Karibu Kenya, you beautiful place, you!
How do you describe a country that is so fantastic everyone should go to, at least once in their lives…
How can I properly describe the experiences we had here in Kenya. From the lush creek area of Kilifi to the wilds of the Maasi Mara, and the bold African essence of it all in between.
The colours, the smells, the vibrancy, the beauty, the welcome we constantly felt here.
We arrived into Kilifi Creek, the prettiest little creek I ever did see!
The lushness and green that greeted us on our dawn arrival was not what we were expecting when we had thought of Kenya.
The bright greens and striking hues of pink on the bougainvillea, the giant presence of the mighty baobab tree dotting the landscape, and the blue of the water, the crystal clear Indian Ocean stretching up into the Creek.
We spent most of our time in Kenya here in Kilifi and it felt like a home to us, very quickly.
Our anchorage was off a hotel, the Mnarani, which had a gorgeous wee sandy beach, a cute beach bar and a bunch of happy kids that came down almost daily for sailing lessons and playtime in the water.
Even better was the new friends we met while there, which really gave us the Kenyan welcome!
There were Jo and Sarah, who run 3 Degrees, the sailing and dive training facilities there, who we got on with like a house on fire! These two in particular made the stay in Kilifi all the better for meeting them, along with their funny old Alsatin, Milo – whom the kids loved.
Then there were the kids and their parents who we met at the beach. This was so very special as we had left everyone we knew back in Seychelles, who would all be heading to South Africa.We wouldn’t see any sailing kids for goodness knows how long.
The interaction with the other kids was a blessing. There were a whole group of them, various ages and all great playmates for our kids.
Our 3 ended up having sailing lessons with Jo and Sarah and their amazing teachers they employ. They had an absolute blast slicing through the Creek in the Laser Picos! Racing each other, falling out and righting the boats and generally having a fantastic time.
We had the kids from the beach come out to the boat to play, doing daring bombs off the roof and our children showing them what life aboard is like.
It was also a good motivator for having school done onboard, as these children would come down for their lessons and to catch up with us after they finished school nearby.
We met Peter and his wife Estelle, from Kilifi Boatyard. A local slipway and mooring area and restaurant, for the yachts who go to Kenya. They made clearance easy for us, smoothing the way with the officials who did not really know what to do with us when we arrived.
They also organised for a whole lot of fruit and vegetables to be delivered while we sat out our 4 days of quarantine left from the sailing time from the Seychelles.
Kilifi has a big bridge over the Creek though, (when I say Creek, it’s not really like a creek, it’s huge, like an estuary or similar). Unfortunately we did not fit under said bridge. In fact we actually hit the bridge, in very slow motion, when trying to clear it to get up to the Boatyard area.
We had been advised that it should be OK, we are 21.2m from waterline to masthead, and the bridge apparently has 22m clearance. Well, I can confirm that this information is not correct and we would pay the price for that nice little snippet of incorrect information in months to come in broken gear, trips up the mast and extra expenses…
To be honest, we were happier out by the Mnarani anyway, it suited us better with the kids always visiting and the lovely beach right there.
Kilifi local fresh market was a sight for sore eyes after the ridiculous prices we had been paying for fruit and vegetables in the Seychelles.
The place was jam packed with everything delicious we had been missing. Our excitement at ultra cheap broccoli and cauliflower was hilarious to the vendors, who got to know us quite well and preferred if the Captain didn’t come with me, as he bargained much more than me!
For me, it gets to a point as to how much you really want to pay for a cauliflower or mango, and is it getting the extra dollar off in the negotiation! Like the song, ‘a dollars not a lot to me but it means a great deal to him, Mr Wendall….’
Apparently I’m a softie. We knew we were getting charged mizungu (white man) prices but even at those prices, it was still crazy cheap to eat very well there. Plus the entertainment and laughter the market trips gave us was worth every extra dollar spent on said cauliflower and broccoli!
We hired a car and made day trips around the area, to Malindi, Watamu and Mombasa. It was a great spot to be based and to explore from.
Driving the rental car was an experience in itself. Kenyan drivers are like they are out to qualify for a Formula One race every time they step foot in their vehicle!
Over and undertaking at breakneck speeds, on the sides of the road, on the middle of the road with oncoming traffic, on blind corners, any time they think someone is too slow… off they go.
The roads are shockingly maintained, and they have a special treat of speed bumps being unmarked. Not a lick of paint or a sign, nothing. Just bam! After your first head smashing experience you get used to where you might see them and become aware, but they still always caused surprise on each road trip adventure!
Bikes zip past constantly, men line the roads at points where you slow, intersections and small towns along the way, hawking all manner of goods, food and drink. The speed at which they race after a moving car which has indicated they want to buy something is incredible to watch! Often no shoes or wearing funny rubber/tyre flip-flops, they tear after their customer as the car comes to a slower roll at which the deal is made! No one actually stops the vehicle, they do it on the fly. No wonder the Kenyans are known for their athletic prowess, it’s a tough road out there, in more ways than one.
Their unfailing cheerfulness and smiles as you drive past, even when you are not buying anything won my heart every time. It is truly a country of the biggest ‘karibu grin’ !
The beaches nearby were epic, which was not what I thought Kenya was going to be like. Endless golden sand stretching for miles. Warm and clear water lapped our toes as we wandered and explored them.
On one such excursion, we took Noah to the Bio Ken Snake Farm for his birthday. We had an absolutely fantastic day out with the team there.
We were the only people there that day, covid and all, so had the full attention of our guide who spent hours with us, showing all their different snakes and explaining how they milk their venom to send it off to be used to make antivenom. It is the largest of its kind in East Africa and they have a fantastic setup. They also operate a rescue and removal service and they had a venomous Mamba brought in by one of their staff while we were there. It had been hiding in the roof of a small house and the owners were relieved to have it taken off their property.
They try to educate the public to not kill the snakes, but to call them and have them removed. This not only saves the snakes but helps them with their antivenom collection, which in turn saves lives when it is needed in the hospitals.
Noah was thoroughly spoilt, spending the day with his favourite slithering reptiles, getting to hold many of the non venomous snakes there! In fact th whole family thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
We shopped in the town of Malindi for local kikoy clothing and blankets. Light cotton shorts locally made and sewn at the store, shift dresses and shirts, to help keep cool in the blazing heat of the days.
We had lunch in Malindi’s almost empty hotels and enjoyed the peace and quiet that covid has caused. It was hard to see for the local people, in all the industries and stores, what a devastating effect the lack of tourism has had on the area. As much as we enjoyed being masters of these empty domains, it was a sad situation.
Malindi is usually a bristling and colourful town. An ex playground of the Mafia dons back in the 1960’s, with expansive houses lining the beachfront, this was their money laundering and hideout from their home country. A place where they ran to when things got hot at home due to the loose Kenyan laws on the kind of thing they were into..
The Italians first came when the Broglio Space Centre was built, a large platform off the coast that was to monitor and launch Italian satellites. Scientists and engineers came to work and decided they liked what Malindi had to offer. Warm water, gorgeous beaches, relaxed atmosphere, plentiful ocean bounty, what is not to like about that.
Italians took over the town, with high tourist numbers and a lot of expat inhabitants. They brought their food and their culture, their cafes and restaurants and wine, along with their not to above board activities. Illegal activities soon took their place in the area, and it wasn’t until an extradition treaty was signed between the two countries and police task forces were sent over and the Dons were all arrested and taken home to jail.
The Global Financial Crisis also had a huge effect on the amount of tourists that came to visit and so now these villas sit empty, with big price tags on them for sale, but no one to buy them.
Usually they would have been rented out for people to enjoy a summer vacation on the beach, but again… Covid.
The area has a fabulous Italian influence due to this. Excellent pasta, real pizza and gelato can be found easily, along with the little supermarket in the town being chock full of Italian delights and the best pasta selection I have seen in a long time!
We treated Noah to a huge and delicious gelato for his birthday while there, all enjoying every last lick of it, such a treat to find spots like this, so out of the ordinary and unexpected, and delightful!
We met Adam and Diana, who were introduced to us through friends from the Seychelles. Adam works up in the Masai Mara and is a cracking photographer. They had not been out sailing for a day so we took them for a wee jaunt while trying to catch a fish for them too. Unfortunately Adam didn’t realise he got horribly sea sick so had not such a fun day and was most delighted when we re anchored in Kilifi Creek for G & T’s and the boat stopped moving. Still, we all had an enjoyable day and we would meet them again, up at his home turf later on in our stay, where the ground stays still!
We sailed to Lamu from Kilifi. It was a cracking sail up and a shocker on the way down!
Lamu is one of the furthest North ports in Kenya, right up by the Somali border. We felt the strong presence of military forces while there, with almost daily flights of military helicopters and planes doing low flying exercises, loaded with bombs and weapons as they thundered their way up the waterway.
It was thrilling to watch and I’m glad I’m not a pirate in those waters.
The increased military presence has stopped a lot of the smuggling of drugs and the piracy this area used to experience over the last 10 years. It still happens for sure but the consequences are so harsh these days that not as many people attempt the stupidity anymore.
We did hear that covid has stopped a lot of the drug running down from Somalia, and has now been taken to the waterways as land borders are so much tighter. Maybe this was the cause of the increased daily flights we were seeing.
Lamu and Shela Town were beautiful. Well, Shela was a beautiful and more developed and clean tourist spot, whereas Lamu Town was more raw, gritty and exposed. you again felt the hardship that covid has enforced on these people. Still, everywhere we went we felt welcome and were greeted with cheers of Karibu, the Swahili word for welcome.
Lamu is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town. Its significance and influence on the area is strong.
Lamu was an important trading post in the 1300’s. A stronghold of the ancient and powerful Omani empire in their trade of goods and slaves. A critical stop on the routes between Asia, up the Red Sea and the route down the south of Africa. A place that has been battled over by the Portuguese and the Turks until the Omanis stepped in to throw their weight around.
Later in the late 1800’s, the Germans and the Sultan of Zanzibar also tried to stake their claims there, along with the Brits, who couldn’t resist a bit more of a takeover on East African soil.
We spent a morning at the museum being shown life from back in those times. Hard and unforgiving. People lived and died by the skin of their teeth and wars and fighting for land and ownership was fierce.
We visited the Fort, built in the 1820’s by the Sultan of Pate, as the area was then known as.
We saw the very first Post Office, that was set up by the ever organised Germans.
It is also a place of great woodworking and carving, the huge ancient doors that were made back then, for here and in Zanzibar, the significance and beauty of them not lost all these years later.
We also met our wonderful new friends, Amina and Geraldo and their 3 gorgeous children while anchored off Shela Town.
They were staying at a rented villa, enjoying their holidays with other friends of theirs, when Amina wandered down to say hello to me while I was ashore with the kids.
We hit it off instantly! Her gorgeous Argentine presence making me feel so happy and alive and reminded me so much of my friends at home and how I was missing them all so much.
They welcomed us into their villa for dinner, their holiday for fun and games and then into their lives back in Nairobi later on in our travels.
We had a fabulous time with them and the other 2 families that were with them. Children playing for hours along the endless stretch of deserted beach. Swimming between boat and shore, playing in their garden and enjoying time together on the boat.
The time spent with them was a relaxed, easy and fun friendship. One of those couples that you know you will see again, maybe not for many years but one that makes a mark.
The kids also loved sand boarding on the dunes in Lamu. They were shockingly hot to walk on but exciting for sliding down on the boards, we spent several fantastic afternoons burning the soles of our feet on the sand.
As mentioned earlier, the sail back down from Lamu was terrible. In fact, it was the worst short sail we have had since heading from Maldives to Chagos.
There was current against us, there was wind against us and there was a mighty swell and wind chop waves. It sucked. So much so that we pulled in for the night on the inhospitable Kenyan coast to get some respite, funnily enough, in the huge bay that houses the Broglio Space Platform. We didn’t know what it as at first, thinking it was some weird oil rig, but then realised.
This stop turned out to be a bad idea as the weather got steadily worse, in hindsight we should have continued on down. The anchorage we had was rolly and very uncomfortable and we couldn’t get out of the bay without smashing into a giant swell for 2 days. Trust me we tried…. It was a horrid experience and after an hour and a half of beating into it we turned back. The rolling in the bay was preferable to the smashing into the waves for endless hours.
Arriving back into Kilifi was like a sweet homecoming after the trip down and it didn’t fill us with much confidence on a return trip to Lamu.
Never mind that though, we had more to explore.
A trip to the Mara which is a story in itself and then the stunning southern Kenyan coast. And it did not disappoint! There were places to go and things to see, so we had to get moving from our little Kenyan home base.
Kilifi was a hard goodbye, Jo and Sarah had made us feel so welcome that there was maybe a sneaky tear or two at the end of the goodbye dinner at their house. We miss you guys!!
As was the goodbyes to the other kids, we didn’t know when we would be seeing such lovely children again in East Africa and it was hard for our kids to leave their new friends.
Next stop Diani beach, the endless powdery sand of infinite beauty. The crystal clear water beckoning us to dive and swim and be at home again in the ocean.
We did several dives while here, tucked up in our swimming pool of an anchorage behind some reef.
We were lucky with the weather at that time too as the Kenyan coast offers little in protected anchorages in this SE season.
We were slowly starting our way heading South to Tanzania, so this was the perfect time to run with the wind and explore on the way down.
There are two distinct wind seasons on the East African coast, the Kazi and the Kaskazi. The Kazi brings strong SE winds and weather, and the Kaskazi the NE. They are consistent and regular, giving you a well known quantity when sailing to these areas as to what you will get.
The coast is often fringed by giant reefs, making passes into more protected areas impossible. It’s not like smaller islands where you can tuck behind them or on the leeward (windless) side. There is just coast, straight and long, and reef. Inhospitable.
We had found a patch of clear and calm weather, which is unusual during the Kazi season we were in, so made the most of it and enjoyed the area near Diani.
The kids enjoyed seeing the camels walk the beach in Diani and we tried to get them to ride them, but no one wanted to!
Our last stop in Kenya was in Shimoni. We had saved the best underwater and marine protected area until the end.
It was phenomenal! It was a marine park as a marine park should be! Totally protected by the law, less corrupt rangers and governed well.
There were fees for each day to go into the huge protected area, but we didn’t mind paying them as it was so well policed and maintained.
Huge mooring balls everywhere to stop any damage from anchors to coral.
Massive amounts of fish, including the largest Potato/Camouflage Groupers I have ever seen – who were so unafraid you could hover a meter or so away and they would just sit and stare at you with unflinching, big brown eyes.
Amazing coral and abundant small reef fish made it a pleasure to be under the water. We spent several days going into the park at first light and out of the park at night, as you are not permitted to be there overnight.
We dived two times a day each time we entered the park and had amazing experiences on each dive. So much variety and colour. So many fish and nudibranchs to spot. So much underwater happiness!
We got to meet fabulous marine scientists there, some who lived there and some who were just visiting.
I spent a morning out with our good friend from Kilifi, Julie, and her team, doing a deep dive on a spot they don’t often get to due to weather, plus another fantastic shallower reef dive.
To swim and dive with all the marine scientists was amazing. I thought I was good at spotting creatures and fish, these guys were next level! It was a grand day out on a beautiful old dhow, along with a bit of time away from my family which was also a nice treat!
We have been living in each other’s pockets for a while now, well since Seychelles, so 3 months, with little chance of a break from each other, so a bit of time alone is always appreciated!
Kenya had been incredible. It had welcomed us while most of the world was in turmoil, and let us explore her diverse offerings.
The country was a real eye opener to me, on how perceptions are not the same as reality. It was far, far more amazing, wild, interesting and lush than I had expected!
The people stole my heart and I fell totally in love with the country.
Kenya, i’m not done with you yet, I will be back!
Kilifi is a very welcoming and restful stop for cruisers. Peter who owns the boatyard is helpful and will be able to assist you with most things. He got out NZ LPG bottles filled, which has been difficult since leaving Asia.
Do be aware, the bridge does not have 22m clearance, it’s more like 21m. Maybe on the lowest spring low, but just be careful!
You can have parcels sent here, but I would advise you only do it if it’s urgent, as customs and officialdom will cause you a headache.
The coast is gorgeous but it lacks many anchorages, depending on your season.
There are also a lot of marine parks, which are suitable anchorages in both seasons but they do charge, and it can get expensive, depending on the number of people on your boat.
Their marine parks are well policed, which is good for the ocean and underwater life.
They take their marine life seriously and respect it, so you will be treated with whale, dolphin and whale shark sightings depending on the time you are there.
Diving is spectacular in Kenya. Go see Sarah at 3 Degrees for tips and dive outings.
The diving and marine park in Shimoni and Diani are definitely worth the time to visit.
‘Saltys’ in Kilifi area is a great kite and food spot. We had several really delicious meals and cocktails here and they are very reasonably priced. The beach is ahhh-mazing too!
Currents up and down the coast are strong and not to be underestimated, especially on the time it will take to go against them. If the wind is up opposing the current, forget about it. Not fun.
The markets are fantastic, the produce is cheap and fresh.
The supermarkets on the other hand are moderate at best. There is one in Malindi which is good and has a wide range, esp pasta and Italian things like olives, sun dried tomatoes, pasta etc.
Otherwise you need to head to Mombasa. There they have a couple of malls and some big supermarket chains that are very well stocked. It is significantly cheaper here than in Tanzania so if you are going to go to both countries then make sure to stock up in Kenya.