Kenya’s first kaya or Mijikenda sacred forest to open to visitors is the Digo tribe’s Kaya Kinondo, behind Kinondo Beach, at the southern end of Diani Beach. Kaya Kinondo was first inhabited by the Digo in 1560 and abandoned as a village site in 1880.
There’s an interpretation centre by the entrance which is well worth spending fifteen minutes looking around before you set off on your forest walk. To enter the forest itself, you visit with a Digo guide from the centre (no independent wanderings allowed), wrapped in a kaniki (indigo-dyed calico sarong) that you will be loaned. Photography is encouraged (except at the grave sites near the centre), but you are expected to show deep respect for the impressive forest environment – which means no running around and no kissing and cuddling. Behave as if in a church or mosque and you won’t go far wrong. As soon as you leave the sunlight and enter the cathedral-like gloom of the understorey, a hush tends to fall on proceedings, as you concentrate on stepping over the buttress roots of forest giants and avoiding contact with trailing creepers or ant-covered surfaces.
There’s a more light-hearted side to the experience, in any case, as tree-hugging (transmit all your cares and fears to the tree) and stories of “herbal Viagra”, aphrodisiac essences and cures for back pain in pregnant women are all part of the two-hour nature walk as you’re accompanied, if you’re lucky, by someone of seemingly limitless knowledge. The animals you’ll see, apart from monkeys, are mostly smaller denizens of the undergrowth, but no less worth spying for that – fiery red squirrels, slow-flying shade-loving butterflies and giant millipedes and, possibly, an elephant shrew snuffling through the leaf litter with its probing proboscis.