Diani – Tourism in Kenya Coming of Age

Diani is on the South Coast of Kenya. This generally means anything south of Mombasa. Here, you will find a less crowded alternative to the tourism machinery of the North Coast.

Getting to the South Coast either means flying into Ukunda Airstrip, or taking the ferry from Mombasa Island. The latter means braving the choking Mombasa traffic, before queuing to board the Likoni ferry.

Once you finally reach Diani, a serene little paradise awaits you.  Endless white beaches, dotted with palm trees greet you on arrival.

Many hotels, few people

While Diani is adorned with tourist hotels, like Afrochic, the beaches are almost empty.  Mombasa and the North Coast are already recovering from the decline 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 a terror attack is still lower than that of being hit by lightning, even in Kenya. Fears are not always rational, though.

When I first visited Diani, in 2007, there were more tourists, but the place was in the middle of nowhere.  There was a small local shopping center, and most transactions anywhere were cash only. Cards were still unheard of.  The advice back then was to plan everything in advance, as Mombasa was the last outpost for shopping.

Rapid growth

Diani in 2017 feels like a different world. New, modern malls provide the same amenities one can expect in major urban centers. Roads are far better than the narrow, potholed disasters of the previous decade. Also, a smartphone with Uber installed is all it takes to move around.  Farewell to the days of overpriced hotel transport!

A new road, known as the Dongo Kundu Bypass will soon link the Mombasa Mainland West (i.e. the airport) to Mainland South. That will eliminate the need to pass by the congested roads and ferry links on Mombasa Island.

If you fell sick in Diani 10 years ago, you 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 (and to locals, hopefully!). Truly a reassurance to couples traveling with kids (like we did), when one of them needs 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.  The whole place is undercrowded, and you rarely have to queue for anything. Service levels are exceptional, as businesses scramble to cater to the few visitors around.

The situation isn’t likely to last for long, with arrivals to Kenya rising sharply again (+16% in 2016).  If you want a real bargain for an upscale vacation on undercrowded beaches, the time is now. Not next year!