The South Coast in Kenya, generally defined as anything south of Mombasa, offers a far less crowded alternative to the tourism machinery of the North Coast.
Getting to the South Coast either means flying in to Ukunda Airstrip, or taking the ferry from Mombasa Island. The latter means potentially being stuck in the Mombasa traffic, and, with bad luck, waiting for an hour for the ferry across the Likoni Strait.
Once you finally reach Diani, a serene little paradise awaits you. Endless white beaches, dotted with palm trees greet you on arrival.
While Diani is adorned with tourist hotels, the beaches are almost empty. Mombasa and the North Coast have already started recovering from the slump in arrivals following the Al Shabaab attacks in 2013 and 2014. In the South Coast, tourists have mostly stayed away. To state the obvious, the risk of succumbing to a terror attack is still lower than that of being hit by lightening. Even in Kenya. People’s fears are not always rational, though.
When I first visited Diani, in 2007, there were more tourists, but the place itself seemed like a place in the middle of nowhere. There was a small local shopping centre, and most transactions anywhere, were cash only, as virtually noone took cards. A general advice then, was to plan in advance for anything one might need, as Mombasa was the last outpost for shopping.
Diani in 2017 feels like a different world. New, modern malls provide the same amenities one can expect in major urban centres. Roads are far better than the narrow, potholed things vehicles used to drive on in the previous decade, and just like anywhere in the world, you can pull out your phone and order an Uber whenever you need to go somewhere. Farewell to the days of overpriced hotel transport!
A new road, referred to as the Dongo Kundu Bypass will soon link the Mombasa Mainland West (i.e the airport) to Mainland South, eliminating the need to pass by the congested roads and ferry link on Mombasa Island.
Falling sick in Diani 10 years ago, meant that the unfortunate tourist had a problem. Since then, the county government has teamed up with the private sector to build a state-of-the-art modern hospital, providing subsidized priority services to tourists (as well as to the locals, of course). Truly a reassurance to couples traveling with kids (like we did), when one of them needs to be seen by a competent doctor.
At the moment, the low number of tourists makes Diani one incredible destination by the Indian Ocean. Hotels offer extreme deals, especially during the low season. Since the whole place is undercrowded, you rarely have to queue for anything, and service levels are exceptional, as businesses scramble to cater for the few visitors around.
The situation isn’t likely to last for long, though, as the number of arrivals in Kenya is rising sharply again (+16% in 2016). If you want a real bargain for an upscale vacation on undercrowded beaches, the time is now, and not next year!