South of Mombasa, a continuous strip of beach runs between Likoni and Msambweni, backed by palms and broken once or twice by small rivers. Along the whole coast south from Mombasa to the Tanzanian border, there’s just one highly developed resort area, Diani Beach. South of Diani, the coast is little known and, in most tour operators’ minds at least, nobody stops again until they reach Shimoni. This is great news if you have the time to go searching out untrodden beaches. With your own vehicle, or on an organized trip, you can also visit the Shimba Hills National Park and the neighbouring Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, either overnight or on an easy day-trip excursion.
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The first real magnet on the coast south of Mombasa is Tiwi Beach, which lies a couple of kilometres to the east of the main road. Popular among budget travellers having a bit of a splurge, Tiwi rates as genuine tropical paradise material and attracts lots of Kenya resident families down from Nairobi. The reef lies just offshore, and there are good snorkelling opportunities at high tide, especially at the northern end. With the exception of the large Amani Tiwi Beach Resort at its southern end, Tiwi is still cottage territory, with a handful of plots vying for business. The main drawbacks (though you might think they’re advantages) are the relative isolation of the beach from Mombasa and Diani, and the lack of restaurants and bars outside the cottages and guesthouses. The clear pluses are fewer tourists and fewer beach boys. In the dry season, you can walk to the south end of Tiwi Beach and wade across the Mwachema River to Diani Beach and the strange Kongo Mosque, right next to the Indian Ocean Beach Resort.
- Diani Beach
- South to Shimoni
Most of the people who live along the southern coastal strip here are Digo, and their neat rectangular houses, made of dried mud and coral on a framework of wood, are a distinctive part of the lush roadside scene. Digo women tend to dress very colourfully in multiple kangas. Although they belong to the Mijikenda group of peoples, the Digo are unusual in traditionally having matrilineal inheritance: in other words they traced descent through the female line, so that a man would, on his death, pass his property on to his sister’s sons rather than his own. It is an unusual system with interesting implications for the state of the family and the position of women. However, the joint assault of Islamic and European values over the last century has shifted the emphasis back towards the male line, and in many ways, women in modern Digo society have less freedom and autonomy than they had a hundred years ago. The site of one of the Digo’s ancestral villages, a sacred forest at Kaya Kinondo, near Diani Beach, can be visited with a Digo guide.