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29 August 2019

Africa’s Best Beach Destinations: Zanzibar vs. Kenyan Coast

Here’s our guide to the best beach destinations in Safari Africa, where we compare Tanzania’s famous island Zanzibar with Kenya’s quieter coast, including the beaches of Mombasa, Diani, and Watamu.

Deciding between the Kenyan Coast and Zanzibar for some R&R at the end of your safari has always been a tricky decision. Typically those who go on safari in Tanzania would head to Zanzibar and those choosing Kenya for their wildlife watching would travel to the Kenyan Coast, but with the introduction of more low-cost airlines and additional routes it means this decision has become trickier than ever.

We asked our knowledgeable experts Lauren (who lived on Zanzibar and worked as a dive instructor) and Jesse (fifth-generation-born Kenyan and ex-safari guide) to talk about the differences between the two beach destinations:

Kenyan Coast

“We know after a long safari the best way to recuperate and relax is to sit by the pool, with a drink and book in hand, on the Kenyan Coast. Something a lot of people don’t realise is that some beaches on the Kenyan Coast are not exactly private and are crowded with hundreds of people. As we specialise in luxury and exclusive vacations, we’ve come up with beaches that we have been to, that aren’t as busy as others, making them hidden gems in our eyes!”
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Jesse Kenya Expert

Watamu Beach

Watamu is a small fishing town that’s north of Mombasa town, about a 2-hour drive away. Like most towns along the coast, Watamu is located near a creek. It’s spread along a couple of protected beaches in coves – some of the most beautiful beaches in Kenya are here. Watamu is a seasonal town and is very dependent on the tourism that’s offered by the local Nairobi population, which owns a lot of residences in and around Watamu town.

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Lamu

Lamu is the oldest and best-preserved town in East Africa. Established in 1370, it has been inhabited ever since, and is the only town that was never abandoned. The history, the beaches, and the islands of Lamu are by turn fascinating, beautiful, and absolutely breathtaking. There is so much to see and do here, and it’s a gem of a destination that seems to be off the radar nowadays. There are loads of private beaches in and around the island, offering some of the most private and exclusive properties anywhere on the East African coast.

Msambweni Beach

Msambweni beach is located in the south of Mombasa and Diani, near the Tanzania–Kenya border. Msambweni is still a very quiet beach, as it’s yet to be discovered by the tourism world. It feels very peaceful and private, and the beaches are some of the cleanest and serenest throughout the area.

They are phenomenally beautiful too, and currently we offer two properties here – The Ocean Spa Lodge and Msambweni Beach House.

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Diani Beach

Diani is the epicentre of tourism on the Kenyan Coast. There are plenty of restaurants, resorts, hotels, and private houses, all nestled along the coast. Diani is more commonly used because it is more established than the other towns we’ve listed above, and it’s considerably bigger than any of the above options as well.

Zanzibar

“I lived on Zanzibar for a long time working as a dive instructor, so it’s an island I know well. Also, I have just returned from an extensive trip around Kenya that included exploring the coast, so I know how tricky it can be to pick a post-safari beach destination”
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Lauren Zanzibar expert

In terms of the beaches themselves, both the Kenya Coast and Zanzibar offer superb talcum-powdery soft white sands and turquoise oceans, but that’s mostly where the similarities end. Along the Kenyan Coast, there are some great activities to enjoy, such as snorkelling, fishing, and boat trips, to name a few. However, on the whole, this is somewhere for appreciating the bliss of doing nothing.

Zanzibar Coast

Zanzibar in both regards is quite different. The vibe and atmosphere are much more varied, with travellers seeking a busier social scene getting their fix on the north of the island and others looking for a more relaxed and peaceful pace finding themselves very happy on the east coast. The list of activities available on Zanzibar is also much longer. The island offers lots of different and brilliant diving spots – and although Kenya also offers you the chance to dive, I do find Zanzibar’s underwater world much more appealing.

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Activities and culture

In a nod to the island’s history, there are many spice farms to visit and you are guided around the plantation while sampling all of the herbs, fruits, and spices fresh from the tree. You’ve also got Stone Town, where you can get lost in the alleyways, enjoy traditional foods at the night market, and visit the old slave trade chambers.

Kenyan Coast vs. Zanzibar

In short, both the Kenyan Coast and Zanzibar are going to offer the picturesque Indian Ocean you see plastered on postcards. Most likely your decision will be affected by many factors, such as the overall experience you’re looking for and perhaps even budget. If you’re seeking a relaxed and secluded experience filled with plenty of beachtime and seafood, your best bet would be the Kenyan Coast. But if you’re after some epic watersports, culture, and spice, Zanzibar is the beach destination for you.

If you’re still unsure about where to travel after your safari, why not contact Jesse and Lauren here? Alternatively, you can check out our other beach destinations below: