Watamu Travel Guide

Watamu is a Swahili town on the blissfully idyllic Kenyan coast. Surrounded by white sand beaches, and virgin forests it is one of the largest towns on the coast but small by anyone’s reckoning.

Turtle bay beach in Watamu

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If you are planning to visit Kenya then a trip to the coast is an absolute must.  The Kenyan coast ticks all the boxes in the dream beach checklist: powder-soft white sand, turquoise sea filled with tropical fish, a reef offshore so that swimming is 100% safe, palm trees as far as the eye can see and little in the way of tourism apart from the odd beach bar and boutique hotel.

The Kenyan coast consists of Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city and the small beach towns of Diani, Malindi, Lamu and Watamu. Discover more about the other towns on the Kenyan coast here.

Watamu is a firm favourite with Kenyans and holidaymakers alike. Located 2 hours north of Mombasa and just south of Malindi, it is renowned for it small coral islands that are just a few metres offshore, its shallow sandy bays, placid clear waters and the Italian influences that give you real Italian pizza and gelato on the eastern edge of Africa.

Watamu is part of the Watamu Marine National Park, one of the best snorkelling and diving areas on the coast of Africa and renowned worldwide for its natural beauty.

When to visit Watamu

The weather in Watamu is hot all year. Travellers to Watamu should consider the long rainy season between April and June – when it can rain quite hard and the short rainy season between October and November, where the rains are lighter and more sporadic. Watamu is great to visit any time of year.  Even if it rains it is always hot and the sea is always bathwater warm and ready to swim in.

How to get to Watamu

Watamu is two hours north of Mombasa. You can either fly into Mombasa and catch a taxi up to Watamu (approx. 2 hours) or you can fly directly into Malindi where the taxi journey is just 20 minutes.

If you are travelling from within Kenya then internal flights go from Nairobi to both Mombasa and Malindi several times a day. Alternatively, consider catching the SGR train which runs from Nairobi to Mombasa. The train passes past Kilimanjaro and through Tsavo National park. It’s hard to find a more scenic train journey.

Where to stay in Watamu

Watamu is very laid back and hardly built up at all. Even the town centre consists of nothing more than a supermarket and stalls selling kikoy clothing or local fruit and vegetables.  

Accommodation is in one of the few resorts or villas and cottages. Most Kenyans and expat locals opt to stay in a villa or cottage. A villa will nearly always come with their own pool, and staff to include a cook and a cleaner at a minimum. So you get the full hotel experience without any of the hard work.

Best family-friendly resort in Watamu

Turtle Bay Beach Club is an all-inclusive resort and one of the only places that cater fully for kids. They run a kids club, which includes a clubhouse and a full day of activities; these include swimming, beachcombing, hikes, games etc. Turtle Bay Beach Club is located right on Turtle Bay beach, a prize spot with access to the shallow waters. At low tide, kids can hunt for crabs and fish – and sometimes spot a conger eel peeking out from the rocks. At high tide, it is perfect for boogie boards. Turtle Bay runs a sports club from which you can hire SUP’s windsurfer, pedaloes or even organise a diving trip from beyond the beach. Turtle Bay is an expansive resort with 2 restaurants, 2 huge pools and many different options for catering.

Turtle bay beach club resort in Watamu

Best luxury hotel in Watamu

One of the newest hotels in Watamu is the decadent Hemmingway’s. Part of the global Hemmingway’s luxury group and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this is the place to come to spoil yourself. Hemmingway’s Watamu has two restaurants including a seafront a la carte restaurant. Leisure facilities include two outdoor freshwater pools, tennis, gift shop and library. The spa has 4 treatment rooms, a salon and a gym. Water sports include snorkelling trips, PADI open water diving courses, deep-sea fishing and kite surfing. Located right next to Turtle Bay Beach Club it occupies the same spot on the magnificent Turtle Bay Beach.

Best villas and cottages in Watamu

There are loads of amazing villas and cottages in Watamu. You can choose between a beachfront property (highly advised in the hot summer) or a cheaper property that is two or three rows back from the beach. You could also opt for a creek-side property located in Mida Forest. Villas range from simple 1 bedroom places to huge luxury villas with pools, air-conditioning and full staff.

You can use the map below to search and book a hotel according to your budget and preferred location.

Villa on watamu beach

Where to eat in Watamu

The CrabShack 

The CrabShack is a rustic gem located up a dusty track, right on the creek in Mida Forest. The restaurant itself is a platform on stilts above the water, accessible only by wooden walkways. Visit in the evening for the most incredible sundowners of your life. The restaurant is famous for its crab samosas but does a full seafood menu. It’s very basic, very rustic and very beautiful. Sitting on the wooden deck, in the mangroves, as terrapins and fish skate about under the boardwalk and big African sunsets over the creek, is unforgettable.

The crab shack in Watamu


Another creek-side restaurant and one that is equally gorgeous as a sundowner venue. Pilipan is accessed off the main Watamu Beach Road rather than through the creek. The Swahili design restaurant has a huge outside terrace ad serves mostly Indian cuisine and seafood. A very popular restaurant with locals and tourists alike.

Ocean Sports 

Ocean Sports has a prime beachside spot. The coastal Swahili style restaurant celebrates its proximity to the ocean with a huge wooden deck. Sip ice-cold wine while gazing over the whitest of beaches, and a sea the colour of sapphires. The restaurant has a great cocktail menu, mouthwatering crab and seafood dishes and plenty of simple dishes to satisfy the kids or fussy eaters, such as pizza, burgers and chips.

What to see and do in Watamu

Dhow Cruise

Don’t leave Watamu without visiting the creek on a Dhow. These traditional wooden boats are sailed up and down the coast. At sunset there is nothing more romantic than a cruise into the creek. The birdlife is magnificent; expect to see Woolly Necked Storks, Herons, Flamingos and many more.

Watamu Creek

BioKen Snakepark

The snake park, right in the middle of Watamu, is the largest snake facility in East Africa and does some amazing work towards antivenin research. They have loads of different and impossibly scary snakes here. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides will give you a 45-minute tour of the snakes which include black spitting cobra, black mamba, horned viper, puff adder, and the innocuous-looking but deadly twig snake for whose venom there's no cure!

Gedi Ruins

These ancient ruins were hidden in the forest and completely unknown to mankind until they were discovered in the 1920s. Dating back to some time between 1021 and 1200 the ruins are some of the oldest in East Africa. A Swahili village that was suddenly abandoned and no one knows why. Claimed by the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, this archaeological and historical site is now open to the public. An eery and exciting adventure for any budding Indian Jones’.

If you’ve are planning your first trip to Watamu, hopefully this guide by Nadine from The Expat Mummy will help you plan your visit!

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