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The Kenyan coast is lined with a mixture of beautiful white sand beaches and tourist resorts, interspersed with Arab and Portuguese forts, overgrown ruins of Swahili outposts, and old trading port towns that are the remnants of its fascinating history.
Spectacular coral reefs with colourful plant and fish life provide world-class snorkelling and diving among pristine coral gardens in the pleasantly warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The marine parks at Malindi, Watamu Bay, and Shimoni contain undisturbed coral reefs and enormous fish due to the lack of coastal fishing traffic.
Mombasa is the centre of activity in the region and Kenya's second largest city. North of Mombasa, the coast is lined with resort complexes catering mainly to package tourists, with luxury accommodation, fine cuisine, and excellent services. Calm waters and palm-backed beaches are in abundance. Further north is the resort town of Malindi, as well as Watamu Bay and the islands of the Lamu Archipelago.
The vast Tsavo National Park is only an hour's drive from Mombasa. The park is home to giraffes, buffalo and antelope, as well as monkeys, many exotic birds and Kenya's largest herds of elephants. Visitors are also likely to see rhinos - after being virtually wiped out by poachers, their population now numbers almost 200. Another exciting attraction is an observation tank in one of the park's pools from which visitors can get a close-up view of hippos, crocodiles and tropical fish in their natural habitat. Some of the roads in the park are in bad condition and it can be difficult driving but if organised game drives ensure no problems.
A gentle and relaxed holiday destination, Lamu is Kenya's oldest inhabited town and the unhurried way of life has changed little over the centuries. Part of the Lamu Archipelago, it's reached by boat from the mainland. The narrow, winding streets are crowded with pedestrians, markets, vendors and donkeys. Lamu's 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 civilisation that used to be the cultural force along the coast. A dhow trip is a mandatory holiday outing and sailing around the little islands or to the beautiful beaches is a memorable experience. The Takwa ruins on Manda Island and ancient settlements on Pate are great attractions too, while the beautiful whites sands of Shela Beach are popular for sunbathing and watersports. For a sense of local history and Swahili culture, visitors can explore the Lamu Museum, the Swahili House Museum or Lamu Fort.
Situated on the beach 60 miles (40km) north of Mombasa is the lazy and unashamedly hedonistic holiday resort of Malindi, its dazzling white beaches lining the shore. But for the more adventurous, excellent fishing trips in Malindi leave early before the heat of the day sets in, in search of barracuda, tuna and marlin. One of the few authentic Portuguese relics left on the coast can be found on the cliffs near Malindi Harbour, with the cross of Vasco da Gama commemorating his arrival here in 1498. South of Malindi are the Watamu and Malindi Marine National Parks, protected areas of white coral beaches and stunning, crystal-clear blue lagoons attracting many snorkelers and scuba divers. Between the two marine parks is the abandoned 15th century Swahili town of Gedi, where visitors can wander the ruins of the palace, market place, houses, mosques and pillared tombs.
The hot and humid holiday destination of Mombasa is the biggest port on the east coast of Africa. Situated on an island linked to the mainland by bridges, it's surrounded by a natural harbour where commercial shipping mixes with traditional sailing dhows. The main Mombasa holiday attraction is the commanding 16th-century fort protecting the entrance of the harbour, Fort Jesus, whose remnants relay the story of a historic struggle for control of the coast between the Portuguese and Arabs. The Government Game Department's Ivory Room exhibits elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and hippopotamus teeth, along with other animal trophies confiscated from poachers or taken from dead animals on the reserve. Mombasa's Old Town retains a strong Arab flavour, its winding streets and crammed faded houses alive with the colours of the traditional wrap-around clothing and street sellers.
The coast of Kenya is idyllic and apart from its lovely palm-fringed beaches, colourful underwater worlds, and luxury resorts, it is also an interesting region historically. When visitors have had their fill of the sun and sea, they can explore ancient Arab and Portuguese forts and old Swahili outposts.
Mombasa is likely to be the starting point of coastal explorations in Kenya and although the port city can be quite overwhelming, there are some worthwhile tourist attractions for those who have time to spare before hitting the beaches.
The Tsavo National Park is a short distance from the city and provides a great opportunity for some game viewing. North of Mombasa the coast has luxury resorts that capitalise on the rich coral reefs and beautiful scenery. Malindi is a popular resort town and the islands of the Lamu Archipelago are also delightful.
The south coast of Kenya was once remote and inaccessible, covered in lush forest and infamous for its slave trade and tropical plantations. But today, little of the forest remains and it has become part of Kenya's mainstream tourist trade.
The region's popularity is due to its image as a haven of unspoilt white beaches and azure seas, where calm waters and well-preserved coral reefs invite underwater exploration. The coast is host to a wide range of resorts offering excellent facilities, but also has many less developed getaways. The small fishing village of Shimoni is home to a series of deep coastal caves and is a popular base for diving and deep-sea fishing.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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