Kenya: Beach Holidays
Mombasa - Coastal City:
Mombasa the biggest port on the east coast of Africa serving five different countries and with a civilization dating way back is a great tourist attraction. The town is the beginning of the only railway that crosses the Kenyan interior, built by the British in 1901. It is situated on an island linked to the mainland by bridges and surrounded by a natural harbor where commercial shipping mixes with traditional sailing dhows. The main attraction is the ruins of 16th-century fort protecting the entrance of the harbor, Fort Jesus, whose remnants relay the story of a historic struggle for control of the coast between the Portuguese and Arabs. Behind, on Treasury Square, is the Government Game Department’s Ivory Room, exhibiting elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns, hippopotamus teeth and other animal trophies confiscated from poachers or taken from dead animals on the reserve. The Old Town portrays a strong Arab flavor and is the true heart of the city, with an intricate pattern of winding streets alive with the colors of the traditional wrap-around clothing, crammed with faded houses and street sellers, and filled with the heavy scent of spices. Most visitors stay long enough to look around before heading either north or south to one the superb beach resorts nearby.
Lamu is Kenya’s oldest inhabited town, and the unhurried way of life has changed little over the centuries. Part of the Lamu Archipelago, Lamu town is reached by boat from the mainland. The narrow, winding streets are crowded with pedestrians, markets, vendors and donkeys. Lovely old Arab houses feature intricately carved doors and lintels and mosques decorate the streets of one of the last remaining Swahili towns from a civilization that used to be the cultural force along the coast. A Dhow trip is mandatory and sailing around the little islands or to the beautiful beaches is a memorable experience.
North of Mombasa leads to the lazy, unashamedly self-gratifying beach resort of Malindi. For most the main attraction is the dazzling white sandy beaches that line the shore. However for the more energetic there is also some excellent fishing. Trips leave early in search of barracuda, tuna and marlin, before the heat of the day sets in. One of the few authentic Portuguese relics left on the coast can be found on the cliffs at the southern end of Malindi harbor – the cross of Vasco da Gama bears the Portuguese coat of arms and commemorates his arrival here in 1498. South of Malindi are the Watamu and Malindi Marine National Parks. These protected areas of white coral beaches and stunning blue lagoons are a major attraction for snorkelers and scuba divers. Malindi holidaymakers are also drawn here as the sea is crystal clear in contrast with the resorts’ waters, which are muddied by the Sabaki River. Between the two marine parks is the abandoned 15th-century Swahili town of Gedi, where visitors can wander around the ruins of the palace, market place, houses, mosques and pillared tombs.