Get to know your country! Follow the ‘Countdown to 50′ Campaign! Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and Kenya’s 50th Anniversary of Independence on 12th December 2013 we are highlighting one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, personal impressions and practical travel information.
This week we invite you to visit with us:
The Central Coast of Kenya – from Mtwapa to Ngomeni
Kenya’s coastline measures roughly 540 kilometres. The central part of the coast lies north of Mombasa, forming a Treasure that stretches from Mtwapa to Ngomeni. Curious visitors can experience a diversity here which goes far beyond the spotless sandy beaches. One especially intriguing feature you wouldn’t be aware of when visiting the Central Coast Treasure is the marvellous but hardly known coloured canyons of Marafa. You can also explore Watamu Marine National Park, a hot candidate for the most beautiful marine reserve of Kenya and the hidden ruins of Gede, an ancient town mysteriously overgrown by jungle. Experience Arabuko Sokoke, one of the biggest remaining coastal rain forests in Eastern Africa and the traditional lifestyles and cultures of the Swahili, Bajuni and Giriama people. There are plenty of beaches to bath, play, tan and meet the sea and the sun. How about setting off for game fishing, sailing, kite surfing, diving and snorkeling? Alternatively, you could enjoy the manifold opportunities offered in Kilifi, Watamu and Malindi to shop, go out, dine and party instead.
The lighthouse attraction:
Groaning and tears from Malindi seem to be inevitable as Watamu makes it as the lighthouse attraction of the Central Coast Treasure. It is agreed that Malindi, Ngomeni and Kilifi also have beautiful beaches. But …
Wonderful Watamu and surroundings
When looking at the facts one has to admit that the former fishing village of ‘the sweet people’ (which is the literal translation for Watamu) and its vicinity offer wonderful experiences which are unmatched anywhere at the Central Coast.
Watamu’s exhilarating beaches form sheltered bays framed by ancient coral outcrops. From their top you can enjoy scenic views of the shielded beaches and the roaring sea firing its waves furiously at the rocks like canon balls that explode with deafening thunder into fountains of spray. It makes you immediately understand the value of the sheltered harbours even after they fall dry during low tides. That is when you can wander about the sea floor and enjoy a dreamlike experience especially during full moon nights.
The encounter with whale sharks and manta rays is equally surreal. When the peaceful giants of the sea pass Watamu’s coast from December to February they in turn attract schools of scuba divers.
How about visiting the homestay of the famous Kenyan glass artist Nani Croze on a forested plot by the sea if you fancy ‘fairy tale’ like accommodation? Trees grow through ceilings with flying beds that make your dreams deliriously wild. And of course there is the colourful work of Nani which is incorporated into floors, ceilings and walls which makes you feel like you are living in a huge kaleidoscope. But the wonderful dreamworks of Watamu and surroundings don’t end there.
Gede, a 14th century historic town romantically overgrown by rainforest seems to be magically familiar until you realise it might have been the prototype for the ruins of the monkey kingdom in the Jungle Book cartoon – including the monkeys! The Syke’s monkeys boldly approach visitors for a treat which gives you wonderful snaps of the funny chaps.
There is a tree platform at Gede offering an unrivalled aerial view of the ruined houses, gates, mosques and walls.
The Kipepeo project on the National Museums compound of Gede which raises butterflies is also worth visiting.
And just across the tarmac is the start of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest with its magnificent vegetation, colourful butterflies and a peculiar specimen called the Golden Elephant Shrew. The rabbit sized forest dweller with its exceptionally long nose appears to have emerged from some fantasy novel and is only to be found here.
Malindi and surroundings: The Italian capital of Kenya
About 60 years before Da Gama, fleets of Chinese ships had already cast their anchors in the waters of Malindi. Now as you hover on a dhow with the surf towards Malindi beach like Vasco da Gama must have half a millennium ago, you’ll see Malindi’s buildings and minarets grow in size. In the light of the setting sun you’ll concur that there couldn’t be a more beautiful way of arriving at the Treasure of the Central Kenyan Coast that stretches from the saline area North of Sabaki River all the way down to Mtwapa Creek at the doorsteps of Mombasa.
When Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese seafarer landed in Malindi in 1498 after being chased angrily from Mombasa, the local sultan welcomed him as an ally against the rival port further South. He even equipped him with a pilot to show him the seaway to the spice land of India. Vasco da Gama happily accepted the offer to establish a lucrative but brutal reign in the Indian Ocean that would change the course of East African history. In the long run, Malindi’s support didn’t pay off. For once Mombasa was conquered, the Portuguese shifted their stronghold to the sheltered harbour of Mvita and cemented their dominance by building Fort Jesus. The ally in return slipped into insignificance for centuries until the Sultan of Zanzibar defeated the Portuguese and Baluchi settlers were sent to develop the neglected land.
Malindi’s rise as a tourist destination began during the British colonial rule in the 1930s. Today the coast from here to Watamu and further South seems to be firmly in Italian hands. A fleet of Piaggo three wheelers plough the main street shaded by giant fig trees. The Giriama kids will greet any mzungu with a ‘ciao’ and ‘alora’. A majority of fashion shops, bars, car rentals and hotels boast their Italian ownership creating a spicy antagonism with the local Swahili culture in the old part of town.
In fact it would be highly unfair to reduce Malindi to an African Riviera beach resort although it offers all activities you would possibly expect at the ocean. The sandy sea floor is unveiled by the low tide. It is perfectly even and makes a formidable sports ground that joggers and football players use extensively.
Malindi has a beautiful marine park, famous sea fishing opportunities and perfect conditions for kite surfers. But equally worth mentioning is a small chapel and the graves of Portuguese seamen, the local museum and the famous Da Gama Pillar guarding Malindi Bay.
Ngomeni and Marafa
If you feel that the town is too busy to unwind, visit the bird sanctuary at the mouth of Sabaki River a couple of kilometres to the North of Malindi or the significant mosques and islamic schools of Mambrui even further ahead.
Explore the long deserted beaches and glittering sand dunes of Che Chale and Ngomeni peninsula with its traditional Giriama villages shaded by coconut trees.
And make sure you don’t miss Marafa or ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, some 30 kilometres in the hinterland where erosion created a spectacular landscape of coloured canyons inhabited by baboons. In any other country Marafa would be a major attraction but so far, it has stayed rather unknown to Kenyans and foreigners alike.
As you have enjoyed Malindi and Watamu, driving further South will offer you even more impressions. On the first stretch the thick forest of Arabuko Sokoke is your travel companion before it gives way to cashew nut plantations. Kilifi Creek becomes a highlight if you park the car and walk to the middle of the huge bridge to stare into the jade coloured waters and onto the anchoried yachts and sea fishing boats.
Let your thoughts climb on board and sail out to the open ocean. For those who want to stay, Kilifi will offer more calmness than Malindi and some nice accommodation at the creek and on the seafront.
At Vipingo, the sisal is planted into strict lines like an army of spiky soldiers, overlooked by their generals of huge baobab trees. The very Southern tip of this treasure offers two secret places worth visiting before daring to take up the task of making your way into the crowded city of Mombasa. One being the historic ruins of Jumba la Mtwana, a little Gede under National Museums of Kenya right by the beach where there is also a restaurant. The other is The Moorings, a floating restaurant on Mtwapa Creek which is the ideal spot for a sundowner.
PRACTICAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
How to get there:
The most comfortable and fastest way to reach the Central Coast Treasure from upcountry is by air. Air Kenya, Kenya Airways and Fly540 fly to Malindi. You can get more information www.airkenya.com, www.kenya-airways.com, www.fly540.com.
To get to the coast, you can also choose the train. RVR offers a night train from Nairobi to Mombasa three times a week (Mon, Wed, Fr) which leaves at 7 pm and arrives at around 10.00 am; first class double cabins are affordable and recommendable. Return trains are on Tue, Thu, Sun.
Plenty of bus companies go from upcountry to Mombasa and other towns at the coast which leave in Nairobi River Road. Costs vary from approx. 900 to Ksh 2000 depending on the company and the standard you choose. From Mombasa there are buses and matatus going to all destinations in the coastal places. If you want to hire a care at the coast, Mombasa and Malindi offer a range of companies. Lofty Tours in Mombasa offers fair prices.You’ll find more information at http://www.lofty-tours.com
Msushi House: A private house with relaxed owners, own pool and spacious but fairly priced accommodation. To contact the owner, please call 0726-204340.
Mida Creek Ecolodge: Basic but clean and very charming community run accommodation at Mida Creek offering a wonderful bar, a tree platform, a traditional Giriama house and camping at very reasonable prices, please visit http://www.midaecocamp.com. for more details.
Barefoot Beach Camp: A nice camp on the quiet Che Chale beach North of Malindi which offers relaxed atmosphere, serenity, very good food and friendly hosts. Please find more information at http://www.barefootcampkenya.com.
African Pearl Hotel: In town, the African Pearl Hotel is a good value for money. You can find more information at http://www.africanpearlhotel.com.
Wine, Dine & Nightlife:
Watamu: For a tasty dinner or a relaxed drink, try the adorable restaurant cum bar of the Banda Youth Project at the head of Blue Bay. For Italian pastry (Beware: the apple puff pastre is highly addictive!), ice cream and a good coffee, check the Watamu Bahati Café. Come Back Disco in the centre of Watamu is the most lively place in town to drink and dance.
Malindi: The perfect place for a romantic dinner is The Old Man and the Sea on Ocean View Rd. Jabreen Café next to the roundabout on Kenyatta Rd offers cheap, fresh and good coastal food and is very popular with local people. The most glamourous of all discos is the Stardust on Mama Ngina Street. On full moons, there are several beach parties advertised in bars and cafés. For a good coffee, try the Karen Blixen on Mama Ngina.
Marine Park: If you haven’t snorkled the coral gardens of the Marine National Park, then you haven’t been in Watamu. For further information please go to www.kws.go.ke.
Mida Creek: At the creek which is reached from the Malindi-Kilifi highway, you can do an interesting mangrove walk on a hanging bridge built by the local community or explore it by canoe at high tide. A small entry fee is charged.
Gede Ruins: A hands on historic experience as you can stroll around the ruins of the ancient town, walk the forest, climb a tree platform or visit the Kipepeo butterfly project. For further information please go to www.museums.go.ke.
Arabuko Sokoke Forest: Wonderful terrain for nature lovers, bird watchers, cyclists and hikers. Knowledgeable nature guides from the local community are available. For more information please go to http://www.kws.org.
Quad Safaris: To Che Chale, Watamu and Galana Ranch by Max Ali opposite 7 to 7 Supermarket on Mama Ngina, please go to http://www.maxalikenya.com. for more details
Kite surfing: Che Chale Beach is said to be the best kite surfing spot in Kenya, equipment is on rent and the annual Kite surf Masters are held there.
Marafa: You can either go with a local safari company, by rented car or motorbike, appoximately 35 km North East of Malindi; the local community charges a small entry fee to finance educational scholarships.
Nature Sanctuary at the mouth of Sabaki River: As you drive North from Malindi, turn left before crossing the Sabaki Bridge, there is a community project and guides available there.
Malindi Marine National Park: If you don’t want to get wet and still see the coral fishes, you can hire a glass bottom boat. For those who snorkel, there are boat owners offering trips into the park including mask and snorkel at the gate to the National Park. You’ll find more information at http://www.kws.org.
A monthly publication celebrating coastal culture and giving a lot of practical information as well as critical reporting on current environmental and cultural issues, includes a stone town map of Lamu and a tidal calendar.
Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association:
Some good reading on beaches and major attractions of the coast. For more information please visit http://www.kenyacoast.net
We trust that this has been informative to you. Take it a step further and spread the message: like it, share it, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and stay posted for the next Treasure.
Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust for every contribution in this feature with special mention made to Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your company.
You are highly treasured.