Itinerary: Watamu, Kenya

In just a few weeks, we’re headed back to Kenya. Already on the itinerary is Watamu, a small town between Mombasa and Malindi.

Watamu is a small town located approximately 105 km north of Mombasa and about 15 km south of Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. It lies on a small headland, between the Blue Lagoon and Watamu Bay. Its main economic activities are tourism and fishing. The town has a population of around 1,900 and it is part of the Malindi District.

The shoreline in the area features white sand beaches and offshore coral formations arranged in different bays and beach: Garoda Beach, Turtle Bay, Blue Lagoon Bay, Watamu Bay, Ocean Breeze, and Kanani Reef and Jacaranda Beach. They are protected as part of the Watamu Marine National Park. The Marine Park is considered one of the best snorkeling and diving areas on the coast of East Africa. In order to assist the managing authorities namely Kenyan Wildlife Service, in protecting the Park, local community groups, the tourist sector and environmental groups have formed a unique organisation, Watamu Marine Association Members of this group are Turtle Bay, Hemingways, Ocean Sports Resort, Arocha Kenya, Lonno Lodge Mida Community Conservation Group, Watamu Boat Operator, Safari Sellers and women’s group.

The name “Watamu” means “sweet people” in Swahili. The name came from the fact that Arab slave traders used to distribute sweets to entice the local population before taking them as slaves.

Some things to do in Watamu, other than lying on the beach:

History of Watamu

According to archaeological findings, Watamu is said to have been inhabited from as far back as the 13th Century.

The famous Gedi ruins is an indication of life in Watamu in those era as the Gedi peoples sea port was in the Mida creek at a deep water place called Sita. with ruins of Big mosques in Kirepwe Island and Temple Point areas that are estimated to be abandoned at least 600 years ago.

The current modern Watamu has a young history that can be traced from 1937 when an Irish family, the Flynns, shipwrecked around Watamu and were washed ashore in the beach at Turtle Bay and lived in an overturned boat. By then Watamu was just a forest with no population except for the occasional fishermen from Malindi and Lamu (the Bajuni/Swahili) who swam to the shore once in a while when the sea was rough to shelter in thatched shacks, north of the beach currently nearWatamu village’s position.

The existing development started around 1950-1960 when the then colonial Government cut out 50 beachfront plots and started leasing them out to mostly the white settlers of Kenya and any international visitors interested. This gave Watamu its allure as the holiday destination of choice. The plots line up from where now is Blue bay up to the mouth of the Mida Creek.

The indigenous people of Kenya were also included when the then Government also developed the Gede settlement scheme that covers Gede, Jimba, Dabaso areas and allowed the Mijikenda to buy and settle.

Bajuni fishermen families also started settling in the Watamu Village as the British government blasted a small part of the reef to provide the gateway (Mulango) for boats to dock closer to the shore while protected by the reefs in the era during or before the 2nd World War.

This is because of Watamu having a large coral garden and abundant fish for this community with its main economic activity being fishing and having a ready market in the holiday makers in the beach plots.

The first hotel to be in Watamu was the Ocean Sports that started as a beach bar, (built at the same location where the first Irish family found themselves) in Turtle Bay, built by Ian Pritchard who landed there in 1951. The bar was subsequently developed into a hotel and was the first centre for water sports. The 2nd complete hotel with full rooms was the Watamu Beach Hotel built overlooking Watamu Bay.

The combination of these 3 communities with their different culture and economic activities is what gave birth to Watamu as a top holiday destination up to date, and rich bio-diverse marine area. This is assisted by Kenya Wildlife Service’s gazettement of the area in 1968 to form the Watamu National Marine Park and Reserve, extending 42kms sq along the coast, providing legal protection for the conservation area. In 1979 Watamu was given increased international protection when it was declared a United Nation’s Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1979. UNMBR

To date Watamu is a cosmopolitan society with a population of 1,030 people (KNBS – 2010) and has grown to at least 16 two to five star hotels and resorts, numerous lodges and private villas and has been voted 2nd best sandy beach in Africa by CNN Travel, 2012. CNN Travel



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One Response
  1. […] As soon as we land in Kenya, we’ll have a day to adjust from jet lag before heading out to our first destination. Tucked away between the more famous Mombasa and also well-known Malindi is a small town called Watamu. […]

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