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, formerly popular with British guests. Its name harks back to Ernest Hemingway’s stay in Malindi in 1934.
The hotel closed after in 2016 for a major redevelopment and re-opened in 2017. Expert Africa has not yet had a chance to revisit for an inspection since the rebuild. We did, however, visit the area in 2018, and we were dismayed by the large and unsightly seawall that the hotel has constructed against environmental advice. The wash from this sea wall is now having an adverse impact along this stretch of the coast, with significant erosion of the beach being evident.***
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 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.
Of the old Hemingways, we previously thought: "From 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."
- Kenya Coast, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 3–6 days
- Mombasa’s Moi International Airport is 2½ hours from Hemingways; Malindi Airport 30 minutes.
- Accessible by
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
- Further dining info, including room service
- Yes: Ksh400 (US$5) extra per service.
- 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)
- 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 ideas for Beach holidays
- Attitude towards children
- Hemingways says that children are welcome.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- Babysitting is available from housekeeping.
- 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.
- 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).
Fighting against ocean plastic pollution
Located in one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, Hemingways Watamu earns its renown by making consistent efforts to conserve protected species for everyone to enjoy on one of the best snorkeling and diving areas on the coast of Africa. The hotel’s newest eco-awareness project which seeks to encourage proper disposal of plastic waste stands as proof for its sustainable commitment.
In July 2018, Hemingways has announced its partnership with EcoWorld Watamu, an NGO which employs disadvantaged locals to collect plastic debris along the beach and teaches them how to proper reuse or recycle it. All plastic waste from the hotel’s operations is sent to EcoWorld where it gets melted before being used for other purposes. The initiative not only helps remove plastic waste from the ocean, but also generates income for locals, as they use the recycled waste to create artworks, furniture, fence posts, and trinkets which can be further sold. Results are already visible. The hotel has banned the use of plastic straws within its premises, and has also replaced several palm leaf roofs with ones made from recycled plastic.
In addition, Hemingways Watamu seeks to educate guests on the impact that plastic waste has on the fragile environment. It offers them the possibility to learn about the Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Watamu, spend a day joining in on the recycling process, or even collect garbage as they are exploring Watamu beach using one of the hotel’s recycled plastic bags provided in their room.
See more great sustainability projects in Kenya
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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
- Foreign exchange is available.
- 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.
Other lodges in Kenya Coast
Alternative places to stay in this same area.