Relaxing places in Africa
Lamu is a gem of an island in north-eastern Kenya. Fishing and tourism are the primary mainstays, and there are only two settlements of note on the island, Shela Village and Lamu Old Town. Both are quaint, but Shela smaller and tidier. There are only a couple of vehicles on the island, so travel is by foot, boat or donkey. The south-east side of the island is one very long and wide sandy beach. Amazing sea food abounds, and there's plenty of handicrafts to gawk at. For many people, the highlight of a visit to Lamu is its testament to Swahili culture: museums, hand-carved wooden doors, coral stone architecture and countless dhows is a journey in time as well as space. To experience what life might have been like in the days of the Omani occupation, or simply to forget about time and place, try a dhow trip into the archipelago. Lamu is the kind of destination that makes it very easy to forget the outside world, and is a more relaxing alternative to Stone Town on Zanzibar.
Tiwi and Diani Beach
South of Mombasa
Tiwi and Diani Beach are neighbouring coastal destinations just south of Mombasa. They are justifiably popular due to their close proximity to Mombasa, but that is all they have in common. Tiwi (pictured) is the more secluded of the two. It is set up almost exclusively for self-caterers, which makes it less ideal for those without access to a car. The beach here offers a greater degree of privacy, and the number of beach boys selling snorkelling trips or fresh fish is decidedly smaller than at its busier neighbour. Diani Beach boasts a nicer beach and a much wider range of accommodation options. There are restaurants, supermarkets, a surprisingly large local market and a bit of a night scene. Expect more hassle on the beach, however.
At the tip of a peninsula at the bottom of gorgeous Lake Malawi lies adorable Cape Maclear. The rural village has been a favourite of backpackers and overlanders for decades, and for a good reason. Green mountains make up the inland while the lakeshore is blessed with a narrow sandy beach. The village is a one lane place with shady baobab trees. The men go out on the lake for fishing in small canoes, while the women are constantly washing at the edge of the lake, with playful kids everywhere. The main event of the day is sunset, when the sky turns bright orange before the sun burns out behind the hilly horizon across the lake. Be prepared with the cold drinks for the spectacle is rather short. Afterwards, the night gets filled with African rythms pumping from the small bars along the beach.
Nkhata Bay is probably the most popular place at Lake Malawi. It's a nice bay with a small bustling settlement at the bottom. The rocky shoreline is dotted with some brilliant accommodations and a beach is just a hike away. Walks can be done through the lush hills, scuba diving is available and the lakeshore is begging to be explored by kayak or canoe. However, most travellers end up doing nothing besides lazing, socialising and take the occasional dip into Lake Malawi's clear water - not to mention decline another offer for a customised key ring from one of the beach boys.
Two-hour drive from Lilongwe
Senga Bay is the closest beach to Lilongwe, and is a very pleasant place to spend a few days. Senga Bay itself is a sleepy village, but nearby Salima has shops, fuel and ATMs. The Ilala ferry does not stop here, so it can only be reached by road – two hours from Lilongwe or Nkhotakhota, two and a half from Cape Maclear. Senga Bay is a fishing village, and boats line the beach in the village itself. Fruit and various snacks can be purchased. Diving, snorkelling, kayaking, trips to Lizard Island and beach barbeques make Senga Bay an easy place to spend a few days if travelling up or down Malawi, or a convenient weekend trip for anyone based in Lilongwe. The beach itself is nice (for Malawi) but quite narrow – the result of illegal sand mining and consequent erosion. There are plenty of (real and meaningful) volunteer opportunities in Senga Bay for those wishing to stay a bit longer.
The Quirimbas is a string of 32 idyllic islands along Mozambique’s northern coast. This archipelago contains a bit of everything: pristine beaches, ancient settlements, luscious mangroves, amazing dive sites, beautiful coral reefs, pods of dolphins, warm water, a huge variety of tropical fish, an abundance of fruit and as much seafood as you can eat. Although dotted with important settlements in the past, the Quirimbas Archipelago is now virtually unknown to the outside world, and only visit by few tourists. The days are hot, and life is slow - much as it was a hundred years ago. So take a dhow trip around the islands, lounge on one of the endless white beaches and go for a swim in the azure Indian Ocean - you probably deserve it.
Tofo beach is THE beach for backpackers, overlanders and whoever likes a bit of party and cool beach vibe in Mozambique. The sea is azure and the crescent shaped beach is long - though not palm fringed. Tall sand dunes stretch right to the edge of the sea in the north end, while the middle and south sections have most of the accommodations. Diving is popular and the surfing can apparently also be good, but else there isn't much more to do besides eating seafood, chilling and maybe a football match with the beach boys in the afternoon. The adorable town of Inhambane is just a chapa (minibus) ride away, making it a perfect day trip from Tofo.
The white beach at Vilankulo seems almost never ending and slides into the clear turquoise sea with views of the gorgeous Bazaruto Islands. Dhows are anchored up in the shallow water before they sweep out to sea for fishing, only to return in the afternoon to unload their catch to the waiting fishmongers. At low tide, the beach becomes so wide, it gives you the impression that you could wade right out to the islands, but don't try. Instead go on a dhow safari for some chilling and snorkeling at the islands, which otherwise are reserved for luxury resorts. Accommodations in Vilankulo are spread out along the shore and lie among the small huts and houses that make up the town. This means there is a lot local life, both on the beach and in the sandy back alleys, giving Vilankulo lots of local flavour, but also at times a rough vibe.
© Marie-Eve Dugas
Set on the shores of Lake Kivu, Kibuye has no reason to envy its big sister, the more touristic Gisenyi (Rubavu). Formed by many mountainous peninsulas and hilly islands, Kibuye offers splendid views from every location, and could easily meet some of the expectations coming with the overused term of 'paradise'. This small and quiet town doesn't have much to offer in terms of activities - and it might be why it has been neglected in favour of Gisenyi - but is a really pleasant getaway for a few days. Many of the islands that dot the lake are fun to visit, the favourites being Napolean Island with its thousands of fruit bats and Peace Island where you can sip a beer and play volleyball. While still surprisingly overlooked by most tourists, the town is starting to get noticed, so development is underway... for better or for worse.
If you want to relax and snorkel/scuba dive in Zanzibar, it is best to choose the island's west coast where the water is better. Here you will find Kendwa Beach, which is a bit of a backpacker paradise with beach bars, turquoise blue waters, white sandy beaches and great diving opportunities. If you want to see dolphins and coral reefs, though, you will have to take a boat trip further up the north coast and over to the east side. There is a somewhat limited number of restaurants and virtually no city. There are either quite cheap hotels/bungalows or very expensive all-inclusive resorts, where only the resort's guests have access. One should not walk around alone on the dark beaches at night. But if you are only interested in water activities and relaxation it is an okay place.