The best place we stayed at on our Kenya trip was The Emakoko in Nairobi National Park. Here’s our detailed review of the family-friendly safari lodge.
It’s dawn and the savanna is just beginning to awake. A mother rhino saunters past our safari jeep, with her little baby in tow. As they trample along the dusty red trail, their robust bums swing from side to side. In the backdrop, I can see the skyline of the city appearing before us.
It’s not everyday you get to see wild animals roaming freely in the outskirts of a city. Only in Nairobi!
Yes, the capital city of Kenya is home to a national park where animals run free. The Nairobi National Park lies at the rim of the city, just a 15-minute drive from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Despite its proximity to the city, it is packed with nearly all the wildlife of the East African savanna.
Table of Contents
- Why You Should Visit the Nairobi National Park
- The Emakoko: A Unique Lodge in Nairobi
- A Kenyan Family’s Labor of Love
- Game Driving with The Emakoko in Nairobi
- Immersing in Nature at The Emakoko
- An Gastronomic Affair at The Emakoko
- An Intimate Boutique Lodge with Privacy
- Why It’s Perfect for Families
- Details on The Emakoko
Why You Should Visit the Nairobi National Park
Established in 1946, this is Kenya’s first national park and possibly the most underrated. It was set aside as a game reserve by the colonial governments back in the 1910s and remained as a protected area since then.
Today, the national park is home to four of the Big Five (except elephants). The 45 square miles (117 sq km) park has a good number of lion, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, eland and wildebeest. The star of the show here is the rhino. In fact, you probably have a better chance of seeing both the black and the white rhino here, than in any other Kenyan park.
Sadly, Nairobi national park is probably the underrated park in Kenya. Most people head straight to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi, missing the wide array of wildlife you can see right in the capital. Thanks to our excellent guide from The Emakoko Lodge, we saw more animals here than in the Maasai Mara. The plus side? We barely saw any other tourists here.
The Emakoko: A Unique Lodge in Nairobi
The Emakoko’s unique location straddling the southern boundary of Nairobi National Park was exactly the reason why we chose to stay here for the first part of our Kenya itinerary. The boutique lodge is just a short drive from the international airport, making it an excellent first stop on our Kenya family safari.
And yet, once we arrived to the lodge, we felt as though we were deep in the wilderness. Secretly ensconced in a steep gorge, the lodge is surrounded by rocky cliffs, while a running river runs alongside the swimming pool. All around it is the vast savanna, dotted by Acacia trees.
It was incredible to feel like we were in the midst of the African savanna, despite being so close to the city. But its proximity to Nairobi’s other attractions also meant that we could dip in and out of the park whenever we wanted. In the three days we had at The Emakoko, we managed to fit in visits to attractions like the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Centre, in between our game drives.
A Kenyan Family’s Labor of Love
Emma and Anthony were both brought up in Kenya and have lived and worked in some of the most beautiful places in Kenya. They met for the first time opposite the site of the lodge, whilst enjoying a sundowner. That was when they began to hatch their plans of building a dream lodge.
With their knowledge and passion for conservation, they designed and constructed the lodge themselves in this private plot of land. Over the years, they built a strong team of staff who take pride in their work. They have since expanded their family to include two young kids, but they continue to live on the property with their amazing staff.
Right from the beginning, Emma and Anthony have always been deeply committed to both the local community, and the preservation and protection of the park itself. Part of their revenue go into looking after both the community and the park. By visiting the Emakoko, you contribute directly to this revenue.
Game Driving with The Emakoko in Nairobi
At The Emakoko, guests can choose to go on two daily game drives with their wildlife guide. One is in the early morning at day break and another in the evening that includes sundowner drinks. These are the times when animals are most active and chances of seeing wildlife are the highest.
We saw animals on our very first day while driving towards the lodge. Upon entering the gates of the national park, my 4.5-year-old daughter immediately spotted a giraffe family, and then herds of impalas and wildebeests.
Driving further into the park, we spotted a few ostriches, hartebeests, two jackals and even a lion sprawled across a boulder. And in the evening, a massive herd of buffalo surrounded us as we sipped on our sundowners while the sun set against the skyline of the city. It was truly magical.
Immersing in Nature at The Emakoko
What I love most about staying at The Emakoko was how it allowed us to escape from the chaos of Nairobi and truly unwind amidst nature. When we were not on game drives, we spent our time watching animals from our verandah, swimming in the pool or reading wildlife books in the open-concept lounge area, together as a family.
As the property is technically unfenced, we were advised not to walk beyond the perimeters of the property. But the lodge has a beautiful wooden footbridge and grasslands surrounding the pool, perfect for short strolls with the little ones.
There are also winding paths with lots of steps that lead up to the higher rooms. Our kid loved the funicular lift (recently built) that was fun to ride on, and saved up the 140 steps that led to our room.
An Gastronomic Affair at The Emakoko
Each morning, we feasted on a big spread of breakfast at the restaurant, which overlooks the pool and surrounding cliffs. We would often spot monkeys, and the adorable rock hyrax in the trees and bushes around us. In the evening, while we gathered at the bar for drinks, the resident bushbaby would often make an appearance.
The food at the lodge was also phenomenal — the local chef served up gourmet food made from fresh, natural ingredients. We had a fantastic Chicken Milanese one night, and a delicious Turkey Wellington another. And the desserts were decadent and out of this world. Even my daughter who’s usually a fussy eater loved every meal here!
An Intimate Boutique Lodge with Privacy
With only 10 rooms, The Emakoko offers an exclusive and intimate atmosphere, especially for those traveling Kenya with kids. All of its rooms are huge and spacious, with extra beds for the little ones. Five rooms are located near the main area at the main level and the other five rooms are perched on the cliff face, with impressive views of the national park.
We stayed at one of the higher rooms and our view was just spectacular. We could see the sun set and grassy plains right from the comfort of our bed. The spacious cottage-style room also had a high ceiling, a fireplace, and a sofa that was converted into a bed for our daughter.
The wide windows in our huge open-plan bathroom allowed us to drink in the views while soaking in the tub. We also had a walk-in shower and a round sofa in the middle of the bathroom. The bathroom looked like it came straight out of the pages of a magazine!
Why It’s Perfect for Families
What makes The Emakoko stand out from the other safari lodges we have stayed at is the personal service. The staff go out of their way to make you feel special.
From day one, they remembered our names and food preferences. One restaurant staff in particular, Patrick, made a particular impression on our daughter. He was always chirpy, friendly and giving her lots of attention.
Our favorite time was usually in the evenings, after our sunset game drive. We would gather at the main lounge and dining area for drinks and snacks. Patrick would serve delicious canapés with our wine, and Anthony would chat with every guest and find out how our day went.
I can’t rave enough about the lodge — it has an excellent location close to the airport, and wonderful kid-friendly cottages for bush-loving families. The staff are amazing and every single detail is well taken care of. Plus there are the Big Five, right its backyard. It’s the perfect base for those looking to do an African safari with kids.
Details on The Emakoko
The rates for The Emakoko start from US$663 per person or $1096 per couple (all meals included). Kids 0-3 year old stay for free, while those 4-15 years of age is charged US$332 per night. Go to this link for rates and availability. If you’re looking for more reviews, check out their TripAdvisor page.
Disclaimer: Our stay was made possible by The Emakoko, but as always, the opinions expressed are our own.
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