1. Malindi and Watamu Marine National Parks
At 213km2, Malindi Marine National Park is one of the largest and oldest marine parks in Kenya. It has fringing reefs, coral gardens and mangroves, all of which protect the species that live within it: fish, turtles, crabs and the rare dugongs amongst others. The marine park encloses the much smaller – 10km2 – Watamu Marine National Park. Both parks have resident pods of dolphins throughout the year and some of the largest groups of humpback whales migrating through their waters seasonally. To protect these and ensure that dolphin and whale spotting as well as other tourism activities are managed sustainably, a group of local volunteers formed the Watamu Marine Association in 2007. This estimable team has implemented a bunch of conservation, tourism and community projects throughout the region. Hop on a dolphin-watching boat – as long as it’s following the WMA guidelines – and cruise through the waters looking for these enchanting sea creatures.
2. Gede Ruins
The ancient town of Gede, now in ruins, is today an evocative and peaceful place in which to wander and picnic. Its history, however, is less serene. The place grew up as a port on the trade routes, as can be seen from the multitude of artefacts found here including Chinese coins, Venetian beads, Islamic glazed goods and Persian stoneware. These findings have led archaeologists to conclude that Gede was one of the most important sites on the coast despite the fact that few historical documents mention it, and it is thought to have been established as late as the 13th century well after ports like Takwa in Lamu. Gede was abandoned at the beginning of the 17th century because of the growing aggression of the Portuguese, skirmishes with the Wazimba and Somali peoples and the sudden scarcity of water. Strolling around the 45-acre jungle site, you’ll see the remnants of outer and inner walls, a palace, a few mosques, several houses and the distinctive pillar tombs of the Swahili people – and perhaps you’ll encounter the spirits that the Giriama people believe reside in the ruins.
3. Arabuko Sokoke Forest
The last remaining part of the Coastal Forest that extended across much of Africa, Arabuko Sokoke Forest is only now 420km2. The largest and most intact coastal forest in East and Southern Africa, this shady forest with towering trees and dangling creepers makes a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the coast. Wander along the myriad of walking trails and see if you can spot any of the many endemic species here: look out for the Clarke’s weaver, the Sokoke scops owl and the gloriously named golden-rumped elephant shrew. Climb up to one of the tree platforms to get a birds-eye view of the forest, head for the lookout atop Nyari Cliff for panoramic views then bask on the banks of one of the seasonal pools. The Visitor Centre at the Forest Station makes a good place to gather information and if you want someone to point out the rare species of flora and fauna, we suggest you pick up a guide from there too.
4. Mida Creek
Mida Creek is an International Bird Area and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. As if that isn’t enough, it is framed by extraordinary numbers of mangroves. One of the most productive ecosystems on earth, mangroves are responsible for water filtration, prevention of erosion and carbon storage. They are the reason so many birds from around the world choose to stop in Mida Creek during their annual migrations and why so many mud crabs have made their homes here. Fun things to do include kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and floating with the tide down the creek in a life jacket, but everyone’s favourite activity has to be the sunset cruise. Clamber into a dugout canoe and let one of the enterprising locals pole you down the creek as the sun sets the sky on fire and the water turns golden.
5. Takaungu and Vuma Cliffs
Takaungu, just south of Kilifi, is a small coastal village. It is also one of the loveliest coves you’ll see along the entire Kenyan coast. Think craggy cliffs studded with shells, white sand beach with the ocean crashing onto it and sunlight streaming along the unlikely upside-down branches of an ancient baobab. It’s exactly like that. Stark colours, coarse rocks and hot sun. It is somehow both bleak and tropical at the same time. Here you can plunge into the crashing waves, scramble up the abrasive cliffs or lie flat on the sand letting the sounds of the ocean roar in your ears. When you’re done with the beach, head to nearby Zinj and check out their enticing eco-products: leather bags, belts, accessories and dog collars, all made by hand and sustainably sourced.