For many people, the Driftwood has the perfect blend of beach, pool, good food and atmosphere.
Driftwood Beach Club: Our full report
First opened in 1963 the Driftwood Beach Club is a family-friendly, owner-managed, bungalow-style beach hotel set on Silversands beach on the southern outskirts of Malindi town on Kenya’s north coast.
Their advertising phrase, ‘Informality at its Best’, rather nicely sums up the appeal of this low-key hotel from a bygone era – the year of Kenya’s independence. The Driftwood has managed to keep up with the times while never losing the character and charm that makes it so appealing, especially to families and anyone looking for a complete rest.
Arrival at the Driftwood is on a bumpy stretch of coral road, south of Malindi town. There’s a no-nonsense security barrier and a sandy car park, thickly shaded by big trees and overlooked by the now defunct squash court (squash, in this climate?). A gentle ramp leads into reception, with a glorious view of the beach and sea, a stone’s throw away. Check-in is unfussy, and you will always be greeted by a drink and a cold flannel. To the right, the shop is open during shop hours for crafts, clothing and souvenirs.
Round the corner, the soaring roof of makuti (tiles of palm leaves) over the bar/lounge/terrace emphasises the centrality of this part of the hotel to the Driftwood’s overall success. With bar stools and attractive, cushioned alcoves, plus the best sea views from its slightly elevated position, this is a wonderful spot to relax.
Past the bar, set back a little and closer to the kitchen, is the dining room/restaurant. Open on two sides, it’s nearly always pleasantly breezy here. You can choose a table, or have your meal out on the terrace – or in the lounge if you prefer.
Just below the restaurant is the pool and pool terrace with its own sports bar and satellite TV screen for that must-see race or big match. The 20m oval pool is easily big enough for laps and games, and deep enough for jumping. There’s a shallow end with steps and a children’s paddling pool. There’s no lifeguard, however, so parents need to supervise little ones. Between the pool and the beach, a modest area of sand and lawn is furnished with recliners and sunshades under the coconut palms.
The coconut trees have to be periodically de-nutted by an agile member of staff who shins up with a machete between his teeth and a rope between his ankles. Left uncut, coconuts (which can easily weigh more than 4kg when fresh) have a tendency to drop off the tree with dramatic consequences.
Accommodation at the Driftwood spans a range of options, from the simplest ‘standard’ rooms to a couple of pretty cottages and three European-style villas. There is a total of 66 beds, spread acros 19 rooms, two cottages, and three villas.
- The 19 standard rooms are not luxurious: apart from beds and floor-to-ceiling mosquito nets, a small work desk and mirror, limited clothes storage and a rather small room safe (extra charge), there are no other furnishings. Each room has a modest terrace area with two canvas chairs and a table. Sensibly, the air conditioning (all rooms are air-conditioned) is switched on and off by inserting your key fob into the slot on the wall.
If the bedrooms are fairly modest, the bathrooms are really in need of an overhaul, being simply small, white-tiled cubicles, with flush toilets, washbasin, light and mirror and a walk-in shower with a curtain. Some are tidier than others, but they are all showing a degree of wear and tear. The showers provide hot water – but it’s a fairly theoretical requirement as you are likely to find yourself taking several cold showers a day.
The Driftwood’s simplicity makes it ideal for young families. Two of the rooms have bunk beds and adjoining doors, while the most spacious rooms can accommodate an extra bed or two quite easily.
- If you’d like something a good deal smarter, then consider taking one of the two cottages in their own private garden with a lovely pool, just behind the north wing of rooms. Each cottage has two, prettily furnished bedrooms and much smarter bathrooms than the main rooms, one with a bathtub.
- Alternatively, outside the Driftwood’s main compound, across the road, there are three, European-style villas, each again with two bedrooms, and, like the cottages, sharing their own pool. One of the bathrooms has a bathtub. The villas also have kitchenettes, and are ideal for self-caterers, but less convenient for people wanting to use the Driftwood’s bar and restaurant frequently.
As for strolling on the public beach, you will get a degree of hassle from Malindi’s beach boys (curio traders, boat excursion touts, safari agents and lads who just want to be ‘your friend’), but they are not as intrusive as on the beaches closer to Mombasa. It’s best to be very upfront, friendly and direct if you want to be left in peace. Saying a few words in Swahili will help, as well. An alternative tactic is to agree to buy or book something with the promise that you will then be left alone. There’s no doubt that engagement is a better strategy than simply trying to spurn them.
Young children can safely play on the beach, especially at low tide.
At high tide you can swim out across the lagoon with a snorkel and mask, though water clarity varies seasonally: in the days following heavy rains, even far up-country, the sea at Malindi can be quite cloudy as the Sabaki/Galana River enters the ocean just a few miles to the north.
The Driftwood’s reception desk will happily organise diving, deep-sea fishing or other excursions. They can book you a taxi to Malindi marine park (where you can arrange a boat trip to good snorkelling spots) or a tuk-tuk (three-wheel passenger scooter) into the small town for shopping or a meal.
Our viewWe love the Driftwood for its very comfortably established and pretty grounds, its friendly simplicity, consistently good service and excellent food. We don’t mind the fact that the rooms are plain, verging on ‘adequate’, and we don’t mind the absence of room fridges, TVs, coffee and tea making and other accoutrements because we’d rather be on the beach, or by the pool or just lounging in the wonderful bar. And in our experience there are few places on the Kenya coast that are more enjoyable for those activities than the Driftwood.
Ideal length of stay: We would recommend four to six nights at the Driftwood.
Directions: Driftwood is 15 minutes from Malindi Aiport, or 2½ to 3½ hours from Moi International Airport, Mombasa.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Half Board
Food quality: The Driftwood is increasingly considered one of the best – and best-value –seafood restaurants on the coast. Smoked swordfish, sashimi, oysters, lobster, crab and lots of other seafood are always excellent and very reasonably priced. And if fishy feasts are not your bag, there’s plenty of other good food on offer, with themed nights that are worth planning around. When we visited several times in 2012, these included the Thursday Mongolian night (all you can eat for Ksh1,450, around US$17), the Friday Pool BBQ (per item from Ksh500, around US$6) and the Sunday curry lunch buffet (Ksh1,600, around US$20).
From 7.30am to 9.30am there’s a full buffet and cooked breakfast with staff on hand to prepare pretty much what you want.
Lunch: there’s a special daily menu and à la carte available from 12.30pm to 3.00pm.
At dinner, there’s a menu for half-board guests and à la carte from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
A snack menu is available all day from 10.00am to 6.00pm.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: £10-15
Drinks included: Drinking water is provided free of charge but other drinks are extra. When we were last at the Driftwood, prices for local beers were Ksh220 (around US$2.50), soft drinks Ksh120 (US$1.50) and house wine by the glass Ksh240 (about US$3).
Beach holidays: Driftwood Beach club is a great place for family beach holidays. Plan your stay around the tides: experience the sea on a snorkelling trip at high tide and at low tide, when swimming is difficult, visit the town of Malindi. Diving and deep-sea fishing can also be organised.See more ideas for Beach holidays in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Families are welcome at Driftwood, with no age restrictions.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: There are no regularly organised children’s activities, but during periods when there are lots of family guests, they organise a Father Christmas or something similar. Several Malindi excursions appeal to children.
Equipment: Two or three highchairs plus baby cots on request.
Generally recommended for children: Yes, but parents need to supervise young children in the pool area.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: There are in-room phones with extensions, though landlines are increasingly unreliable. The cellphone network is good and there’s free WiFi around the central areas (bar-lounge-terrace and restaurant) and in one or two rooms, including room 21.
TV & radio: Not in rooms. The BB Bar (after Bruce Buckland, a former manager) has a sports screen.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is no in-house medically trained member of staff, but there are plans for this to happen. The nearest on-call doctor is near Malindi Fishing Club, less than five minutes away. St Peter’s Hospital is a five-minute drive away.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: Askaris are deployed at the front gate and on the beach wall (to ensure beach boys don’t disturb guests: beach boys aren’t supposed to come closer than 4m to the wall), and at night there are several security guards on site – on the beach, in the car park, around the villas (when occupied), and on the gate.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in public areas and fire stations with extinguishers in both ‘wings’ of rooms, plus in the cottages and villas. Training has taken place and there’s an annual fire drill.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: Foreign currency can be exchanged for Kenyan shillings, usually at the bank rate, with a 3.5% commission.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling (3.5% over bank rate) or Kenyan shillings. Visa and MasterCard are accepted with no surcharge unless the bill is low, in which case 5%.