When were you last up Kenya’s north? A lot has changed – the roads are better and the place relatively safer. But oh my goodness the accommodation! The change is phenomenal. For the longest time hotels in Northern Kenya offered little to write home about and the few decent ones were exactly that – few – and sometimes expensive. Today that picture is changing as new money finds a place in hospitality in the region. From Marsabit, Wajir, and Garissa to the northerly frontier town of Mandera, decent accommodation now abounds. Finally, hotels in Northern Kenya have come of age. Here are four I came across on a recent trip.
Jirime Hotel & Resort
In the outskirts of Marsabit town, on your way to Moyale, sits Jirime Hotel & Resort on 17 acres. A 23-roomed oasis of atypical greenery set in a beautifully rugged wilderness. Here, you momentarily forget you are in the arid Kenya north as you revel in the quiet coolness of Jirime. Getting over 100 species of trees to grow where they have never before has not been a walk in the park. But General Mulata’s love for gardening has made the impossible possible.
The rooms are equally something to write home about. Generously spacious and tastefully finished, they offer a serenity of sorts after a day’s labour under the scorching Marsabit sun. Add the possibility of a hot shower, catching your favourite movie on DSTV’s M-NET, WiFi that works, and a cup of hot tea in your room and Jirime fulfils many a traveller’s dreams.
Sleep Away: KES 3,500-KES 10,000
Grand Oasis Resort
There is the Grand Oasis Cancun in Mexico, the Grand Oasis in South Sinai, Egypt and then there is the Grand Oasis Resort in Wajir. They, of course, bear no resemblance to each other nor do they belong to the same owner – just the name similarity.
The Mexico and Egypt ones are bigger but that is not to say the Wajir one is to be trifled with. An ultramodern facility with amenities that rival those in most Nairobi establishments, Grand Oasis towers above most buildings in the outskirts of Wajir town. In the unforgiving heat (I experienced temperatures bordering on 41°C during this trip), the Grand provides a small refuge – a welcome escape. It comes complete with a coffee shop, restaurant and Mosque with a resident Sheikh. The Grand Oasis is a favourite among hotels in Northern Kenya worth sleeping away in.
Eat Away: KES 100-KES 1200
Sleep Away: KES 3,500-KES 10,000
Wajir Palace Hotel
Wajir Palace Hotel used to be known as Wajir Hilton Palace. It is not immediately clear why the name changed but if your local Wajir taxi guy does not know Wajir Palace, throw in Wajir Hilton and it will very likely ring a bell. About 200M from the Wajir International Airport, it is close to the military barracks, which is an obvious plus for it because of the extra security guests enjoy while staying there. Why everyone also emphasised it was near the Governor’s and deputy governor’s residence was not immediately obvious to me.
With free WiFi, cable TV, your own private balcony, a fridge and air conditioning, it is indeed palatial for its class. The halal breakfast experience did not leave a princely effect though – in fact, I felt like a hustler. If it is not the serving spoon you are hustling for, an ingredient cannot be found, so you will rely heavily on the staff to make the breakfast palace-worthy. But this oversight is quickly overshadowed by northern hospitality – no wonder the place boasts so many international accolades.
Eat Away: KES 150-KES 900
Sleep Away: KES 3,000
Amara Blue Resort
Amara Blue Resort in Mandera has many firsts. It is the first hotel in this northern town to have a swimming pool, the first to offer gym facilities and the first with special VIP spaces. Only four months old, it adds to a growing list of hotels in Northern Kenya that offer many unforgettable moments for travellers heading this way. Surprisingly, besides the swimming pool, there is little that is blue about Amara. Amara Pink might have been a more fitting name with all the pink around. But then Amara Pink does not sound as catchy as Amara Blue!
This non-alcoholic oasis in the outskirts of Mandera town packs all the amenities of a big city hotel and more. Spacious air-conditioned rooms with cable TV and WiFi provide a homely experience while the gardens and the swimming pool allow you to cool off in an environment where temperatures can rise to 40°C by as early as 11 am!
On order, the resident chef can whip up some delectable meals as you catch up on some banter in the VIP lounge. Try the lemonade – there is something about Mandera’s lemons that just kicks in an instant addiction! Add an icy chill to it and it becomes otherworldly.
Security is a premium consideration for hotels in Northern Kenya and Amara has put that into consideration. With 24-hour CCTV surveillance and armed guards, you have some peace of mind during your stay.
When I visited, there was an issue with the cable tv connection. WiFi was also on and off despite a technical team trying its best to rectify the situation. Hopefully, these will be working when you visit. With prior arrangements, you can visit the nearby town of Sala on the Kenya-Ethiopia border to get a cross-border experience. Whenever you are exploring Mandera, Amara Blue should not miss on your sleep away list.
Eat Away: KES 150-KES 1,000
Sleep Away: KES 4,000-KES 10,000