Despite lagging behind Mombasa in terms of tourism prowess, the coastal county of Kilifi offers a variety of little-known but more interesting adventures to those yearning for a natural holiday in a less-crowded setting. Found in the north of Mombasa on Kenya’s Indian ocean coastline, Kilifi county is a rising giant offering countless attractions to satisfy a curious visitor’s appetite for both seaside and historical adventuring.
Kilifi’s location on the coastline has spurred its tourism prowess to challenge with Mombasa. It boasts of two marine national parks, plenty of ancient monuments and ruins, sacred forests, depressions, white sandy beaches, and the very friendly Swahili coastal people. In this exploration, we are adventuring some of Kilifi’s best-known attractions in the areas of Malindi, Mtwapa, Watamu, and Gedi.
Malindi: A medley of ancient discoveries and seaside life!
For more than 700 years, Malindi has been the main settlement of the coastal Swahili people supported by a prosperous slave, ivory and agricultural trade with Asian and Arab merchants. Malindi has attracted famous historians like the Portuguese voyager Vasco da Gama and Chinese explorer Zheng He. Both figures created lasting bonds between this port city and the outside world. Malindi is located 120km north-east of Mombasa and is served by Malindi Airport with daily flights from Nairobi. Overnight buses that ply the Nairobi-Malindi route include Dreamline, Tahmeed, Modern Coast and Simba Coach. Here are some of the attractions in and around Malindi:
Venture into the undersea world at Malindi Marine National Park
As the most popular tourist attraction in Malindi, the 213 sqKm marine national park is endowed with a multi-diverse marine life comprising of crabs, corals, sea urchins, jellyfish, sea stars, sea cucumbers, zebrafish, dolphins and sea turtles. These are sustained by the park’s vast sea resources made of fringing reefs and seagrass beds that are harbored in the lagoon’s huge coral gardens. The park is also ideal for deep sea fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, camping, sunset beach walks, bird watching, scenic photography, scuba diving, water skiing and glass-bottom boat rides.
Marvel at the ancient structures of Malindi
Most of Malindi’s centuries-old structures with Swahili architecture owe their uniqueness to the administration of the Arab sultanates who ruled the coastal town for very many years. These ancient structures have borne witness to Malindi’s social, political and economic growth, especially during the middle ages. But one historic structure stands out, that is the stone pillar built in 1499 by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama on the return journey after his initial voyage to India. The pillar marks the point where he landed at the shore. Not far away stands East and Central Africa’s oldest chapel, the 14th century Portuguese Church of St. Francis Xavier with a graveyard of some prominent people. The small grass-thatched structure’s 2ft walls have bravely defied age and to this date still stands strong. Others include the Jumaa Mosque that once served as a slave market until the 19th century.
Relax and play at Malindi’s fun-packed beaches
Many consider the beaches south of Mombasa to be more accessible and popular but arguably none of them rival some of Malindi’s finest oceanside hotspots. Driftwood Beach Club, Ocean Beach Resort, and Kola Beach Resort are the favorites among playful tourists. While Mombasa’s beaches are becoming overcrowded especially in this festive season, you’d consider hanging out in Malindi’s superb beach resorts.
You’ll find plenty of modern hotels that offer affordable world-class accommodation with rooms facing the seaside. These hotels also have beachside bars that play great music and serve plenty of popular drinks to beachgoers. The restaurants will let you taste Malindi’s best seafood like the smoked sailfish. Those interested in water sporting activities like deep sea game fishing, water snorkeling, and diving will all find Malindi beaches very charming.
Stare in awe at the Marafa Depression
This is a collection of mythical wild rock formations and gorges popularly known as Hell’s Kitchen due to the area’s high temperatures (that reach up to 60°C!) and the odd-looking sandstone canyons. It is located 30km outside of Malindi town. The indigenous Giriama people call it Nyari in their Kigiriama language meaning a “place broken by itself”. It is believed that millions of years ago, this place was once a huge sandstone ridge that was eventually eroded by rain floods and the wind which subsequently gave it jagged gorge formations. The depression’s gullies look magnificent at sunset when gleaming rays mirror its multi-coloured layers of orange, pink, white and crimson.
According to Atlas Obscura, “One day, all the town’s inhabitants received a vision telling them a miracle was coming and to move their town. Everyone moved except one old woman who refused to leave. The abandoned town then supposedly vanished – with the remaining woman still inside – leaving the Marafa Depression in its place.”
It has been a lot more interesting to uncover the hidden treasures of the magical Malindi. Next week we will resume our adventure into this amazing Kilifi county dubbed Kenya’s premier coast destination. In the next series, we’ll be uncovering the hidden natural riches of Watamu, Mtwapa, and the world-famous Gedi ruins.