Last week we had fun discovering the unmatched beauty hidden within Malindi and am certain that by now most of us have already included it in our ‘must travel destination’. As I promised, this week we’re resuming our magical adventure into Kenya’s premier coast destination Kilifi by uncovering the hidden natural riches of Watamu, Mtwapa, and the world-famous Gedi Ruins. So let’s start with Watamu…
Explore Watamu’s excellent beaches and the marine reserve
Just 15km south of Malindi town lies the vibrant beach community of Watamu. It’s coastline boasts of unspoiled low-key white sand beaches which are among the best on Kenya’s coast. Tourists to Watamu flock popular beaches like Jacaranda beach, Twiga Beach Resort, Safina Beach, Temple Point Resort, Garoda Resort Beach, Turtle Bay Beach Club, Paparemo Beach, and Ocean Breeze. Many of these resorts have an oceanfront escape with dining and pool.
Watamu is also home to one of Kenya’s five marine reserves, the 10 sq.km Watamu Marine National Park whose coral reefs boasts of diverse sea life with more than 600 fish species, stony coral, invertebrates, mollusks, crustaceans, and many more. The most common sea creatures include green turtles, dugongs, bigger creatures like the whale sharks, manta rays, octopus and barracuda all which reside in the park’s unique coral garden.
Other than sea life exploring, visitors can also enjoy the park’s unspoiled beaches for magnificent views of the Indian ocean while sunbathing. It is among the best in East Africa for snorkeling, deep sea diving, water skiing and windsurfing and glass bottom rides. There’s also an abundance of birdlife with more than 100 species calling the park their haven. These are the Black Kite, the Common Bulbul, the White-Browed Coucal, the Speckled Mousebird, Bright Yellow Canaries, Golden Palm Weavers, Lizard Buzzard and the Lilac Breasted Roller.
Travel into medieval ages while at the Gedi Ruins
Ten miles south of Malindi lies a collection of abandoned ancient ruins that once served as a lively Swahili-Arab settlement. Collectively, these are called the Ruins of Gedi and they consist of two ‘great’ mosques, the city Sheik’s palace, large brick houses, pillar tombs, and many other structures built with coral stones extracted from the nearby Indian ocean. Early studies indicate that the town was established in the 12th century but it wasn’t until the 15th century when it became a vibrant trading center after attracting scores of wealthy merchants. Two centuries later, the stone-walled town was abandoned for the nearby Malindi, Kilwa and Mombasa thus leading to its demise. The site of the ruins is currently gazetted as a historical monument under the care of National Museums of Kenya.
Arabuko-Sokoke forest & national park
The national park and forest reserve collectively make up East Africa’s largest coastal forest covering an area of roughly 420 sq.km. It’s a very special natural reserve as it is home to 20% (270) of the total bird species in Kenya, 30% butterfly species, 49 reptile and 25 amphibian species plus many other coastal mammals. According to Kenya Forest Service which manages the reserve, around forty mammal species reside in the forest and these include the African Elephant, African Buffalo, African Civet, Caracal, Syke’s Monkeys, Yellow Baboons and Lesser Galago (bushbaby). But what makes it even more than special is that some of Kenya’s unusual mammals can be found here including the Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew, Sokoke Bushy-tailed Mongoose, and the Ader’s Duiker.
Curious birders would surely fall in love with Arabuko-Sokoke reserve due to the high number of rare bird species like the Clarke’s Weaver which can’t be found anywhere else, others include the Amani Sunbird, East Coast Akalat, Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, and the Spotted Ground Thrush. With three tree viewpoints for a bird’s-eye view of the forest, surely this is every birder’s Eden. Major activities include forest walks and drives, bird watching, camping and picnicking. The indigenous Giriama ethnic people revere the forest as their sacred site for conducting traditional rituals and sacrifices to their god spirits.
Other remarkable attractions not to miss out…
The 15th century Mnarani Ruins also known as the Sultan’s grave features scrambling walls of what used to be ancient mosques, a well, a madrasa, a local court, the sultan’s pillar tomb and other smaller tombs. At the site, there’s a huge boab tree which at 900 years is estimated to be the oldest in East Africa! Another historical site is next to the Jumaa mosque where there are some pillar tombs that were also built in the 15th century by the Portuguese residents in Malindi.
Around 50 km after Mombasa also lies the Takaungu slave market that was constructed in the 14th century but still stands strong. It used to be a sultan’s palace but was later converted into a slave market. Interior facilities include two and three rooms on the ground and first floor respectively, and an inbuilt swimming pool.
Another set of ancient ruins is the Jumba la Mtwana a designated national monument also dating back to the 14th century. It is located in Mtwapa which is 15km after Mombasa. The name of the ruins translates to “the mansion of slavery” and it once served as an Arab town. Part of the ruins includes a Sultan’s palace, a mosque, and a local court. A lot of ceramic ware has been discovered by archeologists from these abandoned ruins.
Lastly, the Mtwapa Creek is also an interesting attraction and is an inlet into the Indian ocean. The bay has very beautiful vegetation that lines the sides of the creek and offers very magnificent views of the creek and the ocean. Other activities here include bird watching, deep sea fishing tours after which you’ll savor the some of the best seafood dishes along the coast from the area’s finest restaurants that overlook the bay.
Thank you a lot for exploring with me. It was a pleasure having you aboard. It is my hope that you enjoyed the adventures and that you’ve already resolved to personally visit these unique places. Be sure to share your travel experiences with others for them to understand the need to travel more extensively.