Kenya is a place I could easily overstay my welcome. For the past two years, a great deal of my time has been spent traveling across Africa for work. Unfortunately, the Kenya trip was probably my last time in Africa for a short while.
On this latest adventure my time was split among Nairobi, Bungoma and Isiolo in Kenya.
While in Nairobi, our group stayed in the city center at the Sarova Stanley, an amazing hotel built in 1902. The staff is friendly and accommodating. The hotel is elegant and comes with all of the amenities of a luxury hotel at a decent rate. It’s in a great location surrounded by plenty of restaurants and shopping. The outdoor Maasai Market is about 5 minutes walking distance. The market sells arts and crafts, textiles, jewelry, etc. It is definitely worth going but sellers are aggressive with tourists — be prepared to haggle and have a good grasp of the exchange rate before going in. If you can find a local to go with you, that will make it a more relaxed experience.
Nairobi has a treasure trove of restaurants, and though my dining experiences were limited to the downtown area, but there were plenty of vegan options.
A favorite casual spot — Java House — not only do they serve great coffee and pastries, they also make full meals. The curry vegetables and Mexican fajita veggie plate hit the spot. They also sell bags of coffee, and I bought a few. My suitcase heading to Africa always includes clothes and workshop materials; the return suitcase is full of clothing, coffee and spices – always!
One night after wandering around downtown, I wanted something quick to take to my hotel room so I stopped at Teriyaki Japan. They sell spicy fast food noodle bowls, with a hint of African spices. Yummy, fast, cheap, and filling.
For breakfast, the Sarova Stanley’s restaurant is a great option especially for business meetings with their spacious indoor and enclosed patio dining. It has a fantastic buffet with hot vegetable options, Indian food, pastries, fruit and typical western breakfasts. The hotel also has a fantastic Thai restaurant; the Thai Chi. The food is traditional Thai, accompanied by options of soothing hot green tea as well as a wonderful wine list. The restaurant also has a masseuse on staff to offer a short shoulder and hand massage while waiting for the food to arrive – yes, please.
Outside of Nairobi, we stayed at the Northern Galaxy Hotel in Isiolo, about 3.5 hours from Nairobi at the foot of Mount Kenya. This is a main thoroughfare for those traveling to more rural areas including the savannahs of northern Kenya. The organization I work for held a workshop at the hotel and while the Galaxy is not the Sarova, it is a clean, safe space with an accommodating staff. Myself, and two colleagues have various food allergies and the manager made sure that we all had fantastic food that we could eat at every meal, including Mukimo – a mixture of mashed potatoes, greens and beans. I could eat that all day long…
Frequent travelers with food issues will understand how important it is to find hotels and restaurants that will accommodate allergies. I’ve had my fair share of bread and peanut butter or french fry meals. Luckily, in this modern world we have many options for snacks that have some protein. I always bring dried fruits, nuts, as well as spreadable nut butters by Justin’s — they have started making snack packs with pretzels and dried fruits as well, thank you! Many hotels in Africa either have electric kettles in the rooms or will bring you a large thermos of hot water for tea, so I always pack a few Asian noodle soups just in case. I won’t say who…but I will out my friend who travels with a small suitcase dedicated to snacks because of her food allergies. Those with wanderlust do what they have to in order to travel. No one wants to have stomach problems while traveling, especially if there isn’t a hospital nearby.
Next we headed to Bungoma, which is a full day drive from Nairobi or a short hour, hour and a half flight, then two-hour drive from the closest airport. We stayed at the Elegent Hotel. It’s a nice hotel central to the city. It is quite large, clean, safe and has Wi-Fi. The staff also took very good care of us and made sure there were dishes that we could eat. In walking distance are local street vendors and a large grocery store. Pay attention to where you are walking, as the boda boda’s (motorcycles) have a tendency to zip along on the dirt walking path, it almost ended badly for me one night.
Now for a short rant — honestly, as much as I enjoy a luxurious hotel, I am always grateful for a clean, secure place to stay. It bothers me how often the smaller hotels throughout Africa, especially in developing countries are criticized on travel websites for their lack of amenities. For those hoping for a positive travel experience in non-western countries, perhaps adjusting expectations will be of great benefit, and a little kindness goes a long way. That is all.