Kenya has numerous accommodation options to suit all budgets. Budget travellers have plenty of choice in towns, far less in national parks.
- Hotels The main accommodation in towns, from budget places up to five-star business hotels (larger cities only).
- Safari lodges & tented camps From midrange to high levels of luxury in national parks, conservancies and other remote areas.
- Camping Often the only budget accommodation in national parks and reserves.
- Bandas Traditional-style huts and cottages, usually self-catering and sometimes found in national parks.
- Beach resorts Large complexes along the coast with plenty of facilities but often little personality.
- High-season prices usually run from July (sometimes June) to October, from January until February, and include Easter and Christmas, although there may be slight variations in some regions. Sometimes high season is also referred to as peak season. Low season usually covers the rest of the year, although many lodges and top-end hotels also have intermediate shoulder seasons.
- On the coast, peak times tend to be July, August and December to March, and a range of lower rates can apply for the rest of the year.
- During the low season many companies offer excellent deals on accommodation on the coast and in the main wildlife parks, often working with airlines to create packages aimed at the local and expat market.
All-inclusive & full board It’s worth remembering that many places, particularly those in national parks or other remote areas, offer full-board-only rates – prices may, therefore, seem higher than you’d expect, but less so once you factor in three meals a day. Some also offer what are called all-inclusive or 'package rates' that include full-board accommodation but also things such as game drives, transfers and other extras.
Dual pricing Kenya also operates on a dual pricing system, particularly in midrange and top-end places – nonresidents pay significantly more (often double or triple the price) than Kenyan (or other East African) residents. When things are quiet, you may be able to get the residents’ rate if you ask, but don’t count on it.
Currencies Hotels and other places to stay in Kenya quote their prices in a variety of currencies, usually US dollars or Kenyan shillings (KSh). In almost all cases you can pay in dollars, shillings, euros and (sometimes) other foreign currencies.
Bandas are Kenyan-style huts and cottages, usually with some kind of kitchen and bathroom, which offer excellent value. Although there are numerous private examples, there are also Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) bandas at some national parks – some are wooden huts, some are thatched stone huts and some are small brick bungalows with solar-powered lights.
Facilities range from basic dorms and squat toilets to kitchens and hot water provided by wood-burning stoves. In such places, you’ll need to bring all your own food, drinking water, bedding and firewood.
Although originally aimed at budget travellers, an increasing variety of places are calling bandas huts, which are decidedly midrange in price and quality.
Much of the coast, from Diani Beach to Malindi, is taken up by huge luxury beach resorts. Most offer a fairly similar experience, with swimming pools, water sports, bars, restaurants, mobs of souvenir vendors on the beach and ‘tribal’ dance shows in the evening. They aren’t all bad, especially if you want good children’s facilities, and a handful of them have been very sensitively designed. Note that many of these places will close in early summer, generally from May to mid-June or July.
There are many opportunities for camping in Kenya, and although gear can be hired in Nairobi and around Mt Kenya, it’s worth considering bringing a tent with you.
Public campsites There are KWS campsites in just about every national park or reserve. These are usually very basic, with a toilet block with a couple of pit toilets, a water tap, perhaps public showers and very little else. They cost US$30/25 per adult/child in Amboseli and Lake Nakuru national parks, begin at US$20 per person in Masai Mara National Reserve and US$20/15 in all other parks.
Special campsites As well as these permanent campsites, KWS also runs so-called ‘special’ campsites in most national parks. These sites move every year and have even fewer facilities than the standard camps, but cost more because of their wilder locations and set-up costs. They cost US$50/25 per adult/child in Amboseli and Lake Nakuru, US$35/20 elsewhere; a reservation fee of KSh7500 per week is payable on top of the relevant camping fee.
Private campsites Private sites are rare, but they offer more facilities and may hire out tents if you don’t have your own. It’s sometimes possible to camp in the grounds of some hotels in rural towns, and Nairobi has some good private campsites. Camping in the bush is possible but unless you’re doing it with an organised trip or a guide, security is a major concern – don’t even think about it on the coast.
The only youth hostel affiliated with Hostelling International (HI) is in Nairobi. It has good basic facilities and is a pleasant enough place to stay, but there are plenty of other cheaper choices that are just as good. Other places that call themselves ‘youth hostels’ are not members of HI, and standards are variable.
Hotels & Guesthouses
Real bottom-end hotels (often known as ‘board and lodgings’ to distinguish them from hotelis, which are often only restaurants) are widely used as brothels, and tend to be very run-down. Security at these places is virtually nonexistent, though the better ones are set around courtyards, and are clean if not exactly comfortable.
Proper hotels and guesthouses come in many different shapes and sizes. As well as the top-end Western companies, there are a number of small Kenyan chains offering reliable standards across a handful of properties in particular towns or regions, and also plenty of private, family-run establishments.
Self-catering options are common on the coast, where they’re often the only midpriced alternative to the top-end resorts, but not so much in other parts of the country. A few fancier places offer modern kitchens, but more often than not the so-called kitchenettes will be a side room with a small fridge and portable gas stove.
Terms you will come across in Kenya include ‘self-contained’, which just means a room with its own private bathroom, and ‘all-inclusive’, which generally means all meals, certain drinks and possibly some activities should be included. 'Full-board' accommodation includes three meals a day, while ‘half board’ generally means breakfast and dinner are included.
Renting a private house is a popular option on the coast, particularly for groups on longer stays, and many expats let out their holiday homes when they’re not using them.
Properties range from restored Swahili houses on the northern islands to luxurious colonial mansions inland, and while they’re seldom cheap, the experience will often be something pretty special.
Papers and noticeboards in Nairobi and along the coast are good places to find out about rentals, as is old-fashioned word of mouth. You could also try www.airbnb.com.au/s/Kenya.
Hidden away inside or on the edges of national parks and wildlife conservancies are some fantastic safari lodges. These are usually visited as part of organised safaris, and you’ll pay much more if you just turn up and ask for a room.
Some of the older places trade heavily on their more glorious past, but the best places feature five-star rooms, soaring makuti-roofed bars (with a thatched roof of palm leaves) and restaurants overlooking water holes full of wildlife. Staying in at least one good safari lodge while you’re in Kenya is recommended.
Rates tend to fall significantly in the low season.
As well as lodges, many parks and conservancies contain some fantastic luxury tented camps. These places tend to occupy wonderfully remote settings, usually by rivers or other natural locations, and feature large, comfortable, semi-permanent safari tents with beds, furniture, bathrooms (usually with hot running water) and often some kind of external roof thatch to keep the rain out; you sleep surrounded by the sounds of the African bush.
Most of the camps are very upmarket and the tents are pretty much hotel rooms under canvas. The really exclusive properties occupy locations so isolated that guests fly in and out on charter planes.
Useful Accommodation Resources
Ecotourism Kenya (www.ecotourismkenya.org) Certification of many hotels based on their environmental and sustainability practices.
Uniglobe Let’s Go Travel (www.uniglobeletsgotravel.com) Information on almost all the major hotels and lodges in Kenya, giving price ranges and descriptions.
Expert Africa (www.expertafrica.com) Detailed first-hand reviews of (mostly safari) accommodation by Expert Africa staff as well as traveller feedback.