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Known throughout Kenya as a place where the locals incongruously speak Italian, at the heart of Malindi is actually a vibrant Muslim town with a distinctive culture all its own. It's a small heartland, however, and doesn't have quite the same punch as Lamu or Zanzibar's Stone Town. If you're taking a break from the beach and the ocean, you may want to devote an hour to it, perhaps investigating some of the shops that are so obviously geared toward the tastes of European visitors. For the rest, Malindi is a bit of a dusty, dirty town and its beach far from spectacular, although it gets better south of the jetty, which is where you'll see the totally uninteresting Vasco da Gama Pillar, apparently one of the oldest remaining European monuments in Africa, set up when the Portuguese arrived in 1498.

None of this, though, is likely to lure you to Malindi. If you're here, it should be for the chance to explore the mesmeric underwater universe of the Malindi & Watamu Marine National Parks ($15 adults, $10 children and students), where a profusion of beautiful coral gardens teeming with Technicolor fish have been protected since 1968. These parks -- now managed as a single entity covering 261 sq. km (102 sq. miles) -- were the first of their kind in Africa and are easily accessible from either Malindi or Watamu. The only marine park in the world with a larger number of fish species is the Great Barrier Reef, which is several thousand kilometers long -- the reef here is a mere 7km (4 1/4 miles). Snorkeling -- or "goggling," as it's known locally -- is the best way to experience the reef. Forget about the glass-bottom boat trips unless you're seriously aquaphobic, as you'll soon end up resenting the glass that separates you from what you're admiring. In these magical kingdoms, you'll spot masses of multicolored fish -- angelfish, butterfly fish, triggerfish -- ducking in and out of the coral beds, and there are moray eels, fantastic clams, and pretty sea urchins. Snorkeling trips can be arranged through any of the hotels or at the Marine Park entrance. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can also scuba-dive here, and there's the opportunity to scope out a wreck and venture into underwater caves. If you want to see whale sharks, come here in November. The main fishing season runs from December through March, but there are also good-size tuna caught between April and November.

At the far southern end of Watamu's long, empty beach is the mouth of Mida Creek, another beautiful waterway composed of mudflats and mangrove forests that attract a wide variety of flora and fauna; bird-watching is especially rewarding between March and May.

En route to Malindi, at the mouth of the Sabaki River, it's a tremendous sight to spot the hippos that can frequently be seen gamboling in the surf where the river enters the sea.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.