Top 10 Best Beaches in Kenya
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shanzu and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shela Beach, Lamu
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.
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