The oldest hotels in Eastern Africa were built by white settlers, merchants or by the government. When comparing over 30 of these old hotels, in addition to iconic structures, the location also stands out. Certainly, one of the reasons for the choice of location was the view. For example, Mount Kenya Safari Club is within Mount Kenya, and Grogan’s Castle has a spectacular view of attractions in and around Tsavo Park.
Another lot of the oldest hotels in Eastern Africa are in the main cities. Sarova Stanley is one of them; a historic building basking in Nairobi’s modern skyline. However, it seems that in the 50s, it was also possible to put up a hotel when royals visited. The only problem with hotels that served such purposes is that they aged as soon as the guest left, governments changed and modernism happened. No one budgeted for regular maintenance of such hotels. Hence, the important spot in history of such hotels is not enough to protect them from demolition. For example, Ripon Falls Hotel, a 1950s property built to house Queen Elizabeth when she visited Uganda to inaugurate Owens Falls Dam, is an abandoned, dilapidated hotel about to be brought down.
But, as more famous brands fly in to invest in East Africa’s hospitality industry, countries can at least salvage what is left of historic hotels. Hence, more historic hotels in Kenya and Tanzania are now under the management of brands like Hyatt. For example, Hyatt took over the management of the famous Kili in Tanzania in 2011, from Kempinski Hotels.
Another alternative when there’s no money in coffers to maintain these old hotels is to convert them to this or other office. On the same note, some hotels have been flattened for the construction of sleek skyscrapers. For example, Meru’s Pig & Whistle was flattened to pave way for a modern complex. Often times, such changes have met opposition from the public and activists, sometimes leading to tedious court battles to save historical monuments. For instance, activists went to court to demand the protection of the structure of Forodhani Hotel, which was one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania.
There are few to no old hotels within most of the countries’ national parks probably because it was still untamed Africa with thousands of wild species and no gazetted conservancies. That is certainly incomparable to the camps and lodges sprouting in parks and forests now.
But, it’s not doom and gloom yet, so let’s look at the oldest hotels in Eastern Africa. These are hotels that have celebrated a silver jubilee and then some.
- Keekorok Lodge – 1962
Keekorok is the oldest lodge in Maasai Mara’s plains.
- Lake Naivasha Country Club – 1937
Even in the 1930s, people knew how to splurge. The owners built it lavishly on a 55 acre property, on Lake Naivasha’s shores. In the 1930s, it was often called the Lake Hotel.
- Keren Hotel – 1899
It is also known as Albergo Italia.
- Hamasien Hotel – 1920
British officers stayed at this hotel during British rule in Eritrea.
- Mount Kenya Safari Club – 1938
It was Mawingu House in 1938 before it became Mawingu Hotel in 1939 and Mount Kenya Safari Club in 1959 when it was bought by William Holden.
It was also one of the first properties in Nanyuki.
- Grogan Castle Hotel – 1930
This castle’s view of Tsavo, Lake Jipe and other attractions must have been the reason for its location.
- Nyali International Beach Hotel – 1946
It is one of the largest hotels in Mombasa, with 173 rooms built on a large beach-front property.
- Treetops Lodge – 1932
The Queen stayed at this hotel before her ascent to the throne in the 1950s. This lodge is an old-fashioned tree-house on the outside but a splendid 32 rooms and 3 suites lodge.
- Aberdare Country Club – 1937
This country club occupies The Steep, which was the home of an English couple.
- The Giraffe Manor – 1932
The Giraffe Manor, where dining with a giraffe happens literary, started as a hunting lodge. Several owners later, a couple bought it to turn it into the lodge it is today.
- White Rhino Hotel – 1910
Built for the European settlers, Africans gained entry when it changed ownership in 1970. Change in ownership also grew the number of rooms from 27 rooms to 102 rooms.
- Sportsman Arms Hotel – 1950
I doubt whether there is someone who grew up in Nanyuki and doesn’t know Sportsman Arms Hotel. At least most young people born in the 80s may not have walked into this hotel but they must have danced the Sunday evening away at the Buccaneer Club next door.
- The Outspan Hotel Nyeri – 1926
Interestingly, the couple that built this hotel bet a bottle of champagne for suggestions of the best name. So, a lady suggested Outspan and the couple liked it.
- The Arusha Hotel – 1894
This hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania. From the years of horse drawn carriages to date… Guests through the years have included Baron Von Blixen, Miriam Makeba, and Hollywood’s Will & Jada Smith.
- Masindi Hotel – 1923
Masindi Hotel is situated in Masindi, and it was built by the East African Railways & Harbours Company.
- Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel – 1904
Just minutes away from Nairobi’s city centre are the 170 rooms & suites, a modern health club, heated pool and several restaurants & bars of Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel.
- Sarova Stanley – 1902
Sarova is one of the oldest hotels in Kenya. On its list of affluent guests are Queen Victoria, Picasso and R.A Fessenden. How about that?
- Hotel Ambassadeur Nairobi – 1962
This hotel is one of the landmarks in Nairobi. It has 83 rooms & suites all sound-proofed to withstand the noise of the chaotic bus terminals beside it.
- Sarova Panafric Hotel – 1965
Panafric Hotel sits on a hill facing Nairobi’s city centre. Did you know it was founded to celebrate pan-African movement? Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo, inaugurated it.
- Kampala Speke Hotel – 1925
This hotel has undergone several renovations since the 1920s but its signature structure is still intact. It is named after John Hanning Speke who was the first European to see Lake Victoria.
- Grand Imperial Hotel Kampala – 1920
All governors during the colonial period visited the Grand Imperial Hotel.
- Ripon Falls Hotel – 1954 (now derelict)
To inaugurate Owens Falls Dam in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth needed accommodation worth her stature, and Jinja didn’t have any, so they put up Ripon Falls Hotel.
- Kampala Sheraton Hotel – 1967
Almost every change of government in Uganda has seen a change in name of this hotel. It began as Apolo Hotel after Apollo Milton Obote who was the country’s Prime Minister, then became Kampala International Hotel during the reign of Idi Amin, and back to Apolo Hotel when the Uganda National Liberation Army. Now leased, it is a Sheraton Hotels and Resorts franchise.
- New Africa Hotel – 1906
As one of the oldest hotels in East Africa built over the site of another hotel, New Africa Hotel sits on the site of Hotel Kaiserhof that was one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania.
- Hyatt Regency the Kilimanjaro – 1965
It was built in 1965 by the government; most locals call it Kili. Several baptisms later, The Kilimanjaro is now Hyatt Regency The Kilimanjaro, under Hyatt’s management.
- Zanzibar Hotel – 1896
It housed the German troops towards the end of 1800s. The earliest record of the name Zanzibar Hotel was in 1902. Zanzibar Hotel has had a change of ownership, and names, through the years.
- Ghion Hotel – 1951
The palace of Emperor Haile Selassie I is just next door.
- Itegue Taitu Hotel – 1906
The wife of Emperor Menelik II, Taitu Betul, built this hotel. However, much of the historic hotel burnt down in 2015.
- Hotel Muhabura – Between 1954 and 1956
It was known as Hotel Mimosa before its second owner named it Hotel Muhabura in 1968.
- Grand Holiday Villa – Late 1800
From businessmen to rulers and royals, this hotel has hosted them all. Previously, it was called the Grand Hotel.
- Acropole Hotel Khartoum – 1952
It rose from a 10 room hotel to become one of the top hotels in Sudan. However, the first building was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1988. A new building was set up opposite the previous site.
- Selam Hotel – 1937
Declaration of Eritrea’s independence was done at this hotel, in 1991.
Some countries such as Djibouti and Burundi don’t seem to have hotels celebrating a silver jubilee by now (at least that’s what Google databases suggest).
Did I leave out any old hotel in Eastern Africa?
References for this article include the websites of all the properties listed as well as these sources