Where to Go on the Kenyan Coast

With expansive, pearly beaches that are practically deserted, warm, azure waters just begging to be swum in, the odd beach boy selling juicy coconuts, and traditional dhows sailing past in the background, it’s not hard to see why the Kenyan coast has been enticing visitors for years on end. This is the perfect place to relax after a few days spent bumping along dirt tracks on safari, or to hone your kitesurfing, snorkeling, or scuba diving skills.

Lamu, Kenya
Lamu, one of the most magical destinations in Kenya, is famed for being the oldest and best-preserved example of a Swahili settlement in East Africa. The Old Town has been inhabited for over 700 years and is made particularly beautiful by the assortment of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European architecture. Since 1370, different cultures have been lured to Lamu, making it an important trading port along the East Africa coast. Nowadays it enchants visitors with its narrow cobbled alleyways, wandering donkeys, weather-beaten stone buildings, hidden courtyards, and the sight of rustic wooden dhows sailing in the distance. Visit the local mosques, wander the streets of quaint Shela village, sail over to the luxurious Majlis Resort for a swim and a cocktail, or while away the hours on an ornate roof terrace.
It’s a two-hour drive from Mombasa along open roads that parallel the coast to reach Kilifi Creek, a giant estuary of cerulean blue that spills out into the Indian Ocean. As you cross the majestic Kilifi Bridge, you’ll notice a few yachts cruising along the calm waters below and a handful of elegant villas scattered along the creek’s banks. After the chaos of the cities, the scene is delightfully calm. Were this spot of geographical beauty in Europe or America, it would be teeming with tourists, hotels, restaurant chains, and tacky bars by now. Not in Kenya and not in Kilifi. With its beautiful coastline, a smattering of creekside restaurants, and a few opportunities for sunset dhow-boat cruises, there’s little to do besides relax in this sleepy costal town.
Diani Beach, Kenya
Diani Beach is a 25km strip of pale, sugary sands backed by the cerulean Indian Ocean. As one of the more developed towns on the Kenyan coast, there’s a great variety of restaurants, cafés, bars and shops here. Also on offer are activities from horse riding to kite-surfing and tours of the ancient Kaya Forest. Popular haunts in Diani include the Forty Thieves Beach Bar - renowned for their fun beach parties and tasty pizzas, as well as Ali Barbour’s restaurant – set inside a candle-lit cave which opens out onto the starry night’s sky above. However you choose to spend your time in this idyllic costal location, one thing is for sure: as the sun sets, castling a golden glitter on the sea below, and the beach-front restaurants lay flickering lanterns on the sand, there are few other places in the world you will want to be.
Malindi, Kenya
Increasingly known as Kenya’s ‘Little Italy’ because of it’s large number of Italian residents, Malindi is the place to come on the Kenyan coast if you have a penchant for pizza, or are greedy for gelato. Aside from the range of excellent Italian restaurants on offer, Malindi also boasts an atmospheric old town, which is great for an afternoon amble, and fresh seafood served up on the beachfront to hungry customers. Like the other locations on the Kenyan coast, here you’ll find idyllic tropical beaches, high end resorts and tranquil spots to while away the hours. Also worth a visit if you head northwest of Malindi is the spectacular Marafa Depression: an extensive series of sandstone gorges and sheer gullies known locally as Nyari or Hell’s Kitchen.
Watamu, Kenya
Nestled between pristine beaches and lush forest, the peaceful town of Watamu is ground zero for water sports in Kenya. One of Kenya’s most renowned kite-surfing schools, Tribe Watersports, is based here and offers three–day courses to get you skimming the warm waves of the Indian Ocean in no time. If you’re happier underwater, Watamu will also appeal. A maze of rich coral reefs skirts the shoreline, so giant turtles and exotic fish can be seen year-round, and at certain times of the year majestic whale sharks pass through this region, making it a snorkeling and diving haven. For accommodation, check out the eccentric and charming Watamu Treehouse.
Mombasa, Kenya
With its endless array of high-quality hotels and lodges, decent restaurants like Tamarind and beach bars galore, Mombasa is far and away the most developed spot on the Kenyan coast. Due to its energetic, busy feel, and the fact that it’s still a huge trading port, many tourists choose not to stay in Mombasa and instead use it as a hopping off point for the various other options on the Kenyan coast. That said, the beaches here are as golden and glistening as anywhere else on the coast, and the old town, with its narrow cobbled streets and the scent of spices wafting through the air, is well worth experiencing. Given that Mombasa has been ruled by the Portuguese, Arabs and the British, there are a number of fascinating historical ruins worth seeing here, such as Fort Jesus, and a wealth of Portuguese and Islamic architecture dotted around town. There’s also a snazzy new luxury yacht marina for the millionaires interested in visiting in style…
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AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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