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On paper Kenya’s coast is an enticing prospect. Warm Pacific water, miles upon miles of sandy beaches and a Swahili rich cultural heritage. The perfect top and tail to a safari holiday you’d think. The reality unfortunately, rarely lives up to expectation, as miles upon miles of beach boy plagued beaches are backed by large bland resorts with the charm and grace of a warthog. Despite this, there are real diamonds in the rough, places good enough to compete with the best.
By far and away the gem of the Kenyan Coast is Lamu. A wonderful archipelago offering protected beaches and a UNESCO World Heritage town to explore. Lamu Town itself is a melting pot of rich aromas, crumbling colonial buildings and narrow winding streets with an overwhelmingly laid back charm. Just 5 minutes away by speed boat, the village of Shela and Manda Island offer desert island bliss, beach-side bandas, blissful sunsets and solitude. Lamu is more expensive to get to than further South, but the journey is worthwhile.
Lamu boasts a wealth of good accommodation, and if you willing to splash some cash, there is no shortage of options, but for fantastic value without cutting corners it is hard to beat the Robinson Crusoe-esque Diamond Beach Village on Manda Island and the cool colonial charm of Fatuma’s Tower in Shela. Both come in around the $100 per room mark. Other’s to look out for include the higher end but not up itself Kipungani Explorer and Kijani Hotel in Shela.
Further South, the highlights get more and more sporadic. Your entry point to the South and Central Coast is likely to be Mombasa. Mombasa itself is worth a visit if you have time (at least the old town) but a stay at the nearby coastal resorts is to be avoided wherever possible by anyone with a semblance of independent spirit left in them.
Working North to South, Che Shale is a simple, stylish, trendy, yet pleasingly affordable option near Malindi. Situated on a vast deserted beach, the place is a favourite of Kite surfers world-wide, but don’t let that put you off. Prices are again around the $100 per room mark.
Nearbye, Mida eco camp between Watamu and Malindi is a very simple but charming eco camp set amidst the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Mida Creek. Prices are exceedingly affordable at around $30 per room. The place is run with real heart and there’s plenty to do from exploring the mangrove boardwalks and wildlife to learning a bit of Giriami drumming and dancing.
Most tourists who don’t get sucked into the Mombasa resorts head to Diani Beach. It is still way over developed with a real beach boy problem. If you do stay, then the Diani Marine resort is a diving specialist resort that also serves as a great mid-range spot. Backpackers should head straight to Stilts Backpaka’s which according to the Rough Guide to Kenya Editor Richard Trillo, is still “the only real backpackers on the coast”.
For clients interested in combining their safari or Mount Kenya trek with a spot of R&R on the beach, Tourdust can arrange extensions at any of the above recommended accommodation. We can also arrange stays at Mombasa Resorts, just don’t be surprised if we try very hard to persuade you out of it.
There are so many excellent articles and blog posts each month that it's impossible to keep track of all. In an attempt to capture the best of the travel web in one single place we will be looking for the best posts each month and recognising them in a special round-up post. Here we feature the top posts of May 2011 in three categories:
There are of course many contenders for these prestigious titles, which are selected in an entirely subjective and unaccountable manner. If you have a post that you would like us to consider for the June awards just send us the link to the post via Twitter (@Tourdust) or in the comments box below. So on to the winning posts:
Best Adventure Travel Post
Central Asia Travel: A Beginner's Guide by Uncornered Market
Despite offering some of the world's most dramatic landscapes and most intriguing historical sites Central Asia remains off the radar for many travellers. This post by Daniel Noll from Uncornered Market provides an excellent overview of the region, highlighting the different aspects of culture and the natural and man-made attractions that reward those who make the journey to this region. Daniel's pictures are pretty stunning too.
Skydiving: My First 60 Second Freefall by Abigail King
I have never jumped out of a plane and don't suppose I ever will. I'm grateful therefore for someone who can tell the story of their skydiving adventure so well that I can almost feel I was there, hurtling through the air and armed I'm sure with a look of terror. Step forward Abigail King who, on a recent blog trip to Costa Brava, had her first such experience.
Her description paints a vivid picture of those moments before and after falling from the plane; so good that I feel as though I've done it myself. And if that's not enough there's an excellent set of photos too.
Of course not every trip goes to plan and for those of us who survive the odd near miss on our travels these incidents often become the stories on which we dine out for many years to come. This exciting tale by Brendan Van Son tells of his narrow escape when he had to dodge bullets to reach the bus station in Managua for an early morning departure.
Night Market in Luang Prabang by Barbara Weibel
Barbara seems to have been travelling forever through SE Asia, and this photo really caught my eye. I love the bright colours and sharp contrasts; even with the blurring effect the picture captures the lively but very relaxed atmosphere of the Luang Prabang night market.
Accessible in about 2 1/2 hours by plane from the UK and serviced by direct flights with the likes of Easyjet, BA & Wizzair, getting to Dubrovnik, in Croatia couldn't be easier. Whether you are going for a city break, or passing through on the way to visit elsewhere in the country, this guide of things to do in Dubrovnik has been put together to help you make the most of your time there.
A walk around the ancient city walls is an absolute must do when you visit Dubrovnik. Stretching 2 - 3km, the ramparts are all in excellent condition and give fantastic views across the terracotta rooftops and out to the sea beyond. Depending on how fast you walk, it will take you 1 - 2 hours to walk around the full perimeter. Our advice, take your time and savour the experience. There are plenty of places to stop along the way to buy water or ice cream. Beware, though, your ticket does not allow multiple entries to the walls.
The Dubrovnik municipality used to be run from the Rector's Palace, with a new Governor installed every month. Now, the Palace hosts a collection of historical objects. Visitors can see the old courtroom, prison cells and (faded) state rooms. On the ground floor there is an interesting photography exhibition that makes the visit worthwhile. A collection of photos from the 1991 city siege gives a real flavour of what the city went through during the bombardment.
Dating back to the 15th Century, it is worth visiting the Dominican Monastery for the cloisters, which offer a cool respite from the heat of the day. Gothic arches surround a peaceful courtyard filled with orange trees and palms, with a well in the centre. It's worth taking a seat in the courtyard - there aren't many places in Dubrovnik where you can sit back and watch the world go by which aren't selling food and drink. Even if the building itself leaves you cold, you will be sure to amuse yourself with the large groups of cruise ship tourists who descend every 15 minutes in their droves like a swarm of locusts, take a few snaps and then depart as quickly as they came.
Dating from the early 1300's this monastery also has beautiful Romanesque cloisters which are worth a visit. Although hit them at the peak time and they are rammed full of tourists. Try visiting early / late for a more peaceful visit.
There are many eateries around and you won't be short of an opportunity to find something to eat. For the most part, restaurants are dominated by the pizza category, but there are also some places selling fresh fish, there is even a brand new sushi & oyster bar in town. Probably the best pizza joint is Mea Culpa, popular with locals and tourists alike. Situated on one of the streets parallel to the Stradrun, it is a great place for people watching. The pizzas are generous.
If you are after a romantic setting, you can't do better than the Buza Bar. Notoriously difficult to find, this bar is popular with locals as well as tourists. It is perched on the side of a cliff and leads down to its own rocky bay where you can swim from. Accessed through the city walls, there is no running water, so drinks are of the bottled variety, but you don't come here for the gourmet, you come for the views and proximity to the sea.
The large cruise ships bring tourists in their droves to Durbovnik. This is a good thing for Croatia's economy, so it shouldn't be lamented too much, but there is no denying that the hoards of large groups can detract from the charm of the historic old town. They come to land and do a whilrwindtour of the sites and leave again the late afternoon. Your best bet of avoiding the congestion is to visit the most popular sights early morning or later in the afternoon and to explore the quieter parts of the town, or enjoy a long, lingering lunch, during the 'rush hour'.
Like any touristy European city, prices here are not cheap. That said, portion sizes are generous and when you're sitting al fresco in a medievel town, you don't mind so much! Expect to pay around £10 for breakfast, £12 - £15 for a main meal with a soft drink. Beers will set you back around £2 for a small draught and a bottle of wine comes in around £8 - £10.
There is some fantastic hiking to be done in the foothills and mountains in the Konavle Region south of the city. If peaks are your thing, you can climb Mount Srdj, which is 412m high. To reach the summit, you follow a winding pathway (the Serpentina) to the top for some fantastic panoramic views.
The Elaphite islands, a cluster of islands north of Dubrovnik, offer a delightful opportunity to sample the more leisurely pace of life, away from the crowds. Easily accessible by ferry, they make a great day trip or multi-night stay.
A relatively new activity to the area, sea kayaking is a fantastic way to explore the coastline and get away from the mainstream tourist trails. There are only a few operators offering tours by kayak and only one of them is locally owned and operated. Tours range from a few hours, where you kayak directly from Dubrovnik to get a feel for the city and coastline from the sea, to multi-day tours based out in the Elaphite Islands.
Trekking in the Simien Mountains is possible at any time of year, however some times are better than others. If you can choose, always opt for September to November. After the summer rains, the landscape is vivid green, the paths are less dusty and the far reaching views undisturbed by haze. December through April is perfectly fine, with loads of sunshine, you are just going to struggle to get picture perfect shots with the hazy views. The rains fall in June, July and August, which tends to stop most visitors, although interestingly enough this time of the year is very popular with the Spanish.
Thanks to the altitude, the temperatures tend to be comfortably warm and sunny in the day with plenty of breeze to keep things cool and cold at night. It is always wise to bring a good three or four season sleeping bag. The locals will always be able to provide something, but you can guarantee it won’t be as warm or clean as your own.
It does tend to get very busy in ethiopia (with hotels booking up and pricing higher rates) during the wonderful religious festivals so if you aren't interested in these you might want to time your trip to Ethiopia to avoid Jan 19-20 (Timkat), Sep 27-28 (Meskel) and Christmas.
Ethiopia is not best known for its fine hotels. Hot showers are generally speaking still a luxury and places with genuine charm are few and far between. Here are our selection of the nicer places to stay in Ethiopia;
Addis is first and foremost a conference city and hotes cater primarily for visiting politicians, delegates and business-men. We’ve looked hard, but have yet to find any charming boutique properties here, and find ourselves in the rare position of recommending the international chain hotels.
Radisson Blue Addis: Incredibly slick new hotel that doesn’t drop a beat from the international standards of the Radisson chain. Rooms are tasteful, well sound proofed, high tech and spotless and there is a first rate spa on site. The location is central, right next door to the Intercontinental with lots of new building going on all around. The Radisson Blue doesn’t have a swimming pool, but does have a small courtyard terrace and buzzing branch of a popular Addis café chain on site. Staying in the Radisson isn’t going to give you much of a sense of Ethiopia, but if you want a comfortable room without compromise after a long flight, the Radisson is a very good option.
Hilton Addis: The Hilton in Addis is a massive 500 room institution which is partly owned by the government and part owned by the International Hilton chain. It is the kind of place we would never normally consider, but with the paucity of alternatives on offer, it is a sensible choice if you are looking for a reasonably comfortable room and a relaxing pool area. The rooms are slightly sub-Hilton standard, but are well above average for Ethiopia. The reason for staying here though is the expansive leisure facilities, with a pleasant pool area and bar, tennis courts, squash courts and mini golf.
Intercontinental Addis: The Intercontinental is not currently part of the international Interncontinental group, is nevertheless a good option. Rooms are comfortably furnished, and the cafes and restaurants in a buzzing courtyard at the centre of the building. The main reason for staying here is the lovely roof toop swimming pool and bar area, a rarity in Addis.
Regency Addis: The Regency Addis has some of the best rooms in Addis at a very good price. Friendly service, free wi-fi and slick clean, modern rooms that surpass anything the more expensive Hilton or InternContinental can offer. There is a standard restaurant / bar area, but no outdoor space worth talking about. A solid mid-range option.
Ghion Hotel: Government owned institution where rooms and staff are seriously in need of a good make-over. There is a pool (think holiday park) and very well kept extensive gardens, and offers good value for the price, but apart from that, there is little to commend the Ghion.
RAS Hotel: A reasonable budget option in a great location. This historic hotel (the second oldest in Addis) once housed Nelson Mandela, but its glory days are long gone. Rooms are reasonable for the price range, food is good in the main restaurant and lovely traditional Ethiopian restaurant and there is a pleasant pavement terrace to sit and watch the world go by. As long as you don’t mind a fairly basic room, then this is an ok budget option.
Kuriftu Lodge Lake Tana: Because of the wealth of attractions in Ethiopia, it is all too easy to find yourself skipping from one place to the next without the time to take it all in and just relax and indulge a little. The Kuriftu Resort on the shores of Lake Tana is the perfect place to do so. There are 14 spacious luxurious traditional stone cottages (28 rooms in total, with one room on the ground floor and another on the first floor) set around a gorgeous pool, with breath-taking views of the lake. The resort has been sensitively developed (which is more than can be said for its neighbours), the service is excellent and free massage treatments are included in your stay. Compared to what is on offer elsewhere in Ethiopia, it is well worth a splurge. It can be a little noisy at night and the 4 twin rooms are set at the road side of the property without pool / lake views.