Diani Beach ought to fulfil most dreams about the archetypal palm-fringed paradise. The sand is soft and brilliantly white; the sea is turquoise and usually crystal-clear; the reef is a safe thirty-minute swim or a ten-minute boat ride away; and, arching overhead, the coconut palms create pools of cool shade and keep up a perpetual slow sway as the breeze rustles through their fronds. While competition for space always threatens to mar Diani’s paradisal qualities, the recent downturn in tourism has knocked out some of the hotels, while the droves of hustlers, or “beach boys”, dwindled to a few relatively easily brushed-off diehards. Security has been tightened up, with askaris posted all the way along the beach outside every property, and tight security at hotel entrances.
Running 300m behind the beach and separated from it by bush, the Diani Beach road feels – in the high season – like Kenya’s number-one strip. Fortunately, forest and scrubby bush separate the road from the shore, although more of the Diani Forest disappears every year as one new plot after another is cleared.
For a walk, or a jog, head south along the Diani Beach road, which has more shade than the northern stretch. Towards the end of the tarmac surface are some wonderful patches of jungle, comprising the dwindling Jadini or more correctly Diani Forest (“Jadini”, disappointingly, turns out to be an embellished acronym made from the initials of members of a white settler family who once owned most of the land around here). There’s the almost obligatory snake park, but if you’d like to search for some animals in the wild rather than support this venture, then take one of several tracks leading off inland that will take you straight into magnificent areas of hardwood forest, alive with birds and butterflies, and rocking with vervet and colobus monkeys. The most impressive stands of forest are the isolated kayas, or sacred groves, of which there are at least three along the Diani Beach road: Kaya Diani, on the north side of the Leisure Lodge golf course (easy to drive or walk to the edge of the forest, and several trees have plaques proclaiming the grove’s status); Kaya Ukunda, west of the entrance to Diani Sea Lodge; and Kaya Kinondo, south of Pinewood Beach Resort. Kinondo is the first kaya to be officially opened to visitors.