By Jennifer Gurecki
Kenya is best known for the wild animals that roam Maasai Mara, but it is also home to 360 miles of white sand beaches, coconut palms, and jagged cliffs that hug the Indian Ocean. On my most recent trip to the country, I took a few days off from work with Zawadisha and spent some time exploring Kilifi.
What should have been a 12-hour trip turned into nearly 24 thanks to the highly efficient Kenyan railway system. If you’ve got time to kill, this blast from the past is worth the adventure. Taking your meals and sleeping in the rickety cars, only to wake to elephants in the bush, isn’t the worst way to spend a day in Kenya, but be prepared for the “overnight” train to consume far more time than you’ve allowed for.
When I finally arrived in Kilifi, I immediately made my way to the Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge and Backpackers. The cheap booze, fresh food, and welcoming and lively atmosphere were just what I needed after the 24-hour trip from Nairobi. Distant Relatives is a great place to stay to check out the local beaches, and depending upon the time of year, spend your days surfing and kite surfing.
Although there wasn’t much swell while I was in town, word on the street is that there are plenty of good waves to catch, from the South Coast of Mombasa up to Malindi. Despite the tame waters, I still spent some time exploring Bofa Beach, just 10 minutes away from Distant Relatives by tuk-tuk and only 400 shillings round trip.
The white sand beaches were breathtaking and the water of the Indian Ocean was the perfect temperature: not too cold, not too warm. Unlike the beaches south of Mombasa, Bofa Beach was nearly devoid of beach boys attempting to hawk cheap sunglasses and handmade jewelry. Occasionally a local would emerge from the ocean, octopus in hand, and offer to kill it and clean it for you on the spot. At 100 shillings (about $1.15), it was hard to say no.
On my last night in town, I made my way up to one of the villages near Distant Relatives to celebrate the end of Ramadan. We were greeted by a group of women who tied traditional dance costumes around our wastes, and to the amusement of all the villagers, we danced (not well, but we definitely were good sports about it). We finished off with a nama choma dinner overlooking Kilifi Creek.
I also had the pleasure of meeting an international team from France, Peru, Argentina, and the US who are building a dhow, a traditional boat native to the coast of East Africa. Their goal is to travel the coast of Africa, supporting local communities along their journey through volunteer projects. Because of the security issues in Mpekotoni, they were biding their time in Kilifi, waiting for the winds to change so they could sail it down to the creek and finish building. Learn more about this project here.
Speaking of security issues, it’s worth noting that so much of what the Western media is reporting about the violence in Kenya is inaccurate, and the results have been devastating. Local businesses along the entire coast have been forced to lay off workers or close up shop completely. This is significantly affecting the livelihoods of the locals, who support entire extended families through their jobs in the tourist industry. What is being portraying as terrorist activities across the entire coast (and in some cases the entire country) is actually local land disputes in the far north coast region near Somalia. Corruption and poor governance? Absolutely. Terrorism and heightened threats to tourists? Not at all.
Bottom line: consider the coast of Kenya for your next surf destination. Even if the waves aren’t at their peak, there’s plenty of other adventures to be had that won’t leave you disappointed.