Running for 1,420km/880mi from Kenya’s border with Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south, Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline is as beautiful as any in Africa. Arranged along its shore are islands and coral reefs, beach resorts and ancient spice-trading towns where the pace of life moves with sleepy tropical charm.

When talking about the Kenya coast, it’s not just a question of where to go. The Kenyan coastline is also an adventurous, highly active destination, one where you can go diving or snorkeling, travel along the coast in a dhow (traditional wooden sailboat), or simply relax on the beach. And just inland from the water’s edge, there are historic ruins, a sacred forest and a park where you can see elephants.

  • Best time to visit: June to October (cooler temperatures, less rain and good for kitesurfing), October to March or April (for diving and snorkeling)

Kenya Beach Packages

 

1. Diani Beach

Palm trees in a tropical garden, Diani Beach Palm trees in a tropical garden, Diani Beach

Despite its popularity as the number one beach resort town along the Kenya coast, Diani Beach remains a fabulous place to visit. Combining terrific accommodations across all budgets, more water sports and water activities than any other coastal town, and a long and lovely arc of sand, Diani Beach is simply glorious. You can try other beaches nearby, such as Tiwi or Takaungu, and there’s even the sacred forest of Kaya Kinondo.

  • Where to stay: Great backpacker hostels and even better boutique beach hotels (such as The Maji Beach Boutique Hotel or Elewana AfroChic Diani Beach)
  • Activities: Diving, snorkeling, water sports, kitesurfing, boat excursions
  • How to get there: Flights from Nairobi, or a 2-hour drive from Mombasa (with a short car ferry en route)

Diani Beach Tours

 

2. Mombasa

Fort Jesus in the Old Town, Mombasa Fort Jesus in the Old Town, Mombasa

One of the grand old cities of Africa’s Indian Ocean shore, Mombasa is big, boisterous and filled with clues to a fascinating history. Stare out to sea at Unesco World Heritage–listed Fort Jesus, which has stood guard here since the Portuguese built it back in the late 16th century. Sample the many influences that define Swahili culinary tradition. Or lose yourself as the call to prayer competes with the smell of spices in the narrow tangle of lanes in the old city.

  • Where to stay: Numerous hotels and guesthouses are available in the city. Many visitors choose to stay in one of the nearby beach resorts and visit the city from there.
  • Activities: City tours, dhow cruises, beach visits
  • How to get there: Flights from Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya. The Nairobi–Mombasa road can be a traffic nightmare.

Mombasa Tours

 

3. Watamu

Kitesurfer, Watamu Kitesurfer, Watamu

One of the more charming small towns along the Kenya coast, Watamu is blessed by one of the loveliest white-sand beaches you can imagine, with some of the best sunrise views in Kenya as a bonus. Despite its size, Watamu has plenty of good places to stay and opportunities to get active on sea and on land. There’s even a local sea turtle conservation project.

  • Where to stay: Watamu has excellent choices across all budgets, and many have an ocean view
  • Activities: Kitesurfing, kayaking, fishing, diving, snorkeling
  • How to get there: Watamu is a 2-hour drive north of Mombasa, or 45 minutes south of Malindi

Watamu Tours

 

4. Wasini Island

Boats on the water, Wasini Island Boats on the water, Wasini Island

Wasini is an utterly gorgeous spot where you will not see the crowds. The diving and snorkeling in the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park is world-class, and explores what could be the most beautiful reef anywhere along the Kenya coast. Throw in a pretty coastal setting, Swahili ruins and plenty of other activities, and you might just decide to stay forever.

  • Where to stay: Wasini has a small handful of low-key budget and mid-range places to stay
  • Activities: Diving, snorkeling, fishing, dhow cruises
  • How to get there: Boats connect Wasini with the mainland, around 75km/46mi south of Mombasa

Wasini Tours

 

5. Lamu Archipelago

Traditional Swahili food, Lamu Island Traditional Swahili food, Lamu Island

Lamu has soul. It rivaled Zanzibar as a medieval East African center for the Indian Ocean trade in spices, and captures the spirit of those prosperous days like nowhere else in Kenya. This laid-back archipelago is a world of historic architecture, timeless fishing villages, stunning beaches (Shela is an old favorite) and a host of fantastic activities that you can enjoy while bathed in the cooling breeze coming off the ocean.

  • Where to stay: Lamu has accommodations choices across the islands, from luxury boutique beachfront hideaways on Manda Island such as Manda Bay to quiet guesthouses by the sea
  • Activities: Diving, snorkeling, dhow trips, beach swimming
  • How to get there: There are daily flights between Nairobi and Lamu Airport (which is on Manda Island), and there are roads up and down the coast, which can connect you to Lamu Island by bus or private vehicle. Boats also connect all the islands of the archipelago and the mainland.

Lamu Tours

 

6. Shimba Hills National Reserve

Buffalo with birds on its back, Shimba Hills National Reserve Buffalo with birds on its back, Shimba Hills National Reserve

One of few places to go looking for wildlife along the Kenyan coastline, cool, green Shimba Hills National Reserve is a good place to see elephant, Roosevelt’s sable antelope, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, hippo and several monkey species. It’s a fine way to break up your beach holiday without mounting a major expedition.

  • Where to stay: There are campsites and a lodge here, but most people visit on a day trip from Diani Beach
  • Activities: Wildlife viewing
  • How to get there: Shimba Hills is around 40km/25mi south of Mombasa, and tour operators in both Mombasa and Diani Beach run day trips to the reserve

 

7. Malindi

Beach Scene, Malindi Beach scene, Malindi

When you’re deciding where to go along the Kenyan coastline, you could do worse than choose Malindi. One of the larger resort towns, Malindi is especially popular with Italians (making the town an excellent culinary choice), and it’s known for its incredible kitesurfing conditions. And, of course, it’s so popular in part because it has a long and beautiful beach backed by palm trees.

  • Where to stay: Malindi has top-notch budget and mid-range accommodations options, many of which are right by the beach
  • Activities: Kitesurfing, diving
  • How to get there: Malindi has daily flights from Nairobi and Lamu. It’s just 115km/70mi north of Mombasa (or 2 hours by road).

Malindi Tours

 

8. Funzi Island

Beach tent at the Funzi Keys hotel, Funzi Island Beach tent at the Funzi Keys hotel, Funzi Island

A delightful alternative to the beach-and-palm-tree combo that is such a feature of the Kenya coast, Funzi Island is a mangrove island where it’s more about looking for birds and crocodiles than lazing on the sand. Although most people visit for the day, staying overnight is a great way to meet the locals.

  • Where to stay: Apart from the high-end Funzi Keys hotel, Funzi is all about simple homestays with local families
  • Activities: Bird watching, wildlife-viewing boat excursions
  • How to get there: Funzi is 35km/20mi south of Diani Beach; the island is accessible by small boat from Bodo

 

9. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve & Gede Ruins

Baby baboon on his mother's back, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve Baby baboon on his mother's back, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve

Just a few kilometers back (and yet worlds away) from the Mombasa–Malindi road, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve and the nearby archaeological site make for a fantastic day away from the beach. Look for primates and some of the 230 recorded bird species in the forest, then listen for 15th-century ghosts amid the coral palaces and mosques of Gede.

  • Where to stay: There’s only basic camping (including a treehouse platform) at Arabuko Sokoke and nowhere to stay at Gede
  • Activities: Bird watching, wildlife viewing
  • How to get there: Most travelers visit on a day trip from Watamu or Malindi

 

10. Kilifi

Beach, Kilifi Beach, Kilifi

Like nowhere else in Kenya, Kilifi is chic and ecoconscious, and it’s more than just a pretty face. It’s all about fabulous seafood, diving and boating, and the historic ruins of Mnarani. And with Vuma Cliffs, an astonishing place of giant baobabs and black coral cliffs, as well as stunning Bofa and Takaungu Beaches, it may just be the place you decide never to leave.

  • Where to stay: With smart ecolodges and a real rustic, boutique sensibility, Kilifi has fine accommodations, whatever your budget
  • Activities: Diving, boat excursions
  • How to get there: Kilifi is 73km/45mi north of Mombasa and 48km/30mi south of Malindi by road

 

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By Anthony Ham
Australia AU

Anthony is a renowned Africa expert and author of the Lonely Planet guidebook to Kenya.

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