It’s simply one the best coastlines in Africa, with over 500 kilometres of warm waters, white sandy beaches, mangroves and a million things to do. Msafiri sent Jackson Biko to select his top coastal experiences – here are his favourite thirteen…
1 Malindi: See the Gedi Ruins
This is the site of an unknown civilisation. There are no known records of the people who lived here, but it must have been a powerful Swahili settlement in the thirteenth century. Barely standing are the ruinous remains of a mosque, as well as houses, mansions and other buildings that point to a mixed community of Arabs and Indians. A captivating place to visit, and one that contains many tantalising secrets. Come and be enchanted by the ruins scattered throughout the 43-hectare site in the Arabuko Sokoke forest, home to butterflies, birds, giant shrews and a mysterious past.
2 Immerse yourself in nature
Every birder worth his salt should visit this reserve. For one, this is the largest stretch of coastal dry forest left in eastern Africa. In it are over 270 species of birds, 79 amphibians, 52 mammals and some 600 different plant species. You will find Clarke’s weaver here, a bird that is completely endemic to this forest. You might also spot the Amani sunbird and spotted ground thrush, which are found only in this park and possibly Tanzania.
3 Visit a bird hospital
The Falconry of Kenya receives sick birds for purposes of rehabilitation but also to train them for use in demonstrations. The smaller birds are usually released back into the wild after being given basic treatment. You will also have the chance to see caged snakes – mambas, cobras and pythons – as well as 140-year-old tortoises and crocodiles. Tel: 0722346491.
4 Photograph the Vasco Da Gama Pillar
Built in 1498, this is one of the oldest European installations in Africa. It is said that Vasco da Gama built it as an appreciative gesture for the Sultan of Malindi after the warm welcome he received. It is imposing and distinctive, so why not freeze history by taking a picture of yourself next to it?
5 Lamu: Take a dhow safari
Ever since the days of King Solomon, these dhows have facilitated trade to Asia in slaves, spices, rhino horn and ivory. Start the ‘safari’ from Manda Island at dawn (Manda is part of the Lamu archipelago). Sit back and relax as you trace some of the ancient trade routes and learn about the old Swahili culture while you drift past villages that were once Swahili city-states. The culture was extensive, starting from Mogadishu in the north and reaching down to Mozambique and beyond. The views here are unrivalled, and when the sun is out there is no other place you would rather be than out there, cutting the waves and slicing through the breeze.
6 Go fishing
Thanks to the nutrient-rich Somali current, the waters around Lamu and Kiwayu teem with sea life and thriving reefs. This is one of the few spots in the region that produce the large yellow fin tuna and the billfish, because the waters are lightly harvested. The Tana River Delta, famous for its silt and nutrients, attracts a good number of fish. Spend the day bobbing in these blue waters, waiting for your line to tug.
7 Mombasa: Visit Fort Jesus
It might be a cliche, but there is good reason why Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a must-visit. There is no better example of sixteenth-century Portuguese military fortification. An architectural landmark on 2.3 hectares, built in the shape of a man, presumably Jesus, and designed by Giovanni Battista, the fort’s sole purpose was to protect the port of Mombasa. Take a tour; see the underground rooms that were used as holding cells for slaves. It will break your heart.
8 Roam around the old town
The culture of Mombasa stems from the old town. The buildings here were deeply influenced by trading activity. Living there for hundreds of years were a rich mix of Arabs, Asians, Portuguese and British. The result – grand historic buildings dating as far back as the eighteenth century, with features such as carved doors, balconies and narrow streets. Nip into the many eateries and enjoy the rich, spiced Swahili delicacies, or just buy coconut juice from the many vendors in the street.
9 Ride in a Tamarind Dhow
It’s probably one of the most romantic things to do at the coast. The dhow sets out at 6pm and does a long circuit around the island while you are entertained by soft and relaxing tunes from a musical group, as you sip gently and indulge in a long, leisurely seafood dinner.
10 Watamu: Take a dive
Watamu Marine National Park – a protected area – has some of the best diving sites in Kenya. It is ideal for beginners and snorkellers, with its exquisite shallow coral gardens to practise in. More experienced divers can move on to the Turtle Reef, with its higher drop-offs (10-15 metres); here the high spiking coral heads attract large shoals of parrotfish. If you are very lucky you will sight the white-tip reef sharks that are known to reside here.
11 Eat in a mangrove restaurant
In the mangroves that line the shoreline of Watamu are small informal restaurants – if you could call them that. They are actually open wooden structures with benches as seats and extraordinary views of the sea. Young men, trained in the culinary arts of seafood, whip up sumptuous meals. The menu consists of crabs, lobsters and calamari, all accompanied by coconut rice. Go for the crabs, done with onions, spices, garlic, pepper, lemon and coconut juice. They will set you back around Ksh1000; or you could opt for the grilled seafood platter that goes for Ksh2000. Both are delectable choices. Wash it all down with beer or wine. And by all means stay around and watch the sunset. It will enchant your soul.
12 Birdwatch at Mida Creek
Mida Creek, in Watamu, is a birdwatchers’ heaven. A large saline lagoon that merges with a 1600-hectare mangrove forest, it supports a diverse range of flora and fauna including both indigenous and migratory species. As well as being a wintering location for migrant wading birds, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is also an important feeding ground for young turtles and a spawning area for several fish species.
13 Wasini Island: Swim with dolphins
If you want to see dolphins, then head to the south coast. Take a boat out into the warm, clear, blue waters, and soon enough you will encounter bottlenose dolphins, swimming in large families. Most likely they will be swimming directly into the breaking bow wave. Because they are playful and acrobatic they are great fun to watch. Feel free to join them in the water. They will be naturally curious about you.
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