A holiday trip to the South Coast for many people means time on the beautiful sandy beaches of Diani that host luxurious hotels, water sports and party joints.
Having been voted as Africa’s leading beach destination for the fifth time running since 2015, it is not difficult to see why many prefer time by the ocean. Hotels here favour all-inclusive package, making many guests spend their entire tour in the hotels’ precincts. Few ventures out to enjoy different adventures away from the beaches.
What some might not know, however, is that the area has a lot of attractions away from the beach.
Tourists can discover a lot of unique adventures in the wilderness beyond the beautiful beaches; including a five-kilometre nature walk to the Sheldrick Waterfalls that lie deep in the wilderness of the evergreen Shimba Hills National Reserve.
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The Kenya Wildlife Service, in their profile on reserve, describes the conservation area as the “paradise of the sable antelope”.
They write: “As one of the largest coastal forests in East Africa after Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, this reserve is rich in flora and fauna and hosts the highest density of African elephant in Kenya. Other animal species found in the area are Sable antelope, elephant shrew, bushy tailed mongoose and other small mammals like fruit bats.” The forest is also an important bird area.
More than just the beach
And tourism stakeholders have been trying to get visitors to see the region for more than just the ocean and sandy beaches.
Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) Public Relations and Corporate Manager Wausi Walya says many tourists, especially locals, think that the Coast is just Mombasa and Diani yet there exist six counties that offer many tourist destination sites.
She says hotel guests should be encouraged to venture out and experience different adventurous sites the Coast has to offer.
“Most of the local tourists will tell you that I went to the Coast, and when asked which places they visited, they talk about the hotel they stayed in and the surrounding beaches yet there is a whole lot of places to visit and activities to enjoy to have a memorable stay and experience,” says Wausi.
This is a destination where the scenery can change from a game drive seeing some of the big five animals to time on the beach in less than an hour.
Take the Sheldrick Falls and the shimba Hills reserve for instance.
Besides enjoying a nature walk to the falls, tourists can enjoy a tour ride in the vast wilderness and watch elephants, endangered Sable antelopes, buffaloes, mongoose, giraffes, leopards, waterbucks, bush pigs, African bush baby, bushbacks and Coastal black and white colobus, monkeys among other small animals.
The falls are said to have been discovered by the late David Sheldrick, founder of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust while on an exploration mission.
For bird watchers, they have a variety of 111 bird species to watch including ostrich, eagles, the African hawk, falcon, cuckoo, guinea-fowl, honeyguide, hornbill, quail and blue sunbird.
KTB Senior Customer Relations officer Kristen Kinyeru, a fitness enthusiast, says the trek into the waterfalls is an outside workout for anyone who looks to get fit while on a holiday.
To Kinyeru, the hike is a walk in the park given her daily routine of walking more than 6,000 steps that translates to five kilometre in her fitness programme.
Armed with hiking boots or rubbers, shorts, a vest or a light t-shirt and a bottle of water, you can shed off the extra calories gained after sitting pretty in the hotel enjoying sumptuous meals and drinks.
The trek is, however, not for the faint hearted as cautioned by Elvis Kiprop, one of the tour guides inside the park.
“One must be physically fit and healthy to walk down the 2.5 kilometre steep hills before reaching the Sheldrick Falls and do another 2.5 kilometres back up the hill,” he says.
Kiprop says that many people never finish the entire journey to the falls and give up halfway out of fear and exhaustion.
However, it was not the case for an 80-year-old Belgian lady who insisted that she had to complete the trek and see the falls. It took her the entire morning downhill and the whole afternoon uphill, but she accomplished her fitness challenge and adventurous plans.
Kiprop says the best time to trek into the falls is in the mid-morning around 10am and in the afternoons after 2pm when the animals have gone into the thicket to graze and rest from the scotching sun.
He, however, says that due to the thick nature of the forest, game viewing is not as rewarding as on the savannahs, as many animals spend their time deep in the forest.
“The best time of day to go for a game drive would be in the late afternoon, when the cooler temperatures lure the animals out of the shade and seek water,” says Kiprop.
Visitors are always accompanied by guides in-case of any incident; like running into elephants or buffaloes coming to drink water at the stream. This is in abundance of caution, as Kiprop says such an incident has never been witnessed.
Those who take the entire trip to the waterfalls get to enjoy a fresh shower at the falls, standing 21 metres high and swim in the cold waters from a narrow stream up the hills.
Visitors can also stay for a picnic and relax before taking on the hardest part of the walk; an uphill climb back to their vehicles.
“The waterfall is the best place where the guests who wish to have fun can host picnics as they enjoy swimming in the fresh cold waters after trekking down,” says Kiprop.
After the trek and the tour around the park, the crew is usually left exhausted, sleepy and yearning for a plate of food to rejuvenate their spent energies at the hills.
Religious and a little grim
Kiprop says that there are locals who come down to the waterfalls to worship and seek cleansing while others come looking for the bodies of their lost ones washed away by the ocean.
“We always have tourists coming down here for a picnic and to enjoy a swim at the falls. However, there are some who come to pray although we don’t allow; while others come to look for the bodies of their lost ones whom they believe must have been washed down stream by the waters,” he says.
By the time tourist return to the hilltop, all they yearn for is a good rest while appreciating the amazing landscape.
This is where time on the beach would be more than welcome; offering a place to stretch tired limbs against the background of waves crashing onto the beach. The more energetic can even fit in a swim into their day.