The Emakoko is a luxury safari lodge on the south side of Nairobi National Park.
The Emakoko: Our full report
A new, upmarket, owner-managed lodge, opened at the beginning of 2012, The Emakoko straddles the southern boundary of Nairobi National Park, marked by the gorge of the Mbagathi River in an area where three rivers converge. The lodge has the national park’s much underrated game-viewing areas on its doorstep and fast access via the park’s East Gate to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The Emakoko, the building of which was personally supervised in 2011 by the owner-managers, spreads along the base of a steep cliff. It is named after the river of the same name that flows into the Mbagathi from the south, less than 1km upstream from the lodge. The lodge is technically unfenced, though a discreet electric fence is being built along the riverbank to protect guests from wandering hippos.
All guests arrive at the lodge’s parking area inside the national park on the north bank of the Mbagathi. From here, you walk across a rather fine, wooden footbridge to the lodge reception and central areas, including a lovely lounge, terrace and dining room, and access to the swimming pool, all of which lie on the south bank of the river. The pool is a good size, though unheated – which at Nairobi’s altitude of more than 1,600m can make it chilly, especially in the slightly cooler season between July and October.
- The Emakoko has ten, cottage-style rooms built in pairs near the main central areas. Close to the central areas is the family unit, consisting of two adjoining rooms. Five of the rooms are up the cliff face, accessed by steep footpaths, and perching precariously above the gorge, with glorious views across the trees and river and into the national park.
- Inside, the very large, light rooms are comfortably furnished with armchairs, sofas and footstools, and small safes. Twin beds can be combined into a full double with a converter mattress. The big, open-plan bathrooms have walk-in showers, bathtubs by the low-level windows, twin washbasins and designer toiletries. Hot water is always available. The private verandas have directors’ chairs and drinks tables.
An unexpected bonus at The Emakoko is the range of activities on offer. All guests automatically pay Nairobi National Park entrance fees as part of their stay. The lodge’s owner-managers are very supportive of the park and automatically offer game drives (both morning and evening if you like) as part your stay.
Nairobi National Park, now partly encircled by burgeoning Nairobi but still unfenced along its southern boundary, is hugely underrated. Many visitors pay a fleeting visit if they have a day to kill in Nairobi, but The Emakoko’s location allows you to dip in and out of the park whenever you like during your stay, or perhaps set off at dawn with a picnic breakfast, and return to the lodge for lunch.
The 117km² park features nearly all the plains wildlife of the East African savanna, with the exception of elephants. There’s a good number of lions and lots of buffalo, giraffe, zebra, eland and wildebeest. The stand-out animals in the park, however are rhinos: in fact you probably have a better chance of seeing both species – surly, browsing black rhinos and more placid, grazing white rhinos – than in any other Kenyan park or sanctuary. In the course of four recent drives we saw more than a dozen rhinos, including a huge-horned mother and baby black, and a large group of whites, again with young. Nairobi National Park can be very rewarding in other respects, too: we saw a large leopard tortoise (slightly out of its comfort zone at this altitude) and a young rock python, lazily crossing the earth road.
Although night game drives as such are not permitted, transfers to and from the airport are allowed after dark, as are sundowner excursions at dusk. Visits to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhino orphanage are easily arranged, and guests frequently opt to be sponsors (US$50, by online pre-arrangement) which allows them to visit the orphanage between 4.30 and 5.30pm – a quieter time when non-sponsors are not admitted and you can spend time with the elephants as they are preparing to sleep.
As well as visits to the park and the elephant orphanage, Emakoko guests can take escorted walks around the lodge and gorge –with a specialist guide if you like – for example Anton Childs, who is one of Kenya’s most experienced herpetologists, or one of the lodge’s birding guides.
General Nairobi excursions are also included in the rates at The Emakoko, though entrance fees are extra, and you need to be aware of travel times, which can be quite long, depending on traffic (the lodge can advise).
Back at the lodge, you can take advantage of an in-room massage with a trained masseuse, using a mobile table (extra charges).
Our viewFor a new, Nairobi hotel, The Emakoko is a very special place. It was still early days when we stayed in April 2012 but there was a palpable buzz about it that was infectious. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were only a few miles from central Nairobi. The location is spectacular, and the opportunity to make a wildlife-watching virtue out of the transfer through the park to the airport – a traffic-jammed torment from most hotels – is an outstanding asset.
Ideal length of stay: 2 nights
Directions: Transfers from JKIA or Wilson Airport – or anywhere else in Nairobi – are included in the price. Night transfers go only via the East Gate of the national park.
Owner: Family-owned and managed by Emma and Anton Childs, who also supervised and directly worked on the construction in 2011.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Half Board
Food quality: The lodge ‘aims to have the best food in Nairobi’ and they are certainly making a big effort to offer meals that are really imaginative, well-presented and appetising. Lots of fresh produce is the rule. The head chef here came from Ol Donyo Lodge, which the owners used to manage.
We found the food exceptionally good, although we ate only one late dinner and breakfast. Breakfast is always a good mix of fruit and cereals with a full cooked breakfast available. A typical lunch might include Thai bites, pork Milanese with salsa verde, a salad of cannelini beans, baby spinach, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes and veggie tempura, followed by grilled pineapple with an unusual chilli and soy sauce glaze.
For dinner we started with roasted red peppers stuffed with mascarpone, followed by medallions of beef, perfectly cooked to order, with a chunky mushroom sauce, herby mash and vegetables. Pudding was light and fragrant passion-fruit meringues.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Included (premium wines and spirits extra)
Birdwatching: More than 50 bird species are regularly seen around The Emakoko, where the terrace and room verandas are great vantage points for birdwatching. Birds from ostriches to violet-backed sunbirds can be seen in Nairobi National Park, where there are also high species counts of raptors and water birds and more than 500 species have been recorded.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Kenya
Wildlife safaris: Anton Childs, co-owner (and co-manager) of The Emakoko is one of Kenya’s most experienced herpetologists and will happily take guests on escorted reptile and amphibian walks around the lodge and along the gorge. We saw a young python inching across the earth road one evening, just outside the lodge.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Kenya
Attitude towards children: ‘No problem; our three-year old son lives here’
Equipment: 2 cots, but no highchairs yet
Generally recommended for children: Yes, but little ones will need lots of supervision, and one of the ground-level rooms would be the obvious choice.
Notes: The owner-managers, who have a young family of their own, are welcoming to children.
Communications: Cellphone coverage is available around the lodge, but can be weak in some areas. There’s WiFi in the lounge, and they plan to extend this to the rooms.
TV & radio: No, but the staff canteen has DSTV, and guests could go there for a big match or other sporting event.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: There’s a first-aid kit at the lodge, but no trained staff. The closest hospital is Karen hospital, which could be reached in 35 minutes, but all major hospitals in Nairobi would be accessible within an hour. Medical evacuation would also be possible by helicopter.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are no locks on doors, but the lodge is very secure, with askaris on duty day and night. There are also armed administration police officers in the area of the staff camp.
Fire safety: The lodge has deliberately used as few flammable materials as possible in construction. There are fire extinguishers in every room, and fire drills were still being discussed when we visited.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: There’s a large safe in the office, and small safes in the rooms. No currency exchange is possible.