In Nairobi, along the Coast and even in the national parks and reserves, there are hotels which can hold their own with any in the world. The Norfolk in Nairobi, Treetops in the forests of the Aberdares and the Mount Kenya Safari Club at Nanyuki are all internationally known. Many of the game lodges are architecturally innovative and certainly many are environmentally pleasant.
Hotels are classified and awarded a number of stars from 1 (the lowest) to 5 by the Licensing Department of the Ministry of Tourism. Hotel managers are also licensed by the same authority. The classification of hotels is an on-going process. The criteria for classification are complex but include the size and fittings in bedrooms, the extent of services, the quality of food, the available recreational facilities and the hotel’s location. Clearly, there is some difficulty in applying these criteria to game lodges and even more so to tented camps so the gradings there are less of a guide than in the case of a city hotel.
Any town hotel with a grading of 3 or more stars is satisfactory for international tourists and 1 and 2 star hotels would be in the budget bracket. On the other hand, many of the game lodges and tented camps graded with two stars are totally acceptable to the average tourist. You should seek the advice of your tour operator if in doubt.
In Nairobi, the Hilton and the Inter Continental are both represented with downtown hotels and the Grand Regency is a newly opened (1994) luxury establishment with 301 rooms situated on Uhuru Highway, overlooking Central Park. The all suite Nairobi Safari Club rivals its neighbour , the Norfolk, in terms of comfort and amenities. Also in the top bracket is the recently refurbished Nairobi Serena Hotel which ensures its place in the top six downtown hotels. Outside the city (11 km) is the multi-faceted Safari Park Hotel. It is more of a resort than a hotel. It has fine conference facilities and is set in acres of wonderfully landscaped gardens. Also, some 11 km from downtown is the Windsor Golf and Country Club a samptous establishment sporting a fine 18-hole golf course.
A grade below these top hotels are the Panafric, just outside the city centre, the New Stanley whose traditions go back nearly as far as the Norfolk’s and whose open air cafe, the Thorn Tree, is the city centre. In the same category is Utalii Hotel, eight km from the city centre, an application hotel for the Kenya Utalii College which has earned a fine reputation as Africa’s leading hotel and tourism training establishment.
The more budget conscious visitor could choose Sixeighty on Kenyatta Avenue (680 beds) or the Boulevard, a kilometre beyond the Norfolk, the Ambassadeur near the Hilton or perhaps the Jacaranda in Westlands, five km from the town centre. The Fairview is an old family hotel, set in handsome gardens and only two km from the General Post Office. One km beyond the Fairview is the Silver Springs, a favourite with Kenyans for meetings and seminars. There are many small inexpensive hotels in the capital and in towns throughput the country. Many of these are members of the Kenya Budget Hotels Association. Such hotels could be used for student or other groups whose main priority is cost.
A game lodge, sometimes called a wildlife lodge or a safari lodge, is actually a small hotel rarely exceeding 150 beds. Often these are imaginatively designed and furnished and occupy superlative sites within parks.
A tented lodge has permanent public areas but sleeping accommodation is in tents. Usually, game lodges and tneted lodges also have swimming pools. The tents in tented lodges are so close to luxurious as a tent can be made and furnished with hand crafted furniture and even in some cases with four poster beds.
Tented camps have tented public areas as well as sleeping accommodation and are generally smaller than lodges. Tents in these camps are perhaps not as spacious as in the tented lodges but are always sufficient to accommodate two full-size beds and space to walk about. In all cases bathrooms are contiguous to the sleeping tent and usually offer hot and cold running water and flush toilets.
Proprietors of tented facilities claim they have a near to nature appeal and they offer everything that a permanent establishment might offer.
Even nearer to nature are the services provided on a camping safari. These last few years have seen a significant increase in camping safaris. Many members of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators now specialise in this activity. Within the association are members belonging to a division called Tented Safari Operations.
At the upper end of this market is the luxury tented camp set up especially for a client who is perhaps bringing his family or a group of friends. Such a safari is a major logistical exercise since not only does it have to be totally self-contained but the camp has to be dismantled and set up again without inconvenience to clients. These safaris are led by very experienced guides, many of whom may have been professional hunters in the past, but who now offer their expertise and their knowledge of wildlife, ecology and the environment for the enjoyment of their clients. These luxury camping safaris travel with a complete staff down to the baker and the laundryman and are the last word in personal service. Almost certainly the camp site will be exclusive since the tented safari operator either owns or rents the sites he uses to preserve their privacy.
A notch lower, but a good deal less in price, is a camping safari which has most or all of the ingredients of a luxury safari save those which some might call lavish. This type of safari is often combined with another activity such as white-water rafting, horseback or camel trekking or perhaps even the original – on foot-trek.
Further down the scale, but cheap in any language are the economy safaris which use (typically) converted four wheel-drive lorries. The organisers take their visitors into an exciting, adventurous world, as well as a physically exhausting one! Typical of this kind of safari is the famed ‘Turkana Bus’ which leaves for the Jade Sea every Saturday and has done so without a hitch some 650 times already.
It is also possible to organise a ‘Do-it-yourself’ camping safari. Four-wheel drive cars can be hired and so can tents. Finding suitable and legal campsites presents a problem but there are camping guide books (see page 74) and the determined should not be put off for this reason.
Home Stays: although only a very small percentage of visitors are currently using home stays the number is growing and so is the number of facilities. Their distinction lies in very personal service and the change to mingle with Kenyans or Kenya residents. Many of the homes are in the highland areas of Kenya, legacies of the pre-independence settlers; very few are near the major game parks. There are several in the Coastal area. Home stays tend to be more expensive than hotels and are often built into the more expensive, individually tailored itineraries. They are rarely found in a tour operators standard offerings. However, your Kenyan tour operator can assist you with locations and reservations. Some of the good home stays are listed in Kenya’s Best Hotels, Lodges and Homestays, details of which can be found on page 74.
Self-catering: There is also an increasing number of self catering rental apartments especially at the Coast. Often assistance with cleaning and cooking is available making this type of accommodation nearer to a home stay but without the host! Whilst some of these facilities are custom-built many are holiday homes leased out when not in use by the owners. These can vary from quite simple and basic beach cottages to sophisticated villas.