Kenya is renowned as a safari destination. But this diverse East African country also boasts an idyllic Indian Ocean coastline studded with palm-lined beaches, pristine coral reefs and centuries-old Swahili ports. The main air, rail and road gateway to the coast is Mombasa, an island-based city flanked by some fine beaches, including Diani, Nyali and Bamburi. There are also plenty of other beach holiday options elsewhere along the coast, around Watamu, Malindi and Lamu. Here we introduce you to 10 of the best beaches in Kenya, starting to the south of Mombasa and working northwards to the remote Lamu Archipelago.

 

Gazi

The Sands at Chale Island The Sands at Chale Island

The sleepy Swahili fishing village of Gazi runs down to a beautiful bay sheltered by a narrow peninsula that terminates at Chale Island. The northern part of the bay supports one of southern Kenya’s largest mangrove swamps, while the eastern shore is lined by an attractive and relatively undeveloped swimming beach. Even more beautiful is the small beach on Chale, though this is reserved for guests at the island’s only lodge.

  • 45km/27mi south of Mombasa.
  • In addition to the usual beach activities, Gazi is home to a mangrove boardwalk run by a local community women’s group. Here you can see six species of mangrove tree, the amphibious mudskipper fish, and the dazzling mangrove kingfisher.
  • The Sands at Chale Island is one of the most exclusive, beautiful and ecofriendly beach resorts in East Africa.

 

Diani

Palm trees in a tropical garden along the Diani Beach Palm trees in a tropical garden along the Diani Beach

Beautiful Diani is the most popular beach resort near Mombasa – or anywhere in Kenya for that matter. A perfect cocktail of fine white sand, swaying palms and turquoise waters, it is home to some of the country's finest beach hotels, spaced sufficiently far apart that things never feel crowded. The coastal forest at Diani is inhabited by three monkey species and many forest birds.

  • 32km/20mi south of Mombasa.
  • Windsurfing; diving and snorkeling trips to Wasini Island; day safaris to Shimba Hills National Reserve and its community-run neighbor Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary.
  • Accommodation ranges from luxury beach resorts to funky backpackers. Popular options include Baobab Beach Resort and Elewana AfroChic Diani Beach.

Diani Tours

Nyali Beach

Swimming pool area at Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa Swimming pool area at Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa. Source: flickr.com/photos/meaact/18417031619

Suburban Nyali is the closest beach to Mombasa island and an attractive goal for a day trip from the city center. Kenya’s longest-serving beach resort, it first gained popularity when a hotel opened there in the 1940s. Despite its proximity to the city, it's a lovely swimming beach, and home to several prestigious hotels.

  • Only 3km/2mi north of central Mombasa as the crow flies, but twice as far by road.
  • Local points of interest include Nyali Golf and Country Club (the country’s only 18-hole course) and the crocodile farm at Mamba Village Centre.
  • Accommodation includes Voyager Beach Resort.

 

Kenyatta Beach

An island of sand in Mombasa Marine National Park An island of sand in Mombasa Marine National Park

Named after Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, this family-friendly swimming beach is a very popular retreat with residents of Mombasa. This makes it a good place to enjoy an untouristy beach experience in the company of local Kenyans. It can get crowded over weekends, but is more peaceful during the week.

  • 9km/5mi north of central Mombasa.
  • Family-friendly amenities include a waterslide park. Glass-bottomed boat excursions lead to the coral gardens of Mombasa Marine National Park & Reserve.
  • The only recognized beach resort in Kenya with no hotels, it’s easily reached from central Mombasa.

 

Shanzu and Bamburi Beach

Sun loungers, shaded by palm trees, Bamburi Beach Sun loungers at the Bamburi Beach. Source: flickr.com/photos/hickey-fry/7190112875

Among the most popular beaches in Kenya, Shanzu and Bamburi are adjoining beaches that run for more than 5km/3mi south of Mtwapa Creek. Like Nyali, the setting is somewhat suburban, but the beaches are thoroughly idyllic, and great for swimming at high tide.

  • 10km/6mi north of central Mombasa.
  • Windsurfing; diving and snorkeling trips into Mombasa Marine National Park & Reserve; wining and dining at a scattering of fine seaside restaurants.
  • At least a dozen upmarket resort hotels line Shanzu and Bamburi, notably the popular and very attractive Serena Beach Resort & Spa.

 

Kilifi

Kilifi, Kenya The beach in the town of Kilifi. Source: flickr.com/photos/150102727@N06/45631848805

The focal point of Kenya’s yachting community, this small creekside town is fringed by a gorgeous palm-lined beach that still remains relatively unknown to travelers. The nearby Mnarani National Monument incorporates Kenya’s largest baobab tree and the well-preserved ruins of a medieval Swahili trade port.

  • 70km/42mi north of Mombasa.
  • Good swimming at high tide. Marine excursions can be organized through hotels.
  • There’s great budget accommodation at Distant Relatives Ecolodge and Backpackers. More upmarket options include Kilifi Bay Beach Resort.

 

Watamu

Watamu, Kenya Kite-surfers on the coast of Watamu village. Source: flickr.com/photos/makeitkenya/24003540303

My favorite Kenyan beach resort, Watamu is very beautiful but in a rather unconventional way, thanks to the spectacular coral outcrops that protrude mushroom-like from the bay. Watamu’s proximity to Malindi Marine National Park, Gedi Ruins, Mida Creek and Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve makes it the perfect Indian Ocean retreat for active, curious travelers.

  • 110km/66mi north of Mombasa, 23km/16mi south of Malindi.
  • Swimming and all the usual beach and water sports are available. There’s off-beach snorkeling in Turtle Bay’s splendid coral gardens, or you can join a diving excursion deeper into the marine national park. Don’t miss the atmospheric medieval ruins at Gedi, hiker-friendly Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve or the community-built bird hide and boardwalk at Mida Creek.
  • There’s accommodation to suit all budgets. Long-serving favorites include Turtle Bay Beach Club.

Watamu Tours

Malindi

Malindi, Kenya The coastal town of Malindi

Kenya’s second largest coastal town, Malindi is a medieval port that peaked in importance during a 16th-century alliance with Portugal against Mombasa. Historic landmarks include a 15th-century pillar tomb, a 16th-century Portuguese chapel, and a windswept limestone cross erected by Vasco da Gama in 1499. The swimming beach is very attractive and a strong Italian presence informs a great selection of seafront restaurants.

  • 120km/75mi north of Mombasa. Malindi airport is on the outskirts of town.
  • As Kenya’s most urbanized resort, Malindi excels when it comes to restaurants and other such amenities. Snorkeling and diving outings are easily arranged, as are safaris into Tsavo East National Park, 100km/60mi to the west.
  • There's a big variety of accommodation. Driftwood Beach Club is great for families, while The Lawford Kenya is a historic hotel that once hosted Ernest Hemingway.

Malindi Tours

Mambrui

At the Che Chale Inn At the Che Chale Inn, Mambrui Beach

Extending north from the Galana River mouth, this wide sandy beach, hemmed in by tall golden dunes, is one of Kenya’s best. Very beautiful and totally unspoiled, it’s a great choice for those who want to get off the beaten track.

  • 25km/15mi north of Malindi.
  • Good for swimming and kitesurfing. Amenities are limited, but that’s part of its attraction.
  • Che Shale Inn is a rustic but charming family-run resort at the north end of the beach. Mambrui is easily visited as a day trip from Malindi.

 

Shela Beach, Lamu

Shela Beach Shela Beach

Separated from the northern mainland by a narrow channel, the Lamu Archipelago is arguably the most alluring destination on the Kenyan coast. Its cultural focal point is Lamu town, an atmospheric medieval trading post that retains a strong Swahili architectural identity. The archipelago is also lined with some gorgeous beaches, none finer than Shela, a 10km/6mi tract of glistening white sand only 40 minutes’ walk from Lamu Town.

  • 215km/130mi north of Malindi. Most visitors fly to Lamu.
  • Shela Beach is pleasingly unspoiled. For most visitors, activities amount to catching a tan interspersed with the occasional dip in the ocean.
  • Accommodation is plentiful in Lamu Town. Shela’s Peponi Hotel is a beachfront boutique property that’s been in the same family since it opened in 1967.
By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

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