If you're looking for a reliable, mid-sized resort hotel, Hemingways could well fit the bill.
Hemingways Watamu: Our full report
On Turtle Bay beach at Watamu, two hours’ drive north of Mombasa, Hemingways Watamu is a mid-sized game-fishing base and resort hotel, popular with British guests. Its name harks back to Ernest Hemingway’s stay in Malindi in 1934. The hotel closed after Easter 2016 for a major redevelopment and expects to re-open at the end of 2017 or early 2018.
The hotel shares its entrance road with the livelier and lower-cost Ocean Sports. Hemingways’ reception, guest services, well-stocked shop and cashier/foreign-exchange desk are under a large roof of makuti (palm-leaf tiles), creating a comfortably cool, if rather dark, welcome around the hotel’s central area. The main restaurant is just around the corner near the two modest-sized (20m) teardrop-shaped pools and extensive terrace area. Also close to the pools is the bar, with its TV and brightly re-coloured mounted game-fish trophies on the walls. We haven’t eaten at Hemingways, but it has a reputation for excellent seafood, which occasionally lapses on an off day.
Hemingways’ 76 rooms, all of which have sea views, are in two wings – the newer north wing and the older and more tired south wing. All the rooms have tiled floors and either private terraces or balconies,. Furniture – a small writing/dressing table and chair, occasional table and mini-armchairs¬ – is functional, mostly varnished bamboo, and the walls are decorated with reprints of black-and-white photos of Ernest Hemingway’s visit to the coast. Direct-dial phones, free WiFi access, safes, tea/coffee facilities and a minibar with regular bar prices are standard.
- Superior rooms, with walk-in showers, are on the first and second floors of the south wing.
- Deluxe rooms, which also have bathtubs and a third bed/day bed, occupy the whole of the north wing, and part of the ground floor of the south wing. If you’re going for a deluxe room, we’d recommend the north wing, where some of the rooms have king-size beds.
The rooms we’ve seen (we haven’t stayed at Hemingways) were neat and clean, although the ‘floor-to-ceiling’ mosquito nets did not reach the ceiling. What’s missing throughout, and particularly noticeable in the bathrooms, is much sense of style. The pearl-grey wall tiling and British-style fixtures and fittings in the superior room bathrooms come right out of a suburban semi. If it was your suburban semi, with your things in it, it might feel comfortably familiar; on the Kenya coast it’s simply incongruous and underwhelming.
The best-known activity at Hemingways Watamu is what Ernest Hemingway came to the Kenya coast to do – game fishing – though he allegedly stayed up late drinking at the Blue Marlin in Malindi and never actually saw any rod-and-line action. Hemingways is an internationally recognised game-fishing centre and has four boats, ranging from 33ft to 54ft, all equipped for this exhilarating pursuit (and most fish these days are tagged and released). The season starts in July and becomes busy from October or November when the south-east kusi wind changes to the north-east kaskazi. This period, until April, is when big billfish such as swordfish, marlin and sailfish, can be caught. At the time of writing, full-day trips (6.30am–4.30pm) for a maximum of four people cost around US$750–1,100, depending on the season.
You can do snorkelling straight off the beach, with complimentary loan of equipment (marine park fees are extra if you go out by boat). Dolphin watching costs Ksh2,500 (about US$30) per person (plus marine park fees); the 4.30–7.30pm Mida Creek sundowner dhow cruise Ksh4,500 (about US$54; including drinks and snacks); and the 11.00am–4.00pm barbecue dhow cruise to Sudi Island in Mida Creek costs Ksh6,500 (about US$78). There’s a free and well-equipped gym and a free, floodlit, clay tennis court.
Our viewFrom October to April, because of the fishing, it can feel as if there’s little else to do, and nothing at all for children. In fact, there's a good range of activities and, while Hemingways is possibly resting a little too comfortably on its laurels, and is certainly too staid for some, it could suit first-timers looking for a British atmosphere. The staff are mostly thoughtful and friendly, and many guests form lasting connections from repeat visits.
Ideal length of stay: 3–6 days
Directions: Mombasa’s Moi International Airport is 2½ hours from Hemingways; Malindi Airport 30 minutes.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Half Board
Food quality: Hemingways main restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner. The Pagoda à la carte restaurant opens for lunch and dinner.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Two free small bottles of water per day per guest are included. Bar prices are reasonable, with local beers at the time of writing Ksh275 (about US$3.50), soda Ksh90 (US$1) and house wine Ksh400/glass (U$5)
Further dining info: Yes: Ksh400 (US$5) extra per service.
Beach holidays: Hemingways is an internationally recognised game-fishing centre where you can try your luck hooking swordfish, marlin, sailfish and sharks. You can also go dolphin-watching, snorkel straight off the beach and go on BBQ and dhow trip to Sudi Island.See more ideas for Beach holidays in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Hemingways says that children are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: Babysitting is available from housekeeping.
Equipment: Cots and highchairs available.
Generally recommended for children: Although billing itself as family friendly, Hemingways Watamu doesn’t go out of its way to appeal to children or their parents and actively discriminates against them in parts of the hotel where they are not welcome or have to be quiet.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: Direct-dial phone in rooms. There’s WiFi access throughout the hotel, plus a business centre.
TV & radio: In-room TVs in Executive Suites only. TV at bar and in TV room (movies, sport etc on satellite channel DStv).
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: A fee-paying doctor visits Hemingways Mon–Fri 7.00 – 8:00am and 1.00¬–2.00pm. Extra charges for call-out.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: There’s a minimum of two askaris on duty by day, and many at night, when G4S security guards also patrol the site.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are in many areas; smoke alarms; trained staff.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: Foreign exchange is available. Room safes.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa and MasterCard are accepted, with a surcharge.