As if preparing for Malindi's much-anticipated return as an Indian Ocean superpower, the development of resorts, villas, and holiday villages for wealthy Europeans has meant that pickings are particularly rich for anyone looking for a place to stay close to the beach. Price and quality both tend to be considerably higher that you might expect.
Besides Ocean Sports, Turtle Bay (tel. 042/32-003 or 042/32-226; www.turtlebay.co.ke) offers good-value accommodations and has earned a silver eco rating from the Eco Tourism Society of Kenya.
Mind the Weeds -- If your main reason for visiting Watamu is to sprawl out on its beach, you need to know that strong winds prevail between May and August, and during this period -- which includes the rainy season, when most places shut down anyway -- the beach is littered with seaweed.
A House to "Dhow" For -- In Watamu, with direct access to the world-class coral-white sandy shore of Turtle Beach, the magnificent Dhow House (www.dhowhousekenya.com) is one of Kenya's most riveting villas. A brooding clay-colored fortress-castle on the outside -- it's a contemporary take on traditional Swahili-Lamu design -- once you move inside, everything about this place screams convivial party palace. There's space galore, with ultra-high ceilings and, everywhere, evidence of scrupulous good taste and enormous attention to detail. It's built on three levels and comfortably sleeps 10 people (at around 300£ per night). Done in a sumptuous blend of Swahili and Moroccan styles, the house has all sorts of elegant lounge and relaxation spaces, tied together by an orderly mix of beautiful fabrics and textiles, handsome furniture, and appealing decor, including beautifully romantic nighttime lighting. There's no air-conditioning, but fans and a reliable breeze ensure that you're comfortable, or simply plunge into the magnificent pool on the first floor. The cook throws together spectacular meals, and your butler will help you with grocery purchases or negotiate with the local fishermen for the freshest possible catch. When you're bored with lazing by the pool or drifting into a reverie on the spectacular beach out front, there are all kinds of activities to get the blood pumping (snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, dhow cruising, kitesurfing, cycling in the Arabuko forest, yoga, Pilates, and massages on the rooftop terrace). You could even charter a flight to the Masai Mara, where you could catch a glimpse of the Great Migration and be back in time for sundowners on the rooftop terrace.
My Own Private Africa -- Situated on a coral bluff overlooking Silversands Beach, Himaya House (www.himayahouse.com) is one of Malindi's loveliest, breeziest, and most laid-back villas. The focus is on providing matchless privacy, scintillating views, and easy beach access -- the most important prerequisites for maximizing your enjoyment of this coastal town. The main house features a big lounge-cum-living area, with the main bedroom upstairs, two bedrooms (also both en suite) in the guest wing, and, if you're traveling in a large group, space on the veranda for children to curl up on a couple of extra beds. There's no air-conditioning, but plenty of fans and a good breeze keep things cool. You'll enjoy the services of a small, dedicated staff, including an excellent cook who will even help you sort out your grocery shopping -- although you'd do well to buy fresh seafood directly from the fishermen who turn up at the gate with lobster, fish, prawns, and crab. Linen and towels are provided and laundry is included. The owner, Lissa Ruben (tel. 072/270-2351), lives on-site most of the year but will give you total privacy, making an appearance only to ensure that everything is going smoothly and to give advice and make recommendations. Best of all, this place is an absolute bargain, at 150€ per night in low season and 200€ in busier periods.
Let the Wind Take You . . . -- If you prefer to be surrounded by wood and thatch rather than concrete and favor a natural breeze over air-conditioning, then head north of Malindi to Che Shale (tel. 072/223-0931; www.cheshale.com; 180€-260€ double, including all meals), best known as the headquarters of Kenya's slickest kitesurfing operation, where riders-in-the-know return year after year to enjoy the excellent wind conditions. The five open-to-the-elements thatch bandas are lovely, breezy spaces with a crisp Robinson Crusoe look. Renovated by Milanese designer Marzia Chicherretti, known for her "tropical contemporary" style -- big, bouncy cushions, simple mango and cedar wood furniture, and earthy colors echoing the natural surrounds -- the cottages all have alfresco showers and personal verandas. The food is excellent, too. They cook interesting specialties such as battered seaweed, Zanzibar-style calamari, and crab and coconut soup, and also bake their own bread. They also offer a handful of budget-oriented accommodations in their Kajama Beach Bandas, which are rustic (no electricity, shared bath facilities) and utterly relaxed, and share the same superb beach as Che Shale (85€ double, with all meals included). Kajama consists of five bandas that are built on stilts with a palm-thatched roof, wood floor, and private veranda; there's a communal dining and barbecue area. Each banda is set in a peaceful tropical garden facing miles and miles of empty beaches and the ocean, and can sleep up to three people.
Tana River Delta
There is only one place to stay here, and it enjoys one of the most breathtaking locations -- especially for anyone who loves the outdoors -- on the East African coast. If you need to feel the throb of people and a sense of an ongoing bustle, then stick to Malindi or Watamu, but if peace and unfettered nature are what you crave, this is where you want to be. The lodge works closely with the local community, who will manage a 60,700-hectare (149,929-acre) conservancy that's been set aside. As part of the privilege of staying here, a conservation fee is paid to the local people for every guest that stays at the lodge.
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.