Choosing to skip the safari in the favour of white sand beaches and sand banks
When you say "Kenya", most people think of safari. And this is mainly because this country is one of the most popular destinations for this kind of activity. Fair enough!
But not many know about what kind of treasure is the Indian Ocean hiding here. And that you can even access some of the best parts of Zanzibar Archipelago in less than a 3 hours boat ride!
For us, Kenya was not really on our immediate travel list. But because we had our East African visas valid until the end of 2022, we thought that maybe we should make full use of them and tick off this country as well.
We must admit, we went there with no expectations, we just wanted some hassle free trip after all these offroad trips this year. But, as with all the other things, life surprises you more when you lower your expectations.
What to expect
Official language: English and Swahili
Currency: Kenyan shillings
Payments: cards are widely accepted, however is good to keep some cash
Plug type: plug type G, like in UK, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, Malta, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka
Safety: not really an issue
Food: international cuisine plus a lot of sea food and fish
In general, Kenya is a very touristic destination with fairly good standards. However, the prices are matching the standards as well. The cost of a meal is similar to Europe, compared to many other African countries, but also many restaurants have European standards, too.
These are the same like in Uganda and Rwanda. You can obtain either a multiple entries East African Visa or a single entry/ multiple entry Kenya visa. If you are planning to visit more than 2 of these countries or you are going for a Zanzibar trip, it is better to get the EAV. You can check out how we got our East African visas here.
If you only want a single entry/ multiple entry Kenyan visa, you can check out their website. We understood the process takes about 3 days, a bit less than in Uganda, but it is better to take some extra time.
You also need Yellow fever vaccine and Covid vaccine and/or test,in order to get the visa.
It is really easy, there are plenty of tuk tuks,motorbikes and scooters, with or without driver.
We chose to rent a scooter which costed us just over 100 $ for a week. If you are confident in driving 2 wheel vehicles, we think it`s the best way to get around over there.
We rented it from Raleigh Motorbikes, which we found through our accommodation in Diani, which were going to talk about next.
By coincidence, we found an amazing place to stay, which was fairly cheap as well, which was, by far, one of the best accommodation we had recently.
The place is called Tombo House and you can find it on booking.com.
It looks exactly like in the pictures from Booking and it is owned by a lovely German couple. It only has two rooms, which offers a lot of privacy, it has an amazing pool and plenty of areas to hang out in the garden, which is, by the way, huge. They have their own little farm and they serve fresh eggs from their chicken for breakfast and the breakfast itself is really good ( fresh bread, fresh fruit juice, fruits, cheese etc ).
We couldn`t find any downsides, really. The only thing is that it`s approximately 15 min walking from the beach, but you can either rent something to get around or simply ask for a tuk tuk. They have a lot of trustful people which provide transport, by the way.
Alternatively, there are many accommodation options, ranging from all inclusive resorts to cheap hostels. All of them could be found on Booking.com, which works really well.
For those of you who want a more luxurious accommodation, there is a famous resort - The Sands at Chale island - which is supposed to be nice. However, we are not really into luxury, but more into experiences.
When to go
Officially, the best time to visit Mombasa is from July to October, with lots of bright sunshine and spotless skies, but we would say that this is more flexible in reality.
Mombasa has two rainy seasons and two dry seasons. The long rainy season is from April to May, while the short rainy season is from October to December.
We went in December and the weather was very much sunny all the way.
The tide situation
For those of you who don`t know, the West shore of Indian Ocean is subject to the high tides and low tides which are very obvious and can make beaches to appear or dissapear. The parity is usual 12 hrs/ 12 hrs but the times can vary. We experienced this both in Zanzibar and Kenya and usually the low tide was in the morning but it`s not a hard rule.
The most famous beach is Diani beach, which is literally the whole area south of Mombassa and it is literally a long white beach. This is also the area where we stayed and we can say that we enjoyed it. This comprises all the other beaches showing up on Google Maps: Tiwi, Galu etc.
Along Diani beach, at some point, there is a nice sand bank called Robinson Island, which only appears when the tide is low, but it is very spectacular. There are a lot of boat trips to get there but we personally used a kayak - it is only 20-30 min by kayak. You can literally see it from the shore.
Other places are Malindi and Watamu, about 200 km north of Mombassa and we heard they are nice as well but we haven`t seen them.
The highlight of Kenya`s coast, though, in our opinion, is Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, which is a must see. Kisite Mpunguti Marine protected area features 252 species of reef fish, about 56 genera of hard corals, 2 common species of sea grass and numerous sponges. The Park is famous for its population of turtles: Green and Hawksbill turltes.
Trip to Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park
In order to get there, you need to get to Shimoni first, which is an old fishing village. It takes about 1,5 - 2 hours drive by scooter from Diani. From Shimoni, you need to take a boat for about 40 min, which will take you straight to the coral reef and sand bank.
There are obviously regular tours and private tours. We opted for the second one, since we wanted more privacy. Oficially, a private tour would cost maybe around 140-150$ for 2 people, but we found a local guy on some reviews and we negociated a price of 80$ but since we were late, we gave him 100$.
The name of the guy is Mohammed and his phone number is +254 712 619 043. He doesn`t really reply on Whatsapp, so we suggest calling him when you get there.
Normally, what they do is, they pick you up from Shimoni early in the morning, maybe around 7:00 -8:00 -9:00 am, they take you to the reef to do snorkeling, then to the sand bank, then back to the main island Wasini, where you have lunch. After that, around 3:00 -4:00 pm, you are back in Shimoni.
In our case, we were late obviously, so we started around 10:30 - 11:00 but it turned out it was in our advantage. When we got close to the sand bank, it was full of people, so the skipper suggested to do the snorkelling first, so that by the time we finished, most of the people would be gone. In the end, this is was happened, so we ended up having the whole sand bank for ourselves! Which was incredible!!
So, as a tip, don`t go very early in the morning. But also, not too late either, because when the tide kicks in, the sand bank completely dissapears.
Trip to Pemba, Zanzibar
While we were on the boat to Kisite, Mohammed showed us a big boat leaving for Zanzibar. Then we asked if there are also trips to Pemba, which is the wild sister of Zanzibar main island and this is found out that going to Pemba from there was actually doable.
There are public boats which go daily, in the morning, from Shimoni to both Pemba and Zanzibar. They take about 3 hrs to Pemba and probably around 5 hrs to Zanzibar. One way to Pemba costs around 60$, as we were told.
However, for us, this was not an option since we didn`t organized ourselves better. But then we asked Mohammed if there are also private boats that do that and he told us that even his small boat would do as there were only 60 km. He said it would cost about 35 000 KES which is roughly 300 $ for both of us for a one day trip to Pemba. Even though it was a bit expensive, we went for it, so 2 days later we found ourselves waking up at 4:00 am, driving 2 hrs on the scooter, in order to get to Shimoni at 7:00 am to board the boat to Pemba.
We needed to go through immigration before, which was very basic. The trip took us around 3 hrs so by 10:30 am we found ourselves on an incredible sand bank surrounded by crystal clear water, similar to Maldives. And it was, once again, only the two of us!
The guys who took us there waited for us as long as we wanted and after about 2-3 hours we went to have lunch on the island so that we can leave around 15:00, in order to be back by 17:00. Which was doable, if we didn`t get lost at sea. 🤣
Anyway, somehow, we managed to get back just in time before getting dark, all well. 😁
But really, this place is really incredible and is literally worth every single dollar!
In order to save a bit of money, you could take the public boat, get an accommodation for one or two nights in Pemba and have more time to explore. But would still cost about 120$ per person return ticket.
In order to do this trip, you can contact the same guy, Mohammed.
Diving over there is pretty nice, there are many coral reefs but it is not incredible. So, as long as you adjust your expectations, the experience can be good.
There are many types of reef fish, octopus and turtles. However, there are no reef sharks and mantas are seen very seldom.
Whale shark season in Diani generally runs from October through to March with the peak stage being January and February. However, that is not to say that there are no chances of seeing them at other times of the year.
In December, we were not lucky enough to see them and apparently it is not happening too often, either, according to our instructor.
There are, obviously, many diving companies over there, but not all are PADI.
We chose Diving the crab and we had a really good experience with them.
Restaurants and other
The Sands at Nomad - beach bar and restaurant, the place we went the most, a little bit expensive, but it is just on the beach, next to the diving centre, so very handy
Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant - the restaurant in the cave, required prior reservation
The Salty squid beach bar and restaurant
Wine And More Cellar - next to Funky Monkey - if you are in the mood for some good wine
Apart from these, there are many restaurants, caffes and beach bars wherever you go, with plenty of food and drink options.
Next, maybe our photo gallery will convince you how cool this destination is! We used our Sony A7 III and our DJI Mavic Air drone. Lenses: Sony 35 mm, Sony 85 mm and Sony 135 mm.