars (with mosquito nets, of course), these are worth looking at if you're going on honeymoon, or celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Or just feeling a bit decadent.
The Sable Treehouses in the Shimba Range of Hills were particularly lovely.
Remembering enough foreign currency to get in to the country is important.
Arriving at Mombasa after an 11-hour flight and then realising you've neglected to bring enough cash (70USD, or about £40) to get past immigration can be a slightly fraught beginning to a holiday, particularly on a Sunday, and when the cash machines in the airport are broken.
Trust me, make sure you know what the tourist immigration fee will be and that you have enough spare cash on you for this.
As an alternative to bumping around in a dusty van pointing at distant dik-dik, Pinewood Village is a very very quiet, friendly hotel at Galu Beach, down a bumpy road south of the much busier Diani Resorts.
One of the main attractions (apart from the lack of forced activities, relaxation and friendliness of the atmosphere) is the stretch of beach stretching away from the hotel, pure white and, apparently unusual for the area, somewhere you won't get harassed by beach boys - who'll simply introduce themselves on the first day, point out where their shop is and ask you how long you're staying.
Found it through Trip Advisor where it was highly recommended for a very quiet, peaceful break.
The Serena's burgers are to die for - and you get to eat them sitting by their pool in their beautiful grounds. If anyone can work out the secret ingredient please, please post it on Been there.
Kenyatta Avenue/Processional Way - central Nairobi
Tel: +254 20 282 2000
Tented rooms with private pools and amazing views over the Rift valley. Walking with local guides, canoeing and night drives. Lots of game and no other vehicles around. And revenues are shared with the local villages.
A thirty-minute private charter flight from Nairobi
Persuade a taxi driver to take you up into the Ngong Hills. The view over the Rift Valley is exactly as it should be - stupendous. The land simply drops away and the sight of the vast valley made me feel as though I was on the edge of the world.
On the way you can take in the tranquil house of Karen Blixen (Out of Africa).
A truly unspoilt island in the Lamu archipelago. Relax on the white beaches, doze in a hammock or drink sundowners in the bar before a dinner of rock oysters and lobster. If that sounds too supine, you can take a walking safari over the sand dunes.
About an hour south of Mombasa is Diani beach, with the usual white sand, clear water and palm trees.
Forty Thieves bar/restaurant is a popular haunt that opens right on to the beach and at night is an amazing place to sit and watch the ocean.
Food is good, particularly the crab. There is music later in the evenings and a pool table but there are quiet corners and comfy sofas to sit back on and enjoy where you are. Locals and tourists alike go there which tells you something.
About an hour from Mombasa, this community- owned sanctuary has one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa.
Tourism is still developing here so you won't meet hordes of vehicles on your game drives. At the main gate you can also make and buy elephant dung paper. Traveller's Camp has just been refurbished and affords some spectacular views. A truly beautiful place.
Sad to hear from one reader that Lamu is 'a tip'. It was a long time ago, but I spent ten weeks there (out of five months in Africa) in the winter of '88-'89 and it was incredible.
I rented a house called Daramani in the old town - located down a maze of alleys, with an incredible carved wooden door and steps up to a roof terrace with views of the town and the ocean. One of those places that you wouldn't know was there.
Daily walks to the beach at Shela and the terrace of the Peponi hotel were wonderful, evenings spent at Petley's bar in town, or one of the many restaurants. You got there by bus on a dirt road from Malindi - I hear they have paved it since - followed by a dhow trip across the channel, although there were very expensive flights to a nearby island which only weekend visitors really used. Getting there, which took most of a day from Mombasa, was half the fun.
I also spent an evening at another rented house called Dareni, which was one of the most beautiful places I saw there. Definitely check to see if either of these places are still available for rent - it's worth it if you are staying a while. However, if the town has become an eyesore that is very sad indeed.
Lewa is a large private conservancy in the north of Kenya. It was once a cattle ranch, then a black rhino conservancy and is now a more wide ranging (non-profit) wildlife conservancy which is also spreading the conservancy message to the communities surrounding the park. One of these communities is where the BBC's Mission Africa was filmed.
Lewa cannot compete with the Masai Mara in terms of wildlife but does have large numbers of black rhino and lots of other animals, including the cats. They also have huge numbers of birds.
The guides are fantastic and very committed and, because the park is large but has limited guests, the predators (in particular) are left to get on with their lives without 30 Land Rovers filled with people with huge cameras watching their every move.
We loved every minute of our time at Lewa and missed the silence and feeling of being alone in the landscape when we moved from there to the Masai Mara. I cannot recommend it enough.
Lewa's site is www.lewa.org which includes all the information you need.
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