The Emakoko is a luxury safari lodge on the south side of Nairobi National Park.
The Emakoko: Our full report
The Emakoko is an upmarket, owner-managed lodge, that opened at the beginning of 2012. It 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 easy access to both Nairobi's airports.
The Emakoko is personally supervised by the owner-managers and 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 twenty beds in total, in ten, cottage-style rooms built in pairs near the main central areas. One pair of cottages have adjoining rooms. Five of the two-bedded 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.
It’s worth noting that many of the rooms are located up a rather steep slope. On our last visit, we were told that there were plans to build a funicular lift to make the highest rooms easier to access. However, we recommend that those with mobility issues request a room lower down the hill.
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, leopard 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.
It is worth noting that the park is best visited mid-week when there are not many other vehicles around. Due to the great game viewing and unrivalled accessibility, Nairobi National Park is very popular amongst residents of Nairobi who visit on the weekend.
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 indeed. We have visited a couple of times since its inception, most recently in September 2016. There is a palpable buzz about it that is 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 either of the airports – 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. The journey time from the lodge to the airport perimeter, or vice versa, is around one and quarter hours.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
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.
We arrived very late in the evening off an international flight and were not expecting anything. So when we were offered a fantastic antipasti spread for dinner we were delighted. Roasted red peppers and courgette, tomato and mozzarella salad and a selection of ham and salami were all on offer. 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)
Further dining info: Yes, on verandas, at no extra charge.
Family holidays: As the Emakoko’s owners have small children themselves, this upmarket, spectacularly set Kenya lodge is well-suited for family safari holidays with children of all ages. There are two cots, a nice pool and the Nairobi National Park nearby. Keep children closely supervised!See more ideas for Family holidays in Kenya
Birdwatching: The Emakoko will stand out on a Kenyan birdwatching break for the great viewing point, from which over 50 bird species can be seen. Close by Nairobi National Park is excellent for birdwatching with over 500 recorded species.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 children grew up here'
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: None so far, but the lodge has a nice pool, though young children will need supervision as there is no lifeguard.
Equipment: Two 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.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There is 24-hour power throughout the lodge with British-style 3-pin plugs in the rooms.
Communications: Cellphone coverage is available around the lodge, but can be weak in some areas. There's WiFi in the lounge, which also has a good signal in the rooms.
TV & radio: No, but the staff canteen has DSTV, and guests could go there for a big match or other sporting event.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: There is running hot and cold water in all of the rooms.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: 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 Kenya Wildlife Service 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.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa and MasterCard are accepted, with a 5% surcharge.