Visiting Kisumu and checking out the new Imperial Express Hotel

The sun is setting when I leave Nairobi for Kisumu. The Fly 540 leaves on time which is a relief as I hate being late. As we fly to Kisumu we watch the sun set and it is beautiful being above the puffy white clouds as we watch the sun setting. I had wanted a window seat precisely for that. I am looking forward to staying at the new Imperial Express which is a business hotel.

clouds

Kisumu has mushroomed over the last couple of years. With a great airport, newly constructed roads and owing to the efforts of the urban development program, this lakeside city with a population of over 250,000 people has a myriad of business opportunities awaiting exploitation. Kisumu is open for business and there are many opportunities for businessmen and entreprenuers in this city. Check out our article on business opportunities in Kisumu County. There are also plans to put up a convention centre in Kisumu, as this has become the MICE  (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibition) center for the region.  The Convention Centre which will be modelled after the KICC in Nairobi will cost Ksh. 8 billion and will put Kisumu on the map for group travel.

When we reach Kisumu I start fiddling with my phone, I am supposed to get an airport transfer to my hotel, which is the newest kid on the block in Kisumu. The Imperial Express is only 3 weeks old, an offshoot of The Imperial hotel which has served some great Kenyan hospitality at the lakeside for the last 30 years. I decide to get out and see whether there is somebody waiting for me, before I start making phone calls to ask whether my ride has arrived. The cab driver is there with my name and my flight on a piece of paper. So off we go into the city.

I haven’t been to Kisumu for the last 2 years, actually I have passed by on a bus on the way to Uganda for a writer’s festival but the last time I spent time in Kisumu was 2 years ago. We had combined a business trip with a road trip so it was both business and pleasure. The road was a mess at the time as it had just started being constructed and this time the road is better, no delays on the road which is good.

The ride from the airport to Town about 15 – 20 minutes from the airport and I talk to my driver along the way. This trip used to take about an hour and a half before the new road was constructed but now it takes a very short time. I want to take a trip to the famous Dunga Beach to watch the sunset and I am trying to find out if it is possible before my flight the next day. He tells me it is quite a distance from the other side of the hotel. I scratch that off my bucket list for the trip. I do not want to miss my flight the next day. I have a list of things to do in Kisumu. Most of them will not be possible during this trip. Kisumu has plenty to offer the curious tourist. Here are 15 Places To Visit In Kisumu County! I will get to tick off one item on the list which is a visit to the Imperial Hotel as I check out what has brought me to the city which is their new hotel The Imperial Express.

The Lobby at Imperial Express. Image from https://www.facebook.com/imperialhotelexpress/photos/a.1655080268044453.1073741827.1655077704711376/1659985914220555/?type=3&theater

The Lobby at Imperial Express. Image from https://www.facebook.com/imperialhotelexpress/photos/a.1655080268044453.1073741827.1655077704711376/1659985914220555/?type=3&theater

Imperial Express is an impressive hotel. I like the lobby. I check in and answer the relevant questions on the form. I get a key card with a Wi-Fi password written on the back. I am on the second floor. Immediately I get off the lift lights flicker on. This hotel runs on solar power and the lights are triggered by movement. So as I move along the corridor to my room more lights go on in the corridor.

The Imperial Express. Image by Tom Otieno. Image from http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Imperial-opens-a-subsidiary-in-Kisumu-s-CBD/-/1248928/2883732/-/yai74sz/-/index.html

The Imperial Express. Image by Tom Otieno. Image from http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Imperial-opens-a-subsidiary-in-Kisumu-s-CBD/-/1248928/2883732/-/yai74sz/-/index.html

I get into the room and check it out. The hotel theme I find out later is earth tones so my room is in browns, greys, blacks and white including the painting over the bed. The bed is a double, and looks very comfortable. On my left is a table with a dial phone so you can call reception and on the other side there is a closet with a safe, and hangers ready to take my clothes. There is also a 14 inch satellite TV so when you get bored you can watch the news or your favourite shows. The bathroom has a toilet and shower, which mercifully has hot water. Hotels and hot water are tricky combinations, many claim to have hot water but the water is lukewarm or just cold. I am grateful that this one works although figuring out it works so that you don’t get scalded is something of an experience.

bed 1

The Imperial Express doesn’t have a restaurant, so I am already resigned to the fact that I will have to eat outside the hotel. I whatsapp a friend in Kisumu for some options and he tells me I should try Java. But sometimes there is no fun eating in a new place alone. I am wondering whether I can survive until breakfast and I go through my options. I have a chocolate bar in my bag and I am thinking maybe I can survive. As I contemplate my options to leave the hotel to search for food or settle for the chocolate, I get a call from reception. There is a courtesy car that operates between the two Imperial hotels which are around 500 metres apart. “Should the van come for you?” the receptionist asks. I reply yes and get my stuff ready so that I can leave. I try to figure out how to open the safe but I give up and leave my laptop in plain sight.

At the main Imperial hotel I find the Hotel Manager Michael Kamau. I order fish with vegetables, and ugali. When the fish comes it is a large fish. I am thinking this is a meal for two but I tuck in, the foodie in me is up for the challenge. The fish is really good.

fish 2

I actually forgot to add the lemon until I was almost done with the fish. I usually add some salt and pepper to taste but the food doesn’t really need it. It’s more force of habit than anything else. It is prepared well and at some point I abandon the ugali and vegetables. I was already getting full and I need space for dessert. At Ksh. 900 this is an excellent meal and value for money. I reminisce about my last trip where we ordered fish by the lake side and we were told it would be Ksh. 800 and when the bill came it was Ksh. 1200 per person. I will write a story of how we were conned by a fish lady in Kisumu another day.

For dessert I have an icecream sundae.  It was quite lovely especially in the Kisumu heat. Kisumu is humid and if you are not used to it the heat can get to you.

sundae 2
The service is excellent, the waiters are nearby and they make sure they clear up once you are done. You also don’t have to keep waiting for them to come over. I ordered food and within no time there was somebody there with a hot towel for me to clean my hands. The meal doesn’t take long to come which is a relief. I was impressed that when I was going to sit, the seat was pulled out for me by the waitress. I have to say the service is excellent.

When I was done, I am driven back to the hotel. I am one of those people who finds it hard to sleep in a strange bed so I read in bed until 2 am as I chase my insomnia with a good story. The Kisumu heat was also getting to me. I had tried not to use the air conditioning as it affects my sinuses but eventually I was forced to switch it on so that the room could cool down. Once I found a setting that suited me the sleep comes eventually. The bed is very comfortable so I slept well.

I woke up to work and the first thing I thought was they have Wi-Fi. I got my key to get the password. The Wi-Fi is alright but like most hotels that have Wi-Fi it fluctuated. This is one of the things I think Hotels have to work on, making their Wi-Fi connections more stable so that customers don’t experience downtime. It was a good connection, better than average for hotels I have been to, which is saying a lot when we are in Kisumu not Nairobi.

I went down to breakfast at about 830. I tend to work early mornings and usually have a heavy breakfast at about 9-10. Breakfast was to end at 9 so I needed to get a move on in order to get my mind stimulated for the day. Breakfast was cereal, juice, coffee with toast and yogurt. The Imperial Express doesn’t really have a wide selection for breakfast which was somewhat disappointing to me. But it makes sense that it is an express, it is for people on the go. If you want to have a full continental breakfast you can head over to the main hotel and have a proper breakfast at Ksh. 750.

I had requested a tour of the hotel and I got one from the manager Mr. Kamau. The hotel is new, and the rooms are standard. You can either get a double (which is also a single) or you can get a twin. They also have rooms for people with disabilities.

bed 2

You can see Lake Victoria from a distance from some rooms.

You can see Lake Victoria from a distance from some rooms.

lobby 2twin

Guests will be able to come out and relax here. The chairs haven't been put out out yet.

Guests will be able to come out and relax here. The chairs haven’t been put out out yet.

I then went for lunch at the Main Imperial hotel. We walked from the Express to the Imperial Hotel. We passed through the park, where kids were playing football. Imagine at the Kisumu Park you can even get seats to hold meetings. The Kenya Urban Roads Board has a Children’s traffic park where school children can go for lessons on traffic signs. They also get a chance to ride bikes or a car for a small fee. Makini School Kisumu children were  having a day out.  Since the teachers were on strike there were quite a few children there skateboarding. It is Ksh. 500 without skates and Ksh. 300 with skates.

kisumu children traffic park

skating

imperial 1
The imperial Hotel has some lovely rooms which I will show you in another post. Afterwards I went to Java to have coffee with my pal Ominde who works at Kisumu’s premier radio station Urban radio. It was great to catch up and find out what’s happening in Kisumu. The last time I was in Kisumu there was no Java. There are developments all around and I got to find out about them from Ominde.

Soon it was time to leave. It was sad to leave without going to all the tourist places I have been planning to go to. But with Kisumu it is never goodbye. The fish and the people call you back.

Great points

  • Rooms start at $USD 50 (Ksh. 5000) per night which for all the facilities you get is a bargain.
  • The service is excellent at both hotels.
  • There is free Wi-Fi which is a must for the business traveler.
  • The rooms are quite big, spacious and comfortable for the amount you are paying. Also the sockets to power your gadgets are many; you don’t have to hover around one socket waiting for your gadgets to charge so that you can charge others.
  • Although they do not have a proper restaurant you can go to the main hotel and have your meal at a discounted rate if you are staying at the Imperial Express.
  • You can also use the facilities at the main hotel. This includes the pool (renovations are starting in October so you might not be able to swim there for some time), gym and fitness center at Imperial Hotel. Guests at the Imperial Express do not pay extra to use these facilities which is a plus in my book.
  • For the kind of price you are paying you would not expect to get such a big room with a safe.
  • The hotel is also solar powered which is a big plus in my books.
  • If you inquire at the desk you can also find out about local tours. They also provide car hire and taxi services, and airport transfers so you can ask at the reception and you will be out and about in a very short time.

Things that could be better

  • They do not provide slippers so you will have to carry some. I know this is an issue for hotels as some guests may abscond with things like slippers but they should consider giving slippers if a guest is staying 3 nights or more. It is abit awkward to go on a business trip and have to carry slippers or have to go buy slippers.
  • I think they could do better with the breakfast. I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it is an express so breakfast is the basics.

The Imperial Express is a business hotel as I had said before so if you are planning to visit with your children I would advise you to go to the main Imperial Hotel which is more child friendly. I think it is a great addition to Kisumu City. In terms of service, great food, cost and general facilities including add ons from the Imperial I would give it a 4 ½ out of 5. I would recommend you try out the Imperial Express Hotel the next time you are in Kisumu.

My Fly 540 flight back to Nairobi is delayed by an hour. I wish I had gone to watch the sunset at Dunga Beach but I will be back to tick things off my Kisumu bucket list.

Check out Business Daily’s article Imperial opens a subsidiary in Kisumu’s CBD.

If you are in Kisumu for business or pleasure and have a few hours to kill there are a few places you can check out 15 Places To Visit In Kisumu County!

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