diani beach kenya – plan an exotic but affordable beach vacation

With the world slowly opening up, I am taking every opportunity to explore new places. We’ve been locked up for way too long. My search for an exotic but affordable vacation led me to Diani in Kenya. It’s a beach destination in Kenya, south of Mombasa. In this post I’ll share everything you need to know to plan a trip there.

Getting to Diani Beach

At the time of writing, Nairobi was under lockdown, so the only option I had was to fly to Moi International Airport via Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airways. It’s not my favourite airline, but that’s a rant for another day! My return flights came in at just over 1500 dirhams, so that was pretty reasonable for me.

On arrival at the airport, our hotel transfer picked us up, and we took a 90-minute drive to the resort in Diani. Mombasa is on an island, and from the airport, you can get to Mombasa via road. However, there is no road connecting the South Coast to Mombasa yet, so you have to take a ferry.
Expect a long delay while you queue to get on the Likoni ferry. We spent close to half an hour waiting to get onto the ferry. The driver paid for the car to cross on the ferry with Mpesa. You have the option of flying to Diani directly. However, due to lockdown restrictions, this was not an option we could take advantage of.

Covid-19 PCR test in Diani

As you prepare to return to your home country, you will be required to present a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure. You can get this done at Diani Hospital for 10 000 Kenyan Shillings. My results were out in less than 24 hours

Where to stay

Swahili Beach Resort Diani Beach

I stayed at Swahili Beach Resort in Diani. It’s a beautiful resort with evident Swahili architecture. It’s certainly on the pricier end, however, the current situation means you can negotiate! I stayed in a superior room, and managed to get a very good rate! The resort has 6 restaurants, each offering different cuisines. From Japanese Teppanyaki to Indian, you will have options to ensure you never get bored of the meals. You can view the restaurants here. I ate at every single one of them, and I will say, they are all exceptionally good restaurants. You can eat at the resort for the duration of your trip, and you will not be disappointed. The resort has 11 pools, so you can be sure that you’ll have enough options when you want to take a dip. There’s a spa with gorgeous seaside views, and it’s worth dedicating an afternoon to experience one of their treatments.

Things to do in Diani

There are quite a few options in Diani, that cater to different tastes. I feel that I tried a wide variety of things, so I can give you a good indication of what your options are. Let’s dive right in!

Day trip to Shimoni

View from Wasini Island Diani Beach

No trip to Diani would be complete without dedicating a day to Shimoni. It is about an hour’s drive from Swahili Beach resort. The day starts with a snorkelling trip to Kisite Mpunguti National Park. There are beautiful corals and fish to see as you snorkel through the crystal-clear waters. You can be lucky and see dolphins. I unfortunately didn’t get to see any dolphins. We then continued on the boat to Wasini Island, where we had a seafood lunch. I didn’t find the setting to be very pleasant. I would have been happy to pay a bit more for a much nicer lunch experience. The food was a spread of coconut rice, potatoes, gravy, and grilled seafood. It was good, and having a seat that faced the sea definitely made up for a not-so-nice restaurant setting.

Shimoni caves Diani Beach

After the snorkelling trip, we went to Shimoni Caves. Now, prior to this trip, I did not know Kenya had a slavery history. To see the small caves where hundreds of slaves were kept before being sent off to Zanzibar, was truly heartbreaking. Slavery is a dark past I struggle to confront. But the visit to Shimoni will certainly be worth your time, and will change how you view Diani and what it’s taken for it to thrive.

Dinner at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant

Ali Barbour restaurant Diani Beach

The only thing better than good food, is a great location. And I don’t know about you, but I have never had dinner in a cave. So this was the best opportunity to experience something so special. The cave is open at the top, and you can see gorgeous views of the sky. The food is exceptionally good as well. The restaurant is so thoughtful with special occasions, and my cake and flowers were so tastefully organised.

Shimba Hills and Sheldrick Falls

sheldrick falls diani beach

I’ll be very honest about this experience, it’s a bit of a workout. So if you intend to just chill on this trip, then perhaps you will want to skip this one. A stone staircase and a paved path takes you down the hill. You walk with an armed ranger, because there are elephants. You’ll definitely want a ranger around in case you encounter one, which I didn’t. The catch is, the ranger leaves at 10 am, so you need to be there at that time, otherwise you can’t do the hike.

The trail ends at the bottom of the hill, where the majestic Sheldrick Falls awaits. The 21 metre waterfall is certainly worth the hike, so make sure you have your swimwear underneath. The water of the falls is so refreshing. And cooling off is exactly what you need to do before that painful trek back up the hill and to the car!

Colobus Monkey Sanctuary

I grew up in a country where we see monkeys everywhere. So I thought I knew everything there is to know about them. However, the colobus monkey sanctuary showed me that I barely knew anything. I learnt of the types of monkeys, like Colobus, Sykes and Vervets. Baboons of course, were in the sanctuary as well. Brands like the Body Shop Foundation are major supporters of the sanctuary, and for good reason. You’ll be interested to know that monkeys are almost extinct in Diani. And as you drive around, if you look up, you will notice numerous “monkey bridges”. Cars are actually one of the contributors to the extinction of monkeys. People of course are another reason the monkeys are being killed at an alarming rate. It’s certainly worth you visiting the sanctuary, and taking a walk through their nature trail to learn about the indigenous trees in the area.

Nyama choma at Manyatta

Nyama Choma is a popular meat dish in Kenya. It’s essentially barbecued meat. Usually served with Ugali and Kachumbari (a type of salsa), it’s something you have to try. The impression I got of Manyatta is that it’s the tourists go to meet a local companion. Needless to say, it’s very busy! The one thing I found annoying was that the waitress wasn’t able to communicate the menu clearly. When she did remember what was on the menu, she couldn’t articulate the portion sizes. “Half” is hardly a useful indication of how big a plate of meat will be! But alas, we understood each other in the end, after she brought out a piece of meat for us to see! But if an authentic experience is what you’re after, then do pay Manyatta a visit.

Discover the people’s history at Kaya Kinodo

Kaya Kinodo Diani Beach

The Digo people are a tribe indigenous to the South Coast of Mombasa. Kaya Kino is one of the few places belonging to these people, that the public can visit. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, the forest is sacred, so you need to remove your head gear, and put on a black cover up. You can’t hug or kiss anyone in the forest, but you are welcome to hug the trees should you not be able to wait until you leave the forest! The sacred nature of the forest, and the history it encompasses, is what made UNESCO want to preserve this part of the heritage. The diversity of trees and sacrificial sites, will leave you intrigued at how resourceful and knowledgeable these people were.

Spend an afternoon at Chale Island

Chale Island Diani Beach

Just off Diani is the island of Chale Island, which is home to The Sands Hotel at Chale Island. You can pay to get access to the hotel and island for a day, inclusive of lunch. Depending on the water level you will either cross to the island by boat, or by tractor! The lunch is a buffet, which encompasses a lot of traditional Kenyan foods. You can spend the day around the different pools, or along the beach. And if you are truly up for it, you can tour around the island.

Scuba Dive, Jet Ski or Skydive

You have the option to skydive, scuba dive and jet ski in Diani. Click on the respective links to make a booking.

Bonus: Go to Tsavo East for a safari

It would not be right to go to Kenya and not go on a safari! The closest option from Diani is Tsavo East. The 4×4 Land Cruiser in which you do the safari, is the same vehicle that picks you up from the resort. This means, it has no air conditioning, so prepare to have some fresh air in your face in order to cool off! The drive is about 2 hours. You have the option of staying in a luxury tented camp or a lodge. I went with Salt Lick Lodge. They have a large water hole, where the animals gather to drink during the dry season. You have the option of doing game drives in the morning, during the day and in the evening. Remember all safari packages are all inclusive, so your meals will be covered as well. Only beverages will come at an extra cost.