Taking your first walk on a Watamu Beach in a November afternoon can be a bit misleading. The beaches may look as white as they did on the photos you Googled, but you immediately notice the collection of dead, brown seaweeds that line the water edge.
At times, the weeds can be so numerous so as to require a swept-up-path to the water’s edge. Still, these are not enough to spoil the scenic view of the ocean as you prop yourself to a sunbed under a coconut tree. The sea breeze will waft through with the real ocean smell, not that manufactured "ocean fragrance" that you find in air fresheners, toilet cleaners and laundry softeners.
There are three bays in Watamu, including Watamu Beach, which is the middle bay. In case you need a primer on your Geography lessons, a bay is a bit of the ocean that indents into the land. In fact, the Watamu ones may be referred to as coves, seeing that they may be much smaller than bays.
The names of the various hotels and resorts by the beach are an apt description of the different coves.
Turtle Bay Beach is located on the deepest of the bays and the one most open to the ocean. It’s also where a lot of sailing vessels launch, and where the Watamu Marine Park is located.
The Marine Park side also hosts the English, or British side of Watamu, with the British preferring the Turtle Bay, Hemmingways and Ocean Sports resorts. The famous Medina Resort is also located here.
The rest of Watamu is dominated by Italians, with their Italian language battling Kiswahili for the title of the most spoken language in Watamu. English comes a distant third, or even fourth after the local languages.
Blue Bay Cove is located along Watamu Beach and is more sheltered than the Marine Park, meaning the water is calmer.
|Crystal Bay, the morning after|
Crystal Bay and Seven Islands Resorts are located on the so-called Crystal Bay and the most scenic and calm of the three. The seven islands refer to a number of small islands, remnants of where the beach once stood hundreds of years ago before giving way to the relentless ocean.
During the low tide, the ocean recedes to the reef and will leave pools of shallow, crystal clear, pale blue and dark blue water, which lends the name to Crystal Bay. Not only is this phenomenal breathtaking, but you have the opportunity to play and swim in the shallow pools left by the ocean in “crystal bay”.
Some of the pools are shallow enough for small children, while the rest will barely go above the chest of an average-height adult. You’ll find that it is easier and fun to swim in the ocean until when the tide comes in, from about 10 AM to almost 2 PM.
Advice for first-time ocean swimmers is that the water will sting in your eyes. It takes about 3 days for one to get used and gain special powers to swim with your eyes open.
|A view of the beach from the ocean at low tide|
Another hazard is the sun. You may be used to the Nairobi sun, but the sun in Watamu is ruthless. Without sunscreen, it will take 2 days for you to experience extreme sunburn. It may not even matter how dark you are, as long as you have not gotten used to the Watamu sun.
Alternatively, you can walk in the ocean and explore the various “islands”, including crab holes and bits of the reef. There are many small pockets of water on the ocean floor where you can spot starfish, small fish, sea urchins and perhaps, the occasional octopus.
|Some of the "seven islands" and pools left during low tide|
The islands are remnants of the shoreline, which has been eroded to its current location. The receding shoreline is best observed in the Marine Park side and on the “Blue Bay” where shoreline erosion is active during some seasons. Some of the hotels have been reinforced against this, though the ocean doesn’t like being told what to do, it still takes in those by the beach.
|Reef and crab holes at low tide|
For ocean goers, you will need to get used to beach boys, more so if you are white, for they quickly turn into a pestering nuisance. They will have endless things to show you or places to take you. They may, however, come in handy to guide you through the first day, both in the ocean and around the village, for a small tip. Oceanside hotels will approve of your guide before they show you around.
It is a good idea to take a walk from any of the beaches into Watamu Village during the day. You can even walk along the three bays/coves during the day. This is a recommended activity for the afternoon, or during sunset after you are done with swimming.
Where to eat
Most hotels in Watamu offer all-inclusive breakfast, lunch and dinners. Villas offer chefs and a la carte
|Grilled sea fish at Ocean Sport|
menus, hence more choice compared to the hotels.
The seaside features a number of eateries, where you can enjoy your seafood at prices ranging from KSh. 500 to KSh. 900. In the village, you will find a local eatery opposite Mama Lucy Supermarket as you get to the main road or a number of eateries around Mama Lucy Supermarket.
Down the road, you will find an Italian Pizza eatery and Mawimbi, which also specialises in a variety of seafood and other foods. Both come recommended, with Mawimbi’s price being on the higher side (about KSh. 1,300 a meal, exclusive of drinks).
Some of Watamu’s best fish can be found at Ocean Sports Resort. In addition to a variety of fish, they also have a beach-side bar, where you can enjoy a few drinks as you listen to the British curse.
|Fried fish at Ocean Sport|
Getting Around Watamu
If you are in the mood, you can walk from one point to the other, unless you are walking from the Ocean Sports/ HemmingWays/Medina side to the Crystal Bay/Seven Islands/Saba Villas side which can be a bit of a distance.
Walking at night may not be recommended for more than short distances, unless, of course, you are a ninja. I did not hear of any incidences, but as a tourist, you may want to err on the side of caution.
Getting around is easy as there are lots of boda-boda motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Point to Point fares are Ksh. 50 and that should cover a trip from anywhere in Watamu to anywhere else.
I prefer the motorbikes as they are comfier; unless a tuk-tuk is new or well maintained, you might find the ride a little rough due to insufficient shock absorbers.
Watamu offers a number of nightspots, with the most popular being “Come Back” located in the village’s main street. The club is open all days with the exceptions of Mondays and features a dance floor, a bar and the usual club seating. Drinks are moderately priced, and the crowd will be a mix of tourists, including foreigners and locals, and also residents of the area.
While clubs open early, crowds at Come Back don’t start streaming it until 10 PM.
At about 2 AM, the party moves over to Kalahari, which is another spot in Watamu. Even as late as 11 PM, you won’t find crowds here. Other night spots include one known as “Carwash”, among many others.
|A receding Watamu Beach|
During the high tourist season in December, the Seven Islands Resort does hold a beach disco on Wednesday nights, which I was told charges KSh. 500 for locals and 10 Euros for foreigners.
Other night activities include the various eateries, or hanging out by the beach, especially on a moonlit evening. The beach, however, tends to be deserted on evenings.
Things to do
Besides the nightlife, what you can do in Watamu depends on your likes and dislikes. Overall, though, the selection is very touristy (think European tourist, rather than local tourist).
There’s the full day boat ride which starts at the Marine Park. Here, you hop onto a wooden, glass bottomed boat and head out for a snorkelling trip in the marine park.
Snorkelling involves jumping out into the ocean, swimming around and mingling with the Zebrafish and other colourful fish. Some knowledge of swimming may be required here, though if your CV doesn't include swimming, you can hang on to a roped lifesaver like some of us did, or hang around a lifejacket.
|Boat-ride, ermm, boats, with their sun-bathing top-decks|
Sometimes in November and more often in December, you will be lucky enough to encounter dolphins. In November though, they will mostly be in the deep ocean, which the boats avoid due to the tendency of tourists to get sea sick.
|Zebrafish at Watamu Marine Park|
The next stop for the boat ride is low-lying islands about the point where the deep ocean ends at low tide. Here, you can walk around, explore the reef, and try to find octopi, which are as shy as a teenager who just broke into puberty, and therefore retreat under rocks.
Our boat ride then heads over to Mida’s Creek, where the ocean extends for a few kilometres inland. At low tide, the creek has a strong current as water rushes out into the ocean, and you could mistake it for a river. Lining the creek by the shoreline is kilometres of mangrove forest, with their network of roots into the
mangrove swamp underneath. Venturing into the mangrove may be a bit difficult due to ttheir thorny bark, though the locals do it, barefoot, for good measure.
|An Octopus at Watamu Marine Park|
The boat ride stops over at some island in the creek, where you will be treated to a lunch of grilled sea fish, octopus soup, rice, grilled prawns and soft drinks. Alcohol is available for sale, though this may not be mentioned if you don't ask. If you would like to explore the mangrove further, you can hop onto a dugout canoe for an extra fee and a tour into the swamp.
|Mida Creek, mangrove forest behind the yachts|
After lunch, your return to the mainland, this time round as the tide returns, water slowly streaming back into the creek. You will encounter some large waves as you turn into the proper ocean which will rock the boat enough to scare those making their debut ride into the ocean. Some people claimed their souls left their bodies temporarily as a wave crashed into the boat. Secretly, too, it can be a little thrilling; just don’t tell anyone.
Most of the boats have a basking top deck for those who are brave enough not to be scared by a little rocking. Again, forget your sunscreen at your risk.
|Boat-tour grilled seafood lunch|
The boat ride costs an overpriced KSh. 4,000 for locals, irrespective of the provider. You can do a “half tour” for KSh. 3,000, which I can assure you is not value for that money. If you are taking the ride, you'd better take the "full" ride.
Besides the boat ride, you can visit and tour the Gedi ruins around Gedi town, or head over to the snake farm in Watamu.
Alternatively, you can head over to Malindi for other seafaring activities should your bank balance allow for such excursions.
|One of the larger waves rocks the boat on the way back|
I’d also recommend looking at the “Things To Do” section for Watamu on TripAdvisor. This should give you some ideas on some of the activities around here.
Nevertheless, be assured that limiting your activities to swimming in the ocean and reflecting life by the beach is enough and should not leave you feeling as if you did not accomplish much. Most of the other activities don’t add much marginal value commesnurate to the cost in time and money.
Getting to Watamu
There are a number of ways to get to Watamu. Many coast-bound buses can drop you off at the Gedi junction on the Mombasa - Malindi highway, which is just a few kilometres from Watamu town. You can also alight at Malindi and travel back to Watamu, which is a KSh. 100 trip by matatu, or KSh. 2,000 - KSh. 3,000 by taxi. Tuk-tuks will charge KSh. 800 - Ksh. 1,000, though you may be left with a sore ass depending on your choice of tuk-tuk. Motorbikes too are available if you are the kind that jumps out of bed ready to teach life a lesson.
|A street-food chicken join in one of Watamu's main street|
Locally, flights are available from JKIA to Malindi in the form of both JamboJet, Fly540 and AirKenya. JamboJet fares start at KSh.4,200 on an excellent day, KSh. 5,200 on a better day, KSh. 7,200 on a good day all the way to KSh. 12,200 and beyond on busy days. Fly540 charges around KSh. 10,000 - KSh. 13,300 and offers a more reliable schedule.
|A different view of the main street that goes round the village|
You can also prefer to fly into Moi International Airport in Mombasa, then take your preferred means of transport for the remaining 100 kilometres to Malindi.