Have you ever visited a new place and felt ‘wow’ about it? For me, it happened at Watamu, situated on the Kenyan coast. It is a hidden paradise with fine white sand beaches, perfect water temperatures and swaying palm trees. I did not expect any of this in Kenya and I am honestly blown away by Watamu..
Add to this scene, marine turtles, the clear turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, dazzling coral reefs, canoeing, incredible coffee and a heady blend of scents. There was so many colours and sounds and the idyllic accommodation at The Charming Lonno Lodge, with its warm, welcoming and helpful hosts You can probably imagine just how dreamy our post-safari beach days were in Watamu. It was definitely the perfect ending to our Kenyan adventure….
How we discovered paradise in Kenya
We were travelling around Kenya on 21 March during the global pandemic (check more on my Insta). We had spent all the winter in South Africa, and were on the way back home to London, when we decided to add one final stop to our trip to Kenya.
We decided to spend some time on the Kenyan Coast, I began researching how many destinations we could visit within our short holiday period. Before travelling to Kenya, I had only heard of the Kenyan coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani. After hours of research, suddenly, Watamu came on our radar. We decided it would be the perfect finale to our trip.
I checked all the Hotels on Tripadvisor, and found the one with the best reviews and stunning photos. It looks like the Charming Lonno Lodge has won all the prizes on Tripadvisor, and I certainly thought that this might be the best place for our dream place-to-stay.
A few facts about little known Watamu
Watamu is a small town, just two hours drive north of Mombasa, lying on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. With about 2,000 people, its population is quite small, but the town is a real gem and as yet, has not been discovered.
Watamu may not be as popular as other cities in Kenya, but don’t let that fool you. Watamu is a small, beautiful and up and coming tourist destination that is well worth a visit. A few years ago Watamu was just a sleepy fishing village on the Kenyan coast. Today, it retains its village charm but has excellent restaurants, bars, a couple of good hotels and some amazing coastal villas. The coast at Watamu is a series of three white sand coves, dotted with coral islands. You can enjoy water sports and go on a diving excursion in the Marine National Park and Reserve. You can marvel at the expansive mangrove forest of Mida Creek, which has a rich marine life including two species of sea turtles.
Watamu is nicknamed ‘Little Italy’ and the Italian influence is found in the cuisine served in the sea-front restaurants. The dishes range from crispy pizza to perfectly grilled seafood. I found myself imagining a relaxing holiday on a beautiful beach and one too many plates of Spaghetti Bolognese!
First impressions of Watamu
We arrived in Mombasa early in the morning, and took a taxi to the Charming Lonno Lodge. The trip took us about two hours- perfect for a good power nap.
For some reason, I had memories of Zanzibar in my head as we planned this trip and I was expecting Watamu to be very similar. There were some similarities, but during the drive, I realised that it could be very different. I probably judged Watamu too early because I did notice the differences, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the town and to realise what parts made it charming.
Watamu sits with the Indian ocean brushing its gorgeous beaches. These are the same waters that grace the idyllic destinations of the Maldives and Mauritius. I haven’t been to either of those destinations yet, but my time in Watamu has certainly given me a taste for the luxury lifestyle offered by these gorgeous places.
Stay in Likely The Best Hotel in Watamu
One of the reasons we fell in love with Watamu, is the Charming Lonno lodge. We had a chance to visit this unique hotel during pandemic times and let me tell you that it’s truly a unique place.
Around sixteen years ago, Aldo, the owner of the hotel, was visiting Kenya. He was impressed with the stunning views, culture, and people he met. He explored the coastal area and discovered Watamu for the first time. He found it a tranquil haven with pristine white sandy beaches and inland, a lush forest that was home to elephants, monkeys and rare birds. He felt he had discovered a hidden gem in Kenya, and believed that this place would be very attractive to tourists. Together with Silvia, his wife, they put a huge amount of time, effort and soul into creating the Charming Lonno lodge. When you step into the hotel, it feels like you are entering their home.
Silvia and Aldo are, by far, two of the most gracious and professional hosts I have met during any of my luxury trips (I have stayed in more than 200 hotels as a travel journalist). Their attention to detail is just incredible. They have thought of every detail to ensure your stay with them is beyond your expectations and truly unforgettable. From the food to accommodation, everything is immaculate and beautifully presented.
Aldo and Silvia are really ‘hands on’ and try to assist wherever necessary. Silvia is a master at problem solving- she helped us tremendously with urgently organising our trip back to Nairobi. There had been an outbreak of Coronavirus in Kenya, and Nairobi was going into lockdown. Our flights to London were from Nairobi. If we hadn’t managed to return to Nairobi, we would have missed the flight to London. Also, the couple implemented a digital concierge which enabled us to get very fast and personal support.
The location of the hotel is fantastic. It has direct access to a beach at low tide that offers you hours of walking. At low tide the Indian Ocean retreats to the islands and you can walk along miles of sandbanks discovering starfish, hermit crabs and occasionally spotting reef sharks in the shallows. On the second day we joined Aldo on a two-hour walk at low tide and it was fantastic!
My favourite thing about the Charming Lonno lodge was its relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. Quietness and serenity make this hotel an excellent place to wind down. It is just far away from the town for total tranquility, but close enough to town for exploring the shopping area or restaurants.
The food is homemade, freshly prepared and delicious following the best Italian tradition the hosts brought with them to Watamu. I must admit that the culinary treats are much better than in any Italian restaurant in London. We planned to visit the other restaurants of Watamu but found we could not bring ourselves to leave. The food was simply outstanding. If you are treated to 4-course evening meals of such high quality, you just can’t go anywhere else!
My favourite moment at this hotel was the romantic dinner by the pool under the full moon and a sky full of stars, with the hotel bathed in golden floodlights behind us. The combination of the Sicilian building style and the food with traditional Italian seafood dishes, make you wonder if you’re really in Italy!
All the staff working in the hotel are helpful and friendly. There is a slightly different feeling compared to other 5-star hotels. In these, staff are pushed to work hard for tips and are usually longing for their shift to end. I had the feeling that these people genuinely love their jobs and truly care for their guests- but without fuss. When you go for walk in the evening, there will always be some of the Masaai staff helping you to find the way. When you urgently want a cup of coffee, there will always be someone in the kitchen, happy to make one for you.
On our arrival, the staff greeted us with large and welcoming smiles. They checked our body temperature, made sure that we were wearing masks and sanitised our hands. We were guided to the reception where we met the owners of the hotel, Silvia and Aldo and their five giant cuddly dogs. I do not understand how they do it, but you were immediately made to feel at home away from home.
At the check-in we received our keys and Silvia showed us to our exquisitely decorated room- where our suitcases were already waiting for us. The Tower room was both spacious and cosy at the same time, beautifully decorated and well-furnished.
The lodge is well-designed and built out of coral reef stones, with huge thatched roofs and inspired by coastal Swahili architecture. It is well positioned to make the most of the Indian ocean breeze, the warmth of the tropical sun and uninterrupted views to the horizon. It’s a truly wonderful experience to wake up to the sound of the ocean and rays of the rising sun shining into your room.
The warm, refreshing breeze provides you with energy for excursions but if you prefer to relax there are many spots, where you can simply stretch out. The hotel pool is stunning, with wide shallow steps at one end and built in seats in several spots. If you feel like being pampered the hotel spa is elegant and luxurious. For the more adventurous, the hotel has bikes you can borrow.
On the first day we took the Do-nothing-tour, and I can vouch that nothing can be much better than doing absolutely nothing in such a stunning place!
My favourite spot in the property is where extremely comfortable hanging beds offer spectacular views of the ocean. I fell asleep the same second as I climbed on the bed.
On our second day we joined Aldo on a trip to explore the Mida Creek with kayaks. We paddled in our kayaks around the lagoon for a while, before heading back to the resort. All together it was a very relaxing and interesting day which ended with a glass of Champagne as we watched the spectacular sunset.
Top 10 Things To Do In Watamu
We only spent a few days in Watamu, but we absolutely loved it there. It’s a truly magical place and we would love to share with you some of the things you can do there and the things that made us fall in love with this stunning corner of the world. In this list, I have put some of the things to do in Watamu and in the surrounding area. You can do a lot of exploration in this friendly city and also check out these great tourist attraction:
Watamu means ‘the sweet things’ or ‘the sweet ones’. Kenyans like to say ‘Watamu ni Tamu!’ – which means Watamu is Sweet – and I couldn’t agree more! Watamu was truly stunning, and I hope we can revisit it someday, to take a relaxing break from our normal hectic life and relax at the Charming Lonno Lodge.
P.S. Also, check out their instagram – it’s such a sourse of inspiration:)
Don’t be shy to follow your dreams!
Your Darya Yakovleva