Mombasa: The coast is a world apart from “upcountry” Kenya and in many ways it feels like a different country. For a start, Mombasa, Kenya’s second city, is a much easier place to enjoy than Nairobi. With its sun-scorched, cloistered streets, this is the quintessential tropical port – steamy and incredibly decrepit – with its fun shopping, stroll through the old city’s alleys, or visit Fort Jesus. To the north and south of Mombasa there are superb beaches and a number of tourist resort areas. The beaches are the gateway to one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
The whole coast is littered with the ruins of forts, mosques, tombs and even one or two whole towns, including Fort Jesus, the old town of Lamu and the ruined city of Gedi. The string of islands that runs up the coast – Wasini, Funzi, Chale, Lamu, Manda, Pate and Kiwaiyu – are all very much worth visiting.
Malindi: Situated 115km (70 miles) north of Mombasa, and of comparable antiquity, is the smaller port of Malindi. Its has superb beaches, fine opportunities for game fishing, and proximity to the pristine reefs protected within the Malindi Marine National Park. It gained fame after Ernest Hemingway visited there in the 1930s to enjoy the big-game fishing. In addition, therein stands East Africa’s oldest church, the small Portuguese Chapel of St Francis Xavier, built in 1542 and surrounded by a small but very old cemetery. Opposite, on the headland, but visitable only if you already have a ticket from the museum, is the Vasco da Gama Pillar, a cross carved from Lisbon stone marking the navigator’s visit in 1498. Malindi is situated 20km (12 miles) northeast of the smaller resort town of Watamu, wherein lies the impressive ruined medieval city of Gedi, in the heart of the wildlife-rich Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.
Lamu: Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions. Built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors. Lamu has hosted major Muslim religious festivals since the 19th century, and has become a significant centre for the study of Islamic and Swahili cultures.