As far back as the 8th century Arabic traders wanted some of the trading action between east and west – Asia, Arabia and Africa. Many Arabs settled at the coast and married Africans resulting in the melodic Swahili language and a strong Afro-Arabic culture. By the 1500’s, the seafaring Portuguese dominated the region and brought Catholicism with them. But they never managed to purge the inhabitants of Islamic religion and when the Sultans of Oman assumed control in 1698, Arabic culture ruled once more.
Arabs trading in ivory, spices and slaves dominated the East African coast, and their influence reached far inland. Inevitably the Europeans (British and Germans), decided to have a turn and in the early-twentieth century they took over the land, but not the hearts and minds of East Africa.
Kenya’s second largest city and main port is Mombasa and regular chanting from the Mosques proclaims it to be a strongly Muslim district. The old town has a great deal of historic charm but the heart of the new city is unexciting. Once out of the city, the Muslim influence is fairly absent from the hundreds of beach resorts, except perhaps in the architecture and food.
WASINI ISLAND AND KISITE-MPUNGUTI MARINE PARK
The long coastline has several Marine Parks, the southern most of which is Wasini Island and Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park. Here you can swim in your own personal aquarium and colourful coral garden. It is considered by many to be the finest marine park in Kenya and requires a boat trip to visit it, as the park is between 2½-5 miles (4-8km) out to sea. The reef is deep enough to be protected by clumsy feet and is in excellent health. A dhow trip to the marine park is often combined with a seafood lunch on Wasini Island and is a very popular way to spend a day.
MALINDI AND WATAMU MARINE NATIONAL PARKS
Half way up Kenya’s coast is Watamu and Malindi – an area much loved by Ernest Hemmingway, who came here for big game sport fishing. The marine parks of this area have their coral reefs several miles off shore and glass bottomed boats are the usual form of transport to get to the reefs. This allows non-swimmers the opportunity to take a look at the coral and colourful fish, who crowd around the boat expecting to be fed. Once in the water the fish nibble at your fingers and toes if you look like you have something tasty for them. The reef here is not as plentiful as further south but still worth seeing with over 140 species of hard and soft corals. Tewa Caves is an amazing place for diving amongst giant groupers, who appear to sit motionless in the water. These harmless creatures can weigh 880 pounds (400kg) and measure 5½feet (2 metres) long. The Watamu Marine Park also encompasses the mangrove forests of Mida Creek, where young coral grows before being riding out on the tide to the main reef.
The temperature on the tropical coast does not vary much throughout the year and daytime temperatures sit between 80-88°F (26-31°C). However humidity can make the rainy season feel much hotter. Sub-aqua visibility is poor in the Malindi and Watamu marine parks from March to June, as the rains bring river silt which clouds the water.
Rainy Season: April to June are the long rains where 8-12 inches (200-300mm) of rain is expected each month with June the wettest month. The short rains come in October and Nov with an average of around 13 inches (70- 80mm).
Dry Season: January to March is the hot dry season and August and September are warm and dry with the odd shower.
COASTAL AND MARINE SPECIALITIES
· Colourful coral reefs
· Turtles and reef fish
· Glass bottomed boats
· Snorkelling or scuba diving
· Big game fishing
· Large choice of beachfront accommodation
The entire coast is a malarial area
There are plenty of dive schools where snorkelling and diving equipment can be hired
The coast is lined with resorts all of whom offer marine excursions and water sports