Last Updated on 12/09/21 by Rose Palmer
By the end of February my body and soul are usually quite winter weary. My soul needs some bright sunny days to lift it back up and my bones need warm sand and surf to lubricate the joints. After a two week citizen science conservation experience in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, I also wanted to get in some Kenya beach holidays. But, I did not want to have to spend a lot of time or effort getting there. Jacaranda Beach on Kenya’s Coast was the perfect answer (and was my personal alternative to the Seychelles)
Why Kenya Beach Holidays?
Kenya is normally associated with safari vacations – and justifiably so. With its many National Parks and Conservancies that protect the unique East African wildlife, it has become a prime wildlife game drive destination.
But Kenya also has over 800 miles of coastline on the Indian Ocean with many popular resort destinations.
My first thought for a beach vacation was going to the Seychelles. This independent African Island nation has developed a reputation for beautiful beaches and gorgeous luxury resorts. After all, I was already this close, I felt that I should take advantage of this opportunity.
But going to the Seychelles just did not feel right for me at this time – this was something that I wanted to eventually experience together with my husband. All I really wanted was just a nice quiet hotel on a beautiful quiet beach that was easy to get to.
After doing some research, I discovered that I could easily get from Nairobi to Malindi on the Kenyan coast on a quick one hour flight. A little more research, and I learned that the Watamu area is a resort and beach destination that is quite popular with Italians.
A search on my usual booking site, Hotels.com, and I found the lovely little Alawi Boutique hotel half way between Malindi and Watamu, with photos that showed a wide sandy beach and turquoise blue waters. Sold!
How to get to Malindi from Nairobi
To figure out how to get to Kenya’s coast, I started by searching flight options on a general travel search site (I usually use Orbitz or Travelocity). I discovered that Silverstone Airlines has a daily flight from Nairobi’s Wilson airport to Malindi, and a daily return flight from Malindi back to Nairobi. Booking the flights was an easy couple of clicks and a credit card number. I received my confirmation in less than a minute.
Getting to Malindi turned out be pleasantly easy and stress free. Unlike Nairobi’s large Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Wilson airport is where many of the smaller planes take off from, including the private safari planes. It was a quick 15-20 minute drive from the Margarita House hotel where I was staying in Nairobi, to the Wilson airport.
Silverstone Airlines has their own building at the Wilson Airport with a comfortable lounge area. Check in was another brief few minutes. As we approached the departure time, a bus took us to the separate terminal gate building. Security check was quick since our plane was the only one boarding at that time.
Before long, I was on the plane – there was no assigned seating, you sat wherever you wanted. The plane and the seats were surprisingly spacious and comfortable for such a short hop; in fact I had more leg room that I have had on longer flights in the US.
In a little less than an hour Kenya’s coastline became visible through my window and before long I was feeling the much warmer and slightly more humid air along the Indian Ocean. I had set up with the Alawi Hotel to be picked up and the driver was waiting for me when I arrived.
Another half hour drive along the bumpy dirt roads that seem to be typical in this part of the world, and I was checking in for four days of warm sand, warmer water and beautiful sunshine on Jacaranda beach. My Kenya beach holidays had begun!
My Kenya beach resorts experience
Alawi Boutique Hotel
For me, the Alawi Boutique Hotel turned out to be everything I wanted from this trip. It was small, intimate and quiet, right on the beach and only a few yards from the water. With an onsite restaurant, I had everything I needed for a lazy and leisurely stay. Since the end of February was shoulder season, neither the hotel nor the beach was very busy.
The Alawi hotel is only three years old, so it has a very modern and clean feel. The hotel is named after a legendary 18th century Arabian merchant, Sheikh Alawi, who was so in love with a native girl named Kaskazi, that, contrary to the customs of the time, married only her, and took no other wives.
The name Kaskazi refers to a typical East African monsoon wind. The sheikh and his lovely wife were blessed with four sons, which they named after other typical coastal winds “SHUTA, JAMBA, MALIZA, and KUZI”, all of whom grew up to be successful merchants. To honor the devotion of this romantic legend, each of the five unique rooms at the Alawi are named for Kaskazi and her sons.
I had the second level, oceanview “SHUTA” room which was large, comfortable and decorated in a beachy shabby chic style that felt appropriate for this setting. Because the hotel is small, I saw the same staff every day and as a result, felt like I received very personalized attention.
Besides the beach, there is also access to a saltwater pool with plenty of lounge chairs for relaxing.
The meals I ate there were all quite good. The menu offered an interesting blend of Italian, African and seafood inspired dishes made with local fresh ingredients. Another nod to the Italian influence that I really appreciated were the wonderful deserts, especially the authentic gelato.
Jacaranda Beach Resort
For a change of scenery one day, I checked out the Jacaranda Beach Resort for lunch. It was a quick 15 minute walk down the beach from the Alawi where I was staying. The Jacaranda Beach Resort is large and has a variety of accommodation options as well as 6 pools, numerous activities and a choice of dining options.
Also catering to Italians and other Europeans, this large resort seemed to have much to offer if you are looking for a more active environment. My lunch buffet certainly had all sorts of delicious looking options to choose from.
Activities in Jacaranda Beach
Enjoying Beach Time
My favorite activity was just enjoying the sand and the surf. This part of the coastline is a protected marine reserve, so the beach scenery is very unspoiled. Twice a day when the tide went out, large sandbars become exposed and they were very easy to walk to in the clear and shallow water.
One of the larger sandbars is actually connected to the beach, so at low tide I could walk out about a quarter mile on soft white sand. Then as the tide started slowly coming in, I just sat on the soft sand and let the water slowly cover me. The water temperature was the warmest I have ever experienced, almost bath like, and felt great on sore muscles and stiff joints.
For those looking for a bit more action, there is a kite sailing outfitter just up the beach from the Alawi Hotel, though I did not give that a try.
Traveler’s tip: the local young men will approach you and try to get you into a friendly conversation (usually in Italian first then in English). It’s a ploy to get you to buy something or to take one of the snorkeling boats, etc. I would just turn away, completely ignore them and keep walking away. It feels rude, but once you engage them in any way, they do no leave you alone (learned this from my experience on Zanzibar).
Dhow Sunset Cruise on Mida Creek
One evening I opted to do a Dhow Sunset Cruise on Mida Creek which is part of the Watamu Marine National Park. The staff at my hotel set it all up for me, including a driver to take me there and bring me back.
Even though the boat was only about 5 miles away, it was a 30 minute drive to get there – again, very bumpy and rough dirt roads that had to be maneuvered like a slalom course.
The Dhow Cruise was pleasantly relaxing and included an open bar and non-stop freshly made small bites like samosas, fried coconut, and meat skewers with delicious dipping sauces.
The small group of guests on board were an international mix – an extended family from Norway and two young women from Iceland. We all had one thing in common – the desire to escape the cold ice and snow to a warmer and sunnier climate.
The scenery we sailed by was pretty and unspoiled as we passed the mangrove forest that lined the river. Unfortunately though, the sunset did not cooperate, but it was still a lovely evening.
The Gedi Ruins
Just outside Watamu, are the evocative ruins of a 12th century Swahili settlement. Rediscovered and excavated in the late 19th century, the site is under consideration by UNESCO.
The archaeological remnants of mosques, palaces and large houses give evidence of a prosperous civilization that once thrived until the 15th century. The demise and ultimate abandonment of the settlement is still a mystery.
Again, the hotel staff arranged for a driver to pick me up early in the morning and take me to the Gedi Ruins. (another 30 minute drive on bumpy dirt roads). The minimal fee to have one of the local guides show me around the ruins and tell me their story was well worth it. (You can read my detailed Gedi Ruins story here).
Gelato in Watamu
After my visit to the Gedi Ruins, I asked the driver to swing through the nearby town of Watamu for a quick stop to get some gelato. The Italian influence in the area has resulted in a few authentic gelato cafes and I wanted to try one out.
Unfortunately, the highly advertised Non Solo Gelato was closed that day, so we went to Gelateria Artisanal instead. The gelato tasted pretty authentic.
I treated my driver to some of the gelato as well. Sadly, he said this was the first time anyone had done this for him.
Going back to Nairobi
The trip back to Nairobi was just as easy as going to Jacaranda Beach. The same drivers that had been ferrying me around for the last few days drove me to the Malindi Airport as well.
Since it is also not a big airport, check in and security was quick. The same plane that brought me here took me back to the Wilson Airport in Nairobi where the Margarita House hotel driver was waiting for me.
I had a late night flight on Quatar back to the US, so I hung out at the Margarita House for a few hours where I had a nice dinner before their driver took me to the airport for my trip home. (To make travel easier, I had left my main luggage at the Margarita House, and only took a small bag to Jacaranda Beach)
My Kenya beach holidays on Jacaranda Beach gave me everything I was looking for and the Alawi was exactly the small, intimate, luxury Kenya beach resort I was hoping for. It was easy to get to from Nairobi and it was a quiet and beautiful setting with soft white sand, warm ocean breezes and even warmer ocean surf. I hope I will have the chance to go back again one day.
Thanks for visiting.