Kenya is a wildly popular safari destination, but most animal lovers only explore dry land. After cruising around the big-name game parks by jeep, they think they’ve seen it all. Don’t make the same mistake. To spot some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife, you have to dive in deeper; much of it lives underwater.
The most idyllic place to chill out and thrill out for a few days is on Mombasa’s coastline. Besides sunshine and white sand, this area offers some of the Indian Ocean’s best spots for scuba enthusiasts.
During the day, explore the area’s most impressive upright wreck, MV Dania. In and around the artificial reef it created, you’ll see a wide variety of diverse marine life including grouper, batfish, barracuda, and moray eels.
The biggest scuba rush, however, comes from diving at night off the northern part of the coast. The Watamu Marine National Park, 180km (90 miles) from Mombasa, is full of coral gardens in barrier-type reefs with gentle slopes ranging from 7 to 25m (23–82 ft.). In total, the marine park is home to approximately 600 species of fish, 110 species of coral, and countless invertebrates, crustaceans, and mollusks.
Diving here after dark gives you a unique chance to observe nocturnal creatures including lobsters, crabs, moray eels, and white tip reef sharks. You might also glimpse sleeping sea turtles. For information about volunteer opportunities to help protect the turtles, check out the Local Ocean Trust www.watamuturtles.com), which runs the Watamu Turtle Watch program.
Farther north, Malindi Marine Reserve Park is another exciting place to dive. It’s home to more than 300 species of fish including angelfish, barracuda, butterfly fish, goatfish, grouper, jacks, parrotfish, sharks, snappers, and surgeon fish. And because there’s very little fishing in the area, you might see some trophy-size fish gliding around the plentiful coral. In between your dives, you can enjoy the beaches at Nyali, Malindi, or Watamu.
If you’ve gotten into the beach-bum spirit by now, and you want to head somewhere more secluded for a few days, head farther off the beaten path to the serene island of Lamu. Settled by Swahili traders in the 14th century, the island’s charming main square is often abuzz with traditional clattering carts and families running their daily errands. But just outside of town, you can soak in the sun on quiet sands before going for a long, lazy sail in a traditional dhow (wooden boat). After a few days of an exhilarating underwater safari, this laid-back paradise is the perfect place to recharge before your next adventure.
Kenya Tourist Board, Kenya-Re Towers, Regati Rd., Nairobi ( 254/20-271-1262; www.magicalkenya.com).
Tours: Blue Marine Diving, at the Serena Beach Hotel and Spa ( 20/233-4298; www.bluemarinediving.com). Buccaneer Diving, at the Voyager Beach Resort on Nyali Beach (254/20-203-9463; www.buccaneerdiving.com).
When to Go: Sept–May.
Mombasa airport, also known as Moi International Airport.
$$$ Mombasa Serena Beach Hotel & Spa, Shanzu Beach ( 254/20-284-2333; www.serenahotels.com).