Since Silvia Spring relocated to Nairobi from NEWSWEEK's London bureau this summer, she's made the trip down to Kenya's coast nearly every chance she's had. With camels grazing on the perpetually sunny beaches and wooden dhows sailing through the warm Indian Ocean waters, it's not easy to stay away (or get much work done.) Here, she shares some of the top spots from her new favorite getaway.
You can find great seafood on the coast, and particularly excellent when available are the jumbo prawns and tilapia (also known as Nile perch). In Malindi, try the Old Man and the Sea (on Beach Front Road, but anyone in town will be able to direct you) for the freshest fish. In Lamu, Peponi Hotel (+254 42 633421/2/3) is the place to be seen for a meal or drinks. This is apparently where Sting and Sienna Miller stay when they're in town, but most of the time this small, family-run hotel is very low-key. For dinner you'll find mangrove crabs, warm-water lobster and squid, as well as whatever fresh fish they've caught that day. Eat it Swahili-style: sitting on the floor around a big brass platter.
The Driftwood Beach Club (+254 42 20155) in Malindi is, as the name suggests, right on the beach, and its palm-tree-shaded pool is a great place to spend an afternoon drinking fresh passion fruit juice and lunching on the mango chili chicken salad. I came here with a friend after 12 hellish hours on a bus (which included my getting arrested and held briefly by the police for not wearing my seat belt), and this place was able to destress us within minutes.
Not far from Malindi are the Gede ruins, the remains of a 12th-century Swahili village that was abandoned around 600 years ago for no apparent reason. It is heavily overgrown, but that only adds to its haunting atmosphere, particularly if you visit in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn't directly overhead. It's a great place to do some bird watching as well, and the newly built tree-house-style observation deck is perfect for spotting monkeys.
Dhows, the traditional Swahili fishing vessels, happen to make great leisure sailboats. When the weather is calm you can hire one to take you all the way from Mombasa to Lamu, but a daylong tour of Lamu Archipelago, which usually includes some fishing, snorkeling and a swim on Manda Island, is enough to give you a taste of African coastal culture. It's best to arrange ahead of time through a company like Lamu Dhow Safaris and Adventures (+254 722 403231; www.lamudhowsafaris.com), but you can also just head down to Lamu harbor first thing in the morning and find a crew to take you out.