Kenya and Tanzania are destinations best known for their incredible game reserves, like the Masai Mara Game Reserve and Serengeti National Park, but there’s more to these East African countries than their wildlife. This is why you should considering adding a coastal stay to East African tours. Whether you head to Mombasa in Kenya or Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island in Tanzania, you’ll find some of the most fascinating historical sites in all of Africa along the coast, as well as some of the continent’s most posh resorts and beaches.
If lounging on white-sand beaches after heading on game drives to see giraffes and lions sounds appealing, don’t hesitate to include a coastal stop on your trip to East Africa.
The coastal metropolis of Kenya
Mombasa is the second-largest city in Kenya, and a melting pot of language and culture pitched on the coast of the Indian Ocean. While Nairobi attracts most of the Globetrotters connecting to game reserves in the country, Mombasa still lures travellers wanting to experience the popular Kenyan coastline. Although it sits beneath Nairobi in the pecking order of Kenyan urban centres, Mombasa actually shares more with Dakar or Dar es Salaam than the Kenyan capital. It blends Indian, African, and Arabian cultures, which means if you’re looking for a broad selection of ethnic cuisines to indulge in, you’ll be well taken care of in Mombasa.
If you like exploring local history, you’ll find a lot to occupy yourself in Mombasa. You can head to the Old Town to admire a blend of Arabic and Portuguese architecture. In Old Town, you’ll also find Fort Jesus, the city’s most popular tourist attraction. This old Portuguese fort was the only Portuguese fort in the region and today serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that reminds us of some of the earliest attempts of European settlers to dominate trade in the Indian Ocean. In between sightseeing in the city centre, be sure to try out some local dishes like viazi karai, a fried potato staple served in a tomato sauce.
You can easily spend your days in Mombasa exploring the old parts of the town, admiring dhows (a traditional sail boat) out on the water, and sampling its food, but the variety of beaches and resorts in the area should also command your attention. Mombasa Beach is ground zero, on East African tours, if you’re looking to take a few days in the city to experience the Kenyan beach life.
Kenya’s popular beaches
If you want to visit the most popular beaches in the country, you’ll have to head outside the city centres. In particular, Watamu Beach, located north of Mombasa, is likely the most popular strip of sand in the country. This makes sense, as its pristine stretch of white-sand coastline and sleepy atmosphere is endlessly appealing.
Watamu is located just south of Malindi Marine Reserve Park and has some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving spots in the country, as the coral gardens off the coast attract people the world over. In the water, you’ll find some of the largest populations of green and hawksbill turtles in Africa. As well, if you’re a history buff, you’ll want to head to the nearby Gede Ruins to see excavated medieval Swahili-Arab settlements.
Diani Beach to the south of Mombasa is also a great spot to experience the Kenyan beach life. Diani Beach stretches for 20 kilometres and has no seaweed in the water, so it’s a great spot to enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and try out some water sports like kitesurfing.
Tanzania’s coastal capital
If you’re ending your safari vacation in the Serengeti or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, spending a few days in Dar es Salaam is a great option for a trip extension. Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s capital city and has a population of over 4 million people. The city is known for its confluence of cultures, blending Arabian, African, and European flavours into a melting pot of ethnic diversity.
Dar es Salaam’s older districts are remarkable for their architecture, which draws on the city’s diversity by featuring German, Arab, Indian, and Tanzanian designs. The city is also the centre for the country’s arts and culture scene. You can find a lot of museums within the city limits, such as the open-air Village Museum, which recreates the ordinary lives of traditional Tanzanian tribes through traditional huts and music and dance shows. If you want to continue your exploration of the city’s unique culture, head to Kivukoni Front, where you’ll find fish markets as well as craftsmen building dhows. There are also plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy the sorts of food that echo the diverse architecture of the city, such as chipsi mayai, which is French fries cooked with eggs.
A cultural island in East Africa
Zanzibar is probably the most popular spot on the East African coast. As such, it should attract your utmost attention on East African tours. People have lived on this island off the Tanzanian coast for over 20,000 years, which means that plenty of cultures have been able to leave their stamp on it. You’ll find touches of Tanzanian, Arabian, Indian, British, and Portuguese influences, depending on where you head to on the island.
Zanzibar Town is essentially split between Stone Town on the west coast and Ng’ambo or “The Other Side” to the east. If you’re into iconic cultural experiences, Stone Town is the place to be. You can stroll through its narrow streets and winding lanes to experience the sights and smells that define Africa’s East Coast. Around one corner you might find a spice market that’ll plunge you into sensory heaven with a multitude of scents, while around another corner you might discover an Arabian coffee shop, a perfect place to hide away from the sun for an hour on a hot afternoon. As the sun goes down, be sure to find a good restaurant and sample some biryani or pilau. If you have a taste for seafood, try mchuzi wa pweza, or octopus curry, which is one of the local favourites.
For history lovers on East African tours, you’ll have plenty of landmarks to explore here. Make sure to head to the former sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders; with its exquisite architectural balance and stunning columns, it’s worthy of a photo or two (or 10). You should also make time to visit the Old Fort, one of the remaining defensive fortifications in the city and the oldest building in Stone Town. Regardless of whether or not you want to tour specific attractions, the ruddy coral stone buildings that characterize Stone Town are worth the trip alone.
In addition to its gorgeous buildings and fascinating culture, Zanzibar has some of Africa’s best beachside resorts. As an island, Zanzibar is ringed by stunning beaches that are perfect for suntanning, swimming, or snorkelling. You’ll have a lot to choose from here for resorts, but at Goway, we recommend a few specific spots for an island stay.
Baraza Resort and Spa offers a luxury stay on Zanzibar’s southeastern coast and essentially captures everything exotic about the island. The main building could be mistaken for a sultan’s palace, with its combination of cream marble stone and brass lanterns lining the walkways. Its 30 luxury villas are scattered across the pristine beach and offer ocean views and the sort of seclusion that you couldn’t imagine was possible when you were back in the crowded streets of Stone Town. The gourmet restaurants offer all manner of international dishes, while the Frangipani Spa makes sure you’ll have any ache and pain tended to during your stay. On the northern tip of the island, Essque Zalu Zanzibar offers similar luxurious comforts in an eco-friendly environment. The 40 suites and 8 luxurious bedroom villas stretch across the beach and boast balconies or terraces with ocean or garden views.
If you don’t want to stay in a resort in Zanzibar, you can still head to the beach to appreciate the sunny climate. Nungwi, along the island’s north coast, is technically a fishing village and dhow shipyard, but it’s most popular for palm-fringed Nungwi Beach, which stretches across the coastline. Nungwi is a great spot to head to in the afternoon and offers plenty of areas to swim and see turtles in the water.
A remote hideaway off the coast
If you like the idea of an island getaway, on East African tours, but don’t want to contend with the crowds of Zanzibar, consider heading to Pemba Island. Known as the “Green Island” in Arabic, Pemba Island is famous for its great coral reefs and incredible diving spots. The island is located north of Zanzibar, so it’s easily accessible. However, despite the nearness to Zanzibar, it’s quite different from its nearby cousin. Pemba is verdant and green (its name is descriptive), with a hilly landscape covered in trees and other vegetative growth.
Pemba Island’s coast is lined with mangrove trees and dotted with lagoons that are great for exploring. Most of the island boasts incredible stretches of white-sand beaches. Although the capital of Chake-Chake is interesting as a coastal touchstone, you’ll want to head to a resort like the Manta Resort to experience the island’s serenity. Pemba is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and get in touch with nature, whether by hiking across the island’s mainland or swimming or snorkelling through the waters to discover marine life.
4-Day Pemba Island
Although a safari in Masai Mara or the Serengeti will be your main reason for heading on East African tours, you should seriously consider extending your trip with a stay along the coast. Whether you’re experiencing the port cities of Mombasa or Dar es Salaam, winding through gorgeous corridors of Stone Town in Zanzibar, or relaxing on a pristine stretch of sand in one of the region’s many resorts, you’ll find a lot to enchant you along East Africa’s coast. It’s a world of sand, water, and culture that you don’t want to skip.