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In addition to the fantastic safaris of the interior and the coastal beaches, one of the highlights of Kenya for visitors is the climbing and hiking on and around Mount Kenya, designated by UNESCO as both a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. And to take full advantage, a wonderful place to stay, on the mountain's lower slopes, is Rutundu cabins near Lake Alice and Lake Rutundu, offering a marvelous chance to unplug and overnight in a pair of rustic, quaint log cabins amid Africa's vibrant nature.
The five-hour drive north from Nairobi is stunning - as you draw closer, the views of Mount Kenya on a clear day are incredible. The road ends at the Kazita Gorge, where friendly, accommodating staff meet you and zipline your luggage across the gorge while you make a ten- to 15-minute hike across to the Rutundu cabins.
Now, don't expect much in the way of amenities here. There's no electricity (although they do provide ample solar-powered lights around the cabins), and you must even bring your own coal and firewood for the night. What this place offers in return, though, is the opportunity to go "off the grid" for a day or two, disconnecting from the your devices and the rest of the harried modern world to revel in the beauty and serenity of nature. Moss hangs like an old man’s beard through trees where forest elephants roam, and beautiful flowers bloom, only to harden into wood pine cones as if under a witch’s curse. Lake Rutundu is right at your doorstep, and you can fish for trout, from the shore, casting platforms, or a wooden dinghy.
By morning the ground is frozen, but the skies are clear and the fire is still smoldering after the long night. Leopards are said to lurk in these morning mists as they return back to their mountain dens after nights on the prowl, and the lore of the first European explorers to the region also tell of mountainous dwarf lions with trim manes that wander the lands. The Kikuyu, one of the tribes that inhabit Mount Kenya's slopes, tell legends of how their god Ngai descended to upon the mountain to create the first human. The mountain casts its shadow over the cabins, imposing an alpine silence.
Rutundu is just eight kilometers (five miles) south of the Equator, which combined with its altitude means that most days seem like summer, yet the nights are wintery cold. The altitude means the weather can change quickly and while the peak of Mount Kenya is visible at dawn, clouds can swoop in ferociously, shrouding the valley with fog and rain.
When the weather is good, you must hike up to Lake Alice, sitting around 5km (three miles) above the Rutundu log cabins and around 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) above sea level, so if you suffer from altitude sickness the hike can be tough on the lungs. But it is most definitely worth it - the pristine lake in the crater with its crystal blue waters is a sight to see! It involves a couple hours of pushing through giant heather, on a small winding path up to the lip of the crater of Ithanguni, in which it rests. From here, the icy peak of Mount Kenya rises like a beacon in the distance. Staying at the Rutundu cabins is a unique Kenyan experience.
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