Your Ultimate East Africa Beach Guide

And now for my final..and favourite East African beaches! Last and certainly not least…wait for it…wait for it… Part 3!

It is customary to save the best for last, so here we go!

It pains me to write about my last but also favourite beach spots in East Africa…You know when you have a juicy secret and you kind of want to share it but at the same time you know you shouldn’t? This is how I feel. Next thing, everyone is flocking to my favourite beach and it becomes less and less special every single time I go because I see all of you there ALL THE TIME?!?! Let me try and not be selfish.  Where do I even start!

Sunset’s hit different in Lamu

My favourite beach towns in East Africa and Kenya are…In no particular order, but if you follow me on IG (beeinrsa) you will know the exact order:

  1. Lamu
  2. Kilifi
  3. Watamu
  4. Diani

Nestled an hour away by flight from Nairobi you will honestly experience some of the best beaches in the world. Crystal clear water, white sands, ridiculously good Swahili food, the friendliest of people and never-ending sunshine. I’m not making this up, but all 4 of the above beaches have made me feel like I’ve died and actually ended up in Heaven.  The first time I landed in Lamu and I had to take a water “uber” to get to the actual Island I knew that is where I wanted to get married! No boyfriend, no ring, but I was like…One day is one day Lamu (Update two my favourite people got married in Lamu last week and it was MAGICAL)!

Business Class Uber

The area is breath-taking! It is the perfect balance of old coast culture and architecture and modern day ..nothing. You feel like you’ve been thrown into this beautiful time capsule where everything has stood still and you are just a silent observer of people going about their days and lives. From early morning Dhow rides and feasting on Captain I’ll Be Back’s mum’s fish samosas to spending hours at the dinner table gorging on Swahili delicacies and all the Mandazis you can eat.  Lamu is nothing short of magical. It’s the kind of place where you can consume 10 glasses of G&T in a day and not be hungover the next day (and yes this is a proven fact; I attempt to disprove it every single time I go).  The Wi-Fi signal is crap in most houses you go to which adds to the allure of the beach life; unplugging and simply being. There’s arts and crafts, there’s yoga, there’s mangroves and there’s secluded beach bars! It even has a floating bar (A very recent and treasured addition). I really don’t want to say more about the Island for fear of ruining it or spurring you on to see it faster…Useful Hint: like most other beaches in Kenya, the house option is the best option. Hotels are a thing of the past and are limited. They are also extremely expensive. And yes give me a shout, I am happy to give you all of the suggestions on houses to stay at and activities to do and guides to show you the lay of the land. The one thing that is for sure is that Lamu emotionally moves you. I don’t know anyone who’s been to Lamu and not felt some sort of spiritual alignment with themselves.

Watamu and Diana are also very different…Whilst Lamu has an old-world charm mixed in with some strong Arabic influences, these two have the strangest Italian influence. Rumour is this started when Italy had a major crackdown on the mafia and Italian families started emigrating to you guessed it, Kenya! Lo and behold Trump’s favourite, Chain migration started! You spend your days lounging by the beach or a pool and having fresh gelato from one of the million Italian gelato shops! It is truly blissful.  The food is amazing, the people are the friendliest and everyone is extremely content. Again, houses before hotels..book yourself a boat ride on the creek..go snorkeling in Diana…Go tubing in Kilifi…Go skydiving in Diana (I have done this about 4 times now) and try not have a heart attack at how perfect everything is.

A G&T a day

 I really cannot be too prescriptive about these beach destinations…I am however open to answering any and all questions on budgeting for trips, my favourite houses / hotels, my favourite foods, what holiday and beachwear to bring, cultural norms (please do cover up in Lamu as it is a very Muslim town when you leave Shela) and even when is the best time to take this trip! Questions? Comments? Drop me a line on here or on my IG! Slide into my DMs and make your dream holiday a reality!

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Your Ultimate East Africa Beach Guide

All smiles for great weather

Part II: Zanzibar

Myths vs. Reality: A disaster filled holiday which turned out more than ok.

Could you write an African beach love story and not include Zanzibar? Probably not…. Could you write a love story specifically about beaches in East Africa and not include Zanzibar? Nope! This lovely little Island is what many a honeymoon dreams are made of. Several friends had told me about their incredible trips to the Island, time and time again and on one long weekend in South Africa, I decided to make the trek. I must admit this was probably one of the most disorganised and spontaneous trips I’ve ever taken.  And unlike my common practice of staying in reasonably priced hotels or Airbnb, we opted to book a house that was a stone’s throw away from Double Tree by Hilton to have communal living and also have the option of making our own meals.  I gave a few friends some notice and we all descended upon Zanzibar on similar flights from London, Johannesburg and Nairobi. It was by far one of the more random trips I’d pulled together as most of the group really didn’t know each other and I was the common denominator. This meant I had to be organised (*sigh*) so everyone was comfortable. In true Bee style, I obviously delegated as much as I could because well let’s face it…My Swahili is non-existent and there was a fair bit that had to be done in Swahili.

Have you ever been in a situation where almost everything that can go wrong goes wrong? Welcome to my Zanzibar holiday!!!At times like this you need to ensure you really like the people you are travelling with because there were so many beginner traveller faux pas that happened. I will withhold some of my idiotic friend’s actions for fear of them finding me and shaming me. I also dropped the ball a couple of times and couldn’t stop laughing at myself because if the tables were turned, I would have lost it.

Disaster number 1 – I left the office with my colleagues’ passport and only realised this when I got to OR Tambo. The guy at the counter … “unless you’ve recently had a sex and race change, I assume you’re joking”. Insert me hyperventilating and having no idea where my actual passport was. I called my colleague in question to ask him where my passport was only to remember that I and two other colleagues pulled a  prank on him a week prior and hid his passport…in my desk…which I then picked up and slipped into my bag  without realising. Mind you this was when KQ was basically trying to recoup its losses through us and was charging USD150 – USD200 (ZAR2,500 – ZAR3000) every time you changed your flight. So you know I was not trying to take a later flight and pay R3000 to change it. For some odd reason I had decided to leave my house keys with a friend and asked them to dash to my house to fetch my passport from where it always is…and my yellow fever card…because the one I had was also clearly my colleagues. I then rushed on the Gautrain to meet them at Marlboro (for those who aren’t familiar with the Gautrain, it’s essentially the stop between the airport and my home) because I didn’t have enough time to go home. Thank you KQ for consistently being late and the nice man at the counter who kept my suitcase while I ran for my life (thank you lack terrorism and the trust that man had). Because of this disaster, it completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to pick up some malaria pills for the trip at the airport pharmacy. I promise I am smarter than my actions :/ These are the hiccups of learning to independently travel. Lessons learnt? Please check your passport before you leave the house and ensure you have every necessary shot or immunization.

We had a relatively safe transition through Nairobi. We went out a ton, but there is safety in numbers and friends who do not imbibe are the real MVPs.  We spent the next day taking in some cultural sites and visiting the giraffe sanctuary. We arrived safely in Zanzibar and got picked up promptly. All of us except for a friend who was working overtime and flew from JHB à Dar es Salaam and then was to take the ferry across from the mainland to the Island. Brace yourself, his story is also a disaster…if you’ve never been to a place, *try* to travel with the group. There is safety in numbers, but also multiple brains are better than one in troubleshooting traveling snags.

We eventually arrived in Nungwi (I’ve been to various parts of the Island and this part was by far my favourite). We arrive and our house is nothing like the photos… There is no internet like the brochure suggested and our in house cook…well…I’m pretty sure 11 year old me was a better cook (He didn’t however try to feed me baked beans from the can like another ‘chef’ at a disastrous New year’s location we stayed at in Diani, Kenya). The guy wasn’t the best of cooks, but he always had a lovely cup of coffee for us when we woke up, fresh fruit and eggs your way. We won’t go into the fact that he refused to make bacon because he didn’t eat bacon. We’d paid half of our boarding fee over the internet and were supposed to settle the rest when we were physically there. The only ATM within a 1km walking distance was out of service… we clearly didn’t get this memo as we assumed we could just swipe for the outstanding amount… Most of the restaurants around our house only took cash which none of us had the good sense to withdraw.  Yes, in retrospect I am also laughing at us.  What a joke, my darling!  I was really pushing this traveling on a budget mission; albeit far too much. I must hand it to a couple of the restaurants who let us eat on credit for two days. They were so trusting and even laughed at my terrible attempt at Swahili… once the only ATM close by was operational, they were hit with a windfall of money from the 6 of us. Lessons learnt?  Always have cash. The airport FX rate is also crap, but it’s definitely a good idea to have a few thousand shillings on you. It’s an even better idea to do a currency exchange in your own country.  Always read the fine print in these house booking websites! Lastly, learn a few Swahili words, just to ensure you don’t seem like a complete idiot or foreigner when haggling at the market…and boy, did we haggle!  Here’s some of my go-to words which say, “hey, I’m clearly foreign but I’ve learnt a couple of things so I’m making an effort.”

Swahili Word List:

  1. Jambo / Salama – Hello.
  2. Tafadhali – Please
  3. Habari – how are you?
  4. Nzuri   – Fine.
  5. Asante – Thank you.
  6. Asante sana – thank you very much.
  7. Nauli ni kiasi gani – how much is the fare?
  8. Lala salama – Goodnight.
  9. Ndiyo – Yes.
  10. Hapana – No.
  11. Sawa – Ok.
  12. Tafadhali, naomba msaada – can you please help me?
  13. Unatoka wapi – where are you from?
  14. Kidogo tu – Just a little bit.
  15. Nataka – I’d like.
  16. Unasemaje kwa Kiswahili – how do you say “x” in Swahili?
  17. Rafiki – friend.
  18. Bas stendi – bus stop. (Genius right?  as a Zulu person I approve of these)
  19. Soko – Market. 
  20. Kesho – Tomorrow.
  21. Nyama – Meat.
  22. Nyama kuku – Chicken
  23. Maji – Water.
  24. Bia – Beer.
  25. Chakula – Food.

More disastrous things that happened this lovely week… That hardworking  friend missing the last ferry in Dar to come to the Island because SAA was late and then having to find a last minute hotel for the night…The hotel in question that the cab driver sent him to was of questionable characteristics and morals…Yes, they tried to introduce him to lady friends (I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard).  Questionable Wi-Fi signals everywhere we went…Maybe a lesson to let go and just enjoy the Island. Lessons learnt? Don’t travel alone when you don’t know a country…but also make sure to get a local sim card if its reasonably priced.

Despite all these unplanned adventures, we had a lovely time… We partook in ample activities and I wouldn’t know where to start in saying which ones were actually my favourite. We took a tour around the city and the architecture and buildings were glorious, especially all the coral stones on the forts. The amazing local food which deserves its own blog post and the extremely hospitable people who we encountered daily … going to the old slave market and trying not to cry my eyes out… It was as if you could still see the slaves cramped into tiny spaces that were barely big enough for a few animals… Going to prison Island and seeing all the tortoises there…. Diving with dolphins and literally marathon swimming so we could just get a glimpse. How could I forget the full moon party where our car broke down at 5am on our way home and the boys having to push it up the hill all the while complaining that we are all equal and deserve to push the car together (It was a VERY steep hill and they had all done a HEAP of drinking). Did I mention it was also 5am in the morning? Haha.  I had more fish than I could have imagined eating and more beer than I should have. All the while gawking at the beach boys and their over age European lovers. If you know, you know! I am obsessed with making whole fish whenever I’m in a coastal town and my obsession was fulfilled almost daily. I could have gone on and on about the clear clear ocean, but that’s standard in East Africa. The white as snow sand really did it for me though! Worth the hype? Yes. My favourite beach destination in East Africa? Nope.  A solid 9/10 as things were relatively cheap, there were a ton of activities and the people were SUPER friendly. You just don’t get that anymore.

Why Ethiopia needs to be on your bucket list.

Oh just hanging at the Danakil Depression…

Yes, the above is as surprising to you as it is to 25-year-old me! At 25, I was in my fourth year of investment banking… I was covering the continent and got in copious amounts of traveling. I unfortunately always went to bigger hubs for work…Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Accra, London, Singapore etc.

A random Easter a friend in Nairobi decided to put together a trip to Ethiopia. I wont lie… As a South African I had no actual knowledge of Ethiopia… all I can really remember is the Michael Jackson song ‘we are the world’   which paraded starving African kids and asked for you to give… when people said starving Africans. Ethiopia is what came to mind…So now being a resident of East Africa I was adamant to learn more and stop being an ignorant South African.  Boy, did I learn a thing or two.

The trip was off to a bumpy start when I landed and realized I didn’t bring my yellow fever card. I own three yellow fever cards because I keep forgetting them and Kenya keeps insisting that I pay for a new one (final solution was me taking a photo and always having a digital copy).  So I landed and ofcourse my three friends had their yellow fever cards (I’d landed the day before from Zambia and clearly missed the memo). I’d shame them now for not reminding me, but this is a fundamental that you shouldn’t forget when traveling to a lot of African countries.  I flashed the charming young fellow showing us where to go to pay for a visa an innocent smile and prayed that he would let me through. Which he did !!! The catch was that as a South African I didn’t need a yellow fever card, but as a Kenyan resident I needed one. I convinced him that I’d just flown through Kenya and was in no danger. If he’s somehow reading this…I’m sorry!!!

 But the game was afoot!!! I was in Ethiopia to see some of the most incredible things on this continent that I wasn’t even aware existed 2 years prior.  I spent five glorious days in desert heat and I couldn’t have been happier.  What is that? What were the biggest highlights of the trip even when they were touristy? I thought you’d never ask …

  • Salt Farms in Makale. Farmers still lead their camels for 7 days to these ‘farms’ to breakdown and transport salt blocks all across Ethiopia in 40 degress Celsius weather (10 Fahrenheit) and yes I saw the most gorgeous Ethiopian men I’ve ever seen and my first camel caravans.
All in a day’s work for these salt farmers
  • The Danakil Depression. I’m at a loss for words. This is the closest I’ve felt to another universe in my life. It is so hard to put into words. The depression is in the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Depression in Ethiopia, a geological depression that has resulted from the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa. Think multicolored sand and water and what I imagine tripping on acid to feel like. I could not get over the colours, the heat and the strange wind that made it feel like I was in a star wars universe.
The awesome foursome and our guide at the site
  • Erta Ale – We hiked up 10kms at 8pm at night to stand 50m away from the mouth of the most active volcano in Ethiopia which last erupted in 2008.  It spews lava daily and one of the people on our trip cut his leg as he fell though the fresh lava. Can you say yikes! And yes as soon as he cut his leg I froze in place and opted to walk myself back to our camp that overlooked the volcano and where we were to sleep under the stars for the night.  And yes for the peanut gallery – I just kept thinking of my mother who would have no sympathy for a cut leg because she would ask me who asked me to go to the middle of the desert and stand that close to a live volcano. The smell was atrocious, think rotten eggs in a hot room you can’t leave, but all worth is for a night sleeping underneath the most stars I’ve ever seem in a sky.
Yes, we really shouldn’t have been this close to Erta Ale
  • Gaet’ale Pond – saltiest body of water in the world. Yes, I did not know that when I went!!! Amazing swim and super refreshing break from driving across the desert. It also punctuated our never ending drives across the desert and what we referred to as an African massage (Being body slammed against each other in the SUV because of the bumpy desert), it did the work though.
  • Amazing Ethiopian kids we met along camps…and yes again…they firstly thought I was Ethiopian because my hair was curly…turns out I don’t speak a lick of the local dialect and then then thought I was Japanese…or American… lesson to all: black people please visit your African brothers so kids don’t think we are Japanese because they can’t place non-Ethiopian blacks…..
  • Amazing driver who spoke Italian – I’m not sure I need to say more. Whilst I don’t speak a word of Italian, I can confess I did not mind at all. A friend got to practice his Italian and I had a chance to be awed by a good-looking Ethiopian man who spoke 4 languages.
  • Addis Night scene – the awesome foursome broke apart and one pair went  see some of the earliest churches in the world…Archie and your friend here obviously went back to the capital for an experience in night clubs before heading back to work Sunday afternoon.  Beautiful people, amazing music and just an amazing vibe all around.
  • Food glorious food – Once we left the desert we had our fair share of Ethiopian cuisine. Ethiopian cuisine (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ምግብ as Wikipedia just told me) usually consists of vegetable and spicy meat dishes.  If you know me, you will know that nothing makes me happier than gobbling down some spicy food.  I gorged on stew, injera (a large sourdough flatbread made out of fermented teff flour), Beef Tibs and Shiro (I didn’t know a vegetarian dish could taste so good).  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I basically had to roll myself back to our hotel both days.  Please don’t get me started on the coffee!!!
I could have this for every meal. *Every* *Single* *Meal*
As hot as it was, this coffee was surprisingly refreshing.

Things I won’t miss about this trip…

  • Pasta – Because I spent most of the 5 days in the desert there really weren’t many opportunities to partake in fresh food. Which meant that pasta and some sort of canned tomato sauce was the order of the day most days. Most of the arears we went to did not have electricity which was great as it game us an opportunity to unplug, but it also meant that most things were salted or canned!
  • No internet – Even when we were in the capital there was a crackdown on dissonance, so the state shut off everyone’s wifi connections. I kid you not, you live and learn. So we basically just had to ask out way around as we couldn’t google directions and we couldn’t check our emails (Did I actually just say I hated this?!?!?!?!)

All in all, I learnt a lot. I was astounded by how amazing the people, country and food were. There’s so much I didn’t see, and I would recommend this trip to any and everyone. The tour company we used was efficient, affordable and generally really good! On my next trip I think I’ll try and hit up some of the churches.

Camel Caravans going to pick up salt
The range of colours in the desert was breathtaking!

The 4 reasons South Africans should travel around Africa (and the greater globe) more…

Zanzibar forever remains one of my favourites – Nungwi Beach

I cannot count the number of times I have heard South Africans tell me that they’re going to ‘Africa’ or the continent for a week. Yes, I kid you not, we are a special breed. We have Africa in our name and there are still people who think they are going to a different continent when they board a plane at OR Tambo or Cape Town International or King Shaka. And yes, all 54 of our glorious countries are extremely different, but they are still on the same continent.

1.Are you Zulu? Sawubona!

Yes, I happen to be Zulu but this happens to most South Africans when they visit the rest of Africa. So many people know about our history, culture and some languages and appreciate how far we’ve come as a nation despite us not appreciating it. Yes, this is me also feeling terrible that I learnt nothing about African history in primary or secondary school and had to wait until I took a minor  in African studies to have a better appreciation for our similarities, struggles and so many of our cultural commonalities!!!

2. Yes there are brown / black people in South Africa

This is more for the melanated South Africans reading (Yes, I just made up that word).  Due to apartheid and socioeconomic reasons most South African people of colour have not traveled the breadth of our beautiful continent. Due to this, it should come as no surprise that a lot of Africans outside of the major hubs are genuinely surprised when they meet a black South African. For some reason a lot of places off the beaten track seem to think South Africans are mainly white….No, I’m not joking….I was in Tunisia and someone looked at me strangely when I said I was South African… apparently I was the first black South African they had ever met.  So do all of us a public service and go show some of our culture and fake those clicks even if you aren’t Xhosa or Zulu. You’re doing your country a service!!!!

3. This is more for the greater world then the continent, but you will have utterly amusing stories to tell your grandkids that you could never make up.

I lived in China for a period of around 2.5 years in and out, first as a student and then as an adult. It was not the easiest because of the stark differences in culture but being fluent in mandarin did help.  Questions I was asked in that period:

  • Are you related to Obama?
  • Is Kobe your big brother?
  • Why are you at the zoo, don’t you have animals everywhere in Africa? (And still…no we only have animals in the zoo)
  • You must be grateful to Obama for ending slavery…deadass. I tell no lies…
  • How come your Chinese is so good? (I lying to get an extra shot..my dad is Chinese and my mum is South African…)…mmm I guess that makes sense… *sips on her 4th free shooter because she’s half Chinese*
  • Why are you so dark…do your people not wash as much?
  • Some offensive, some hilarious…all requiring a level of patience that my mother would be proud I now possess (apparently I used to have the temper of a thousand Xhosa / Zulu woman)

4. You will genuinely be humbled by how beautiful the continent is and how so many places are not publicized. Yes,people have been hiding destinations from you.

I don’t even know where to start …The Danakil depression (lookout for my next post)… Labadi Beach in Accra..The skeleton Coast that’s on my bucket list… or the clear ocean in Zanzibar or the Seychelles…I don’t remember ever being taught about this Africa. I have been entirely humbled by how much I didn’t know before embarking on my journeys.  When kids were going off about some of their European holidays as a kid and we could only afford to go down the coast till now when I’m older and I can afford to explore more I have not come across anything as beautiful as our continent. I am entirely filled with euphoria every single time I land on a different island or city even when I’m overwhelmed and I need to go find a normal cab (Yes, there are places where there is still no uber or taxify or littlecabs – please go find a normal cab; its 2019 and its still in fashion to speak to people and bargain for your fare).

I wont lie, I love South Africa. I don’t think I could have been luckier in hitting the birth lottery when it comes to weather, lack of natural disasters, amazing food, friendliest of people and a more resilient nation but like I said above I am giddy with excitement every single time I know I am putting another African stamp on the green Mamba! Yes, I am that south African who listens to the expat south Africans and calls her passport the green mamba! Firstly, start budgeting…there’s so much to see and so little time…join the struggle bus and go to home affairs, if you get there extremely early you’re out within an hours and are assured a new passport within a week! And yes, we are thankful that the two most efficient ministries in our country is the one that taxes you (hey SARS, I feel like I’m owed a tax rebate ) and the one that actually allows you to run away from Eskom’s load shedding once in a while!!!!