Kenya’s mainland coastline is superb, but the islands that ripple out into the Indian Ocean are also some of Africa’s finest. From Lamu and Kiwayu in the north to Chale and the Penguti islands in the south, these offshore beauties are like quieter echoes of the mainland beaches and resort towns.

Some Kenyan islands are uninhabited, others are perfect for an overnight escape. Remember also that Kenya has a number of islands in the lakes of its interior, notably Lake Naivasha and Lake Victoria. Much of Mombasa’s old town also inhabits its own island (Mombasa Island). But we’ve focused here on Kenya’s Indian Ocean islands to which you’ll want to plot your beach or activities escape. What follows is our introduction to the best of these.


Lamu Island

Waterfront of Lamu town Waterfront of Lamu town

Lamu is a soulful, special place. The main settlement on the island, Lamu Town, is charming, thanks to its fragrant spice warehouses and exquisite Swahili- and Omani-influenced architecture. There’s nothing quite like looking out over the rooftops around sunset, just as the call to prayer rings out over the tight huddle of laneways down below. But Lamu is also Shela Beach, one of Kenya’s most beautiful stretches of sand, or the villages of Matondoni (where locals build the traditional wooden sailboats known as dhows) and Kipungani, where you can see life unchanged in centuries.

  • How to Get There: Lamu’s Manda Airport (LAU) is on neighboring Manda Island with daily flights to/from Malindi, Mombasa and Nairobi. You can also travel by road from other towns along the Kenyan coast.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving, snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking.
  • Accommodation: Good choices across all budgets in Lamu Town and Shela, with a couple of upmarket places in Kipungani.

Lamu Tours

Kiwayu Island

Aerial view of Kiwayu Island Aerial view of Kiwayu Island. Source:

Remote from the world and its noise, picturesque Kiwayu, of all the islands in Kenya, could just be the country’s most romantic and beautiful island. The beauty comes from the white-sand beaches and sandbars, the coconut-palm trees and the rocks. Or it could be the baobab trees. Or the dazzling underwater reefs filled with marine life; watch for turtles and dolphins and fish of every colorful stripe. It’s probably all of these. Very few people live here and the sunset views from the hilltops are incredible. But even with all of this, it’s the sense of bliss-filled isolation that is Kiwayu’s most alluring feature.

  • How to Get There: Take a slow (three-day) dhow from Lamu, a speedboat from Lamu, or a private taxi boat from the island of Paté.
  • Activities: Snorkeling, swimming, waterskiing, kitesurfing, sea kayaking and deep-sea fishing.
  • Accommodation: High-end luxury or friendly budget homestays, with nothing in between.


Wasini Island

Wasini Island shore Wasini Island shore

In Kenya’s far southeast, Wasini Island always ranks highly among travelers’ favorite Kenyan islands. Wasini is just 5km (3 miles) long, but it manages to combine a languid tropical feel with the touchstones of Swahili architecture and beautiful beaches. Best of all, there’s a real off-the-grid feeling with no cars, intermittent electricity, and quiet streets and beachfronts lit only by lamplight or the moon. Disappear here for a day or as long as you can spare.

  • How to Get There: If you’re not on an organized tour, boats carry visitors to Wasini from Shimoni on the mainland.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving, snorkeling and fishing.
  • Accommodation: A handful of low to midrange choices.

Wasini Tours

Chale Island

Chale Island Chale Island. Source:

Technically a headland instead of an island, Chale, north of Wasini along Kenya’s far south coast, feels like an accessible paradise. At low tide, you can even swim-walk across when shallow waters still separate Chale from the mainland. Once on Chale, you can look forward to a beautiful beach, abundant palm trees and crystalline waters. It’s all so picturesque and feels so very much like a tropical island idyll, that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s officially an island or not.

  • How to Get There: Boats take you from Chale Harbour on the mainland.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving and snorkeling.
  • Accommodation: A resort on Chale, with more options on the mainland.

Chale Tours

Watamu Marine National Park

Turtle on the reefs, Watamu, Kenya Turtle on the reefs, Watamu, Kenya

Encircled by a pristine coral reef, the rocky islands of Watamu Marine National Park have a wonderfully lost world quality to them, especially if you arrive early in the morning or linger late in the afternoon when all the other boats have headed back to shore. Exploring is very often best done underwater; look for the sea turtles that call these islands home.

  • How to Get There: Watamu is two hours by road north of Mombasa or 40 minutes south of Malindi.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
  • Accommodation: Nothing on the islands themselves, but Watamu has lots of accommodation to suit all budgets.

Watamu Tours

Manda Island

Manda Island Manda Island

Directly across the water (and visible from) Lamu Town, Manda Island marches to a very different beat when compared to other Kenyan islands. Its sand dunes, mangroves, 15th-century Takwa Ruins and local fishing villages are ripe for exploration, and you can even join a turtle conservation project. Shela Beach, one of Kenya’s finest, is just across the water. Mini Manda Toto Island has some of northern Kenya’s best snorkeling as well.

  • How to Get There: Manda Airport (LAU) is on the island’s west coast, with Malindi, Mombasa and Nairobi flights. Boats connect Manda to Shela and Lamu Town.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving, snorkeling and village visits.
  • Accommodation: Small number of upmarket and midrange choices. More choice nearby at Shela.


Paté Island

Paté Island Paté Island. Source:

Part of the Lamu Archipelago of far northern Kenya, and one of the lesser-known island escapes in the region, Paté captures that slow-paced tropical charm that the country’s north does so well. Elemental colors (deep-green coconut palms, deeper-blue ocean, white beaches, and red sand underfoot elsewhere) dominate here, and there’s an easy hospitality among the locals whose culture has yet to be swamped by tourism. Throw in some ruins, and the timeless villages of Paté and Siyu, and you may never wish to leave.

  • How to Get There: Paté is 2 hours by boat from Lamu Town.
  • Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, cultural tours and boat tours.
  • Accommodation: Budget homestays are the main accommodation on the island; it’s a great way to meet locals.


Funzi Island

Funzi Island Funzi Island. Source:

You could be mistaken for thinking that every island near Kenya is all about swimming and snorkeling. Funzi, around 35km south of Diani Beach along Kenya’s southern coast, offers something a little different. Covered in mangroves, the island is best known for its excellent bird watching and croc- or dolphin-spotting tours. Of course, no one will object if you go for a swim or a snorkel while you’re here.

  • How to Get There: Most people visit Funzi as part of an organized tour. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a boat from Bodo on the mainland.
  • Activities: Birding, wildlife viewing, swimming and watersports.
  • Accommodation: There’s one high-end lodge on the island.

Funzi Tours

Penguti Islands

Dolphins seen just off the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park Dolphins seen just off the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park. Source:

The tiny Penguti Islands are part of the gorgeous Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, which itself lies off the southern shore of Wasini. These two islets have that untouched splendor (albeit in miniature) that is so typical of Kenyan islands all along the coast. The islands are uninhabited and all the more beautiful for it. Surrounding the islands are some of Kenya’s most spectacular coral reefs: watch for dolphins and turtles.

  • How to Get There: The islands can be visited as part of a dhow tour organized from Diani Beach or by private boat from Wasini.
  • Activities: Swimming, diving, snorkeling and wildlife viewing.
  • Accommodation: Unless you sleep on board the boat, the islands can only be visited as a day trip, with no accommodation on the islands.


Kirepwe Island

Kayaking between mangroves in the Mida Creek area Kayaking between mangroves in the Mida Creek area

In the Mida Creek area it’s a toss-up which island to choose: Sudi or Kirepwe. We’ve gone for Kirepwe because it’s a real slice of authentic island life. Visit a Giriama village and get to know the locals a little, or go birding, visit the ruins and then strip off for a swim. Kirepwe is a reminder that not all islands in Kenya are about luxury holidays and ordering a cocktail while you watch the sunset.

  • How to Get There: Visit Kirepwe on a day trip from Mida Creek.
  • Activities: Swimming, cultural tours and birding.
  • Accommodation: There’s nowhere to stay on the island.

By Anthony Ham
Australia AU

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

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