Coastal Lifestyle In Kenya

If you’re keen for a change of scene after so long under lockdown, why not set up camp for an extended period on Kenya’s coast? There’s a host of excellent, affordable long-stay options that will give you a taste of beach life and a good restorative boost.

So many of us are now used to working remotely and keeping connected through the Internet. People are finding it easy to manage their commitments from afar, so it is no surprise that communities of digital nomads are setting up shop in Kenya, where they can get a taste of the country’s sun-kissed and stress-free lifestyle.

Kenya’s coast boasts white sand beaches and glistening sea, lush creeks and tropical forests, marine parks and ancient ruins. If your dream is to relax on a verandah gazing at the ocean, reading a book or sipping a cocktail as the sun flushes pink on the horizon, this is your place. And if you’re a more active type, there’s more than enough to do here: learn to kitesurf, scuba dive or stand-up paddleboard; play golf or tour an historic settlement; browse art in a gallery; skim the seas in a glass-bottomed boat or jetski; dine out at world-class restaurants or hang out with locals at a beach bar.

Setting up home here is both easy and affordable.

You could take a room or suite at one of the many resorts, with meals provided, activities and water sports on tap. Alternatively, you could rent a house, villa or cottage, which is a particularly good option if you are travelling as a family or group, staying for a long period of time and really want to settle in.

In Kenya, the term ‘self-catering’ means you have a kitchen, decide what to eat when, and pay for your food separately – but it doesn’t mean you do the cooking. Most properties come with staff who cook, clean and tend the garden and swimming pool, and can also assist with booking activities, excursions and restaurants. Often, fishermen come to the door with their daily catch, and fresh fruit and vegetable sellers appear regularly, making shopping a delight.

SO, WHERE TO MAKE YOUR HOME?

The coast is roughly divided in two – the ‘north coast’ and the ‘south coast’ – either side of Mombasa Island and Kenya’s second largest city – a hustling, bustling warren of winding streets, aged buildings, sociable markets and Swahili restaurants. An alluring scent of spices hangs in the heat, fusing with diesel, coffee, fish and dust to form a fragrance unique to Mombasa.

LAMU
Now a World Heritage Site, Lamu was once a port on the ancient trade routes. Some traders settled and intermarried, and today’s residents are a fusion of Arab, Egyptian, Persian, Indian and Nubian. The island has an historic Old Town, picturesque village of Shela, several beaches and no cars.

Lamu has become popular with celebrities who can sometimes be seen cruising the channel on dhows or enjoying a cocktail at the Peponi Hotel. Located on Shela’s seafront, with a popular beach bar, haute cuisine restaurant and attractive rooms, this is the place to see and be seen.

In Lamu Old Town, Lamu House is a seafront idyll. With the excellent Moonrise Restaurant overlooking the port, and a secluded garden, pool and rooms behind, you can participate in the clamour of the seafront, yet retire to the peaceful interior when you wish.

Across the channel on Manda Island, The Majlis has an extensive beachfront, spacious suites, several restaurants and a selection of bars. Manda Bay offers barefoot luxury, appealing cottages and a home away from the hustle. For a more affordable option, head for Diamond Beach Village, where you’ll find bamboo cottages, a seafront restaurant and lively parties.

Most houses on Lamu have Arabic-Swahili architecture, with whitewashed walls, inner courtyards and elegant arches. Lamu Old Town, Shela Village and Manda Island have myriad houses available for long-or short-term rent, many of which have this year become homes for those escaping winter lockdowns.

Some to look out for include: Forodhani House, overlooking the channel, with five bedrooms, chill-out spaces and swimming pool; the Moon Houses, a cluster of homes sharing a garden and swimming pool; and Beach House, with five bedrooms and a dramatic infinity pool.

CHE SHALE BEACH
Just north of Malindi, this idyllic beach is known for kitesurfing and serenity. Che Shale and Barefoot Beach Camp are small resorts in harmony with their surroundings, with simple bandas (thatched cottages) and excellent restaurants. Private houses include the Moroccan-inspired Oaseas, with four bedrooms surrounding an enticing central courtyard and pool, and Ampoja House, with five stylish bedrooms, a rooftop with ocean views and a boardwalk to the beach.

MALINDI
Another port on the trade routes – visited by explorers Zheng He, Vasco da Gama and Francis Xavier amongst others – Malindi’s picturesque Old Town is a maze of stalls selling spices, fabrics, beads and tropical fruits. Its beaches fringe Malindi Marine National Park, with an impressive variety of fish, coral, and resident and migratory birds. Leopard Point has four luxurious villas with private pools, an indoor and outdoor spa and a restaurant serving an inventive menu of Italian and Swahili dishes. White Elephant Art & Sea Lodge, with rooms, suites and apartments in lush tropical gardens dotted with sculptures and artwork by Armando Tanzini, has art studios, restaurants and swimming pools. Woburn Residence Club was the first resort in Malindi to offer apartments for rent, and its gardens feature an expansive pool around a central isle. Established in 1934, The Lawford is one of the coast’s earliest resorts; today it offers suites in beachfront gardens, and villas staffed with a chef and butler. Onsite restaurants serve predominantly Italian cuisine. Neem House has three double rooms and a large rooftop children’s room, spacious verandahs and a plunge pool shaded by neem trees.

WATAMU
This idyllic bay, studded with craggy rocks and fringed by white beaches, looks onto Watamu Marine National Park, connected to Arabuka Sokoke Forest – great for game drives and nature walks – by the mangrovelined Mida Creek. Gede Ruins, evocative remnants of a bygone civilisation, are entwined with creepers alive with butterflies. Medina Palms has a selection of stylish suites, penthouses, ocean lodges and beach villas in lush gardens around interlinked swimming pools, as well as restaurants and bars. Kobe Suite Resort has while Rock and Sea offers a first-of-its-kind experience, with accommodation including transparent bubble rooms. Ocean Sports Resort is popular with locals and visitors alike, with a choice of room sizes, a private house, beach bar, restaurant and water sports centre set in 14 acres of gardens. Luxury houses in Watamu include the Moroccaninspired Dhow House, with five bedrooms around an infinity pool; Shwari House, with six bedrooms, three lounges and infinity pool overlooking the marine park; the modern, glass-fronted Pumzika Bay, with six bedrooms, rooftop living areas and sweeping views of Mida Creek; and the recently renovated Swimbo House, with three bedrooms and a poolside terrace overlooking the ocean.

KILIFI
With a picturesque creek, professional water sports centre and appealing beach bars, Kilifi appeals to the younger crowd. Distant Relatives Eco-lodge, with rooms, cottages and campsite, is a magnet for backpackers; Salty’s Kitesurf Village on Bofa Beach has 12 rooms, a popular beach bar and kitesurf centre; Silver Palms Spa and Resort is a boutique hotel which includes four swim-up rooms, a vast pool and a Thai-style spa; and Mnarani Club has partnered with 3 Degrees South to provide an onsite sailing centre. In terms of villas, top picks include Araliya, at the mouth of the creek, with six bedrooms, a large pool and a roof terrace with ocean views; Kamili, on the creek, with six bedrooms and an infinity pool; and the Arabic-style Sirai Beach, with six suites on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

TAKAUNGU
Situated between Kilifi and Vipingo, Takaungu has an imposing creek and secluded beach. Takaungu House comprises two houses and a cottage, each elegantly furnished with its own pool. Takaungu Escape is on a ranch growing organic fruit, vegetables and nuts. It has six open-sided houses, kitchen with pizza oven, and a round glass space for yoga, music or art.

VIPINGO RIDGE
Rent or buy a villa in this gated community, 36km north of Mombasa, and you may never leave. Zebra and oryx graze on the only PGA-rated golf course in Africa; the Clubhouse has indoor, outdoor and rooftop dining; the Sundowner Sports Bar has tennis courts, swimming pool and a kids’ club; the mango forest has bikes, ponies and a dam; and the nearby Beach Club offers barefoot dining, cocktail bar and water sports.

NYALI
Across the channel from Mombasa, Nyali has swathes of beaches, shopping malls, a golf course and restaurants serving global cuisine. Near the bridge to Mombasa is Tamarind, known for its Arabic décor, stylish suites and legendary seafood restaurant; and EnglishPoint, a modern complex with penthouses, suites and waterfront terrace with restaurants, bars, gym and a spa. On Nyali beach, head for the owner-managed Reef Hotel, with a range of accommodations, restaurants, pools and Moonshine, Mombasa’s favourite nightspot. Resorts with great fitness facilities include Bahari Beach Hotel and Bliss. Top picks of serviced apartments include the Arabicstyle Jumeirah Beachfront Apartments, Golf Apartments (overlooking the golf course) and Waterfront Residences, facing across the channel to Mombasa Island.

TIWI BEACH
Hillpark Tiwi Beach has self-catering villas and hotel rooms set in large beachfront gardens. Keringet Estate offers two elegant five-bedroom villas – Ocean View and Waterside – with spacious living areas, pools, horses and use of a helipad. House on the Beach has a 4-bedroom house and a cottage atop a cliff in manicured gardens. Swahili House comprises two houses and two cottages adorned with antique dhow furniture. Tiwi House has four bedrooms and a pool terrace overlooking the beach; and Tiwani has two attractive cottages in gardens that evoke an oasis, with water features and rare tropical plants.

DIANI
Diani is Kenya’s longest and most popular beach. Here you’ll find haute cuisine restaurants, beach bars, art galleries, artefact stalls, coffee bars, shopping malls, yoga spaces and a golf course. Kongo River, an estuary to the north of Diani, has towering baobabs and an ancient mosque, while Galu Beach to the south is more serene. There’s a good number of excellent options for longstay accommodation. Tequila Sunrise has spacious villas and cabanas, an elegant fusion of modern facilities and Swahili architecture. Lantana Galu Beach is an exquisitely-designed collection of villas, bungalows and apartments in mature beachfront gardens. Almanara has sophisticated rooms, suites and villas, a swim-up bar, water sports centre and Sails, one of Diani’s most stylish restaurants. Leopard Beach facilities include cottages and concept residences and Uzuri Spa. Kinondo Kwetu, on Galu Beach, has charming cottages in spacious gardens, stables and a yoga platform overlooking the sea. Alfajiri has three boutique villas, uniquely designed with pools, massage gazebos and dedicated butler service. Tamani Galu Beach and Four Twenty South each offer cottages or villas in beachfront gardens. Among the many villas available in Diani there are Villa Bea, a Lamu-style house with four bedrooms; Bushman and Zum Zum with five bedrooms; Kitu Kidogo, a traditional coastal house; and Lazy Days, a new luxury villa owned by the iconic The Sands at Nomad. More affordable options for visitors staying longer include the three Aestus Villas, six Warendale Cottages, two Eurika Villas and Punda Milia House.

MSAMBWENI
On this secluded beach, artisans continue the tradition of hand-building ngalawas – the simple wooden boats like dug-out canoes with narrow outriggers and slim sails that have been plying these waters for centuries. Two great options here are the modern, glass-fronted Karabishwa House, with four rooms, and Msambweni Beach House, which has three rooms and a suite, and a stunning infinity pool, as well as three villas with their own pools, gardens and beach access.

SHIMONI
This fishing village, once a holding pen for slaves, is now better known for its proximity to Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park, famed for its coral reefs and dolphin spotting. Stay at Shimoni Reef, offering rooms, cottages, a family house and an open-sided restaurant specialising in seafood, or Firefly Ocean Camp, where you’ll find tented suites and a restaurant overlooking Wasini Island.

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