Experience paradise at the best beaches in Kenya
What better way to end, or start, your roadtrip safari in Kenya with a dip in the Indian ocean? Kenya has a fabulous coastline, offering you white sandy beaches, warm blue waters, splendid diving, deep sea fishing, great kite surfing and a lot of accomodation options in all price ranges. Its great fun to roadtrip up and down the coast for a couple of days ( or weeks!), and visit the beach towns described below, who are in close vicinity to each other, yet have their distinct charms and highlights. Or do a one way roadtrip, starting in Nairobi and ending at the lovely coast.
Check our Guide to the best beach destinations in Kenya.
The most beautiful beaches in Kenya: our top five
Lively Diani lies about 19 km south of the famous Fort Jesus landmark in Mombasa. Its about 90 minutes south from Mombasa by car, and the most popular beach resort in Kenya. It has been a popular destination for Kenyans, expats from Nairobi and Italian retirees since many years. There’s plenty of accommodation on offer to suit all budgets and preferences. The palm fringed beaches are lined with resorts, boutique hotels, hostels and privately owned villas. You haven’t been to Diani if you haven’t tasted at least one cocktail at the Forty Thieves Beach Bar. South of Diani is where you find Wasini Island and the Wasini Marine National Park, one of the best snorkeling places in Africa.
Two hours north from Mombasa you find Kalifi. This beach destination is popular among the expat crowd, and, compared to Diani, sees less of the resort type of tourist. Besides the beautiful beach, Kilifi is known for its creek. The perfect place for all your favourite water sports activities. Sailing, surfing, wakeboarding, water skiing, sup boarding, kayaking - all water sports are on offer. Nautilus and Boatyard are real’ good restaurants, offering fine dining.
Another 40 km north from Kilifi is Watamu, a small Swahili fishing village. The bays surrounding the town are part of Watamu Marine Park, considered one of the best snorkeling and diving areas in East Africa. Watamu offers plenty of relaxed and budget friendly accommodation. In case you feel like doing some on land activities, the Bio-ken Snake Farm is well worth a visit, as well as the Watamu Turtle Watch, who do great work in protecting the turtles who lay their eggs along the Watamu beaches. The Gedi Ruins are a perfect afternoon visit if you want to learn a bit of history and culture.
Praised by so many magazines in the past years, Watamu Treehouse is a unique place to stay, and to our pleasant surprise, still quite affordable.
Malindi - little Italy in Kenya
Only 25 kms north of Watamu is Malindi, a seaside Swahili town, bigger than Watamu. Already founded in the 13th Century, the city centre has some interesting, yet crippling, historical buildings. Since the 1960s, Malindi has been known as “Little Italy”. The tourist resort is brimming with Italian owned restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops. Italian restaurant menus offer after-dinner liquors such as Limoncello and the African beach boys - hawking snorkel trips, woodcarvings or ganja, all make their pitch in Italian. What an odd sight.
Why are there so many Italians living along the Watamu and Malindi coastline? During the Second World War, Italian regiments were stationed in this part of the Kenyan coast. Apparently, the Italians were given land as a form of compensation, so they were able to settle in the town with their families. In the 1960s, the opening of the Italian run Broglio Space Centre in this region attracted more Italian engineers and scientist with luck seekers following in their footsteps. In its heydays in the 1980s and 1990s, over 4,000 Italians lived in Malindi town.
We really enjoyed to have some good coffee, ice cream and pizza, and appreciated to look at tastefully restored villas. But a shadier side to Malindi are rumors about underage sex and drugs trade, and racial politics.
Looking for an off-the-beaten-track, cultural beach destination? You might want to give Lamu Island a try, the Zanzibar of Tanzania, but then how Zanzibar was 20 years ago. Lamu town is the best-preserved remaining settlements of the Swahili tradition, an eclectic mixture of European, African, Arab and Asian traditions and cultures. Cars are banned on the island. You explore the narrow alleys by foot whilst donkeys carry heavy load.
Most people fly to the Lamu Archipelago, but it’s also possible to get there by car from Mombasa and end your coastal roadtrip in Lamu. Self-drive is not allowed, you need to be accompanied by a driver-guide for the Malindi - Lamu stretch. Contact Roadtrip Kenya if you want to visit Lamu by car.