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Your eco-tour around Diani beach, the most beautiful beach
in Kenya.


DIANI BEACH

The Kenyan coast is an area stretching from the Lamu archipelago at the northern end in a horseshoe shape encompassing the island of Mombasa to the south coast which stretches to the Tanzanian border – a distance of nearly 500 km.

This stretch of coastline comprises, bays, rocky coves, inlets which are harbours for boats of various types, and beaches of glistening white sand, fringed by the aquamarine waters of the Indian ocean.  All are idyllic but listed in the top 20 best beaches in the world by an independent survey conducted by a travel website called Expedia who held a competition and the winner was financed on an all expenses paid trip to research the beaches of the world - are those in Diani!

The colours of the tropics are unbelievable, so vivid and intense – the shades of aquamarine, crystal clear sea water close to the shore, merging into the deeper azure shades beyond the reef, the glistening sandy beaches fringed by swaying, whispering palm trees, and the colours of the rioting bougainvillea, pink and white frangipani, red hibiscus, and orange flame trees are an artist’s palette painted by a Master Hand.

And not only the colours, but the indescribable scent of the tropical coast – a mix of salty sea breezes, scented blossom, dried grass, coconut oil, blistering heat on red soil roads, the subtle smells of foods from little eateries and charcoal braziers -  all add to the unforgettable ambience that is, Diani,  the coast of Kenya.

Diani can only be reached either by plane or road by passing from the mainland onto Mombasa island and from thence on a picturesque ferry which crosses the sea inlet to the docks, land on the south coast mainland, and from there a drive of about 20 kms to this small paradise

Diani was just a fishing settlement about 40 years ago, but saw a boom in the 70s when tourists wishing to come to Africa found Kenya the ideal place, as there was so much strife and problems in other African countries.  Hotels mushroomed along the 5 mile coast road, which was tarmacadamed at that time from a dusty track; a small airport was built by literally by hand (and blessed by the late first Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta); and Diani has continued to develop to the cosmopolitan resort it is now, without losing its charm and simple ambience.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF TOURISM AT THE KENYAN COAST

The Kenyan coast is an attraction to visitors from all over the world, commanding more than 60% of all visitors to Kenya.  The tourist hotels stretch along the north and south coasts either side of Mombasa Island – to the north as far as Malindi and offshore islands on the Lamu archipelago; on the south coast as far as Shimoni, a deep sea fishing centre and to the Tanzanian border.  Diani is situated about half way between the crossing from the island along the main road to Tanzania, some 20 kms. from the ferry crossing.

The coastal architecture is outstanding.  Magnificent beach hotels with soaring makuti (coconut leaf thatch) roofs front the beaches which, on the south coast, have miles of clean white sand and safe lagoons, protected by an offshore reef all  along its shore, which keeps dangerous sea predators like sharks at bay.

Diani is a renowned as a beautiful venue, yet 50 years ago it was just a fishing village, and there was no tourist development at all.  In fact, tourism in Kenya as a whole had not taken off, and there were only about 6,000 beds in the capital and about 1000 at the coast.  There were some hotels in Mombasa geared for businessmen, but there was nothing on the beaches, north or south.

The north coast was the first to develop beach hotels in the late 30s - 40s; what is now Whitesands, part of the Sarova chain, was first built as a simple hostel for upcountry residents; Nyali being next, but Diani remained a quiet peaceful spot until the tourist boom in the 70s when hotels sprang up along the 5 miles stretch of newly built coastroad, the first being Jadini, then Tradewinds and Two Fishes.

Now there are around 20 of varying styles and designs, all an idyllic venue for tourists from abroad and national visitors too, offering a sumptuous relaxing beach holiday, with magnificent pools, pristine beaches, safe sea swimming and a wide variety of sea sports, as well as good shopping and evening entertainment, and sea and land safaris.

Unfortunately much of the indigenous forest was destroyed and no longer do wild animals roam the area, but efforts are being made to maintain the natural beauty of the coast, and tours such as Diani Bikes organise sightseeing trips in the surrounding countryside which still retains charm and naturalness.

Marine Parks

This concept didn’t arise until the ‘70s when an Italian resident in Diani, came up with the idea of creating a protected area for guests to see the marine life on the south coast.   He felt the only way to to do this was to gazette this area of the Indian Ocean as a marine park, so he made a proposal to the government of the day who were forward thinking enough to accept the idea.

So Kisiti Marine Park and Mpunguti Marine National Reserve were gazetted as nature reserves.  Lying a varying distance of 3 to 8 m. off the shoreline, extending to about 6 km north of the Tanzanian border, it became the first gazetted marine park in Kenya (there are now 4 around the Kenyan coast).

This decision did not please the local fisherman who had lost their livelihood with this action, so they made representation to the government, creating quite a conflict at the time; but eventually it was settled by reducing the area of the park to 11 sq. km. and 18 sq. km for the marine reserve.  Now managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the only people who have a right to fish in the reserve are these local fisherman who all have to have licences and they have to fish using traditional methods only.

The main central area, the marine park, is inviolable, and it is a water wonderland containing a high diversity of marine species, seagrass beds, extensive mangrove areas and submerged coral reefs.  Three islands within the Reserve are important nesting areas for seabirds and marine turtles and they have spectacular fossil coral deposits, and very old graves indicate the influence of an ancient Chinese culture.

The collecting of shells and other organisms in not permitted in order to preserve the delicate ecosystem and, over the years, this protected area has become a water paradise for snorkellers and divers as it is visited by many marine giants, including the sea turtles which can live to over 100 years, two kinds of dolphins, humpback whales and whale sharks (which are actually fish).  A sea safari to see these creatures is a unique and thrilling experience.

 

Diani has so much to offer visitors looking for a coastal holiday of a lifetime.

 

MOMBASA

Mombasa is the oldest city in Kenya. Set on a 14 sq. km/9.5 sq.m island, it has a population of around half a million people, a thriving cosmopolitan city of many cultures, all living in harmony in a blend of antiquity and modern day culture.

It is the biggest sea port between Durban and Suez.  Widely referred to as The Gateway to East Africa, Mombasa is the main point of access to cargo coming by sea on route to landlocked  countries like Uganda, Ruanda and Sudan.  Huge container ships and passenger liners enter the channel which once was the passageway for the ocean going dhows. Visitors en route to Diani whilst at the Likoni ferry, can witness these huge seagoing vessels sailing majestically along the channel to dock at Kilindini harbour, often accompanied by small, bustling, hooting tugs.

Mombasa has been a port of call to sea explorers and traders for thousands of years. From Milton’s book ‘Paradise Lost’, it is clear that settlements now known as Mombasa and Malindi were in existance as early as 4000 B.C. and the region now known as East Africa was once a thriving civilization back then and had trading links with the Chinese, Phoenicians, Romans, Persians, Greeks and Arabs.

Earliest Records

‘The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea’ written by Diogenes, the Greek merchant who explored south from Egypt around the year AD110 described places for sailors in the Indian waters, recording sailing times from one place to another. He also traveled inland as far as the great lakes and snowy mountains from where the Nile River drew its source, which features were  included in the world map drawn by Ptolemy, important to historians.

By the end of the 2nd century A.,D when merchants from the Roman Empire frequented the coast, there were already established trading villages where some Arabs had settle and inter-married with the local people.

By the 9th century Mombasa, and Malindi and Lamu were important commercial and trade centres between India, Arabia and Africa.  The coastal traders did not travel far inland and relied upon the people of the interior to bring them goods for trade, exchanging items such as grain, oil, ghee, glass, beads, cloth, metal tools for ivory, slaves, spice like cinnamon, frankincense, gum araabic, tortoisehell and live animals.(It is recorded that in the year 1415 the ruler of Malindi sent a giraffe to the Chinese Emperor as a gift accompanied by a caretaker to look after the animal).

Dhow Trade

It’s rich cultural history was largely developed from the trading with Asian and Arabian countries by dhows which crossed and re-crossed the Indian Ocean, sailing with the prevailing monsoon winds, guided only by the stars. Occasionally working dhows can be found in the small harbour in Mombasa Old Town, but sadly they no longer conduct trade as they have done for thousands of years.  They mainly transport mangrove poles for use in the building industry, and many are adapted to carry tourists on sea safaris.

These three townships were centres of all that was new then in technology, business, literature, arts and crafts.  They were bustling, thriving communities and during this time Kiswahili - now now the national language of Kenya, was developed; being a mixture of Arabic and the vernacular (English is the official language).

Arab architecture and the Islamic culture developed at this time, spreading far reaching tentacles which still dominate Kenya’s coastal towns today.

Portuguese Invasion

Arab rule continued until Portuguese explorers like Bartholomew Diaz in 1496 and Vasco da Gama in 1498  arrived via the Cape of Good Hope and commandeered this thriving seaport, spreading the Christian gospel, influencing the area and opening up trade between the region and their own country. but they were not left at peace.  They met a hostile reception from the Arabs.  For the next 200 years Mombasa was repeatedly at war and, in 1593, the Portuguese build Fort Jesus on the eastern shore of the island – a spectacular edifice with great stone ramparts which still guard Mombasa’s outlet to the sea, although no longer needed as a defence – it is now a museum.  It wasn’t until the end of the 17th century that the Arabs were successful and, in the following century, they drove the Portuguese out leaving the Imam of Oman the sole ruler of the coast once again dominating trade in this part of the world until the 19th century.

In addition to the Portuguese attacks from the sea, Kenya’s coastal settlements in the 16th & 17th centuries faced danger from the Galla who also over-ran southern Ethiopia and large areas of Somalia and north east Kenya.  The people in the coastal settlements north from Mombasa abandoned their homes and fled from these attackers, either to Mombasa or to Tanzania. A ghost city on the north coast, Gedi, is witness to a thriving community abandoned overnight.

European Arrivals

The British arrived at the end of the 19th century, and the 20th century was one of development and colonial administration; the railways being built from the coast as far as Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria , opening up the interior, but build with great hardship (the film Lions of Tsavo reflects this period of Kenyan history). At this time workers from the British protectorate of India were brought over to work on the railway, and many stayed and make up part of the mixed population found in Mombasa today.  White settlers came in to develop commercial farming and business interests, especially trade through the port of Mombasa, up until the 1960s when Kenya achieved independence.

Because of these visitations and invasions by people from many different cultures, the Kenyan coast, and Mombasa in particular, has developed its own remarkable style of life, blending both the indigenous people and the immigrants’ languages, food, religion, culture and architecture.  Side by side it is possible to see, alongside each other, attractive modern structures and ancient buildings from the past still preserved and in good condition.  The National Museums of Kenya have a renovation programme to maintain Mombasa Old Town, with its narrow streets, overhanging balconies and carved doors and window shutters, and many old buildings in the city are now gazetted to preserve Mombasa’s historical past.


 

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