Monday, December 31, 2012

British visitors head back to Kenya's beaches

Kenya’s tourism industry suffered badly during the summer, but visitors from all over Europe are finally returning to coastal resorts following successful efforts by government forces to secure the country’s border with Somalia.

The Foreign Office has lifted its advice against travel to the islands of Lamu and Manda, reverting to its former position of advising against travel only within 60km (about 40 miles) of the Somali border. “It’s a huge relief,” one hotelier on Lamu told me. “Instead of facing another winter paying staff out of our savings, we are welcoming back regular guests and have no concerns about their security while they are here.”

Lamu’s resorts were booked up for Christmas and New Year, but there are still plenty of rooms in January and February, including over half-term week. Kizingo (00254 733 954770; a friendly, comfortable “no-news, no-shoes” beach lodge on the southern tip of Lamu Island offers a full-board week for £875 per person next spring, based on two sharing a thatched cottage. Here there’s the chance to swim with dolphins, tour the mainland by bicycle, and explore the back alleys of Lamu Town.

The adjacent Kizingoni (00254 203 882763; is a collection of luxury hideaways popular with British celebrities, who often pop next door for a drink at Kizingo’s lively bar. Thanks to Lamu’s popularity with the rich and famous, the standard of accommodation is high.

Elsewhere on Kenya’s coast, many hotels are showing their age, though the service remains superb. An exception is the recently opened Swahili Beach Resort, on Diana Beach, south of Mombasa. “It’s a new generation, five-star beach resort and we’re getting superb feedback,” said Stuart Britton, managing director of Somak Holidays, one of the biggest tour operators to Kenya. “Our customers are also pleased with their experiences at the smaller boutique hotels, such as the Tijara Beach and Afrochic.”

Somak (020 8423 5282; has scaled back its minibus tours of Kenya’s wildlife parks as prices for more luxurious air safaris have fallen. For example, a 14-night holiday combining its “Cheetah Safari” (six sharing a minibus) with a week at the Swahili Beach costs £2,540 per person. But for another £700 you can fly between game parks in a light aircraft and enjoy more intimate safari drives in smaller, open vehicles led by an experienced nature guide.

For sun-worshippers, Kuoni (0844 488 0417; has good offers based on scheduled flights (there are no charters this winter). A fortnight in a four-star beach hotel costs about £1,650 per person half board, with the option of an overnight excursion to Tsavo National Park for an extra £300 per person when bought locally. For independent travellers, there are some attractive prices listed with the online agent – including a week at the Tembo Village Resort in Watamu, Kenya’s loveliest white-sand beach, for just £347 per person b&b.

The good news for those who have to spend a night in Nairobi before catching a regional flight is the opening – at last – of a smart hotel close to the international airport: Eka Hotel (00254 719 045000; charges £135 for a double room. For real character, join the safari pilots at Wilson Airport’s historic Aero Club of East Africa (00254 206 000479; where basic double rooms cost £75.

The price of flying internally in East Africa is likely to fall in 2013 as Fastjet (, part owned by easyJet’s founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, expands its low-cost model into Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This has prompted the national airline, Kenya Airways, to launch its own budget brand, JamboJet, which it hopes will start operations in the latter half of the year.

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