If you had asked me a month ago, if I’d ever spend 2 whole weeks vacationing in a single location, I’d have said ‘maybe, it depends on the location‘. If you had then given the location as Watamu, a small fishing town on the Kenyan coast, I’d have answered with definite ‘no!’. This is because I don’t consider myself a ‘beach bum’ and I like to travel fast. My idea of slow travel is spending 2 to 3 weeks moving from place to place within a single country, rather than in multiple countries.
So, when Mark and I decided to spend some time on the Kenyan Coast, I naturally began researching how many destinations we could visit within our 2-week holiday period. Before moving to Nairobi, I had only heard about Kenyan coast cities of Mombasa and Diani. After we moved, Watamu came on our radar after some friends and family members who had spent some time in Kenya recommended it. So we decided it would be one of our stops.
Getting from Nairobi to Watamu, Kenya
My initial plan was to take the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train from Nairobi to Mombasa and then spend the days that followed, hopping from one beach destination to the next until we got to Watamu. Unfortunately or perhaps, quite fortunately, we were unable to buy train tickets via the online portal or through an agent.
We then decided to look up flights to Watamu and found two local carriers, Jambojet and Fly540, that operate flights to Malindi – the closest airport to Watamu. We booked our return flights with Jambojet and decided then, that we would spend all our time in Watamu, with perhaps a day trip to Malindi.
First Impressions of Watamu
We arrived in Malindi with the second Jambojet flight for the day and got into a taxi to our accommodation by the Watamu beach. For some reason, I had a vision of Zanzibar in my head as we planned this trip and I was expecting Watamu to be very similar. It was in some ways, however, during the drive from the airport to our accommodation, I couldn’t help but think that the scenery looked very similar to villages in Nigeria and I had been hoping to get away to a place that was very different.
I read that Watamu was Kenya’s Little Italy and I was envisioning a holiday filled with relaxation by a beautiful beach and one too many plates of Spaghetti Bolognese. As we rode from the airport through Malindi, that holiday dream began to fade rapidly. But I judged Watamu (and Malindi) too early because it didn’t take too long for me to fall in love with the town and see the different parts of it that made it so charming.
Where We Stayed in Watamu
We shared our time in Watamu between two accommodation types at opposite ends of the town. Our first accommodation was a tent in the Bamba Koffi Tented Camp. This was a very cheap, simple accommodation option for us and Mark’s dream come true. Our tent was fitted with a bed, a bedside lamp and a fan. It felt very cosy once I got used to it.
All the tents in the camp were situated in the middle of a little forest of trees, with a shared external toilet, bath and a kitchen area. Campers also have access to use the outdoor amenities of the camp’s sister accommodation – the Watamu Cottages.
Each morning, we would wake up to the sounds of the ocean, monkeys swinging above us, birds chirping loudly and the occasional scurring of two Great Plated Lizards. I have to admit, I felt a little scared listening to all the sounds outside the tent at night. It didn’t help that the lizards terrified and creeped me out! We saw and heard them during the day and I just couldn’t get the image of the sheer size of them out of my head when it was time for bed. When I did fall asleep though, it was very peaceful and serene.
After 6 nights at the tent, we moved to Crystal Bay Resort, which was a more luxurious accommodation option, compared to the tents. Due to the impact of the COVID19 pandemic, the resort had drastically reduced the price for lodging. I was very glad we got to stay at more than half price off the usual lodging fees.
My favourite thing about Crystal Bay was its location. Because the hotel is located in a cove, we experienced low tides and shallower water all day long. Walking into and swimming in the ocean became a daily routine I looked forward to.
One thing that the beach at Crystal Bay (and environs) had that Bamba Koffi didn’t, was the presence of Beach Boys – people who came to sell either tours or coconuts to tourists. This wasn’t much of an issue for me because I simply ignored them after they became relentless. However, we had an encounter with a passive-aggressive vendor who followed us into the water, wielding his coconut knife at Mark but that’s a story for another blogpost!
Activities & Things We did in Watamu
We travelled to Watamu without any set itinerary, allowing us to be very flexible with our time and spontaneous. This spontaneity came with many rewards. For example, we got to join an excellent water aerobics class and have tea with a group of seniors at the Watamu Cottages. Additionally, Mark enjoyed an afternoon of golf with his colleague who was also in Watamu. We spent some time with his family and got invited to take a sunset cruise on a Mozambique traditional sailboat with their friends on the Mida creek.
Another activity we got up to was snorkelling at the Watamu Marine National Park. After snorkelling for the first time in Sharm el-Sheikh, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be doing it again. But I ended up going along with the plan to do so and I’m glad I did.
Snorkelling at the Watamu Marine National Park was great fun! We saw a variety of fishes, the ocean was friendly and it certainly wasn’t as scary as I remembered my first experience to be. Even though I had a good time, snorkelling was not the most exciting part of the outing for me. That honour goes to the discovery of one of nature’s great mysteries… sandbanks!.
After snorkelling for a few hours, the boat operators drove the boat further into the ocean and anchored there. This part of the ocean had a sandbank – something I had never even heard about before. Just in case you haven’t heard of this as well, a sandbank is a deposit of sand in a sea or river forming a shallow area. Basically, we were able to stand in the middle of the ocean. I don’t know about you but being able to do this blew my mind!
We also got to visit a few restaurants during our stay. I’ll write about them in a separate blogpost but the food exploration was one of the best things we did in Watamu. Having had one too many plates of Spaghetti Bolognese, glass of white wine and scoops of gelato, I was happy to have lived my Little Italy fantasy to the fullest!
For our last days in Watamu, I accompanied Mark for a golf session and thoroughly enjoyed being his Caddie and then, he accompanied me to a day at the spa. The spa day at the Sakina Ocean Spa in Medina Palms was wonderful and it was such a lovely way to end our trip.
This is probably the first trip I have gone on without needing another vacation to recuperate. I think the fact that we are now based in Kenya allowed us the luxury of spending 2 weeks on the beach. I’m hoping that we get to take more trips to the coast in the near future. I’m also hoping that we’re able to obtain tickets and travel on the Nairobi to Mombasa train.
If you have plans to visit Kenya, you can consider adding Watamu to your itinerary. The best part is that there are several other attractions around it. For example, there’s the Tsavo National Park about 3 hours away in case you are interested in a safari. I’ve read that this is Kenya’s largest National Park, I don’t know how it compares to the Masai Mara but I’ve read that it is pretty impressive.
You can also take day trips to Malindi, or travel to see a sandstone canyon called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ just outside the city. In Watamu, you can take kite surfing lessons, go on an excursion to see dolphins, whales and turtles (at the right season), visit the Gede Ruins and the Bio Ken Snake Park if you’re interested in doing so.
Watamu means ‘The Sweet Things’ or ‘The Sweet Ones’. Kenyans like to say ‘Watamu ni Tamu!’ – which means Watamu is Sweet! – and I couldn’t agree more!
I’d love to hear from you! What’s your idea of the perfect holiday? Are you a beach bum, slow or fast traveller? Would you consider a vacation on the Kenyan Coast in general and Watamu in particular?