Celebrating a Year Around the Sun in Kilifi County

30 was on its way and the only thing I was sure I wanted was to be on my own somewhere in Kenya that was not Nairobi.

(Kilifi County has many butterflies)

On my way home from a hike, I was having a chat with someone I had met from that day’s hike. We were conversing about solo travel and they shared how they left work one day, got into a shuttle and travelled to another county — zero planning/reservations — because sometimes life comes at you fast and you need to disconnect.

I was fascinated by their courage to just enter a shuttle and momentarily escape their day-to-day activities. The truth is though you don’t really escape — you will still face your fears/demons and get a slight high once you conquer the fear of travelling alone.

Women travelling solo is becoming more popular — from what I have seen from my social media feeds. I admire all women who travel on their own — some of my Kenyan favs are RheenRuby and Just Rioba. Through them, I have learned some tips and tricks on how to travel alone and gained the courage to explore on my own.

Given the current state of the world, I opted to explore some parts of Kilifi county. I planned my itinerary with the help of RheenRuby’s Instagram feed:

  1. Hell’s Kitchen — Marafa
(Photo dump of my day at the Marafa Depression)

.. a depression that resembles the grand canyon — the lovely colours you get to see are; red which is Iron, yellow which is Sulphur and white which is Calcium. The locals know it as Nyari.

Safari, my guide for the day, shared that the locals believed that the depression was caused by the wrath of God. The community that lived in the area were rich. However, they lived next to a community that was poor and they never helped them. This angered God and they sank the wealthy community and followed it up with floods that washed away the bodies into the nearby river.

The entrance to Hell’s Kitchen is Ksh. 700 (200 entrance and 500 local guide fee) — this money goes into community projects such as; schools, boreholes etc. Once here you get an opportunity to do a short hike (around 30 minutes or more) into the hot depression — hence the name.

Geography and hike junkies will enjoy this place.

2. Mida Creek

(Mida creek and the mangroves)

“One of the most productive mangrove ecosystems in the world”Watamu Marine Association

Here you get to experience a walk on the boardwalk, a canoe ride to the surrounding islands, bird watch and soak in the sunset. I got the opportunity to catch the sunset and take a walk on the boardwalk — which costs Ksh. 700 ( Ksh.200 entrance and Ksh. 500 guide fee).

3. Gede Ruins

(Photo dump Gede Ruins)

“…… the remains of a Swahili town, typical of most towns along the East African Coast. It traces its origin in the twelfth century but was rebuilt with new town walls in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” — National Museums of Kenya

You will love this place if you are a history junkie. The entrance here is Ksh.100, you may need to pay for a guide to break down the history of the ruins. The museum also has a snake park which costs an additional Ksh. 100.

4. Malindi Pier

(Malindi Pier)

“… an iconic landmark in not only Malindi Town, but the whole of the East African Coast. It is one of the longest piers in the region. — Malindians

I came here on a Sunday and the pier was bursting with activities — photoshoots at the makeshift photo labs, families hanging by the beach, children swimming and diving from the pier — mainly young boys. The next time I visit the pier I will go on a weekday or early in the morning. The beach here is also very unique with shiny dark brown-ish sand — which reminded me of the beach in Lamu.

5. Falconry of Kenya

(Photo dump of my day at the Falconry)

Bird lovers will love this place. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

The Falconry is a private sanctuary for birds and reptiles located in Malindi approximately 40 minutes away from Watamu. The entrance fee was Ksh. 200. Then a guide takes you around to see the various species of birds; owls, eagles, vultures, as well as snakes, bush babies, tortoises, and crocodiles. The best part is you get to touch an owl, eagle and vulture — with the help of a guide. My guide that day was Samson — I was his Delilah :-)

6. Mambrui Sand Dunes

(Photo Dump of my day at Mambrui)

I have a fascination for sand dunes therefore I was not leaving Kilifi without seeing the dunes in Mambrui. Before getting to this beach you will get the opportunity to see where River Sabaki enters the Indian Ocean.

Mambrui has to be one of the loneliest beaches I have ever been to, a couple of minutes after I had been dropped off, there were zero sightings of humans. After a few minutes, I sighted one man and then another — luckily each went about their own business.

A short walk on this beach and I could have sworn I had gone to ‘heaven’. As I walked towards the dunes, the winds were strong and the sand was flowing like a river on my feet — it was surreal. Finally, I was on the dunes, where the sand has a gold shimmer.

The beach is a good place to disconnect from the world for a couple of hours — my paranoia could not allow me to disconnect that long.

The town next to the beach is like a ghost town. My walk back from the beach to look for transport had me feeling alone, at one point I was not sure I would find transport to the Malindi — Garissa road. Luckily, by faith and the prayers of my mum, I found a boda boda guy who took me to the road.

Next time I visit Kilifi I hope to stay in Mambrui.

7. Watamu Marine Park

( Snorkelling at the Watamu Marine Park)

If you love swimming in the ocean and snorkelling, then you will enjoy the glass boat ride. This cost varies based on your bargaining skills, nationality, accent and many other generalisations that show you are not a local. The only cost that is guaranteed is the entrance fee to Watamu Marine Park — Kenyan citizens pay Ksh.100.

8. Vasco Da Gama Pillar

“The most renowned monument in Malindi, located on the seafront road along the beach, this historical monument dates back to the 14th century. It was built by one of the greatest Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498.” Kilifi County Government

Another one for the history junkies. The entrance for locals is Ksh. 100 and free for fisher persons.

9. Bonus — Sunsets

(The Sunsets from the various spots I visited)

Kilifi has some beautiful sunsets — I was able to catch the sunset in; Crab Shack Dabaso, Lichthaus (not on weekends — crowded), Pilipan Restaurant ( due to the mangrove coverage you will not see the sun ‘disappear in the water’ from here). Another option is a dhow ride in Mida Creek.

Safety Tips When You Travel Solo

  1. Share your itinerary with one of your friends or family members. This includes sharing where you are staying, the contact person, and your day-to-day activities- if you make a detour from the itinerary make sure to update your friend/ family.
  2. Share your live location in the event you are unsure of the place you are going.
  3. When sharing pictures/videos of a place you visited on social media do it a day or two after the activity or when you return.
  4. Avoid sharing where you are staying on social media until your trip is concluded.
  5. Update calls/texts to your friend/family once you are back in the hotel/cottage.
  6. When asked whether you travelled alone by strangers — say you came with your friends/ family — my imaginary husband really came through for me.
  7. In the coastal region — if you are using boda bodas, especially as a lady — you will have the riders sending you unsolicited messages at odd hours of the night — block these contacts for your peace of mind.
  8. Trust your gut.
(My first sunset at 30)

The only limitations of travelling solo are most activity packages are tailored and priced to favour groups and not individuals — and it can get lonely. However, don’t let this stop you from exploring Kenya and the world because, by the time your friends synchronise their calendars for that group trip you have been planning since 2017, more years will have passed by.

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Ivy Gathu

Words inspired by my feelings on life, gender, sexual reproductive rights, mental health, youth 🤓