Watamu is a small village located on the coast of Kenya, approximately 120 km north of Mombasa and 25 km south of Malindi. The area has developed an international reputation for its white-sand, reef protected beaches, which line the Watamu National Marine Park.
Established in 1968, this Marine Park is the oldest in Kenya and has developed into one of the best snorkeling and dive spots of the world. The Marine Park boasts over 600 species of fish in just 10 square kilometers, although the reserve area itself spreads out over more than 32 sq km in total.
It is virtually impossible to snorkel without seeing at least a few dozen species inside the main reef and divers outside the fringe reef stand an excellent chance of viewing the magnificent whale shark and Manta Rays that are seasonal visitors.
If underwater exploring is not your style, not to worry! From windsurfing to dolphin watching boat trips, gentle walks to explore the rock pools or simply lying on the beach getting tan, the Watamu beach offers something for everyone.
In addition to the Marine Park itself, Watamu is within 10 km of two other special natural reserves, Mida Creek and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and one fascinating site of archeological interest, Gede Ruins.
The Mida Creek reserve is formed of extensive mangrove forests, warm shallow waters and large areas of mud flats at low tide. This area hosts not only many local birds, such as Greater Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Egret and Malachite Kingfisher, but is also the winter home of many migrants such as the Crab Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Sanderling. The Osprey and African Fish Eagle are often overhead. A bird-lovers paradise, Mida Creek is also the spot to watch the spectacular African sunsets whilst supping an icy cold drink at the end of an active day.
The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest remaining area (420 sq. km.) of indigenous coastal forest in East Africa. The forest contains six species of globally threatened bird, including the Clarke's Weaver, which is found nowhere else in the world. Rare mammals are also present, including the Golden Rumped Elephant Shrew, Bushy-tailed Mongoose and Ader's Duiker.
Rarely seen but also found in the forest are elephant, buffalo, leopard and hyena. The forest is also home to over 260 species of butterflies. The forest itself is made up from Cynometra, which forms thick forest and thickets on the red compact soils of the Western area, and the more open, shady trees and bushes of the Brachystegia woodland on the Eastern side. With several picnic spots and shady walking paths, which meander through the trees, the forest is a favorite spot for many.
Gede Ruins, an archeologists delight, was one of the ancient Arab towns, which dotted the East African Coast. It dates from the late 13th or early 14th Century and was finally abandoned in the early 17th Century. Excavated since 1927, many areas have been revealed, including the Great Mosque, the Palace, several residential houses and pillar tombs. Surrounded by tall shady trees, a walk through
Gede is a must for anyone interested in Kenya's history and is interesting even for cultural philistines such as myself!
Watamu offers a number of places to stay, ranging from bed and breakfast guest houses to a five star hotel suiting most budgets.
With so much natural beauty, complimented by smiling friendly people, Watamu is certainly Wonderful!
© Melinda Rees of Best of Kenya