The Emakoko: Our full report
The Emakoko is a unique, owner-managed lodge that opened in 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 that flows into the Mbagathi from the south, less than 1km upstream from the lodge. The lodge is technically unfenced overall, though a discreet electric fence has been erected at the back of the property to protect guests from wandering hippos.
After a short, bumpy descent from the main park road (a deliberate deterrent to put off accidental visitors), 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 thatched open-fronted main area is warm and inviting, with vases of fresh roses dotted around. Polished wooden floors lead from a comfortable lounge area, with warm orange and brown sofas and armchairs, into the dining area, where individual tables are laid. Here is also a small curio shop selling local arts and crafts.
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. It is surrounded by sunloungers and umbrellas, making it a relaxing spot in the heat of the day.
The Emakoko has ten, cottage-style rooms, with five near the main central areas. One pair of cottages has 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.
New for September 2018 is the private house. With two double bedrooms (extra beds can be added), a private dining room and a small pool, this is a perfect option for families or groups travelling together. The house was occupied when we last visited The Emakoko so we couldn’t have a look around, but we are confident that the standards of the private house will match that of the main lodge rooms.
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. The lodge has been building a funicular lift to make the highest rooms easier to access, and they expect this to be completed by June 2019. However, we recommend that those with mobility issues request a room lower down the hill and closer to the main area. The highest room is up about 140 steps, but does have the best views as a reward.
An unexpected bonus at The Emakoko is the range of activities on offer. The rates here include Nairobi National Park entrance fees as part of the stay (valid for 24 hours) and 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 savannah, with the exception of elephants. There's a good number of lion, 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: on a recent trip we saw two black-backed jackals, a small herd of hartebeest, herds of Grant's gazelle, two eland, and ostrich, all in the space of 20 minutes – and that was just on the transfer back to the airport! On our most recent game drive in the park, we also caught sight of a lioness and seven cubs attempting a wildebeest kill as the sun was setting.
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 lodge owner 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). Examples include the giraffe centre at Giraffe Manor, Kazuri Beads in nearby Karen (which employs over 340 women), and the Karen Blixen Museum.
Back at the lodge, you can take advantage (at extra charge) of an in-room massage with a trained masseuse, using a mobile table.
There are two options for staying at The Emakoko: lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast (full board - check-in 11:00, check-out 10:00); and lunch and dinner (day room - check-in 11:00, checkout 18:00). If you arrive too late for dinner, there will be a late snack meal, and a lower rate if you stay for a second night. It's worth being aware that early morning arrivals can only be booked with a supplementary "Early Bird" fee. Please also note that arrival and departure times through the gates of Nairobi National Park are logged to the minute. Daily park fees are payable for every 24 hour period, and a further fee is payable as soon as you break into the next 24 hours.
For a Nairobi hotel, The Emakoko is a very special place. We have stayed here several times since it opened, most recently in February 2019. 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 – often a traffic-jammed torment from most hotels – is an outstanding asset.
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 2 nights
- 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, can be around 40 minutes to an hour – depending on traffic.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The Emakoko ‘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, and the chefs have recently undergone further training and a complete menu revamp.
We have always found the food at the lodge exceptionally good across multiple stays.
Breakfast is always a good mix of fruit and cereals with a full cooked selection available.
For lunch, we have had chilled avocado soup with fresh focaccia and then red snapper accompanied by feta and aubergine cous cous and green salad. An apple and chocolate tartlet finished things off. It was all very light and delicious, with plenty available.
On a previous visit when we arrived very late in the evening off an international flight, no food was expected. So when we were offered a fantastic light dinner consisting of a butternut soup followed by an antipasti spread we were delighted. Roasted red peppers and courgette, tomato and mozzarella salad and a selection of ham and salami were all on offer. Our pudding was light and refreshing melon balls. A typical evening meal at the lodge will be a more formal three-course affair.
- 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 ideas for Family holidays
- The Emakoko stands out on any Kenya bird trip, firstly for its great viewpoint, from which more than 50 birds can be seen, overlooking Nairobi National Park. Then the park itself offers excellent birding with more than 500 recorded species.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Wildlife safaris
- Anton Childs, co-owner 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. We saw a young python inching across the earth road one evening, just outside the lodge.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- 'No problem; our children grew up here'
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- There are no special activities for children, but the lodge has a nice pool, though young children will need supervision as there is no lifeguard. The Emakoko can organize early dinners too.
- Two cots.
- 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.
- The owner-managers, who have a young family of their own, are welcoming to children.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from The Emakoko
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at The Emakoko have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- There is 24-hour power throughout the lodge with British-style 3-pin plugs in the rooms.
- Cellphone coverage is available around the lodge, but can be weak in some areas. There's WiFi in the lounge, which also has 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
- Water supply notes
- There is running hot and cold water in all of the rooms. Reverse osmosis is in place to provide filtered drinking water and all of the water is heated via solar.
Fighting for community-wildlife coexistence
Following a 20 minute drive from Nairobi airport, The Emakoko is located on a gorge on a border of Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s oldest national park, and offers tourists an authentic wilderness safari experience despite its close proximity to the city. With humanity pressing around every corner of it, what makes the lodge unique is its effort towards community-wildlife coexistence.
To help stop the human/wildlife conflict, Emakoko partners up with Nairobi National Park’s managing association, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Kitengela Landowners Association to distribute some of its revenue straight into community projects. The lodge is especially involved in the lion lighting scheme, which aims to deter predators from attacking the community Bomas. To date, Emakoko has put up 18 sets of lion lights in the community, lighting up 8 Bomas in the area.
Additionally, every year the owners participate in the Rhino Charge, a rally competition held in the most remote parts of Kenya to raise money for fencing around some of Kenya's fragile ecosystems, and assist the local communities wherever the Charge is run. Also, the lodge has purchased, constructed and erected three rhino towers to assist Kenya Wildlife Service with observation points over the park, thus supporting their Rhino ear-notching program for identification.
The initiative has proven successful, receiving support from tourists as well, as one repeat guest has recently donated binoculars to the Rhino Units in the park.
See more great sustainability projects in Kenya
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There's a first-aid kit at the lodge and in all vehicles, with five members of staff trained in first aid to an occupational level. The closest hospital is Karen hospital, which could be reached in 35 minutes, but all major hospitals in Nairobi would be accessible within about 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.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A full laundry service is included.
- 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.
Other lodges in Nairobi
Alternative places to stay in this same area.