Once again, we spent Christmas in Kenya. I’ll write more about the holiday itself in an upcoming post. This post is about the drive down.
J. had gone via car with his family when he lived in Kenya in the 1980s. This was our first time driving together and it was his first time driving the car down himself. We researched it. We got lots of advice. We were prepared for everything.
Mombassa Highway is a decent enough road as far as how well it’s paved. The issues about driving it have to do with traffic and idiot drivers. Luckily, we made it without a hitch. Much of that is luck. We didn’t have too many idiot drivers in the way. There weren’t any big accidents. But part of why the drive went well was planning.
First, we left early, just as dawn broke. We wanted to beat the traffic. The two places where there are major chokeholds are Athi River and Machakos. Leaving super early really helped because we beat the traffic. Once we passed those points we knew it would be smooth sailing, barring any accidents.
Second, we decided to break the trip into two days. You can do it in one day. But we felt that breaking it up was the more civilized way to go. Also, if you break it up, in case there might be an accident or traffic, you won’t risk getting caught out on the highway at night. (No lights and various people who don’t use their headlights make night driving on Mombassa Road very dangerous.)
We stopped overnight in Voi. There will be a post on where we stayed…spoiler alert: the place sucked. Despite being in an utterly shitty lodge, it was good to have a rest, relax and stretch out our legs.
The next day we drove through Tsavo East on our way to the coast. Going through Tsavo was nice. We saw giraffe and elephant. It was a pretty if bumpy ride. The problem was once we left Tsavo and got onto the “highway.”
C103 is listed as a highway. However, as we learned, much of the road (at time of writing) was not paved. It’s a really rough road. It was worse than the roads in Tsavo. For about one-third of the stretch, we had terrible road conditions. Then it became paved and was fine.
Here’s about 30 seconds of video, sped up to double speed, to show some rough road followed by murram and then finally seeing paved road to the side (but couldn’t drive it yet).
We followed the highway into Malindi and then drove down to Watamu along the road connecting Malindi and Mombassa. All in all, each leg took about six hours.
On the way back, we broke things up the same way and also left early each morning to avoid traffic. We chose to drive back via Kilifi and then take Mombassa Road the rest of the way to avoid the rough road on C103.
We stayed in Voi again and left as early as possible to head back to Nairobi. On the way back it’s harder to beat the traffic because you’ll still arrive around rush hour. But, we still beat it. We get near Nairobi around noon and, maybe because it was a Sunday, the traffic wasn’t bad.
It was six hours on each leg back as well. That’s not bad at all. It was a very smooth and pleasant enough drive.
That said, I wouldn’t do it again. It was fine. But you don’t save money because you book the lodges. And you spend two days each way rather than a 40 minute flight. It was good to do once for the experience. But I’ll fly from now on.
If you decide to do the drive, here’s my advice:
Break up the drive
Really look into road conditions, especially see if C103 is fully paved when you go
FYI – some of you may know that I have a herniated disc, so long drives are painful for me. The way down wasn’t too bad. The way back wasn’t fun. I managed by making sure to really stretch before and after each drive. And codeine. I needed codeine to keep the pain at bay.
It was manageable. But it’s another reason I would rather fly. In fact, I may put a time cap on how long a car ride I can do. Back to back six-hour legs are too hard.
On the way back from Samburu, we stopped in Nanyuki for lunch at The Trout Tree. It was a well-timed stop and the perfect way to wrap up our long weekend. And, being right off the main road, it was super easy.
The restaurant is built around a tree and it farms trout, hence the name. The atmosphere is very Swiss Family Robinson. The service is great. The food is great. It’s all around a great place for lunch.
The only thing is that you do need to watch out for monkeys. You’ll be given a stick to ward them off. Be vigilant. There is a 100% chance they will make a hard play for your food.
Soon after we arrived in Kenya, we started to hear about the Saruni Samburu and how great it is. It took three years and second trip up to Samburu (we stayed at the Ashnil last time), but we finally got up there. In fact, the second trip to Samburu was all about experiencing the Saruni. Samburu is awesome, but the Saruni can easily be a destination in itself.
In my prior post I mentioned the drive up. You can fly, but five hours of mostly easy driving from Nairobi makes this more of a driving type of trip. Given that the Saruni is pricey, you might want to drive to save the money and put it toward your stay. That said, although it’s pricey, it’s worth it. You more than get your money’s worth.
The service is excellent. You are really pampered, yet never hovered over. When we arrived, we were greeted warmly, and then when they showed us our villa we got an apology. They didn’t know our favorite drinks and so they could “only” stock the mini-fridge with soft drinks and water. We told them what we’d like (beer and rosé in our case) and it quickly arrived. We then had that at hand for our whole stay.
The villa (all the rooms are villas) had a spacious bedroom, a spacious living area, and balconies off of each. The rooms were amazing. The living room had comfortable furniture and enough space for a dining area and a sitting area. The bedroom had a really nice bed and plenty of room for our luggage.
The rooms get hot in the afternoon—this is true of all the rooms as the lodge is built into a cliff and the rocks heat up. No worries. We spent the afternoons by one of the two infinity pools. But before I get to the pool, let’s go back to the room…specifically, the bathroom.
The bathroom was great. It was big. Water pressure and hot water were fantastic. And…there is also an outdoor shower. It was my first outdoor shower. Let me tell you, it was an amazing experience.
It was totally private, yet open. I had an amazing view of the Samburu plains and the mountains in the back. And this is all while I’m washing my hair.
Speaking of that, the Saruni definitely got one thing right with the bathroom. They provide a really good hairdryer AND there is an outlet next to the bathroom mirror. This is the the first time it all came together for me in any lodge/camp/resort in Kenya. Hairdryer + one that is a good one + ability to use it near a mirror!
Going back to the pools…there are two infinity pools. Both are great. It’s the perfect place to lounge out the afternoon after a morning game drive. It’s a bit of a hike between the pools, the rooms, and reception, but no worries. Once you’re there, there will be people coming by from time to time to get you whatever you may need. Again, the service is attentive without any hovering. Seriously, it’s like magic.
There is also a salon where they provide a few services and massages. I got the massage. It was good but the price was a bit steep for Kenya. That’s the only area where I think the price was a bit high for the value. Even then, it wasn’t that bad. After all, I still chose to get the hour long massage. (A free half hour massage comes with each booking. And I’m happy to say they don’t push you to pay for a longer one.)
The grounds overall are really nice. It’s breathtaking. You have a wonderful cliff-side view of everything. Everything is well maintained.
Meals are done as group dining. It’s a small lodge so you won’t be in a huge banquet hall. It’s like a couple large tables where everyone gathers and it’s quite fun. You can also request a private meal, which we did one night. They sat us by one of the infinity pools. It was a really nice setting and the service was still really great.
The food was amazing. Everything was so delicious. Also, they are good at catering to special diets. I let them know about my issue with grains. Even though the food is mostly Italian, the no grains aspect was not a problem.
We loved the experience. It was fun, relaxing, and we felt so pampered. We will definitely go again.
By the way, we did do more than just lounge about. We did a game drive. It was an exciting one. But, I’ll save that for my next post.
If you go, look into their Pack for a Purpose program. Basically, you can take supplies for the local community. We took up a big box of kids clothes from some friends of ours. We also took up a few school supplies and maxi pads (girls will often miss school when they have their periods because of the lack of supplies).