This legendary fishing town, about 100 kilometres north of Mombasa is remarkably neat, pretty and clean. Once a favoured fishing resort for Ernest Hemingway, this place is now heavily dominated by large Italian diaspora! Although English and Swahili are the official languages in Kenya, many cafés and restaurants in Malindi have menus in Italian only.
The strong winds from the sea are a sharp contrast to other cities and towns along the East African Coast, who focus more on beach tourism. The long beach is nevertheless ideal for romantic walks in the fresh breeze from the sea. However, if you’re looking for a place to spend the whole day on the beach, basking in the sun, then Malindi probably isn’t the place for you.
Eating, drinking and partying
Malindi is a popular destination for people who want to get away from the typical tourists places and enjoy life in a warm and relaxed atmosphere. The town offers a nice selection of quality restaurants and cafés. There are several Italian Ice Cream bars and cafés, especially on the north side of town.
The ultimate must-visit restaurant in Malindi is The Old Man and the Sea. It would almost be a crime not to eat at this place for anyone visiting Malindi. They’re particularly famous for their seafood, and it’s also one of the places in town that serves proper cocktails. I can never pass through Malindi without eating at this place, and neither should anyone else.
Being a predominantly muslim town, Malindi doesn’t have a wide range of night life alternatives. The hotels in town occasionally hold shows and parties mainly aimed at tourists. Also, there are a few night clubs like the Stardust, where 50% of attendants are in an old, well-know profession, working hard to sell their personal services to the other 50%.
Things to see
The Da Gama Pillar is a Malindi landmark. This monument was erected on the place where Vasco da Gama landed in 1498 on his first trip to Malindi.
A few kilometres south of Malindi is the historic site of the Gede Ruins. This trading town was town was probably built in the 12th century, and bears evidence of having been a relatively wealthy society. 600 years ago, however, the town was mysteriously abandoned and gradually forgotten. It’s an interesting place to see, and an hour well spent for those interested in history.
While Malindi has been around for a long time, little is left of the old Swahili town that Vasco da Gama saw when he landed. One oddly placed monument however, reminds both residents and visitors of the pre-islamic past of this now mainly muslim town. Just outside a large mosque, an old fertility symbol in the shape of a large erected penis stands in the middle of a muslim cemetary.
During my 3 trips to Malindi, I’ve have the pleasure of staying at Lawford, and the disgrace of staying at the African Pearl.
African Pearl Hotel at first seems like a nice place, with decent rooms, a swimming pool, good atmosphere at a good price. When I stayed there with my girlfriend in 2003, however, some items were stolen by people breaking into our room during the day. The owner, Jeff, at first appeared very apologetic about the incident. When we left, he promised to refund our losses if police failed to recover the stolen items within a week. When, after a while, I tried to remind him about his promise, he started threatening me via SMS. I’ve since heard several others tell about negative experiences at this place. My advise to anyone traveling to Malindi: If the African Pearl is the only place with rooms available, it’s better to sleep on the street!
Lawfords Hotel is a family run hotel where most guests, like the owner, are Italian. The hotel complex encloses a huge lawn that goes all the way from just outside the town centre, to the beach. The place has a really personal and friendly touch. Rooms are nice and clean, and no complaints about the food! The place is also reasonably priced at about $100 for a very nice double room.
Getting around and away
Malindi has an airport, so the fastest way to travel is naturally by air. Travelling by road offers a good view of the Kenyan Coast scenery, and is strongly advised at least once.
The road northwards, to Lamu is alledgedly in a good shape now (it sure wasn’t in 2003, when I experienced a bumpy 5-hour ride in the back of a bus with the driver playing and re-playing the same cassette of islamic prayers for the whole ride!). The one southwards, to Kilifi and Mombasa is only good in some sections, but has a lot of potholes, so the driving should be done by someone experienced on African roads.
Getting between Malindi and Mombasa by public transport is never a problem, as there are buses and matatus all the time. One you get into one, you won’t even have to wait for long before it fills up. Buses and matatus usually don’t have time schedules – they leave when they are full.
A taxi offers maximum flexibility in terms of stopping for food bites or snapshots. The 100 km between Malindi and Mombasa won’t exactly blow your holiday budget. Expect to pay €60-€70 for the ride, or significantly less if you manage to do the bargaining in Swahili!