A taste of the bush in the city

One of the great things of going to a university in London that specialises in the study of Africa and Asia was the opportunity to meet people living and working in countries outside of Europe. It’s always useful to have contacts in interesting and travel-worthy places, especially in your 20s when you’re fresh out of university, and still willing to sleep on a friend’s couch on the other side of the world because you spent all your money getting there. I say this because in February we will be hosting three of my university friends in Nairobi. They aren’t too keen to sleep on our couch though, so they’ve given me the task of finding somewhere for them to stay.

They only have one night in Nairobi, so location is really important. It has to be inexpensive, close enough to the airport, and close to some of the city’s main attractions – such as the National Park and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Somewhere in Karen would be ideal, and few places fit the bill better than the Wildebeest Eco Camp.

The camp is about 1.5km down Mokoyeti Road West, which is off Langata Road opposite the Kenol petrol station, near the Galleria Shopping Centre. When I first heard about the camp, I pictured a simple backpacker-type hostel, but I quickly discovered it has a lot more to offer. While they do accommodate shoestring travellers in a large six-bed dorm tent, there are also private en-suite garden tents, deluxe safari tents and a variety of very tasteful cottage rooms.

These are all spread out across a large, landscaped three and a half acre garden. It’s the only place in and around Nairobi I can think of – besides the tented camp in the national park – that offers such an ‘under-canvas’ experience in the city’s suburbs. It’s a unique concept, and I’m not surprised to see the camp ranked as high as number five out of 188 B&Bs/Inns in Nairobi on Tripadvisor.

Their prices are reasonable too. To pitch your own tent in the garden costs Kshs 1,000, and a dorm bed is only Kshs 1,250. Their garden tents currently range from Kshs 5,500 to 8,500 for a double, while the cottage rooms range from Kshs 6,500 to 8,500 (rack rates). The deluxe safari tents aren’t far off either, at Kshs 11,000 for a double. All these prices are inclusive of breakfast, with options of pancakes, a fruit salad, eggs how you like them, and a pot of tea or coffee.

These are all served in the camp’s restaurant and bar, raised on a wooden deck overlooking a large pond and a swimming pool. Though a bit simple, the a la carte lunch menu offers a decent range of snacks – from burgers to sandwiches, soups and salads. Guests can also choose from this menu for dinner, or sample the buffet for Kshs 1,000 – which includes a variety of Kenyan-influenced and international dishes, and is served as a group meal with other guests. The owners, Alan and Lynita, live on site with their two sons Oliver and Joel, which adds to the camp’s family atmosphere.

The wooden deck extends out from the bar and lounge, which has a pool table and a large flat screen TV with DSTV. There are plenty of things to keep children entertained in the garden, too, from swings and trampolines to foosball and table tennis tables – and even a zip line.

Another attractive element of the camp is it’s eco-friendly outlook. Solar panels and rain-collecting water tanks dot the garden, and the extensive information booklets in each room advise guests to conserve water and recycle rubbish whenever they can.

The camp also supports a number of local community projects. Proceeds from the gift shop, for example, go to local artisans as part of an initiative called the One Village Project. Over the years, the camp has also assisted in raising enough money to buy land and build a school for the Watoto Wema Children Centre, and currently supports both the Mokoyeti Brook Day Care and Youth Group. Guests are encouraged to get involved in any way possible, from donations of clothes, books and stationary to volunteering at one of the community projects.

The owners originally founded a travel company in 2006, which now operates from within the camp – offering packages across East Africa. For more information check out their website at www.wildebeesttravels.com, and for the camp check out www.wildebeestecocamp.com.

As an affordable weekend retreat that’s close to home, this tented camp in the heart of Karen’s suburbs is hard to beat. It fills a very important gap in a city with surprisingly few standout budget and mid-range options for accommodation.

Published in the Sunday Nation