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Relax on the Kenyan coast in a luxury ecolodge
Probably Kenya’s biggest draw are its outstanding safaris, and for good reason. It is here where, with a trusty Masai guide by your side, seeing the big five is usually a given. Not to mention that the awe-inspiring yearly wildebeest migration passes right through the Mara triangle. But what should not be forgotten on a trip to Kenya is escaping it all on a voyage to the Indian Ocean. And not to be beaten by the indulgent tented camps of the parks, Kenya’s Coastal Province is home to some of Kenya’s best luxury hotels and Eco lodges to ensure your stay is as comfortable and relaxing as possible- just make sure you leave the hotel room, there is a lot you’ll want to see…
First up, Mombasa, an intoxicating mix of African, Arab and European influences, inherited from years of world-wide traders using this large coastal city’s port as the gateway to East Africa. Wandering around this chaotic city is a whirlwind of color, noise and culture- but take a small moment to sit. To order a chai tea. To let the city into your senses. Such an activity is an everyday pastime for the people of Kenya and it is no more enjoyable than in Mombasa, where coastal life makes it that little bit more relaxed. And the Chai itself is sublime. From the moment the seller pours it out for you into a little shot sized glass and the aroma of hot sweet spice hits your nose, to the first delicious sip, and the inevitable three cups after that. Mombasa is also where you can find people selling a heady mixture of half Chai and half intensely strong coffee sure to give you that extra kick you need for a day exploring.
Apart from simply wondering the back alleys and cobbled streets and drinking Chai, there are a few sights to keep culture junkies happy. First stop should be Fort Jesus, situated right on the water front. This imposing, stone structure was built by the Portugese in 1593 based upon the Renaissance ideal of mirroring the perfectly proportioned structure of the body. A guide will tell you that it is meant to represent the body of Christ, although I’m not sure how true this is! You’ll also get to meet the city’s kids here, who use the Fort’s grounds as a football pitch. Heading next to the Old Town for a wander you can try the not so local, but incredibly tasty, delicacy of a Damascus Shawarma which are seriously good.
When you have had enough of sightseeing make your way to Pirates Beach, or as it is more formally known, Jomo Kenyatta public beach. Being the only non-private beach, this beautiful stretch of sand is very important to the locals and you will see them head to the shores on Sundays in their finest clothes.
Further north you’ll find Malindi. A quiet, simple town where you can grab some decent seafood and lounge beach side, beer in hand, in some pretty incredible beach front accommodation. Visiting between March and June means this may be all you do as silt from the nearby river make any water based activities fairly unpleasant. However, outside that time a visit to the Malindi Marine National Park is where the fun is at. From simple snorkeling to full on scuba diving, the underwater world here is pretty outstanding for this part of the world. You may even be lucky enough to spot a Whale or Mako shark.
The real star of Kenya’s Coastal Province though is the Lamu archipelago. After a long dusty journey along bumpy broken roads, a fresh mango shake portside should be your perfect introduction to Kenya’s oldest living Swahili town. With no real roads and donkeys dominating the streets, Lamu is pretty hard not to be charmed by. The beaches here are not as idyllic as those further down the coast but the fact that you can often find more than a stretch of sand to yourself sure make up for the ill-placed driftwood.
And what could be a better way of getting to know the local culture and taking in the relaxed atmosphere than a Dhow trip to visit the neighboring Islands. These iconic sailing boats dominate the waters from here to Zanzibar and are make a great day trip. And don’t miss out on taking your own hand at sailing, before stopping along the way for a fresh red snapper and squid BBQ on a deserted mangrove island. Sitting astride the helm with the wind whipping past you is a pretty spectacular feeling.
In the evenings, after a day of sailing or wandering around the UNESCO Lamu Old Town, head back down to the port and settle in for the night in one of the many restaurants on the main strip. Order a few beers, a huge plate of fish and fries and get one of the locals to teach you the game of Bao. It’s a fun way to interact with the locals, but beware, it is addictive.