Two hours’ drive from Nairobi is the sleepy little town of Gilgil. Tucked away behind the town are some lovely little homestays, chalets and camping spots. It’s also a good base for exploring the Aberdares, Lake Elmenteita, or for exploring the river walks and gorges in the area, as well as the Gilgil War Cemetery. It is very doable on public transport.
MALEWA BUSH VENTURES
This lush retreat about eight kilometres east of Gilgil offers a host of activities, including team-building activities (such as high wires, and assault course-style obstacles), a peaceful and green camping spot, and two self-catering cottages (catering provided on request). Campers, charged from Ksh 850, can make use of the permanent kitchen and sitting area for a fee, and the site is a great base for gorge walks. Ring ahead, however, as it can get booked up by groups at weekends. A short walk from the campsite is the Canvas cottage, a two-storey structure with downstairs living area, a double and dorm-style room, as well as a self-standing cottage bedroom a few feet away. It can sleep up to 13 at a push. About a kilometre up the river is a quirky thatched rondavel, known as Kanini House, perched above the paddle-friendly river. It’s pretty compact, and not ideal for small children, given the steep stairs, and the drop to the river below. Both cottages start from Ksh 3,500 for the first person, and Ksh 1,000 pp thereafter; Contact via Airbnb or email@example.com
You don’t have to stop at a top-end lodge to get close to Lake Elmenteita (although that’s certainly an option). The soda lake is a short drive from Gilgil town, accessible via several dirt roads that bring you right down to the lakeshore. It’s a beautiful and easy spot from which to watch the flamingos, as well as a plethora of other bird life, and we suggest just taking a walk along the shore to get a sense of this serene, and much underrated, lake. If you’ve the time and interest, consider a stop at Kariandusi Prehistoric Site a few kilometres north of Gilgil. Discovered in the 1920s by Louis Leakey, it’s a rich find of prehistoric tools.
This mostly caters to residents of the area, but it’s possible to pay a day membership fee of Ksh 500 to use its facilities, including tennis courts and a golf course (both charged extra). The golf course makes for some lovely walking, and the club holds several club nights, including a pizza night on Thursdays, dinner on Fridays, and a Sunday buffet lunch. There are also some fairly basic cottages available for overnight stays, with breakfast provided. Contact Christine on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange day membership.
It’s tough finding good nosh in Gilgil, but this little cafe as you enter the town does some pretty tasty food and service is pretty quick. It has a slightly dingy indoor eating area, but a pleasant enough, trellised veranda outside. Expect fare such as fish, stew, and fried chicken. Another place worth checking out is the strip of nyama choma joints on the left-hand side of the road as you exit Gilgil towards Nakuru (and also an entry point for going down to the lake).
Hosted by Nann Barratt, this is a foodies’ delight. Both Nann and her daughter, Sharon, are Cordon Bleu chefs, and guests are treated to gourmet meals, whipped up in one of the best equipped kitchens in Kenya. Nann uses vegetables sourced from her enormous vegetable garden, including horseradish and curry leaves. The house itself is a long, colonial-era bungalow with two airy en suite bedrooms in the main house, and a third small cottage. Guests have use of the expansive garden, as well as acres of walking to explore. Ksh 18,000 for a double, full-board. B&B rates available. Call 050 50185 or 0722 376195.
These two studio chalets are situated across the road from River House, and guests are allowed to roam the River House gardens and walks. Both chalets are fairly simple with a sitting room and kitchen, and two upstairs’ bedrooms. Ideal particularly for a couple, or a couple with kids. We preferred the second of the two chalets, described as the Chalet at River House, for its open-plan kitchen and sitting room, and more comfortable living area. Ksh 3,500 for the whole chalet per one person staying, and Ksh 1,000 pp thereafter. Contact via Airbnb.
This newish property is a more luxurious offering for Gilgil. Accommodation is in extremely spacious, partially-canvas structures with wooden flooring, white linen-dressed beds, sparkling bathrooms, and small balconies with hill views. The main reception has a bar, small restaurant, and a large upstairs lounge area equipped with TVs and leather seating. Families or friends can take the adjoining double tent with its own outdoor bath / plunge pool. A pool is under construction, and quad bikes are being purchased. B&B starts from Ksh 6,725 pp sharing. www.kikalodge.co.ke