The allure of the Kenyan coast

You may think overlanding Kenya is all about the Masai Mara and other famous game reserves. But the Kenyan coast harbours its own treasures. Here’s why you should detour to the beaches at Diani and Watamu. By Sam Pinnell

After seven weeks exploring Zambia and Tanzania, mostly the bush, the Pisces in me needs to get to the sea! By incredibly kind generosity of friends, we have been offered a few days at Kenyaways Guest House in Diani. It is just 80km from the Tanzanian border and a short drive gets us there. Joey, the owner, meets us as we arrive, “Drop your bags, come for a beer and dinner is on the table,” she tells us. We are so warmly welcomed to Diani and Kenyan hospitality.

At Kenyaways in Diani, you can relax with your feet in the sand. Pictures by Sam Pinnell

Easygoing Diani Beach

We take our coffee to the beach for an early morning swim. it is one of the most beautiful we have seen. White sand and shades of blue-green water fringed with palm trees. We spend the morning in town and it’s civilisation beyond words. Shops, coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores – such a change from Tanzania and most of Zambia. After lunch, we find the Copa Cabana Beach Bar. It’s run by locals, not part of the many resorts that line the beachfront. We spend a happy afternoon drinking beer and eating fresh calamari. Later we buy a fresh coconut from a passing vendor and watch the camels lying on the sand waiting for customers.

Diani Beach is exactly what you expect from a tropical idyll.

Joey recommends we head up to the Diani Shopping Centre. Each Friday evening, they close off a piece of the car park for the local hockey league. It’s fun and friendly and yet again we are blown away by the warmth of this community. The people we have met have all said, “Diani Beach is one of the best places in Kenya. But make sure you don’t get stuck there!” And we are beginning to understand exactly what they mean. Not only are the people incredible, but the the beach is world class and the food out of this world.

Paradise for food lovers

Saturday morning tradition for the residents of Diani is a well-kept secret that needs to be shared. Don’t miss the coffee and fresh jam doughnuts at Piri-Pirie Restaurant. The doughnuts are warm out of the oven, with lots of jam and icing sugar and worth every calorie! We spend the afternoon on the beach, walking for miles fascinated by the patterns the crabs make in the sand. There are families in the water, boats on the reef and kite surfers in the wind. On a beach wander we come across an impressive example of a single tree canoe. These are literally sculpted out of one enormous tree trunk. As big trees become fewer, these single tree canoes are the real old “sea dogs” of the fishermen.

Diani is paradise for food lovers. One night we treat ourselves to seafood and bubbly at one of the beachfront resort restaurants. It’s white linen and crystal glass standards and we laugh as everyone walks in off the beach, bare feet covered in sand. That’s the relaxed holiday atmosphere here that we are so enjoying.

Love seafood? Then a visit to Diani’s restaurants will make you very happy.

On another day we find a little local restaurant tucked away from the beachfront. We share a seafood platter and it’s the freshest, tastiest and cheapest seafood we have eaten. On our final evening, we enjoy a moonlit toast. We really have to peel ourselves away from this beautiful spot on the Kenyan coast. There is bingo this weekend and more jam doughnuts to be had. It would just be so easy to stay, and yes, maybe never leave!

Little Watamu is big on charm

North of Mombasa, we spend seven days at Baobab Camp in Watamu. Benjamin, the manager, shows us to the campsite in the forest behind the cottages, protected from the onshore wind. The pool is refreshing, and the beach is white sand with crystal clear water, like a baby Diani. Coffee, a long walk down the beach and a swim become our daily routine.

We make use of the boda-bodas (motorbike taxi) to get supplies from the village. One afternoon James buys a handsome 1.5kg rock cod from the fishermen. Stanley, the lodge chef, is only too happy to cook our fish and at 7pm our dinner is delivered to the campsite. Another evening James buys an octopus from the fishermen, cleaned and sliced into calamari rings for us. Bashora, our boda driver, takes us to Uncle Sams Cafe to buy chips. It’s sundowners on the beach, with a dinner of chips and fresh, tasty calamari, cooked over the fire in our campsite.

Travelling by boda-boda is a convenient way to get around.
Chilling out in a hammock at Lichthaus.
The incomparable setting of the Crab Shack is reason enough to visit.

We spend a festive afternoon at Lichthaus in Temple Point. This vibey bar restaurant on the edge of the water has hammocks that hang off the edge of the deck. When the heat becomes too much, you can jump in the water to cool down.

Our last outing in Watamu is the Crab Shack on the Mida Creek. This tidal creek of 32km2 stretches inland to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, where extensive mangroves and palms surround it. You cannot leave Watamu until you have had crab samoosas on the deck overlooking the mangroves.

Our planned one night becomes a week as we fall in love with this little village. In short, if you are planning a trip to Kenya, don’t leave Watamu off your list.

Info on the road

Looking to find places to eat or stay as you overland? The Tracks4Africa Guide App lets you search for points of interest in your area. The app uses your smartphone’s GPS receiver to show your location in real time. What’s more, all the content is downloaded on your phone so you can search the map even when you don’t have connectivity. The T4A Guide App also offers you a big picture view and lets you zoom in and out to explore your surrounds. It is essentially a discovery app intended to complement the GPS navigational maps for your vehicle.

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