There are many places to base yourself on the Kenya coast - our favourite areas tend to be south of Mombasa along Diani Beach, at Msambweni and Funzi Island. We can fly you into Ukunda airstrip for Diani, avoiding the far busier Mombasa Moi International Airport. North of Mombasa the stretch of coast from Malindi to Kalifi is very beautiful and incorporates Watamu where the Whale Shark Trust is based.
We monitor FCO advice closely and as a result have not been booking any guests to Lamu, in the far north, for some time now.
The busiest of Kenya's marine parks is close to Mombasa itself, 10sq km of national park are enclosed in the 200 sq km of the Mombasa Marine National Reserve, the protected reserve area lies just off the coast and extends from the Mtwapa creek down to Likoni. The coast is well developed and tourists can access the park with glass-bottomed boats or go snorkelling and diving from hotels along Nyali, Shanzu and Bamburi beaches. The park protects a variety of marine systems including hanging reefs and large corals.
Historically Shimoni was the headquarters of the Imperial British East Africa Company and there are caves nearby which are reputed to have held slaves ready for transportation. Now the headquarters of the Mpunguti Marine National Reserve and Kisite Marine National Park, Shimoni is a world famous base for divers and game fishermen.
Across the narrow channel from Shimoni is Wasini Island, 17 sq km of protected mangrove swamps and coral stone. Two villages on the island house about 1500 inhabitants, mostly fishermen and craftsmen making items for the tourist trade. Charlie Claw's restaurant and bar is famous for massive seafood lunches, enormous crabs steamed in ginger and served on wooden platters washed down with a cold beer. There are loungers overlooking the channel and a small pool.
Offshore the reefs are named and graded according to difficulty and splendour. Coral gardens reef is accessible to all grades of diver and snorkelling is good at low tide. Nicknamed the pink reef after the soft corals of which it is made and inhabited by masses of brightly coloured angelfish, butterfly fish, anthias and damselfish as well as ribbon eels and many species of crustaceans and molluscs. Turtles and sharks swim over the reefs and dolphins often follow the dhows carrying tourists around the marine park.
Around Kisite island are several dive sites, the colourful fish here are notoriously tame, especially the parrotfish, visitors often see huge lobsters, surgeonfish, snappers and leopard moray eels hiding in large holes in the coral. The reserves are important breeding grounds for the rare coconut crab; the world's largest species of crab eats mainly fruit including coconuts, which its strong claws can break open. The burrows made by these amazing blue and orange creatures can be seen on both Wasini and Kisite islands.
There is no accommodation on the islands but in Shimoni Betty's camp near to the jetty has rooms and tents for hire at reasonable rates and a swimming pool and bar overlooking the Wasini channel. The camp was refurbished in 2013.
The Pemba Channel Fishing Club is justly famous for being the best place for game fishing in the whole of Africa, enormous marlin, sailfish, shark and tuna are among the regular catches. The Pemba Channel Lodge, attached to the fishing club, has six simple white cottages or bandas with verandas, a large swimming pool and a restaurant and bar - prices are high.
One of our favourite beach lodges in the Diani area, is Pinewood on Galu beach. We have been visiting for many years and find the lovely beach and slow pace of life just perfect after a safari. It's a simple place but it gets the basics right. At Msambweni we love the stylish Saruni Ocean and Msambweni House & Villas (perfect for honeymooners or for celebrating a special occasion.) Even further south is the wonderful Funzi Island and Funzi Keys, a very relaxed 'barefoot style' beach lodge. Funzi Keys has been closed for a major refurb and we expect it to re-open in 2017, all new and improved.