The Lamu archipelago has huge beaches to explore.
Manda Bay: Our full report
Manda Bay is a luxury beach lodge located on Manda Island, 12km from Lamu airport. Formerly the Blue Safari Club, an exclusive island escape owned by an Italian musician Bruno Brighetti, the lodge was bought in 2003 by the Dyer and Roberts families, both long associated with safaris in Kenya, and transformed into a peerless, castaway retreat.
You’ll likely be met at Lamu Airport by a “captain" and one crew from Manda Bay and helped to the jetty with your luggage. Manda Bay has a good selection of fast boats and the journey – up Lamu Creek and around the landward side of Manda Island – normally takes about 30 minutes. You pass close to dense mangrove forests and through the Mkanda Channel, a narrow neck of water that was dredged a few years ago to allow boats to pass through at all states of the tide: formerly Manda Bay was only accessible at high tide.
The final approach to the lodge is across deeper water (prepare to be sprayed) and you crunch onto the beach with a view of palm trees, parchment-coloured walls, thatched roofs, natural driftwood sculptures and colourful cushions.
The main central buildings at Manda Bay consist of a spacious bar and lounge area and a shady dining terrace, both built to the edge of the tall, yellowish 600-metre sea wall that protects the site. At low tide, you can jump straight onto the sands: at high tide the waves lap right up to the bar. There’s almost always a breeze and always a view across the sea to the east to Manda’s diminutive neighbour, Manda Toto (“Little Manda").
Eleven of the rooms are spread out behind the sea wall directly on the waterfront, with five more scattered in the palm trees behind along with half a dozen "childrens' rooms" that can accommodate up to five or six kids (aged 5-17 only). Beach-front rooms are booked on a first-come-first-served basis. You can approach the rooms from behind through the palm trees, or at low tide walk along the beach, climbing up using one of the graceful semi-circular staircases dotted along the sea wall.
The main beachfront rooms are instantly recognisable as very accomplished examples of the style – not just palm matting over a mangrove-pole frame but stylishly plastered walls as well – with none of the slightly scruffy feel of some similar lodges. Vast in extent, light, breezy (with huge window spaces hung with curtains for extra privacy) and attractively furnished with rugs and cushions, they are delightful residences just to relax in. There’s a hanging day bed over the veranda, plenty of seating, a dressing table as well as a writing desk, luggage stands and clothes storage and a small drinks fridge that can be filled if you request it.
The beds have full-length mosquito nets and there’s a ceiling fan above.
The large bathrooms are stylishly fitted out, with double washbasins, Cinnabar Green natural toiletries, jugs of filtered drinking water, standard flush toilets and large, walk-in showers. Shower pressure isn’t great. The shower and washbasin water is distinctly saline and leaves an unavoidably slightly oily feeling. Talcum powder is provided, however, and with a light powdering you’ll feel completely dry.
Over the whole building, a graceful, steeply pitched framed roof of neat makuti tiles provides the much needed cooling shade and air circulation.
The rooms may be pretty special, but at Manda Bay it’s all about being outside. Waking at the crack of dawn, wrapping a woven kikoi loin cloth (provided) around your waist and trotting out across the sands as the sun breaks over the horizon is a memorable experience. And when you come back to your room, there’s a giant clam shell footbath by the veranda to wash off the sand.
If engrossing yourself in a book, staring out to sea or taking photos of palm fronds against a cerulean sky aren’t your bag (and plenty of guests do spend most of their time here doing very little), there’s a comprehensive range of activities available. On land, you can go for a jog (accompanied by a suitably fit member of staff) or walk about 15 minutes to the nearby ruins of Manda town, a 9th–13th centuary Swahili port which once had an estimated population of 3,000 and covered an area about 400m wide. It’s a fascinating spot to explore before breakfast while it’s cool. You need to be accompanied: Manda’s 60-strong buffalo herd buffalo live in the area, along with bushbuck, dik-dik and a wide variety of snakes.
As for marine activities, Manda Bay has lots of water sports “toys" – some included in the rates, and others available at extra cost. Generally speaking, non-motorised equipment is free to use: anything that needs to be towed or driven you will have to pay the fuel for. The lodge is well equipped for deep-sea sports fishing (which you’ll need to request when booking a stay, and which only takes place during the November to April season) and, surprisingly, fly-fishing all year round. Other sports include water-skiing, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing (two qualified kite instructors can be brought in on request) and sundowner excursions (or lengthier cruises) on the lodge’s impressive dhow, Utamaduni.
There are excellent snorkeling spots around Manda Toto, a 15-20 minute boat ride from the lodge, and Manda Bay has a storeroom full of masks, snorkels and fins – you just select whatever fits.
There is as yet no wellbeing centre or treatment spa – but that is planned for the future.
Our viewManda Bay stands out as Kenya’s best barefoot beach hideaway. We love the huge, breezy rooms, the sense of space and tranquility and the lavish range of activities on offer. The food is fantastic and the can-do attitude of the management and staff, who make huge efforts to ensure every guest does exactly what they want to, combined with the tremendous array of activities available, makes this beach base very seductive indeed.
Ideal length of stay: 3 days-plus
Directions: Manda Bay is a 30 minute boat trip from Lamu airport’s jetty. If you're arriving by charter flight you will land at the lodge's own airstrip, just a few hundred metres away. They have a little 4x4 and will meet you.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: The Dyer and Roberts families
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Lots of seafood typifies Manda Bay’s menus. The food here is a highlight, always good and sometimes truly outstanding. For lunch, we had Zanzibar fish in a rich turmeric and saffron sauce, pumpkin quiche and a delicious, crispy salad of pumpkin seeds and avocado. The meal was signed off with a fabulous watermelon and ginger sorbet.
Dinner on the beach near the pool started with bitings of little curried prawns in their shells. The we got stuck into a rich tomato and red pepper soup, and a main course of breaded giant prawns with nice crunchy vegetables and rice. We followed up with a warm chocolate cake.
Breakfasts are always great – lots of fresh fruit and really well prepared cooked breakfasts.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are extra and relatively pricey for Kenya. You’ll pay around US$5 for a beer, about US$8 for a glass of decent house wine (not plonk) and US$4//6 for singles/doubles of standard spirits and mixers. Good wines start at around US$32 a bottle.
Further dining info: Dinner is usually eaten on the beach below the swimming pool; breakfast and lunch on the dining terrace. Dinners hosted by the managers are the norm, but it depends on the makeup of the guests. Room service can be provided on request. Bush dinners and dhow dinners are included free of charge, as can sundowners in the dunes and on Manda Bay’s large dhow, Utamaduni.
Honeymoons: For a remote and luxurious Kenya honeymoon with a castaway feel, Manda Bay is the perfect choice. The rooms are huge and breezy and have swinging daybeds on the veranda. The service is excellent, the food is delicious and there is a lavish range of activities on offer.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Children are very welcome and Manda Bay often hosts families of all ages.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: Children enjoy being here – with the safe sands to run around on at low tide, when there’s a lot of space for ball games and frisbee. The swimming pool is ever-popular, though the water is a bit saline, just like the shower water, and it can get very warm. Just behind the pool there’s a pool table, table tennis and darts. They sometimes organise “hunter-gathering" expeditions for children – looking for tiny clams or vongole in Italian.
Equipment: Clip-on high chairs and lots of baby cots are available.
Generally recommended for children: We would highly recommend Manda Bay for children – with the proviso that if your children need an environment with lots of other children to be happy on holiday, then you should check in advance to see if other families are booked.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator is rigged to inverters and batteries, allowing lights to be available 24 hours a day. The rooms have power sockets, however charging is only possible when the generator is on between 6am and 1pm and between 5pm and 11pm.
Communications: There is mostly good Safaricom and Airtel mobile phone network, though in some rooms you need to walk around to find the best spot. Wi-fi for guests is always available, but the lodge is very keen that people don’t use communication gadgets in the public areas.
TV & radio: There is no television for guests, but the staff have TV and a plan can be made when very important sporting events are taking place.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Manda Bay has access to some private wells, and the water is desalinated through reverse osmosis. The water used for laundry, showers, wash basins and loos is slightly saline.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The management are first-aid trained and there are very comprehensive first aid kits on site. There are usually also lodge aircraft on site and they have their own private airstrip.
Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk
Security measures: Manda Bay has very comprehensive security arrangements.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in every room and fire hydrants between every two rooms. Fire-training has yet to be done with staff, however.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included – hand-washed, line-dried and ironed.
Money: Foreign exchange could be provided on request.
Accepted payment on location: All major currencies (US dollars, Euros, Pounds sterling and Kenyan shillings) are accepted for cash payments. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are also accepted, with no surcharge.