By Sarine Arslanian, Epicure & Culture Contributor
Kenya is a well-known travel hotspot, but not many look beyond the classic safari route. Those who do, however, quickly understand that this is a land that offers incredible opportunities for the thrill seeker, nature addict, beach bum and culture lover.
I was lucky enough to experience the beauty and hospitality of Kenya beaches on the country’s South Coast, specifically in Diani Beach. The total trip from Mombasa to Diani cost about $40 USD, starting with a taxi ride from Moi International Airport. The beginning of the journey allowed me to take in the inviting yet chaotic coastal city full of life and colors, with an Indian-meets-Arab architectural style. From there, I stayed in the cab and boarded the Likoni Ferry — a scenic 10-minute journey crossing the Kilindini Harbour from Mombasa to the mainland’s South Coast. By the time we disembarked I had images of beautiful Kenya beaches dancing in my mind; luckily it only took about an hour more until concrete roads turned to dirt, giving way to my ultimate Diani destination: Galu Beach, located at the quieter southern end of the larger Diani beach resort.
Lately I’d felt like life was too hectic, as many of us do. I needed a break; to de-stress and quiet my mind.
Close your eyes and imagine being on a white sandy beach, surrounded by coconut trees and crystal clear waters. Now, imagine this pristine beach to be so quiet that it requires no effort to listen to the sound of waves. An untouched slice of paradise where you can find peace of mind; that is exactly what I found at Galu.This #beach in #Kenya is too #beautiful to be #real. Check out the photos! Click To Tweet
Where To Stay
I couldn’t just spend one day in this idyllic destination, so I booked a room at Pinewood Beach Resort & Spa. Here I was able to find harmony and reconnect with the environment in a luxurious yet natural setting.
Besides being aesthetically attractive and comfortable, Pinewood is also engaged in conservation efforts. For example, since the local water service does not reach the resort’s grounds they use an in-house system drawing from both fresh water and rain water. In the kitchen ingredients are fresh, seasonal and, whenever possible, locally-sourced from their garden or from a local market.
Tip: Don’t miss their freshly grilled seafood for a true taste of the South Coast. The lobster literally melted in my mouth.
In addition, Pinewood has been built with respect to the natural environment, remaining home to many animal species. Among resident monkeys you can count the rare and endangered Colobus Monkeys, who depend on the forest since they are leaf eaters and live up in the trees. While there you would just need to look up to spot them playing in the trees. The baboons and vervet monkeys are the cheekiest. In fact, you might be sharing the snacks in your bag if you happen to be around them.
Finding Clarity On Kenya Beaches
The main reason to visit Diani is the beach. Along with swimming and relaxing with a book, adventure travelers can also enjoy a number of water sports like kite-surfing and jet skiing. And if you wake up early one day you can view a beautiful sunrise over the Indian Ocean.
This is exactly what I was doing on the serene Galu Beach when I had my trip breakthrough. Prior to visiting Kenya I had been going through emotional upheavals. Absorbing the beauty and power of the rising sun helped me find peace of mind again and restore my inner balance. I found sunrise to be the best time to meditate, and especially to let go of the unnecessary weight I had accumulated on my shoulders. It made me accept my situation and see things for what they truly are. It was with this realization gained through my morning meditations, bathed in warm hues, that I could then deal with what I was going through, only this time with love and compassion.
Weeks have now gone by but the clarity has remained, and I am forever grateful for this blissful experience.
Ethical Wildlife Experiences
While in Galu take the opportunity to learn more about the resident Colobus Monkey. A good place to go after having observed them at Pinewood is Colobus Conservation in Diani, another highlight of my experience. I took a guided eco-tour to learn about the challenges the monkeys face, like habitat loss, overhead power lines that they confuse with tree branches, and the disappearance of indigenous trees. You will learn more about the center’s animal welfare program to save and rehabilitate the monkeys, as well as their community education program. The tour costs 750 Kenyan Shillings(~$7.50 USD) for non-citizens and 250 (~$2.50 USD) for citizens, and can be arranged anytime from Monday to Saturday between 8am and 5pm.
Exploring Kenya’s Sacred Forest
I also recommend experiencing a sacred forest. Kaya Kinondo, which means “home” or “village” in the local dialect, is a sacred forest that was once the great home of Kenya’s Digo people. Pushed out of Somalia 800 years ago, they founded a new home deep within the forest where they built huts, graveyards and burial grounds for magical objects to protect them from calamities. This is where they went for prayers and ceremonies.Here's a #guide to help you plan a #sustainable #adventure #trip to #Kenya. Click To Tweet
The Digo people now live in villages surrounding the forest, but their original home remains an important place of worship. Travelers can visit the forest accompanied by a local community guide, like the passionate Abusuleiman Bakari, whom I highly recommend. You can reach him via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on his local phone number (+254 731733791).
One of my favorite experiences there was tree hugging. I felt so much positive energy running through my body, I wasn’t surprised to learn it’s scientifically proven to be good for you. Ask the guide and he will be happy to show you the right tree to hug.
Snorkeling & Diving Kisite Marine National Park
From Diani and Galu there are a number of ethical excursions immersing you in local nature and culture. For example you can do a Dolphin Safari with Pilli Pipa. Wake up early to be picked up from your hotel and spend a full day in the Indian Ocean snorkeling or diving. You will first be taken to Shimoni Village. Here you will board a traditional boat taking you to the heart of Kisite Marine National Park, home to many dolphins. Prices start at $135 USD for a full day trip.
Pilli Pipa’s team practices sustainable tourism which leaves the exquisite marine ecosystem they are so passionate about untouched. Their traditional boat has an inboard engine that does not disturb the environment, including the dolphins. They only accept a certain number of guests each day to make sure they can give attention to each guest, while also respecting the coral reefs when snorkeling and diving. Moreover Pilli Pipa supports a number of conservation initiatives, such as Reefolution Kenya, which works to restore and create a healthier coral reef just outside the marine park.
You don’t need much experience to snorkel, just an open mind and a willingness to discover the underwater world. If you are tempted to dive but haven’t taken a course yet, you can also opt for a fun dive. Again, you will be briefed about what to do or not to do before jumping in the water and you will be accompanied at all times. They also take you to two different sites to experience even more of the marine diversity.
Time flies when you’re having fun and, before I knew it, we were en route to the beautiful Wasini Island, located three kilometers off the coast. Here the perfect post-workout treat in paradise awaited: a local Swahili meal. Swahili meals are full of spices and flavors typically blending African, Indian and Arabic cuisines. Fish is key to a Swahili diet, and I savored mine accompanied by rice cooked in coconut milk, a staple food. Vegetables like okra and eggplant were delectable, dressed in cardamom and clove. Of course, the meal was paired with the typical sweet tea with milk, sipped by locals numerous times throughout the day.
If you have a sweet tooth (guilty) you can also ask for Mandazi, a mouth-watering local donut with coconut milk and cardamom.
Next time you visit Kenya, go beyond the obvious tourist attractions and explore the country’s beaches, specifically Galu, for a relaxing experience in a beautiful place. Being by the ocean is a transformative experience in itself. While I loved all my Kenya beaches experiences, the biggest benefit for me was emotional release. The beauty and grandeur of the natural landscape helped me to gradually break free from my anxieties and fill my heart with happiness.
Some travel to experience new things, explore new cultures or enjoy personal growth. Galu provided me with all three.
Have you visited any wonderful Kenya beaches? Please share in the comments below!
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