The cashew trees lining both sides of the road north of Kilifi soon give way to tracts of jungle where monkeys scatter across the road and hornbills plunge into the cover of the trees. This is the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, the largest patch of indigenous coastal forest in East Africa. At one time it would have covered most of the coastal hinterland behind the shoreline settlements, part of an ancient forest belt stretching from Mozambique to Somalia. There are some 420 square kilometres to explore here, though you’ll need a vehicle, or a few days for some walking. A tiny part of the area (six square kilometres in the far north) was declared a national park in 1991.
The bans on cutting timber and clearing bush for agriculture aren’t popular with local residents, many of whom see the forest as a useless waste of land. To combat this ill feeling, the Kenya Wildlife Service, National Museums of Kenya and a forest support group, the Friends of Arabuko Sokoke (friendsarabukosokoke.org), have pioneered a number of projects to make conservation worthwhile for the community, including butterfly farming, a bee-keeping scheme in which villagers are given low-cost beehives to produce honey from forest flowers (it’s sold at the Forest Visitor Centre), and the harvesting of medicinal plants under licence.