The Swahili Coast is an idyllic stretch of white sand beaches bordering the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean. It encompasses 333 miles (536 km) of the Kenyan coast from Somalia to Tanzania. In May 2022, the tour I booked included a brief stay in the costal city of Mombasa, Kenya and a visit to Kistie-Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve.
The marine park is about 60 miles (96 km) south of Mombasa. From my hotel, Prideinn Paradise Beach Resort on the north side, the early morning drive to Kistie-Mpunguti took about one hour . A local served as the driver. Guide Ezekiel Ouma accompanied me on the tour.
One the way back traffic was horrible. It took almost three hours to get back to the hotel including a detour to find an ATM at my request and to drop off another person for the tour company.
Mombasa is an important East African port and Kenya’s second largest city. Just over one million live in Mombasa. The metro population is about 3.5 million. Mombasa has been an important trading center throughout its history. Established by Bantu peoples, from the Middle Ages onward Mombasa was occupied by a series of foreign powers that exploited the area’s human and material resources. Mombasa was at various times controlled by Arabs, Persians, Ethiopian Zimba, Portuguese and British. Trade routes extended to Arabia, Persia, India, China and along the east coast of Africa.
The drive ended at the headquarters of the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park in Shimoni, a coastal town near the Tanzanian border. Shimoni was a major slave holding port for the east African slave trade that reached from South Africa to the Middle East. Natives were captured inland or lured with false promises of employment and were held in chains in the natural cave systems that exist around Shimoni and then transferred to Arab and Persian slave traders.
It is possible to tour the slave caves. They are run as a community project and are open from 08:30 until 18:00. A small fee is payable at the gate and the proceeds pay local school teachers and school fees for needy children. The entrance is only a five-minute walk from Shimoni Pier. Unfortunately, there was no time on this trip.
Kisite-Mpunguti National Marine Park & Reserve
Kisite National Park and Mpunguti Reserve sit a few kilometers off the coast at Shimoni, Kenya. The park covers 4.3 sqm (11 sqkm) while the reserve encompasses 11sqm (28 sqkm) of crystal-clear waters and sun-kissed islands.
We met the tour guide at the pier and boarded a dhow with about 20 other tourists. The park and reserve protect a portion of the coral barrier reef that stretches 110 miles (177 km) from Shimoni in the south to Malindi in the north.
The park and reserve are habitat for numerous species including corals, sponges, mollusks, fish, sea birds, turtles, and marine reptiles and mammals. Tourists can experience the park from the boat or take the opportunity to swim and snorkel.
Snorkeling At The “Disappearing Island”
It took about 30 minutes of sailing to reach the first stop — the Disappearing Island. That is what I called the sandy islet that our dhow anchored at. We had an hour to swim, snorkel or relax on the soft sand.
I had to put on my swimsuit before I could hop in. There was supposed to be a place on board to do that. Technically there was. Under the deck next to the mast was a tiny partially flooded head with a potty that looked like it was designed for toddlers. That wasn’t what I had envisioned. Silly me.
Snorkeling was worth the struggle to get on my swimming trunks. People swam and snorkeled on the reef which teemed with colorful fish and coral. They should have told us to enjoy the islet while we could because by the time we departed it the ocean had reclaimed it.
Snorkeling is a good way to get sunburned. My only sunburn happened many years ago when I spent an afternoon snorkeling in the Bahamas. Here, I was in the water for less than one hour. Sunscreen probably would have been smart. I just never think about it and rely on nature’s adaptation. Not having an underwater camera was the only regret.
The park and reserve host a robust dolphin population. On the way to lunch we saw a few of them at play. It was difficult to get a photo with the shutter delay on my cell phone camera as they porpoised (ha ha) through the waves.😉
Humpback whales frequent these waters from July to December. That would be a sight to see.
The next stop was Wasini Island. The island derives its name from Chinese traders who settled it long ago. Apparently, “wasini mpunguti” means “short Chinese” in the local language. The Chinese have departed. The island is now populated by 3,000 Vumba, an African ethnic group that is mixed with Arab and Chinese ancestry.
The dhow anchored offshore, and tourists were transferred to shore by skiffs.
Swimming and snorkeling worked up a good appetite. Lunch was the main reason for stopping. The meal of fried fish, rice and flatbread was simple yet satisfying. The restaurant’s plastic chairs and sand floor fit the bill for tourists in flip flops and wet bathing suits.
Afterwards, I and a few others wandered off on our own to see some of the island. We followed a winding path from the restaurant that led to a small settlement.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Wasini Island has no roads, cars, or even bicycles. Everything people need is transported over sand and coral paths by foot or wheelbarrow. People we encountered were very friendly.
The children were excited to have visitors even before we offered money to their teacher and parents.
We kept our unofficial expedition brief as it wasn’t part of the tour and we had no desire to be left behind. Heading back, we realized that we weren’t sure of the way. After trial and error, we made it to the harbor and caught a skiff to the dhow. The tour concluded with a short cruise to Shimoni.
The best time to visit the park is during low tide when marine life is said to be more active and the sandy island is most exposed. July to December is when you can spot humpback whales. The entry fee for those who visit on their own is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Getting to Shimoni is easy. It is a straight shot on the coast road from Mombasa.
One of the interesting aspects of the tour was the tourists. On our dhow all of the tourists except two were Black.
Most were from other African countries. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising because African countries generally had fewer Covid restrictions on travel than many other countries at the time. The other Black travelers came from Canada, the Caribbean, and the U.S. The other two tourists were from England. One was of Indian ancestry and the other person’s family was Malaysian. They were in Kenya for a wedding. It was a pleasant surprise to encounter so many Black tourists.
Anyone who enjoys sun, sand, pristine waters, and coral teaming with sea life will have a great time at Kistie-Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve.
I invite you to view other posts from the Kenya trip in May 2022.
748 Air Services Dash-8 Q-400 Economy Class Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya
Kenya Airways 787-8 Business Class Nairobi, Kenya to Johannesburg, South Africa
Air France 777-300 Business Class Johannesburg, South Africa to Paris, France
Air France 787-9 Business Class Paris, France to Dallas, TX
Kisite-Mpunguti National Marine Park & Reserve
Nairobi National Park Safari
Sankara Nairobi, Marriott Autograph Collection – Hotel Review
Kenya Airways Pride and Simba Lounges Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Nairobi
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse – Johannesburg, South Africa
Air France Lounge Terminal 2E Hall K, Charles de Gaulle International Airport Paris