Kenya is a country of incredible diversity, where vast savannas, lush forests, towering peaks, and sun-kissed beaches converge to create a land of unparalleled natural beauty. It is also home to over 40 different ethnic groups, forming a remarkable cultural tapestry.
From beachfront boutiques to Insta-worthy safari lodges, Kenya’s hotels are a true journey of the senses, and offer an eclectic panache that reflects one of the world’s most fascinating nations. Here are my favourite cool and unusual hotels in Kenya (in no particular order)...
1. Giraffe Manor – a famous, iconic and Insta-worthy boutique hotel perfect for Millennials and Gen Zs to experience a unique stay
This worldwide Instafamous accommodation is a unique one-of-a-kind bucket list stays. The stunning boutique hotel is located in a well-kept suburb of Nairobi and offers twelve individually designed rooms which keep the accommodation small and exclusive.
The boutique hotel is both well-designed and highly photogenic with large windows, exceptional comforts, a gorgeous swimming pool and an onsite spa.
The real draw though is of course the beautiful Giraffes! The charismatic herd of resident Rothchild’s giraffes roam free around the surrounding sanctuary and often appear at the window at breakfast and afternoon tea.
They can be fed by hand offering a unique one-of-a-kind experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
- To book, check prices or dates for Giraffe Manor Nairobi
2. Lion in the Sun Billionaire Retreat Malindi – one of the most exclusive resorts providing guests with a 5-star, lavish and Instagrammable stay
With its stunning local architecture and tastefully designed accommodations, Lion in the Sun invites you into a fairy-tale world which truly captures the heart and soul of Africa.
Barefoot elegance at its finest, the retreat’s unique chic vibe, four saltwater swimming pools, and cosy communal nooks combine to offer a journey of transformation and inner bliss.
As soon as I entered, I was immediately charmed by the intoxicating aromas of the frangipani flowers, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing in a gorgeous cabana on the beach, easily reachable from the property.
Throughout the stay, the service was impeccable!
- To book, check prices or availability for Lion in the Sun Billionaire Retreat Malindi
3. The Majlis Resort – an upscale, elegant and trendy resort where guests can enjoy outdoor activities such as cycling, windsurfing and canoeing
This luxury beach hotel is located on Manda island in the Lamu archipelago and is characterized by its lush surrounding trees, exotic Swahili traditions, and its jaw-dropping Indian ocean views.
Its 39 sumptuously appointed suites and rooms incorporate the finest local materials to ooze comfort and sophistication, setting the scene for a blissful night’s sleep.
I loved choosing between a handful of ocean-facing bars in the evening, which each offer a supreme setting to draw the day to a close during a spectacular sunset.
The resort’s restaurants are its focal points, due to their clever architectural designs and exquisite culinary offerings.
- To book, check prices or availability for The Majlis Resort
4. Neptune Mara Rianta Luxury Camp – All Inclusive – a stylish, rustic-chic and modern resort located in the heart of Masai Mara
Nestled in the heart of the Masai Mara among indigenous plantations and trees, the 20 luxury tents of Neptune are directly overlooking the Mara River.
The resort’s environs are teeming with wildlife, notably the large groups of hippos which bathe in the surrounding river.
Dining here is an exotic adventure in itself, with each dish created from the abundance of fresh Kenyan produce in the area, ready to please the most discerning of palates.
The Earth & Rain Wellness Spa offers the perfect end to an action-packed day, inviting you to soothe your mind and body while captured in the blissful atmosphere of the unspoiled African bush.
- To book, check prices or availability for Neptune Mara Rianta Luxury Camp – All Inclusive
5. Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection – a trendy, award-winning and contemporary hotel perfect for Millennials and Gen Zs
This eclectic resort curates tailor-made experiences for guests, steeped in a creative flair and a passion for the local area. Sankara is set in the heart of Westlands, close to Nairobi National Park.
The spacious guestrooms offer plush bedding, marble-clad bathrooms, smart TVs, ergonomic workstations, and ultra-high-velocity Wi-Fi.
Gastronomy is a stand-out feature here, with mouth-watering steakhouse fare, artisan menus, and Tapas-style dishes offered across the in-house restaurants.
My favourite spot was by far and away the Sarabi Rooftop Restaurant, which offered sweeping panoramas across the endless Nairobi skyline. This is one of the city’s premier places to socialize, and attracts not just tourists like myself, but passers-by, locals and expats alike.
- To book, check prices or availability for Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection
6. Billionaire Resort & Retreat Malindi – a 5-star, stunning and tranquil resort perfect for a couple’s romantic getaway
The Billionaire group is an undisputed leader in curating hospitality experiences steeped in a luxury ambiance.
Caressed by the serene azure waters of the Indian Ocean, this captivating resort is a place where souls and senses are stimulated, and the tranquil essence of the East African coast is in full swing.
A classical Kenyan culture is combined with refined gastronomy, award-winning wellness experiences, and pristine white beaches, ready to pamper you with everlasting memories.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening dining at the Billionaire Grill & Bar, which sits elegantly on the beach and offers some of the best fusion cuisine I ever savoured.
- To book, check prices or availability for Billionaire Resort & Retreat Malindi
7. Diamonds Dream of Africa – a stunning, traditional and fancy resort offering guests an evening entertainment program daily
The enchanting force of nature melds with exotic Indo-Arabic architecture to create a unique charm at this paradisiacal resort, which sits on a dazzling white sand beach.
Every second here was magical, whether relaxing on the Balinese armchairs on my private terrace or taking a refreshing dip in the palm-fringed pool.
The sound of the wind and the rustling of the surrounding vegetation brought a truly uplifting tone to my once-in-a-life-time Kenyan vacation.
The on-site Mvua Spa offers guests a chance to strike that perfect harmony between body and mind, while being pampered by the skilful hands of local experts.
- To book, check prices or availability for Diamonds Dream of Africa
8. Leopard Point Luxury Beach Resort & Spa – Malindi – a new, fancy and exquisite resort where guests can hire bikes to explore the area
This dreamlike ‘home from home’ offers a treat to the senses, one that only the beauty and bounty of the African countryside can offer!
The resort is immersed within a manicured tropical garden, and consists of 15 rooms and 4 villas. Each villa is unique, and comes with an independent swimming pool and garden, while offering a unique vantage point across the Indian Ocean from an elevated position.
We booked the Villa Aloe, which came with three bedrooms, a balcony, a living room, a dining area, and a kitchen.
The on-site restaurant, Jiko, takes its name from the traditional brazier used by local communities, and is harmoniously integrated into the luxuriant environment.
- To book, check prices or availability for Leopard Point Luxury Beach Resort & Spa – Malindi
9. Hemingways Watamu -a tranquil, modern and bright hotel where guests can experience spectacular dining whilst overlooking the ocean
Watamu means ‘home of the sweet people’ in Swahili, and is a fitting appellation for this iconic tropical paradise.
The resort sits in the heart of the Watamu Marine National Park, and offers a large dose of Kenyan coastal luxury. There was so much to do here, from learning to kite surf, to taking a sunset dhow cruise on Mida Creek, and playing golf on one of the world’s most beautiful courses.
The resort offers easy access to a pristine beach, and the expansive green space in front of each room invites you to read, relax, and soak up the sun-drenched charm.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hemingways Watamu
10. The Sands at Nomad – an award-winning, spacious and vibrant boutique hotel steps away from a golden sand beach
The Sands is the most idyllic haven to relish barefoot island luxury and an impeccable service on Kenya’s south coast.
This award-winning boutique invites you to indulge in first-class dining and exquisite wines, and head out towards untouched reefs with Kenya’s leading PADI dive centre.
Alternatively, you can simply lounge around the resort and soak up the graceful Kenyan hospitality. Sustainable practices are at the core of every undertaking here, and each guest booking helps to support the incredible work of the Diani Turtle Project, which protects the fragile marine environment.
The eloquent woodwork and Swahili objets d’art in the guestrooms gave my partner and I an island welcome like no other.
- To book, check prices or availability for The Sands at Nomad
11. Olarro Plains – a peaceful, spacious and ec0-friendly accommodation that blends elegance and wilderness for a truly wonderful stay
If you fancy combining a rustic safari retreat with an atmosphere of refined luxury, Olarro Plains will hit the spot.
This all-inclusive lodge retreat brings Kenya’s untamed scenery to your fingertips, and you can choose between a secluded hilltop haven and a Savannah view lodge.
As you step foot out of this eco-conscious property, 20000 acres of vast wilderness opens up before you, and there are many excursions on offer inviting you to experience it to the fullest.
Each evening, you can share a toast with like-minded adventurists on the veranda, and mingle the night away under the starry African sky.
- To book, check prices or availability for Olarro Plains
12. Elephant Bedroom Camp – Samburu – a unique, rustic and upscale resort surrounded by acres of magnificent nature
For the ultimate camping experience in the heart of nature, this intimate and elegant resort offers an astonishing safari setting, along the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River.
The resort is shaded by Doum palms and other emblematic trees that make up a green belt of riverine forest in the Samburu National Reserve, in the backdrop of the dramatic Mt Kenya.
Each of the 14 spacious tents are adorned with rustic and colourful African touches, and include a private plunge pool on the decks. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out in the lounge and dining area, admiring the elephants, monkeys, and impalas passing by.
- To book, check prices or availability for Elephant Bedroom Camp – Samburu
13. Salt Lick Safari Lodge – a charming, elegant and rustic accommodation well known for being one of the most photographed lodges in the world
Here we have one of Kenya’s flagship lodges, which is one of the world’s most photographed accommodations.
Salt Lick is a luxurious safari escape set in the heart of the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and overlooks a waterhole and the vast Tsavo plains.
As soon as I entered, the property’s charm was evident, from the trademark Kenyan hospitality service to the perfect positioning of the cosy communal nooks and the rustic décor.
All rooms are elevated on stilts and built across two levels, and offer a chance to revel in breathtaking views of nature at its finest.
A great aspect of this lodging experience was its extraordinary excursions on offer, my favourite of which was the peaceful early morning jeep tour, which brought me within touching distance of many exotic animals.
- To book, check prices or availability for Salt Lick Safari Lodge
14. Gigiri Lion Villas II – one of the most beautiful boutique hotels in Nairobi where guests can experience a hip, cool and stylish stay
This 5-star Nairobi accommodation is graced by an atmosphere of refined elegance. Simply meandering down the plant-fringed pathways to my villa brought to light a relic of traditional Kenyan culture, with precious, timeless artefacts scattered around.
From the peaceful outdoor pool area to the vibrant, moody-lit restaurant, the property exudes luxury in every corner.
The guestrooms are brought to life with quirky patterns and bright coloured tapestries, and ooze comfort through crisp white linens and fluffy rugs.
Breakfast here is a buzzy affair, and provides the fuel for an action-packed day on one of the hotel’s many unforgettable excursions.
- To book, check prices or availability for Gigiri Lion Villas II
15. Tribe Hotel – a cool, lavish and design hotel featuring a spa area, outdoor swimming pool and fitness center
Potentially Nairobi’s coolest hotel, Tribe blends a contemporary design with indigenous art and artefacts handpicked from across Africa, exuding a sense of understated glamour.
The interior is kitted out with hip furniture, and gorgeous statues and paintings are dotted throughout. The soaring sunlit atrium is the perfect spot to mingle with like-minded travellers while a DJ spins chilled beats.
The hotel’s centrepiece is a tropical-style heated pool replete with a waterfall, where you will find a floating granite bar.
I thought the informal on-site restaurant Jiko was one of Nairobi’s most charming eateries, owing in part to its sumptuous international menu, and in part to its candle-lit ambiance.
- To book, check prices or availability for Tribe Hotel
16. PrideInn Mara Camp – a beautiful, romantic and exclusive accommodation providing guests with breathtaking views of Mara plains
PrideInn Mara Camp is surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the Mara plains, and is set on a 25-acre of unspoiled savannah land along the banks of the river Talek.
It is the perfect, most exclusive getaway lodge for the discerning traveller seeking to retreat to a simpler way of life. The camp’s strategic location grants you a front-row seat to the annual wildebeest migration, one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles.
On-site, a pioneering blend of art, comfort, and safari-style quietude leaves you feeling refreshed and invigorated, whether you choose to stay in a tent or a river cottage.
- To book, check prices or availability for PrideInn Mara Camp
17. Mara Chui Eco-Resort – a traditional, eco-friendly and spacious resort tucked away between gorgeous ancient trees
Carefully engineered to blend with the Mara safari spirit, this graceful eco boutique overlooks the Oloolaimutia Hills and is tacked elegantly under ancient trees.
Its 41 stylish cottages, planted within the woodland, offer some of the world’s most jaw-dropping vistas. The resort’s décor and furnishings create an inviting ambiance for fostering relaxation and a sense of well-being, turning a glamping experience into one of refined luxury.
The location is the stand-out feature, which brings remarkable safari adventures around the Masai Mara Game Reserve to your fingertips. The area is rich with hippos, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, and gazelles.
- To book, check prices or availability for Mara Chui Eco-Resort
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Michael Cowley – writer and photographer
Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always had an affinity for adventure. Growing up he was lucky enough to live in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s continued seeking out new places and cultures. In his spare time he explores everywhere from the sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, trying all kinds of street food, playing carrom with random strangers, and fine wine – he knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Indonesia, Goa, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations. Find Michael on Instagram or Twitter.