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Hemingways Watamu: fall asleep to the sound of the ocean in Kenya's Marine National Park

The views at Hemingways Watamu are unbeatable (Hemingways Watamu)
The views at Hemingways Watamu are unbeatable (Hemingways Watamu)

Synonymous with safari and the big five, Kenya’s coast often mistakenly gets overlooked in favour of the country’s impressive game reserves. But with swathes of white sands and an ocean that teems with wild spinner dolphins, humpback whales, and vividly coloured fish, this is one part of the world you don’t want to miss out on.

Unfolding directly onto the paradisiacal beachfront, and surrounded by swaying palms, manicured gardens dotted with bird of paradise blooms, and a handful of swimming pools that mirror the cloudless, bright blue expanse of sky above, Hemingways Watamu embraces frazzled guests like long-lost friends.

But it’s not only the surroundings that add to the magic, it’s the people who work here that make this five-star resort feel like a true home away from home. Always eager to chat, Hemingways’ hardworking staff elevate this hotel from amazing to truly exceptional.

Where?

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

As the jumping-off point for one of Kenya’s first protected marine parks, and recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its abundance of coral gardens, and impressive marine life, the village of Watamu - where Hemingways is located - is a truly unbeatable natural haven.

The closest airport to the hotel is 30 minutes away in the town of Malindi, a one-hour, 15-minute plane ride from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Otherwise, it’s around a two-hour drive from Mombasa along an epic coastal road where the ocean changes colour by the second, from cobalt blue, and azure to the brightest turquoise. Direct flights from London to Nairobi are available daily, starting at around £600 return with BA.

Style

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

With a fresh colour palette of bright whites, soft blues, and sage greens, the hotel has been designed to allow the natural beauty of the surroundings to truly shine. The huge open restaurant area that affords breathtaking views of the ocean from almost every angle stands out as the focal point of the complex. Here wicker tables and chairs are dressed with botanical print cushions, fresh flowers, and nods to the ocean with shell and coral-inspired artworks.

The bar, on the other hand, with its free and easy atmosphere, feels slightly more rustic with wooden detailing and a focus on deep-sea fishing since life-size cast models of marlin and hammerheads proudly line the walls. It reminds me of establishments I’ve visited in Key West and Havana, places that the hotel’s namesake, Ernest Hemingway also frequented. I can almost imagine the intoxicated writer, strong cocktail in hand watching over the place at sunset.

A handful of pristine swimming pools and the serene spa cater to holidaymakers who simply want to fly and flop, while the huge on-site tennis court and well-equipped gym are ideal for fitting in a holiday run or workout.

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

Which room?

Hemingways Watamu boasts 76 rooms, all with an ocean view and in categories spanning deluxe singles, to two-bed apartments. For a vacation that truly wows, the Residence suites are the way to go. Residence number eight is one of the most impressive, featuring a spacious ensuite double room complete with a four-poster canopied bed, a separate twin bedroom with its own en-suite and large bathtub, an expansive open-plan dining-living-kitchen area that’s bigger than most London apartments, and a private wrap-around terrace with daybed and loungers.

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

Two comfy full-size sofas, a circular wooden dining table, work desk, and a full kitchen ensure guests can comfortably reside at Hemingways for months on end should they desire. There’s even a sizeable walk-in wardrobe. Decor is tastefully simple, without too much fuss and fanfare, like the rest of the hotel, it’s the views here that command all the attention.

Food & drink

Buffet dining can occasionally equate to poor quality or bland dishes, but that’s not the case at Hemingways. Breakfast options feature an abundance of delightful options with fresh fruit juices, tart passion fruits, locally grown melons and pancakes being the highlights. But there’s everything you can imagine, from eggs and crispy bacon to waffles and pastries and plenty of incredible Kenyan tea and coffee — all served overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Buffet dining is also available each evening or there’s the option to order from the a la carte menu where seafood is the standout option. Native grilled rock lobster slathered in butter, fresh shrimp with chilli and garlic, and any of the house specials — black pepper kingfish, Swahili coconut chicken, and fish creole — all impress.

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

Since the coastal area around Watamu has a strong Italian community that dates back to around the 1960s it’s not unusual to find good gelato and pasta in town. Nearby Papa Remo serves plates of authentic Italian dishes with sublime service.

Extracurricular

While it would be easy to relax for a week at Hemingways it would be a shame not to visit the coral gardens that bustle with wildly elegant marine life like parrotfish, sweetlips, lionfish, and snappers. The hotel can arrange boat excursions that leave directly from the beach in front of the hotel, so guests can spend a few hours snorkelling, wild dolphin spotting, or even getting up close to humpback whales, which can be seen for around four months each year, from June onwards.

 (Hemingways Watamu)
(Hemingways Watamu)

Eco World Watamu, just a short drive away from the hotel, is a community-run project that collects plastic waste to sort and recycle. Partnering with local women and youth groups the organisation promotes awareness around recycling and beach clean-ups. Tours of the centre are available to book through the hotel and provide an inspiring overview and the chance to pick up a recycled trinket.

Still hankering after the big five? It’s possible to witness elephants who will occasionally visit Arabuko Sokoke Swamp’s watering holes just before sunset. Then board a majestic single-sailed dhow for a sunset cruise along Mida Creek, with a glass of wine in hand, it’s the ideal way to wrap up a day in paradise.

Best for...

Daydreamers, nature lovers, couples, friends, or families — this place really does cater to all. With direct beachfront access, endless activities, welcoming staff, and fresh home-cooked seafood, Hemingways Watamu is the ideal tropical holiday destination or the perfect location for a post-safari wind-down.

Double rooms available from £437 on a half-board basis, hemingways-collection.com