Last updated on June 15th, 2021
I have never ‘met’ a waterfall I did not like and the waterfalls at Ngare Ndare Forest were no exceptions. Visiting this magical indigenous forest at the foothills of Mt. Kenya has been on my mind for a while now and over the weekend, we finally got to tick it off our Kenya ‘must visit’ list.
Travelling from Nairobi to Ngare Ndare Forest
Ngare Ndare Forest is located about 4.5 hours away from Nairobi, so getting an early start was imperative. We left Nairobi at about 6:00 am and simply plugged our destination into Google Maps. There was very little traffic and in a little over 3 hours, we arrived in Nanyuki, the gateway to Mount Kenya.
From Nanyuki town, Ngare Ndare Forest is another hour’s drive, so we decided to take a recess here to have breakfast and to give Mark a breather from driving.
Nanyuki is a busy market town and there is no shortage of places to eat or grab a morning coffee. We chose to stop at Cedar Mall to allow Julie and Cody to get breakfast at the Java House Coffee Shop there. I had packed snacks and food for the road, so Mark and I had a little car picnic in the parking lot and later joined them for coffee at Java.
After breakfast, our trip continued for another hour. During the drive, we spotted some giraffes and zebras in the distance, which was exciting.
Eventually, we arrived at the entrance gate, paid the fees and charges and were directed on where to go to begin our hike. We drove for another 3km until we arrived at an inscribed rock pointing us to the beginning of the trail.
Ngare Ndare Hiking Trail
At the starting point, a few rangers met the different groups gathered. One gave us a detailed briefing of the forest and the activities we would be embarking on, then set us on our merry way with the others.
The hike to the pools took about 50 minutes with 2 brief stops along the way. It was quite an easy hike, nothing compared to Mount Longonot or Sleeping Warrior but I can say we were all excited to arrive at the blue pools.
Visitors are welcomed to plunge into the freezing waters of the main waterfall and pool – provided that they are good swimmers.
One of the rangers who accompanied us had a rope and life jacket in case of an emergency but after the stern warning we received at the induction, I don’t think he was keen on using these items. He certainly was not pleased when two ladies panicked as they went further into the deeper end of the waters.
The Blue Pools & Waterfalls of Ngare Ndare Forest
Seeing the pools in their blue state was a highlight for me. Even though Ngare Ndare Forest is also worth visiting when they are not blue, i.e. during the rainy seasons, I was glad that we visited when we did and were able to see them like this.
I frolicked in the shallow end of the pool and was very careful to only be in spots where I was able to stand, lest I elicited the wrath of the rangers.
Everything you need to know about visiting the Magical Ngare Ndare Forest – including the best time to see the blue pools. Click To Tweet
Here’s a little tip for my photo enthusiasts: if you travel with a group or meet one there and are keen on getting your photos right, you want to get to the pool first. As more people plunge in, sand rises to the surface and (the shallow part) loses its blue colour until it settles.
After about 30 minutes of being here, it was time to return to the trail’s starting point. Once we arrived, a ranger pointed in the direction of the canopy walkway, a 10m high and 450m long wire mesh bridge that wrapped around the forest.
The Canopy Walkway at Ngare Ndare Forest
Before visiting this forest, I had read other people’s experiences of seeing some of the resident wildlife from this sky-high walkway. Naturally, I was keeping my fingers crossed to spot some elephants down below.
Sadly, there were none. However, we did see a magnificent colourful bird floating from tree to tree. I am not much of a birder, but that was exciting to see.
The walk itself was also quite nice – a bit scary in some parts for me as the bridge became wobbly. Still, it seemed more stable than the Lekki Conservation Centre’s walkway I have been on, so my fear level was not at its highest.
At the end of the bridge is a nice wooden deck overlooking the forest. If I were to visit this place again, I would probably plan to have a picnic here.
Even though there’s an exit down this deck, I am not sure one is allowed to use it. We had to go back the same way we came, through the walkway to the car park.
We had all but given up on the chances of seeing elephants or any other wildlife for that matter, when we pulled out of the forest but as we got closer to the entrance, there they were – a group of elephants grazing in the field!
My visit was complete! I saw the natural pools in their glorious blue colour and I saw elephants in the forest 🙂 A rhino or leopard sighting would have been the icing on the cake but hey, I am not complaining!
We returned to Nanyuki town shortly after, tired but contented after a truly wonderful experience.
Ngare Ndare Accommodation: Sweetwaters Eco-Farm & Cottages
For our trip, we stayed at Sweetwaters Eco-Farm and Cottages, an Airbnb accommodation close to Ol Pejeta in Nanyuki. It was an hour away from the forest but since Ol Pejeta was our main destination for the weekend, the location was ideal for us. Our host, Anne was also wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed staying at her place.
Apart from the Sweetwaters Eco-Farm, there are few other accommodation options I considered for this trip. Top on my list was Sieku Glamping. I am still hoping for an opportunity to stay here the next time we are in the area. In addition to the accommodation options above, Ngare Ndare Forest has a campsite for visitors who opt to camp within the park.
Ngare Ndare Entrance and Guide Fees (2021)
Residents and Kenyan adult citizens visiting the Ngare Ndare Forest pay Ksh 2,000 per day to gain entrance to the forest, pools and canopy walkway, while non-resident adults pay Ksh 4,000. Children between the ages of 10 and 15 pay half the adult prices. In addition, there is a Ksh 1,000 guide/ranger fee and a Ksh 500 car entry fee per group.
If you opt to camp inside the forest, the charges for that are Ksh 3,000 per person for residents and citizens, Ksh 5,000 for non-residents and Ksh 1,000 for an armed ranger. Children also pay half the price.
PS: It is important to book your trip in advance. You can do so by calling the number on the Ngare Ndare Forest Trust website or sending an email to email@example.com. At the time of this writing, all payments are made via Mpesa and cash payment is not accepted.
Best Time to Visit Ngare Ndare Forest
The best time to visit Ngare Ndare Forest is during the dry seasons which generally fall between the months of June to October and December to March. With climate change happening, I’d say this can be a hit or miss. In February, it rained nearly every weekend but we visited in the first week of March and had dry and hot weather throughout our stay.
During the dry seasons, the roads leading to the forest are more easily accessible (especially if you do not have a 4×4 vehicle) and the pools maintain a beautiful turquoise blue colour. During the rainy season, they have a brown hue and a 4×4 vehicle is necessary to navigate the roads.
What to Expect from Road Conditions
The road conditions from Nairobi to Nanyuki town are excellent and well paved. You only start to go off-road about 11kms away from the forest. It is still a significant amount of driving so if you are travelling during the rainy season, a 4-wheel drive is unquestionably mandatory. I’d say it is also preferred during the dry season as well.
Considering a Day Trip to Ngare Ndare Forest?
If you absolutely can’t make out time for an overnight trip, then you may consider a day trip here. This would be ideal if you or someone else in your travel group isn’t the one doing the driving. The drive from Nairobi is pretty far – about 4 hours one way. It will take a toll on your body.
Ideally, it is best to spend at least one night within the area or in Nanyuki, located an hour away. Even a weekend trip is pushing it, trust me. But I understand that sometimes, you may just have an open window to visit and you just want to take it. I won’t judge you for that!
The Sum Up + Tips …
- Living List Worthy: Ngare Ndare Forest is certainly worth a spot on your Kenyan travel living list. It is such a gorgeous location and an ideal destination for nature lovers.
- Budget Travel: I find that group travel in Kenya is necessary to save costs. One tour outfit I can recommend is Justrioba Tours. I have been on a trip with her to the Sleeping Warrior Hills and I loved it so much that I signed up on the spot for her next hiking trip to Elephant Hill. She also organized a trip to Ngare Ndare in January and compared to the prices I have seen online, you’d be better travelling with her to get a reasonable rate.
- Best Time to visit: If I had to pick a month, I’d say January. We visited in March though and we were lucky to have great weather conditions.
- Extend your stay: by visiting one of the conservancies close by (e.g. Borana, Lewa or Ol Pejeta) or enjoy downtime at your chosen accommodation.
Have you been to Ngare Ndare Forest? If yes, how was your experience? If no, is it on your Kenya travel list?