Pick up a Kenya tourist brochure and chances are there'll be a herd of wildebeest staring back at you from the front cover. Kenya is after all where safaris first started and it remains home to the ever-dramatic Great Wildebeest Migration but there's a lot more to the country than hooves, tooth and claw.
Kenya is home to one of Africa's most intriguing and historically important coastlines. Arab traders, African empires and European colonialists have all made their mark on this traditional centre of Swahili society, leaving behind a legacy of mosques, churches, forts, ornate tombs and mysterious ruins.
It is also an area of great natural beauty and home to much wildlife: there are marine parks, bustling coral reefs, bird-filled coastal forests and nearby game reserves, all of which makes for a fabulously diverse holiday but with so much on offer for the newcomer, choosing the right destination on the coast isn't so easy.
KENYA BEACH BASICS
Names like Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu should ring a few bells but with so many ones that don't, it pays to get the right advice about where to go. Several Kenya beach destinations are themed in so far as they attract a certain crowd - honeymooners, families, party-goers - and you don't want to pick the wrong one.
So who better to clear up all the uncertainty than someone who has lived and worked there? Former Kenyan resident Lauren Johansson is a Go2Africa Safari Expert and she begins by dividing the coast into four areas - the southern coast; the central Mombasa and Malindi regions; and the far northern Lamu Archipelago.
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SOUTHERN COMFORT: DIANI, GALU & FUNZI
Perfect white beaches are what you can expect on the southern Kenyan coast. Galu and Diani are classic destinations for beach-goers who want an easy, don't-make-me-think holiday. Lauren picks out Diani's Alfajiri luxury villas as perfect for independent-minded families or groups of friends.
Top-end Funzi on the other hand is the perfect do-not-disturb getaway for honeymooners and romantics. According to Lauren, the service here is so personalised that if you feel like breakfast at three in the morning, you get it - and with a smile. "It's also quieter down south and there are some of the best dive spots on the coast," says Lauren. "Head for Wasini Island where there is a marine reserve and perfectreefs".
CENTRE STAGE: MOMBASA
So go on Lauren, tell us what you really think of Mombasa. "Well, it's certainly a big party there!" she smiles, "and there are plenty big hotels and resorts but there are also some quieter, more exclusive places too, and with all the facilities and activities on offer, the Mombasa area is great for families."
Good for diving and great for deep sea fishing, Mombasa has long been the Kenya beach destination for the younger, more social crowd which means great restaurants, night clubs and adventures. "Go shopping for Gucci at roadside clothing vendors", advises Lauren, "and remember that Mombasa's airport means easy safari and beach combinations - enjoy a Masai Mara game drive in the morning and sip an ocean-side cocktail that evening."
HEART OF THE COAST: MALINDI
"Stunning!" is how Lauren sums up the Malindi region. "The town is the cleanest on the coast, the beaches amazing and the hotels evenly spaced out."
Popular with the ex-pat crowd and European holidaymakers, Malindi and nearby Watamu are the sort of places that once you've been, you tend to come back to. "For want of a better expression, it's got a good vibe," says Lauren, "and just offshore there is the Malindi Marine National Park so the diving is fabulous".
Lauren recommends Malindi for families and couples who want a quieter Kenya beach experience, and with serious big game hanging out at Tsavo National Park a hundred or so kilometres inland, she advises adding on a couple of nights at Kenya's biggest reserve.
NORTHERN DELIGHTS: LAMU ARCHIPELAGO
Mention the word Lamu and Lauren gets all misty-eyed. "It's the place I'd go back to," she admits. "Lamu was once a hippy hangout and although it's gone more upmarket now there's still a wonderful, laid-back atmosphere. You'll take boat transfers between the islands and there are fantastic lodges and private villas," says Lauren, "but once you're on Lamu Island you'll be getting around on foot."
Things are even sleepier on Manda Island, perfect for honeymooners and romantics, while the option of beach villas on the archipelago means it's great for families and groups too. Throw in great snorkelling and diving, squeaky-sand beaches, extravagant sunsets and tastes of Swahili and Islamic culture and you've got a classic, got-it-all holiday destination.