Fishing, Snorkeling & Dive Charters
Pat Hemphill and his son Simon own and operate Sea Adventures (tel. 072/148-5365 or 072/279-6198; www.biggame.com) and are known as the country's top fishermen, with record numbers of marlin landed by boats that they've skippered, mostly in the Pemba Channel, where they take their charter clients on exclusive fishing adventures. Broadbill swordfish are abundant here, as are world-record-size giant trevally and huge sharks, including mako, tiger, and hammerheads; you could also spend time landing tuna, wahoo, narrow-barred mackerel, and barracuda. Tag and release is the general practice. They run two boats, the 14m (46-ft.) Broadbill and the newer 13m (43-ft.) Kamara II, and operate full-day excursions for $550 to $700, depending on the season. November through March is prime billfish season, while tuna fishing is best from July to October. They also offer nightfishing (4pm-9am; $1,000-$1,400). Incidentally, the Hemphills also run multiday fishing safaris to the northern Kenyan coast, where you can fish the abundant waters around the Lamu archipelago.
Steve and Sally Mullens of Wasini Island Dhow Tours & Scuba Diving (tel. 072/229-0514, 072/241-0599, or 040/52-410) offer exclusive hire of a dhow or speedboat for snorkeling and scuba diving; for the latter, proof of PADI certification is required. You'll pay $115 per dive, or $150 for a double dive session, while snorkeling is $70; hire of the boat is extra ($200 per day). If you fancy diving or snorkeling but don't mind sharing a boat with other travelers, there are a couple of operators offering a day out on the water; the best of these is Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris, which provides a relaxing day out with an exquisite lunch.
Dive In . . . Then Tuck In
Several companies offer dhow cruise packages that usually combine snorkeling, the possibility of diving, potentially dolphin-spotting and whale-watching, and then lunch. The best of these is Pilli Pipa Dhow Safari (tel. 040/320-2401, 072/444-2555, or 040/320-3559; www.pillipipa.com), which runs -- if you'll excuse the pun -- a very tight ship and is owned by a Dutch dive instructor and his marine biologist wife. You need to be up fairly early for the transfer to Shimoni in the far south of the Kenyan Coast. There you'll board one of the dhows and set sail (although usually it's an engine that powers the cruise) for the action-packed reef beds that make the Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park one of the best experiences along the coast, with some extraordinarily colorful specimens among the 350-plus species that dwell in the coral beds (although the coral itself is not quite as colorful as you might find elsewhere). You'll get two chances to jump in -- at two marginally different reef points, with variations in the kind of marine life you're likely to spot -- with quality snorkeling equipment and a number of good-humored guides to watch your back and point out interesting undersea phenomena; each session lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. Bring waterproof sunscreen, and protect yourself front and back. If humpback whales and whale sharks are spotted, you'll spend some time trying to move closer for a better look -- you may even get a chance to jump in with curious dolphins. And if you'd prefer to dive with scuba gear, be sure to arrange this in advance.
No matter how spectacular the diving is, you'll be blown away by the delicious Swahili spread that's laid on at the Pilli Pipa base on Wasini Island. There, gazing out over the water, back toward the mainland, you're served by an enchanting team of ladies from the island who've cooked up delicious mangrove crab and plenty of local specialties. The food is ceremoniously carried in on baskets accompanied by singing before being explained by one of your gentle servers. The crab shells are cracked open for you at the table, and you can eat until you're completely satisfied.
On the way back to the mainland, you have the chance to make a brief visit to the Shimoni Caves, immense coral grottos once used to inter slaves before they were trundled onto dhows and shipped off to Pemba and Zanzibar. The short tour of the caves is pretty dull, and the caves and the resident bats do little to evoke the unimaginable horrors that were wrought upon thousands of innocent people here. Still, taking the tour is a chance to contribute to the local economy, something that you could also do by picking up a few random trinkets from the stalls near the cave entrance. The full excursion will last the entire day, with crack-of-dawn pick-ups from hotels all along the coast and drop-off in the early evening.