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Kenya’s major non-safari destinations, apart from the bustling capital of Nairobi, are situated on the palm-fringed coast. Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa are all vibrant beach towns, and should be a must add-on for any safari adventure through East Africa.
The coastal region offers amazing diving & snorkelling, and delicious fresh seafood for the overland and adventure traveller, alike, while you barter with shillings and dollars at the seaside markets. Kenya’s towns and cities are definitely worth a visit.
Like a colourful character in a busy pub, Mombasa, on the Kenya south coast, is full of life and vibrancy, bursting to the seams with fragrant markets, trendy young Kenyans, ancient dhows and long white beaches.
Plus, Mombasa is the ‘cool’ stop on a Kenya overland tour; many tour operators will spend a night or two in Mombasa enjoying spectacular diving, fresh seafood and the relaxed beach vibe.
Originally used as a port between Africa and the Far East, Mombasa used to trade in everything from slaves and ivory to spices and animal hides, but now a long line of beachside hotels line popular Diani Beach, as well as number of rustic backpackers on nearby Tiwi Beach.
Overland travellers to Mombasa can enjoy windsurfing, jet-skiing, dhow trips to nearby Marine National Parks just off the coast, or simply wander through the narrow alleys and admire the ancient Arab-inspired houses.
Just to the north of Mombasa is the smaller and quieter town of Malindi, once an important Swahili settlement from the 14th century, now a sublime snorkelling and diving destination.
Overland travellers might not get a chance to visit Malindi, but if you’re spending a couple of days in Mombasa, it’s worth a day trip. Visit the ancient stone cross erected by Vasco de Gama in 1499, check out the woodcarving markets or hit the sea for a dive.
Malindi’s Portuguese heritage also means that overland adventurers can enjoy an African twist on traditional ‘Pora’ cuisine.
Ah yes, laid-back Lamu. One of Africa’s best kept secrets, this tiny island is quite simply, stuck in a relaxed time warp.
With only one road on the island, and reportedly only one car, little has changed since the 18th century. Overlanders on a visit to Lamu will be transferred by traditional dhow from the airport island to Lamu Town, the oldest settlement in East Africa.
Lamu has a narrow waterfront, dominated by dhows, billowing sails and kikoi-clad sailors, while the tiny town has a 19th century fort and museum - both worth a visit.
Most overland travellers get a kick out of donkey transport; the most common form of getting around the island apart from the dhows. With over 4000 donkeys hanging around in doorways and alleys, Lamu certainly is another world!
The urban sprawl that is Kenya’s capital city covers over 120km², and is home to a national park, a number of historic museums, and a few hundred alarming matatu (minibus taxi) drivers.
Nairobi is usually the start and end point for a Kenya overland safari, with travellers flying into this bustling cosmopolitan city ready to set off into the Masai Mara or Amboseli National Park.
Best things to see and do in Nairobi? The former house of Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame is now a museum, while the giraffes and elephant orphans of Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage are worth a visit.
Overland adventurers in Nairobi will most likely eat out at Carnivore, the legendary restaurant serving only meat. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted!
If you’ve got a few days in the city, try a day safari in the Nairobi National Park; it’s not as scenic nor as wild as Kenya’s other parks, but it’s worth it for day trip. If you’re on the hunt for curios, Nairobi has got them all: kikois, kangas and wooden giraffes.
Travellers on a Kenya overland tour would be misinformed to dismiss Nairobi as just another African city. It’s simply a must-see destination on any East Africa safari.