What better way to end or start your roadtrip safari in Kenya than with a dip in the Indian Ocean? Kenya has a fabulous coastline with white sandy beaches, warm blue waters, splendid diving and deep sea fishing, great kite surfing and many hotel options in all price ranges.
At Roadtrip Africa, we are big fans of roadtripping the Kenyan coast, and it's no surprise that our Bush to Beach self-drive tour is amongst our most popular.
In this Kenya Travel Guide, we reveal to you the best and most beautiful beaches in Kenya with tips on things to do, where to stay and where to eat.
1. Diani Beach | The best kite surfing spot in Africa
Lively Diani is located about 19 km south of the famous Fort Jesus landmark in Mombasa. It's about a 90-minute drive from Mombasa and is Kenya's most popular beach resort.
Diani and its neighbouring beaches of Tiwi and Galu offer 15 km of developed beach stretch. Still, Diani has a very relaxed and laid-back vibe and attracts a nice blended crowd of Nairobians, expats, tourists, digital nomads and kitesurfers.
Are you looking for an active holiday? Galu Beach offers one of the best kitesurfing spots in the world with consistent conditions (a steady afternoon breeze, warm water, and sunshine). South of Diani is where you find Wasini Island and the Wasini Marine National Park, one of the best snorkelling places in Africa.
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars and accommodations on offer in and around Diani, catering to all budgets. Our team at Roadtrip Africa can assist you in planning an unforgettable road trip to Diani with carefully curated accommodations. We make sure to only select beach villas and small-scale resorts, so you can truly immerse you in the authentic ambience of the Kenyan Swahili coast.
2. Kilifi | For backpackers, digital nomads and surfers
Kilifi town is a 2-hour drive from Mombasa and a friendly, laid-back and authentic village located along a picturesque creek. It's a fun and scenic drive from Diani Beach to Kilifi on a good tarmac road, and the roadtrip includes a scenic ferry trip.
NOTE: to get to Kilifi, you have to prebook the Kikoni ferry and pay with Mpesa. If you need assistance, Peter, our Roadtrip Africa manager in Kenya, is happy to help.
Kilifi is not (yet) discovered by fly-in tourism and is popular among backpackers, digital nomads, kitesurfers and yogis. There are some surprisingly cool hang-out places to discover in Kilifi:
- Salty's on beautiful Bofa Beach offers great food, good music, cool vibes, and is the place to go for sunset drinks. They also run a professional kitesurf centre.
- Distant Relatives is an eco- and backpacker lodge set in the mangroves. A lovely place to stay for families, friends and budget-conscious travellers, but also great for drinks and good food.
- Nautilus is a very good seafood restaurant, located right at the creek.
- The Food Movement is a wonderful place to go to for lunch. It's set in a former sisal plantation and is currently converted into an eco-playground for creatives with ateliers, a shared office space, eco-housing projects and a school.
Tip from Roadtrip Africa: visit the creek on a cloudy night to see bioluminescent ('sea sparkle').
3. Watamu | The best diving beaches in Kenya
Another 40 km north of Kilifi you'll find Watamu, a well-developed resort town with plenty of excellent restaurants and accommodations catering to every budget. Watamu consists of several bays with white sandy beaches and is home to a big Italian community. Many Italians have set up businesses in Watamu, so expect good Italian coffee, delicious ice cream, and rich pasta dishes.
Watamu offers world-class diving opportunities and is home to 20 prime diving locations, all within less than 30 minutes from the main beach town. All diving sites are protected by the Watamu Marine Reserve. Other popular activities include kite surfing, snorkelling, dolphin watching, sunset tours and canoe rides in beautiful Mida Creek.
A few recommended restaurants and places to hang out in Watamu are:
- Crab Shack - A community-run place in the mangroves. You can rent a canoe here and head out for a tour. Definitely try their crab samosas!
- Lichthaus - This bar offers hammocks on the water, nice party vibes, and stunning sunsets. Very instagrammable, so don't go there if you are allergic to such ''kind'' of crowd ;)
- Pilipan - Indian food and good cocktails overlooking a prawn lake
- Kokomo - Great Lebanese food, located right on the beach at a lovely bay
4. Malindi | A historical Swahili beach town
Only 25 kilometres north of Watamu lies Malindi, a seaside Swahili town. Already founded in the 13th Century, the city centre offers interesting, yet crippling, historical buildings.
Malindi and the Italian community
Since the 1960s, Malindi has been known as “Little Italy”. The tourist resort is packed with Italian-owned restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops. Italian restaurant menus offer after-dinner Limoncello shots, and the African beach boys - hawking snorkel trips, woodcarvings or ganja - all pitch in Italian. What an odd sight.
Why do so many Italians live along the Watamu and Malindi coastline? During the Second World War, Italian regiments were stationed along this part of the Kenyan coast. They were given land as compensation, so they could settle in town with their families. In the 1960s, the opening of the Italian-run Broglio Space Centre in this region attracted more Italian engineers and scientists with luck seekers following in their footsteps. In its heydays in the 1980s and 1990s, over 4,000 Italians lived in Malindi town.
Sadly, Malindi is now in despair. Most of the Italians favoured Watamu and left Malinndi. Nevertheless, we think Maldini is worth a day's visit on your road trip along the Kenyan coast. It's a place to soak up history and experience a Swahili seaside town inhabited by locals, instead of tourists and expats.
5. Lamu Island | A yogi hotspot
Looking for an off-the-beaten-track beach destination? You might want to try Lamu Island, the Zanzibar of Tanzania 20 years ago.
Lamu town is the best-preserved remaining settlement of the Swahili tradition, an eclectic mixture of European, African, Arab and Asian traditions and cultures. Cars are banned on the island, and you'll explore the narrow alleys on foot.
Lamu Island focuses on rather higher-end tourism. It's embraced by the international yogi scene and offers plenty of upmarket and small-scale boutique hotels. Your self-drive travels in Kenya take you up to Malindi but no further north. To visit Lamu Island, you must catch a domestic flight from Nairobi, Mombasa or Diani Beach.
Check out our itineraries here, and find out how to combine your beach holiday with a self-drive trip in Kenya!
Taking off on your Kenya beach adventure
Are you ready to rent a car and explore the beautiful beaches of Kenya on a self-drive trip? Get in contact with our experienced team at Roadtrip Africa to check availability, and secure your 4x4 now!