The Margarita House is a guesthouse in the upperclass suburbs of Karen in Nairobi, Kenya. It is a refreshing place to land and come back to on a trip to Kenya. It is a very attractive mansion with large rooms, and delicious meals. A welcoming staff will enfold you in their warm hospitality and guide you into new adventures.
We have stayed at the Margarita House before and returned this year. Once before that, we opted to stay at a large luxurious hotel in downtown Nairobi. The hotel was great, but maneuvering through the very congested downtown to come and go from it became a burden.
Our experience in Kenya has been that accommodations are either super-luxury deluxe with correspondingly high price tags or very inexpensive with living quarters most Americans might feel are not up to standards. Margarita House is a nice compromise, as it is basic in some ways and yet it does have its own style and attractiveness.
The food and the personal touches make up for the little details one might consider modest (e.g., the number of towels and places to put toiletries in the bathroom - which are due to be enhanced shortly). The food is simple and wholesome - and yet very satisfying and delicious. There is a real homemade quality to it, as often the chef will basically cook up whatever your heart desires.
The Margarita House is in the suburb of Karen (named after Karen Blixen, Danish coffee plantation owner who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dineson). If one of your primary reasons to visit Kenya is to see the wild animals (as it is for most people), we found that Karen is a much more accommodating location to use as a base of operations.
It is not far from the wonderful David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage for baby elephants and other animals – a must visit for any traveler.And the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage is on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, which is the only wildlife park in the middle of a big city - another must-see. If you foster a baby elephant, you can spend time with him when he gets comes in from the afternoon walk, gets his bottle and put away for the evening. One of our fosters, little Bomani, was not happy when all the milk was gone from his bottle:
The Giraffe Center is likewise nearby, where a visitor can quite easily get kissed by a giraffe.
And the picturesque Karen Blixen Museum is also in Karen. We found the Coffee Garden Restaurant and Bar and bar of the Karen Blixen to be one of our favorite places to spend time. If you wanted to visit any of those places from downtown Nairobi, it would generally require an expensive and lengthy taxi ride. But Karen is more convenient, less crowded, and a shorter ride to all the above-mentioned attractions.
In addition, we found Margarita House to be a lovely place to hang your hat, as it were, and to use as a home base between regional trips to various parks and landmarks around Kenya. The folks there will hold your luggage, do your laundry, and generally help you in any way they can. Wifi is free. That is why we return there. They will send reliable drivers to wait for you at the airport and take you wherever you want to go, as well as provide you with you all the information you are looking for. And the prices are reasonable, too. You can rent a single for US $90/night or double for $130 – and that also includes a good warm home-cooked breakfast. Longer stays are also encouraged.
The Margarita House has many visits from tourists and businesspeople alike. The suburb of Karen is full of businesses and NGOs. It’s a part of town where you can walk around safely in the daytime. Many good restaurants are but a stone’s throw away: The Rangers in the Nairobi National Park gives you a window on wildlife, and The Open House great Indian restaurant in the Crossroads shopping mall offers delicious cuisine. We always enjoy going to the Galleria shopping mall, and, as already mentionied, to the Karen Blitzen Coffee Garden Restaurant and Bar.
And the Margarita House sometimes hosts cooking classes, which is one of the things that first attracted us to it. It is a rather small lodging, so just about everything is tailor-made for you. Soon they will have classes in how to make traditional African dishes.
The Margarita House opened its doors in 2007. Meant to be a retirement project for Dr. Job Bwayo and his wife Elizabeth, a tragedy struck the family, resulting in Dr. Bwayo’s death and serious injuries to Elizabeth. Joel, their son, who was at university studying IT, stepped in to take over the family business. Joel’s father was a well-known HIV/AIDS researcher. It was tough going for the first two years, but today there are many returning guests. Manager and owner Joel Bwayo likes to think it is because the “personal touch is an emphasis for us.”
I met Elizabeth Bwayo,who assists Joel in managing the hotel. She likes to give back to charity, helps the orphans of HIV/AIDs and thus feels she is continuing her husband’s work. She also gives to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps, to help feed women who have lost their homes. “It’s God who gives us abundance here and not just for ourselves, so that we can also extend that help to other people.” And speaking of her injuries, “He saved me for a purpose to reach other peoples’ lives through this.”
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
Lower Plains Road, off Karen Road
P.O. Box 34027-00100
Telephone: +254 020 2018421 (Reservations)
Mobile Phone Number: +254 711 424357 (Reservations) or +254 721 769429 (Management)