Kilifi is the perfect escape.
Midway between the bustling tourist meccas of Malindi and Mombasa, Kilifi is a small seaside town, unspoiled by mass tourism.
Pristine and uncrowded beaches, an eclectic food scene, and spectacular, dramatic scenery have made it a much-beloved destination for more “chilled out” travelers for years.
Start your day with sunrise yoga on Bofa Beach. Spend your late afternoon sailing Kilifi Creek on a Swahili dhow, cold drink in hand, chasing the sunset. And finish up with some delicious seafood at one of Kilifi’s many excellent restaurants.
Things to Do in Kilifi
Most people come to Kilifi to unwind, relax and do not a lot. But once you’ve had enough lazy beach time, there’s plenty to keep you busy during the day and night.
Sunset Dhow Trips
Dhows are traditional Swahili sailboats that once dominated trade and transport on Kenya’s coast. Busier beach towns like Diani and Malindi may have replaced dhows with loud jet skis and speed boats, but not Kilifi.
Renting a dhow is the most relaxing few hours you’ll spend in Kilifi, sailing through the creek as the sun sets in the distance and your troubles melt away.
You can book a dhow trip directly by speaking to the captains sailing around the creek every day or through your accommodation.
Kilifi is becoming increasingly popular for various watersports on both the creek and the open ocean. You can try out kitesurfing, sailing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and much more.
Two locations in Kilifi are popular with kitesurfing enthusiasts. The water on Kilifi Creek is flat and works excellent for kitesurfers. However, the winds can be gusty, and you need to watch out for boats and canoes. Out on the ocean side, Salty’s Kitesurf Village has a launch site with wide open spaces on the beach, with shallow warm water and very little traffic. It’s perfect for Kitesurfers of all levels.
Kilifi has some of the best dive spots in Kenya, with two purposefully sunk shipwrecks that have created stunning artificial reefs. Expect to spot giant groupers, barracudas, and parrotfish. More advanced divers can explore the underwater caverns below Vuma Cliffs. Check out
30 minutes from Kilifi Town are the Vuma Cliffs, a beautiful area that feels like the edge of the world. The rumbling force of the Indian Ocean’s waves crashing into these craggy tall black coral cliffs raises sprays as high as 60 feet. You can take stunning photos here, meditate for hours on end, or even fish for yellowfin tuna off the cliffs.
Day Trip to Watamu
45 minutes’ drive north of Kilifi is Watamu, another delightful seaside town with a much different vibe to Kilifi. Watamu has plenty of great attractions and restaurants that are well worth the drive, like Gede Ruins (pictured).
If you leave Kilifi in the early morning, book a boat trip on Watamu Marine Park for a chance to swim with the local dolphins.
The Crab Shack, a community project on Mida Creek just south of Watamu, is one of the most popular restaurants on Kenya’s coast, serving delicious, fresh seafood. The restaurant is built on stilts, accessed via a 100m boardwalk into the mangrove forest. The Crab Shack also provides canoe tours on the creek.
The Kilifi Boatyard (sometimes called the Yacht Club, depending on who you ask) is the launch site for some of the best big game fishing in Africa. If you’ve never hooked a marlin, you likely will in Kilifi.
Further up the road from Kilifi is Vipingo Ridge, a gated community with a par 72 18 hole golf course. Theirs is the only PGA rated golf course in Africa. I have it on good authority that they frown upon golf cart racing, so… don’t.
Kilifi is blessed with an abundance of stunning beaches, each one possessing a unique charm. Even better, the beaches in Kilifi have been spared the over-development that has transformed (ruined?) more popular destinations to the south.
No matter how many times you make it to the shore in the morning, each sunrise on Bofa Beach will feel like your first. You could spend your entire day on Bofa Beach, from sun-up to sundown, and still never get enough of it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pristine and beautiful beach.
The water is warm and calm and has become a favourite spot for kitesurfers from around the globe. Despite rivaling the more famous beaches in Africa and the world, Bofa Beach is rarely ever crowded. You can sit on Bofa Beach for close to an hour and not see another person.
Fumbini Beach is nestled within Kilifi creek, offering total tranquility and stunning sunsets.
The water here is calm throughout the day and night, with just a gentle current you can barely feel.
Every night, particularly during the new moon, the water at Fumbini Beach is full of bioluminescent plankton. Swimming in the creek sets off a reaction in the plankton, causing it to glow brightly as you swim. It’s a truly magical experience and impossible to do justice with words.
Red House Beach
Red House beach is a tiny stretch of sand jutting out of the rocks, where Kilifi creek meets the Indian Ocean. It’s probably the least visited public beach in Kilifi and offers spectacular views of the sunrise – if you can get up that early!
The 8 Best Kilifi Restaurants (In no particular order)
- The Terrace – The Terrace plays excellent music, has a stunning view of the creek, and great food that’s ready in a few minutes. They occasionally screen movies by Kenyan filmmakers as well.
- Village Dishes – Village dishes is the most popular restaurant in Kilifi for Swahili food. A great place if you want to steep yourself in local flavours such as Biryani or Grilled Fish in Coconut Sauce.
- Salty’s – The Saltys menu changes depending on what’s available in their on-site garden and what the fishermen have caught that day, their fish tacos are divine.
- Distant Relatives – Distant Relatives is famous for their pizza night, burgers, and smoothie selection. Pizza night is a community affair so make sure you check it out when in town!
- Nautilus – one of Kenya’s most famous seafood restaurants, Nautilus is pricey but worth it. Try to get a seat right over the creek so you can watch the fish swim under you as you dine.
- Daisy’s – Daisy doubles up as a sports bar during football matches; they’re definitely where you want to go for grilled meat.
- Gitari’s – Gitaris serves purely vegan food, and you could spend as little as 50 ksh on a full meal here.
- Kilifi Members Club- Despite the fancy-sounding name, this isn’t a members-only club but another great place for beers and grilled meat.
Kilifi Hotels for Every Budget
Budget (Prices starting at USD 8)
Distant Relatives Ecolodge – also known as Kilifi Backpackers, DR is synonymous with backpacking and budget travel in Kenya. Something about the place draws good-natured, friendly people. You’ll find a diverse group of guests staying here throughout the year.
But be warned: Distant Relatives is a popular party spot for locals and visiting Nairobians. They host weekly events that can keep going (loudly) until 6 am – so don’t expect to sleep on the weekends.
Tribe Bandas – If you want to steep yourself in local Giriama culture while you’re on holiday, Tribe Bandas is the perfect stay.
They’re a family run backpackers that focus on creating intimate experiences for guests, with traditionally prepared meals, tours through the local village, music nights, and beach excursions. The whole place gives off great “barefoot travel” vibes and is perfect for experiential travelers on a budget.
Mid-Range (Prices starting at USD 35)
Saltys Kitesurf Village – Despite the name, Saltys is not just the only kitesurf centre in Kilifi. They’re also the only hotel with beach access within their price range. Saltys is relatively new to Kilifi but has quickly become one of the more popular places to stay. Their rooms are quirky (one has a bathtub that’s an indoor garden), and all rates include a complimentary breakfast.
Highend (Prices Starting at USD 140)
Silver Palm Resort – Silver Palm is one of those places that’s so nice you aren’t 100% sure if you’ve paid enough for the room. I mean, their 2 room premiere suite has a private pool and dedicated butler. Walking into Silver Palm feels like you’ve snuck into an Emirati Sultan’s palace.
If you can afford it, you definitely should stay there.
Living in Kilifi
Kilifi is the perfect place to live if you want to escape the humdrum of modern city life. Traffic is non-existent, the pace of life is best described as ‘sloooooow,’ and everything just feels a little breezier.
Even better, since Kilifi is a small town, the cost of living is relatively low compared to the rest of Kenya – especially Nairobi. You can get any groceries you need from Naivas Supermarket, the Express shop on Bofa road, and fresh organic fruit and veg from Oloitiptip market.
The weather in Kilifi is pleasant almost year-round (although it gets sweltering and humid from January to April). This makes it the perfect spot for active and outdoorsy people who like spending their time away from the house.
And with two airports and the SGR train a short drive away, you’re never totally isolated.
It’s no surprise increasing numbers of young people and families are relocating to Kilifi and neighbouring beach towns.
Kilifi Houses to Rent
There are plenty of houses to rent in Kilifi, suitable for every budget.
The average monthly rental price for a three-bedroom beachfront villa is around 130,000 Ksh ( approx. $1,250), but there are plenty of cheaper options.
Kilifi Maghreb has furnished one-bedroom apartments starting at $250 per month that are perfect if you’re a remote worker or you’re planning a staycation. The apartments are surrounded by the forest, overlooking a gorgeous canopy, with a private pool, and Kilifi Creek only 5 minutes’ walk away.
If you’d like more information about houses to rent, feel free to get in touch with Adam Kiboi via his email: [email protected]
Getting to Kilifi
You can fly to Kilifi from Nairobi by flying to either Mombasa or Malindi airports. Both are less than 90 minutes away, depending on traffic (the Malindi-Kilifi road is usually much less crowded).
Fly540 and Jambojet both fly to Mombasa and Malindi airports. From there, take a matatu or private taxi to Kilifi.
Many bus companies run the 12-hour Nairobi-Kilifi route. Tickets range from USD 12 to USD 20 for larger seats that recline. The best bus companies are Simba Coach and Modern Coast.
While cheap, these trips are frequently delayed and often dangerous due to the traffic and erratic drivers, especially at night.
Finally, our favourite method of travel between Nairobi and the coast: the SGR train. You can take the Madaraka Express SGR as far as Mombasa, or take the Intercounty train and get off in Mariakani.
Trains leave twice daily. Economy tickets cost 1500 Ksh, while First Class cost 3000 Ksh.
From Mombasa or Malindi
If your flight or train arrives in Mombasa or Malindi, or if you’re staying there, the best way to get to Kilifi is by taxi. Patrick from Wasili Cabs, a local version of Uber, charges USD 20 less than the airport taxis. You can book your ride with him on +254 703 568277.
Alternatively, you could take a matatu, which costs around 200 ksh. There are stages in Malindi and Nyali (just north of Mombasa).
Is Kilifi Kenya safe?
Kilifi is one of the safest towns in Kenya. There’s a community watch called Amini Kilifi and multiple security response vehicles all over town, all of whom are in direct contact with the Kenya Police Service.
What does Kilifi mean?
Some people believe Kilifi is named after Vuma Cliffs, while others think the town gets its name from “Mkilifi” the Swahili word for Neem trees.
How far is Kilifi from Nairobi
Kilifi is 522 km (or 324 miles) from Nairobi, and it takes an average of 8 hours to drive here.