Clear turquoise water, fantastic coral gardens, lush jungles stretching inland, and a minimum of hassle make Turtle Bay East Africa’s most complete beach experience
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Just south of the fishing village of Watamu, 62 miles (100 km) north of Mombasa
BEACH FRONTAGE About 4 miles (7 km)
KEY WILDLIFE Reef fish, marine shorebirds, golden- rumped elephant shrews ACTIVITIES Snorkeling, scuba diving, bird-watching, exploring ruins
Picture a classic tropical paradise, all soft white sand, swaying palms, and glittering aquamarine water, enhanced to spectacular effect by a succession of fantastic ragged coral outcrops that explode from the water like surrealist mushrooms. This is Turtle Bay, one of the most glorious spots on East Africa’s long Indian Ocean coastline, where stunning natural assets and a peaceful atmosphere upstage Mombasa’s more famous beaches at every turn.
The extraordinary coral formations that adorn this stretch of coast are above-surface extensions of Kenya’s finest and most accessible coral garden, which lies only 328 yards (300 m) from the shore.
This breathtaking underwater landscape teems with more than 600 fish species, including brightly colored parrot fish, butterfly fish, surgeonfish, and snappers, which dance around the corals giving a dizzying performance, and making Kenya’s legendary landlubbing wildlife seem positively drab by comparison.
Unsurprisingly, the bay is a snorkelers’ paradise and suitable for nervous novices thanks to nearby protective reefs, which ensure reliably calm water conditions. Meanwhile, the deeper reefs farther offshore support healthy populations of whale sharks, giant sea bass, and green turtles, and boast superb scuba-diving conditions. Deep-sea game fishing is popular in the open water beyond the reefs, where anglers can try their hand at catching tuna, sailfish, marlin, and wahoo.
From the sea to the land, the exploring continues with a day trip to Arabuko-Sokoke National Park, which lies only 3 miles (5 km) inland.
This park, which can easily be enjoyed on foot, protects East Africa’s largest remaining tract of coastal forest and presents great opportunities for wildlife observation – scores of monkeys, baboons, antelopes, and elephants live here, alongside the bizarre, twitchy-nosed, golden-rumped elephant shrew, and several unique bird species, including the endangered Amani sunbird, East Coast akalat, Sokoke scops owl, and Sokoke pipit.
Hidden in the park’s tangled forest is Gedi, a “lost city” and Kenya’s most important and impressive archaeological site. Its broodingly enigmatic mosques and palaces and eerie tombs and archways are all that remain of a medieval Swahili city-state, thought to have been home to 2–3,000 people in its heyday.
FORGET MOMBASA’S BEACHES?
THE BUILD-UP The beaches that stretch either side of the ancient island-bound port of Mombasa – Nyali and Bamburi to the north, Diani and Tiwi to the south – are the stuff of brochure-writers’ dreams. Here you’ll find idyllic arcs of white sand, calm blue waters, offshore reefs swirling with fish, and beach after beach refreshingly uncrowded by comparison to their Mediterranean counterparts.
THE LETDOWN In a nutshell: beach boys. One of the reasons the beaches around Mombasa are so uncrowded is that most visitors step out onto them once, and – having deflected a swarm of pushy hustlers and chancers – opt to spend the rest of their holidays lounging around the hotel swimming pool instead.
GOING ANYWAY? The hotel swimming pools are mostly very nice, and there’s usually a good range of other activities to keep things interesting – everything from table tennis and diving excursions to day trips to Mombasa’s old town or the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary.
Getting There and Around
The closest international airport is in Mombasa, from where there are domestic flights to Malindi, which is 9 miles (15 km) north of Watamu. Shared taxis head into Watamu from both Mombasa and Malindi, and private taxis are also available. Most sites around Watamu can be reached on foot or by a short taxi ride.
Where to Eat
There are no stand-alone restaurants of note in Watamu, but all the resort hotels serve good meals, with seafood being the specialty. Particularly recommended are the à la carte lunch menu and sumptuous themed buffet dinners at Hemingways.
Where to Stay
Watamu village has a good selection of budget accommoda- tions, and the main beach running south of this is serviced by four medium-sized resort hotels. The best is Hemingways (see Where to Eat), which has a superlative setting and offers a great range of marine activities.
When to Go
Visit at any time except the wettest months (Feb–May).
Budget per Day for Two
US$200–300 – far less than this if you’re prepared to rough it in a local guesthouse, but a lot more if you want to charter a boat for game fishing.