• The Kenya Tourism Board partnered with stakeholders to showcase the brands to make Kenyans know the beauty of the Coastal region
• The coastal tourism circuit has sub-brands consisting of Diani, Malindi, Mombasa, Tana River, Tsavo or Taita Taveta and Watamu
On Wednesday, November 4, I completed a six-day tour of the Coast tourism circuit for the first time in my life, and indeed it proved that the region has unique tourism attractions.
Our group, consisting of journalists and officials from the Kenya Tourism Board, covered three counties, including Kilifi, Taita Taveta and Mombasa, to sample the diverse excursions, tourism resorts, game drives, historical sites and other tourism destinations.
The memorable tour began in Malindi at the luxurious Ocean beach resort and spa, a renowned tourism destination, which is one of the many best facilities Kilifi has for tourists.
Ocean beach is located in the north of Malindi, past the Golf club along the scenic Indian Ocean beach, with sand dunes and palm trees that give any client a perfect coastal breeze.
I have visited Ocean beach hundreds of times but had never got an opportunity to sleep in their luxurious facility.
Inside their room, one is welcomed by the good ambience and set-up of the room, which is spacious, classic and of a high standard to offer customer value for their money.
There is a large screen, air-conditioner, large, spacious bed, and the washroom is set up in the most exorbitant way, with high-class materials to suit the guest, be it a local or a foreigner.
What is interesting about the resort is the natural sounds of the Indian Ocean that give one a cool breeze and the view of the dunes and palm trees, with nice landscaping of green grass that are well maintained.
The resort is also fantastic especially in seafood as they leave one to yearn for more.
We were briefed by stakeholders who were informing us about our general tour and its importance to promote domestic tourism in the Coastal tourism circuit by seeing what the destination has to offer for tourists.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, the resort was hard hit and is among those which are trying to get on their feet again.
The stakeholders included Philemon Mwavalla, a renowned tour operator and director of Southern Sky Safaris and Doa Doa Camp near Tsavo East; Maureen Awuor, the chairperson of Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association and general manager of Ocean Beach resort and spa; and Freddie di Curatolo, the spokesman of the Italian community in Kilifi county.
Mwavala says they teamed up as stakeholders to rebrand the Coast tourism product.
The idea was born 18 months ago, after Tourism CS Najib Balala set up the Coast working group to see what could be done to revamp tourism.
"We agreed with the Kenya Tourism Board that we need to rebrand the entire Coast product; to set up a logo for the Kenyan Coast to use for marketing," he says.
The Coast brand came up with six sub-destinations or sub-brands, namely Diani, Malindi, Mombasa, Tana River, Tsavo or Taita Taveta and Watamu.
"Our aim is for you to go out there and experience the areas and show them to the world the diversity it has to offer to guests," Mwavala says.
He says experiences vary, from Tana River, which has the largest herds of buffalos a the Primate park, to the rich culture in Lamu, to the rich history of Malindi, to the new Malindi beachfront project. This collectively gives a complete experience.
Watamu, he says, has a unique beach experience in Kenya, with the whale migration, zip-lining, and Arabuko Sokoke forest, with its rich ecological experience.
Awuor says they came together as stakeholders to lift the profile of the destination to where it ought to be.
"We have a good opportunity for the Kenyan Coast by launching the logo people travel through experience," she says.
Curatolo says as Italians, they are happy with the rebranding process and want it to be an added value to bring people from all over to experience.
"We are offering a new way of experiencing holidays, adding value," he says.
MALINDI TOURISM CIRCUIT
Our first experience was the Malindi tourism circuit, which is divided into four, and we begin with the ancient Vasco da Gama pillar, which dates back to the 1490s, when Portuguese explorers built a pillar while en route to Malindi.
We are taken around by Southern Sky Safaris Land Cruiser together with a guide to show us around the destination.
The Malindi circuit begins at the Vasco da Gama Pillar, Portuguese chapel, the house of columns, which is right in front of the new beachfront project in Malindi, and the Malindi museum.
We are welcomed by curio sellers, who are selling different kinds of products to visitors right at the narrow entrance leading to the historic pillar.
At the entrance we learn that the Vasco da Gama reopened on October 22 after closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No cash is allowed, so you pay via Mpesa pay bill.
There is a totally new look at the pillar, which underwent a Sh60 million upgrade, and it offers guests a new experience that dates back centuries ago.
For Kenyans, you have to pay Sh100 per person to visit the entire circuit to learn about the ancient history of Malindi.
Abdi Shukri, a staffer of National Museums of Kenya, which is protecting the facilities, says there is a big difference from before.
"We have new walkways. Initially during high tides, it was difficult for people to walk freely around," Shukri says.
He says Kenyans and visitors from all over the globe can now come to learn the history and enjoy the beautiful experience of the ancient town.
Shukri then took us round to the chapel, where da Gama buried two of his soldiers, and which has a rich history of Christianity, which was introduced before the missionaries came to Kenya.
We also went through the historical house of columns and museums, which offers a rich history of Malindi and trade links with the globe.
But Malindi beachfront project, which is in its final stages, shall be the game-changer for the tourism sector as there are different facilities, including tennis court, beach football, children playing grounds and beach restaurants that shall offer the ultimate experience.
Our next visit was a 43-minute drive to Hell's Kitchen in Marafa, which is 38.3km away.
Hell's Kitchen is ideal for sunset to give guests a unique view of the sundowner over an eroded landscape.
We arrive late in the evening, right in time to go round the eroded valley, which, according to Safari Donald, used to be flat and was home to a wealthy Giriama man, who had many goats and cattle.
Safari says the family used to wash their bodies with milk and used the same milk for cooking food, but never helped a neighbouring family that was poor.
Legend has it that one day, the poor family heard a loud bang and the whole wealthy family disappeared mysteriously under the ground.
Later, there were heavy rains that washed away the remains of the family to Madina seasonal lake to Galana river, and they have never been found to date.
On the other hand, scholars say there was an erosion that created the valley.
Safari says the area has different colours with different meanings, from red, which means iron, to white for calcium, and yellow for sulfur.
"As a community, they created excursions for one hour and another one for 30-45 minutes," he says.
From outside, it looks dangerous, and one has to follow the guides through the pathways created to have a glance of the spectacular 'kitchen'.
Baboons and monkeys are all over, with many sleeping inside the Hell's Kitchen.
The memorable view includes images of lion-like animals kissing and the map of Africa, together with the sunset that can be viewed under the valley.
Hell's Kitchen is hot during the day and it is preferable for guests to visit in late evening during sunset.
The advantage of the tour is easy accessibility after the government tarmacked the Sabaki-Marikebuni-Marafa-Baricho road.
Dinner at the Ocean beach resort consisted of sea foods, including octopus, with steamed rice and vegetable with fresh mixed fruits.
On the second day of our tour, we visit the Arabuko Sokoke, the largest Coastal forest in East Africa, which was recognised as a UN habitat.
Arabuko has a radius of 51km and is rich in biodiversity, including wildlife, unique birds species and snakes. It is home to some endangered species, among them the golden rump elephant shrew.
To tour the forest, one requires a guide. You can also use your personal car to go around the different excursions available.
Guides say different people visit the forest with diverse interests. Some come specifically to see birds while others want to see snakes only.
During our tour, we are taken round to the highest point, which gives a visitor a chance to view the forest from a vantage point of view.
While at the top, one can see the larger forest resorts in Watamu, which are 5km away and offer hoteliers a good package for tourists within a very short distance.
In the forest, one can feel the natural ecosystem birds singing different songs, and the different kinds of vegetation and soils.
THE MAGICAL WATAMU
Watamu is indeed a magical destination. It offers the best experience for tourists, ranging from ocean experience, nice beach resorts, beautiful excursions and friendly people.
We are welcomed by our host Hemingways resort, which was newly rebuilt and offers a relaxed luxury for clients.
Melinda Rees, the general manager of Hemingways resort, was not around when we arrived, but the officials were waiting for us.
Three of us were shown our hotel rooms and checked in as the rest of the team was at Medina Palms resort, an award-winning hotel in the north Coast that is recognised globally.
A quick glance at the resort shows over 95 per cent of the guests are Kenyans who have come down to enjoy their holiday.
I find a group of more than 10 women celebrating in style, all dressed in white, and you could easily tell they were having fun.
SUNSET DHOW CRUISE
At 4pm, we catch up with Rees, ready for the sunset dhow cruise, and I get into her car for a ride to the dhow, which is about 2km away at the mangrove-rich creek.
Melinda says Covid-19 has proved that Kenyans are able to travel for holidays, as since the country reopened, they have been flocking in large numbers.
She says Watamu is the only place where a tourist can get beach, safari and historical sites experiences within a radius of 5km.
In the ocean, she says, tourists can watch the humpback whales, turtles, dolphins or go deep-sea fishing and get the bill fish, sail fish, black or blue marlin, among others.
"We have over 600 fish species in Watamu, 200 species of corals. There is Mida creek, fantastic bird watching, endemic species only found in Arabuko Sokoke forest, migratory birds from Europe," she says.
Rees said Arabuko is home to elephants, hyena and many other animals, adding that there is also a key historical site within the Watamu circuit at Gedi ruins.
"Just within 5km, we've got everything in the wilderness, from great views to beautiful tropical beaches for holidays," she says.
At the dhow, made of wood, we find staff preparing cocktails of the famous 'Dawa', and guests were ushered in their seats and offered a glass, which is a choice of one with alcohol or non-alcoholic.
The chef was also busy preparing the grills, which consisted of a variety of sea foods, to entertain the guests.
Initially, the dhow engine was running but after 'taking off', it went all silent and the excitement began.
The only sound we could hear was the natural sounds, as the sailing dhow cruised along the creek quietly.
Drinks were offered as per request, while the samosas and sea foods were offered on a round basis, to give everyone the ultimate satisfaction.
The cruise is in such a way that one easily forgets about the world and experiences the breeze along the creek.
Workers, most with over 10 years' experience, seem to have perfected the art of entertaining their guests, as they do not wait for one to finish. They are there for your service by a glance.
"At Hemingways, we consider the client's request with dignity. For persons on a diet, the chief chef attends them and ensures they get their desires. For us, it's a personalised relaxed luxury," she says.
Rees says sundowner dhow at the Mida Creek is one of the most amazing trips, which begins at 4-7pm and has lots of food and drinks, while sailing in the marine reserve, watching the mangroves.
At times, she says, they normally organise a dhow dinner, which goes up to 9.30pm, and a daytime barbecue in the afternoon. Normally, the dhow stops at Sudi Island in Mida creek, and guests to do a barbecue within the island.
Guests also have a chance to enjoy canoe rids, water skiing in the creek, wind surfing, kayaking and kite surfing.
Our delegation consisted of mostly Kenyans, and they proved that they love partying as, after watching the amazing sunset and cruising while drinking, they went on having fun until the moonlight rose high.
It was indeed an amazing experience, but we had to go back to the hotel and prepare for another wonderful trip to Tsavo East National park.
To be continued
Edited by T Jalio