Taking a breather in Oloolua Forest green

Wednesday September 08 2021

The soothing waterfall on the hiking trail in Karen's Oloolua Forest. PHOTO | KARI MUTU


Since the start of Covid-19, with its movement restrictions, I have had opportunity to get outdoors in a safe way even for a few hours. A place I have visited a few times recently is Oloolua Forest, tucked away in the Karen neighbourhood of Nairobi. It is an indigenous forest sanctuary managed by the National Museums of Kenya and a wonderful place for an easy hike.

The first thing you experience at Oloolua are the cascading waters of the Mbagathi River flowing in a valley surrounded by lush vegetation. Farther ahead is the start of the main nature trail. It winds through the cool, serene forest and before long you, completely forget that you are still in the city.

The first place our small group headed to was the waterfalls, where Mbagathi River drops about twenty feet over large black boulders into a small pool of water before flowing on. Big fig trees with dangling roots cling tenaciously to the sides of the river valley. I find waterfalls very appealing; the tumbling sound, smell of the water, and verdant look of the surroundings.

Continued through the forest, I could hear vervet monkeys and Turaco birds calling out in the trees. Other wildlife that peoples sometimes spot are Sykes monkeys and dik dik antelopes.

Mau Mau shelter

The meandering trail led us once more back to the river where it flowed more serenely. Sunlight filtered through open patches in the canopy at the suitably named Bamboo Point, which has a few benches placed next to big clumps of bamboo. We sat in this tranquil spot for a while, enjoying the snacks and refreshments we had carried.


Picking up the trail again, it led out of the river valley, over rather rickety wooden steps on to the cave. This natural formation does not look very deep but literature I read said that the cave goes back over 35 metres. In colonial days it was used as a shelter by Mau Mau freedom fighters. Bats and small animals are the only residents now.

Oloolua has a variety of habitats besides the thick tree cover. There are several small streams that crisscross the trail and at one point, you get to the Wetlands, which is an open area of papyrus swamp. Herons, greater egrets, sacred ibis and moorhens are some of the birds I have spotted here.

There are a various picnic sites in the forest as well as a camping area. I have never camped in Oloolua but my nephew came on an overnight trip organised through his school and he says they had a really enjoyable time.

Signage downside

Oloolua is great place for nature lovers, children and people of all ages. I like that it does not get as many people the better-known Karura Forest although weekends are busier. Some people bring their dogs and others take their bicycles on the trails. And since the forest is fenced it is also a secure environment.

One disappointment is that there is very little signage along the paths to guide visitors. After you have visited a couple of times, you get a sense of your bearings and can use also Google Maps to pinpoint your location. But still, a few signs would still be helpful.

Oloolua is open every day, it is easy to access by private car or public transport, and the walk takes two to three hours. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and an adventurous spirit. Entry is Ksh200 ($2) for citizens, Ksh400 ($4) for residents, Ksh600 ($6) for non-citizens and children at half price.