Know your county: A traveler’s guide to Ukunda, Kwale

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By Joseph Maina

In August, I took a trip down coast to the county of Kilifi, in an interesting road trip that took about ten hours by bus from Nairobi. My journey commenced along River Road in downtown Nairobi, where I boarded a Chania Genesis bus.

This is one of the bus companies that offer a direct service between Nairobi and Ukunda. But on this particular night, I was out of luck as the bus to Ukunda had been fully booked, so I was left with the option of connecting via Mombasa.

A direct ticket to Ukunda from Nairobi costs Ksh1200 by Chania Genesis, which is about the minimum you can pay by bus. The bus left town at 8PM sharp and coasted through easy traffic in the city’s streets. It was an express journey with only one stopover at midnight at Mtito Andei.

I caught some sleep during the second leg of the journey and was only awoken by the crew after we arrived at Mombasa. Looking at my watch, it was 4:05AM. From here, I boarded a matatu to the ferry, paying Ksh20 for the short trip. After the ferry, I boarded a matatu to Ukunda town, paying Ksh 70 for the journey. It is worth noting that Kwale town is the capital town of Kwale County, but Ukunda is the bigger and busier town.

There is no direct bus ticket from Nairobi to Kwale town. Anyway, I arrived in Ukunda just after 5AM and booked myself into Travellers Guest House, right opposite Naivas on the highway. My eyes were heavy with sleep, so I jumped into bed for a few hours before I could explore the sights around this famous town. Ukunda is the haven for refined beach experiences in the Kenyan coast. There has been a great deal of hype about Ukunda and the South Coast in general, so much that I had to travel and see for myself.

Clean beaches, no overcrowding, exciting water sports, the whole caboodle. Overall, Ukunda strikes the visitor as a typical Kenyan coastal town. People speak excellent Swahili all around you, palm trees dot the scenery, the aroma of delicious meals wafts about, and the tuk tuk appears to be the key means of passenger road transport. And yes, the makuti thatch is a popular roofing material in many places.

I woke up at around 10AM and set about exploring the town. Ukunda lies on the A14 highway, the major road connecting Mombasa to Lunga Lunga and eventually Dar es Salaam. A lot of the town’s businesses lie along this highway. From Ukunda to the world famous beaches is a short distance where tuk tuk will charge about Ksh40 maximum.

And so, after a hearty breakfast of chapatti mbaazi laced with coconut milk, I hopped into a tuk tuk and made for the beach. Indeed, the beaches fitted the descriptions I had heard earlier: clean, white sand for kilometres and nice blue waters. Quite a big number of high-end hotels line the entire stretch of the beach, with a decidedly high-end clientele.

The occasional vendor will approach you with an offer to sell you merchandise, from sunglasses to madafu. Beach sports never appear to cease, from the usual swimming to motor-boating and skiing. One interesting thing, though, is that rains can be sudden in this part of the world.

About four times I was rained on while in this county, and all the while it was sudden downpours that give you little notice. The moment the first raindrop lands down, you’ll be drenched in seconds. The nights were warm and breezy. The second day, I made plans to tour Kwale town, the county capital.

From Ukunda, we take the A14 and branch off to the left at Kombani, taking the C106. It’s a true country road that plunges deep into rustic territory. The red soil in this part of the world is fascinating to the eye. The road traveller will note that from Kombani to Kwale is a climb. Kwale town rests on an altitude of 402 metres above sea level, and is less than 30 kilometres from the sea.

The vegetation ranges as you pass Matuga and Vuga hamlets, from the typical lanky coconut trees to grassland and eventually forest as you approach Kwale town.

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