It has been about five years since I was last in Watamu on a family trip and the thought of going back had me a little anxious albeit utterly excited. Five years is a long time. Depending on where you are in Mombasa for instance, the town can be a cautionary tale on the overdevelopment of small towns and I just could not stand seeing yet another delightfully unmarred coastal town go down this route.
Before you think I’m just being dramatic, as someone who loves to share their travels online, it is no secret that I love being by the ocean and the more I get to escape to our wonderful bleached white seaboard, the more I demand in terms of privacy and largely unspoilt beaches. In a coastline that’s becoming more and more populous, I am glad to report that the little laid back gem that is Watamu has retained much of that unpretentious charm that made me fall in love with it in the first place.
Wet, humid and salty from the annual May rains, Watamu oozes life, warmth and an unhurried pace, a welcome change from life in the capital. Quaint restaurants and lovely gelato spots are dotted along the main street leading down from Malindi, vibrantly coloured tuk tuks bustle up and down the main street, friendly residents animatedly wave and politely hail “ciao!” to any caucasian visitors presuming them to be Italian; If Malindi is Kenya’s little Italy, Watamu is its younger, beautiful and arguably more charming sister.
In a largely sleepy town, your best bet for accommodation would be a chic, luxury, boutique hotspot where you can wine and dine with the owners, be on first name basis with the staff and intimately integrate into your surroundings much like a local. Upon getting to the rough golden stretch of Kanani Road, cast your eyes to one such place, The Charming Lonno Lodge which straddles Watamu Marine National Park.
It is May and I am oddly overwhelmed with feelings of romance so pardon my cheesiness but stepping onto the lounge area of Lonno was every bit like stumbling onto the set of an enchanting Woody Allen movie, and I half expected to see a curly-haired Jesse Eisenberg in character as nerdy architecture student Jack saunter out of the bar sipping a Limoncello on the rocks and waxing lyrical about his life’s woes to no one in particular. The architecture channels the neighbourhood’s ethnic Swahili charm with chalk white walls and Makuti thatched roofs, and yet, much like the owners, the excellent menu is distinctly Italian. Here, we would wine and laugh and indulge in the finest cuisine while trading stories with one of the lodge’s personable owners, Bruno Piarulli and his wife. What did I tell you about the intimacy and beauty of luxury boutique lodges?
We checked into the spacious Top Tower Room, the highest point in the lodge whose impressive patio offered breathtaking panoramic views of the property and the sea a little further beyond. With accommodation sprawled across eight towers, there is bound to be something to suit every taste. Our room was decked with a kingsize bed, dark beamed ceiling, a mini-bar and kitchen for anyone who would opt for self-catering complete with minimalist Swahili decor which gave it a touch of understated chicness. I love an unhurried retreat, particularly if it comes with good WiFi!
PS: Check out this pretty cool 360 degree photo of one of the rooms on the lodge here.
There are a lot of activities that you can set up from the lodge, but we took what Bruno refers to as the “do nothing tour”. Lounging by the saltwater pool, milling by the beach during low tide and sipping bottomless dawa cocktails. Well, at least until we started feeling like we needed some action, at which point we took Lonno’s on-site bikes on a cruise around Watamu. We did however have only a short time but when you head down, here are some interesting activities to consider:
Snake Farm– Largest Collection of snakes in East Africa.
Watamu Turtle Watch– Runs the only sea turtle rehabilitation and rescue centre on the East African coastal strip.
Dhow sailing, snorkelling and other water sports- you will technically be in a marine park after all!