The Kenyan Coast


Kenya has a long coastline of beautiful white beaches with perfect weather all year round.  The Coastal region extends for 480 kms along the Indian Ocean from the Somalia border in the north to the Tanzania in the south.  Its proximity to Tsavo National Park and Shimba Hills National Reserve provides a perfect blend of beach, cultural and wildlife experiences.  Kenya’s only population of Sable Anetelope occurs in the Shimba Hills.  The reserve also hosts two Kaya sites (Kaya forests have spiritual and ceremonial significance to the Mijikenda people of the Kenyan coast) which were recently inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.  The Tsavo West National Park is a vast expanse of savanna with numerous rocky outcrops and ridges. Major wildlife attractions include elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, cheetah, leopard, buffalos and a variety of bird species.  The north-eastern boundary of Tsavo West adjoins the Tsavo East National Park.  Here the semi-arid bush landscape is cut by the meandering Galana river, with its hippo and crocodile population, which eventually enters the Indian Ocean near Malindi.

From Shimoni and Diani in the South, to Mombasa Island and north to Kilifi and Malindi, the Tana River delta and the Lamu archipelago, every coastal stretch has something to offer to the discerning traveller.

The trade winds of the Indican Ocean have been bringing the world to the East African coast  for over a thousand years.  The various interactions with the Arab, Asian and European cultures has given birth to a unique Swahili culture.

The South Coast is a tropical paradise and boasts hotels catering to all tastes from the small boutique properties to the larger family hotels.  Besides the white unspoilt sand beaches of Diani, the South Coast is also known for its coastal rain forest with variety of wildlife including the rare colobus monkeys.  The offshore reefs in the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park are full of spectacular coral gardens, thriving with sea turtles, dolphins and variety of fish.  Shimoni, close to Tanzania, is a popular big game fishing centre and the area holds relics of the slave trade and colonial history.  Shimoni is a Swahili word for ‘place of the hole’ and was named after the many caves and tunnels.  The caves are geological formations and were used by Arab traders for hiding slaves before shipment to the Zanzibar slave market between the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mombasa is Kenya’s main port and the country’s second largest city.  Mombasa town dates back to medieval times when it was an important Islamic trading port.  Throughout its  history under various Portuguese, Arab and British administrations, Mombasa has retained its special character.  Attractions include a tour of the Old Town and its labyrinth of narrow twisting alleys displaying beautifully carved doors, interesting Indian architecture and delicate balconies, showing the visitors the living culture of the Old Town, as well as the 16th century Portuguese built Fort Jesus.

The mainland to the north is linked to Mombasa island by the Nyali bridge.  The Nyali, Bamburi and Shanzu beaches on the North coast all have excellent tourist facilities.  The Kenyan coast has numerous ancient Swahili settlements.  The 16th century Jumba la Mtwana and the 15th century Gede ruins lie north of Mombasa.  The towns of Kilifi, Watamu and Malindi are all popular coastal resorts.  Watamu and Malindi Marine National Parks are underwater paradise, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving centres.  Another attraction between the towns of Kilifi and Malindi is the Arabuko-Sokoke forest.  The forest is rich in rare and endemic wildlife including the Sokoke Scops Owl.

North of Malindi at Kipini is the mouth of the Tana River, Kenya’s longest river.  The Tana Delta is a vast wetland complex.  It  contains a wide variety of habitats including riverine forest, grassland, woodland, lakes, mangrove swamps , dunes, beaches, estuaries and coastal waters. The wetlands, including the coastline and offshore islets hold large concentrations of water birds and it is an important site for thousands of breeding birds.  The adjacent Tana River Primate Reserve is home to two threatened primates, the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Mangabey.

Beyond Kipini lies Mokowe, the roadhead to the Lamu Archipelago.  The Archipelago is considered to be the birthplace of the Swahili culture and language.  It is a cluster of seven islands including  Lamu, Manda, Pate, Ndau and Kiwayu.

Lamu Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site listed in 2001.  Its narrow streets, women dressed in the traditional bui-bui, shuttered windows, carved doors, donkeys and many mosques all add to the mellow atmosphere of a medieval Islamic town.    Lamu is a centre of Islamic learning and hosts the annual Maulidi Festival, a celebration held during the third month of the Muslim calendar to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohanmed, which attracts pilgrim from all over East Africa and beyond.  as well as the annual Lamu Cultural Festival.  The annual Lamu Cultural Festival is another attraction celebrating the Swahili traditions including dhow races, donkey races, traditional dances, poetry competitions and local crafts.

The village of Shela on the south-eastern tip of Lamu Island is situated along beautiful white sandy beaches and has several upmarket hotels and guesthouses.

Across the channel on the island of Manda are the ruins of the town of Takwa, a 16th century settlement.  Further afield on Pate Island are important ancient settlements some of which date back to the 8th century and the Omani period Siyu Fort.

To the north, Kiwaiyu is a narrow strip of beach surrounded by reef with snorkelling and diving possible in the nearby Kiunga Marine National Reserve.  Its protected waters are a sanctuary for populations of endangered Dugong or sea cow, three species of sea turtle and many tropical fish species.

The Kenyan Coast offers a variety of sporting and recreational facilities, unparalleled beach and wildlife packages, and an immersion into the culture, history and custom of the diverse peoples of the coast. The word ‘Karibu’ simply means ‘Welcome’ but is laden with the warm hospitality of a culture which has been welcoming visitors to the Kenyan coast for centuries.