Shimoni was at one time known for the saddest of reasons – it was a holding station for the slaves who were shipped from these shores. The craggy coral caves that carve through the cliﬀs were ﬁlled with chained men and women waiting to be loaded onto the dhows that would take them to lives of captivity.
Reports of the horrors of the slave trade, the state of the holding pens, and the shocking statistics about how many slaves died in transit, ﬁnally reached Britain in the mid 1800s. The abolition movement intensiﬁed, and the nefarious trade was ﬁnally brought to an end in 1857 when the British – who had played a major role in operating the trade – banned it.
The slave caves are well worth a visit, as is the exhibition about the slave trade held in what was once the District Commissioner's house. A local community organisation – the Shimoni Slave Cave Committee – now oﬀers informative tours, the proceeds of which pay for local community services such as schoolteachers salaries, scholarships for bright kids and medicines for the clinic.
Today, the area has a much ﬁner raison d'être. The crystal clear seas have been designated Kisite Mpunguti National Marine Park, and are home to over 250 species of ﬁsh, as well as dolphins, whales, turtles and more. The Kenya Wildlife Service calls the area 'home of the dolphin' and states there are 70 resident dolphins and 140 catalogued individuals. Pilli Pipa, local dhow cruise operator, corroborates this, saying the crews on their boats spot dolphins six days out of seven.
The reefs appear like enchanted coral gardens. Providing sustenance to nearly a million types of marine life, they give snorkelers and divers a kaleidoscope of colour. Coral islands jut from the water, some of which are uninhabited; visitors can wander alone along untouched beaches, wade in glistening rock pools or bask on sand bars.
Around 200 species of birds have been recorded here, and both resident species and migratory populations are frequently sighted. Kisite Island, a rocky outcrop fringed in white sand, has been recognised as an Important Bird Area: breeding colonies of seabirds, including notable numbers of roseate and sooty terns and crab-plovers, nest here from June to October, leaving after the rains with their ﬂedglings.
The forest along the shore has a tree canopy that attracts monkeys and smaller animals. Strolling through the speckled shade aﬀords glimpses of wildlife and birds, as well as the 236 plants that have been recorded there. What could be nicer than to emerge from the forest onto the beach, pleasantly weary from your walk, and watch the sun setting over the sea – with perhaps a sundowner in your hand?
Shimoni Reef Lodge oﬀers an exciting range of excursions, including boat trips, ﬁshing, kite surﬁng, snorkelling, diving and island discovery dhow cruises, as well as trips to the Shimoni Slave Caves and safaris in the Shimba Hills. www.shimonireeﬂodge.com
Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris oﬀers a delightful full-day boat cruise that anchors at snorkelling and diving sites, and stops for a seafood extravaganza on Wasini Island. www.pillipipa.com
Charlie's Claw, based on Wasini Island, oﬀers day trips and sunset cruises that include snorkelling, diving, dhow sailing and a feast at Charlie's Claw Restaurant.
Where to stay
This exclusive island resort oﬀers seafront cottages adorned with local artefacts, freeform swimming pool and seafood restaurant.
Shimoni Reef Lodge
This spacious and elegant lodge has cottages, suites and a charming coral house. Come for sea views, delectable cuisine, stimulating excursions and absolute tranquillity. www.shimonireeﬂodge.com
Shimoni Gardens Resort
Aﬀordable accommodation on the coast of Shimoni, this resort oﬀers school trips, teambuilding, camping and holidays.
Budget accommodation overlooking the Wasini Channel, this place has VIP tents, bush tents and a campsite. www.shimonibackpackers.com
KWS Shimoni Bandas
Owned by the Kenya Wildlife Service, these bandas are self-catering and self-contained. www.kws.go.ke/content/shimoni-cottages
With rooms in the main house and two tented bungalows, this camp has a swimming pool and a restaurant serving Swahili dishes.
Fireﬂy Ocean Camp
The camp has safari tents and a campsite, a swimming pool and a fully equipped kitchen.
Mwazaro Mangrove Lodge
A collection of palm bandas, this friendly resort has a thatched reception area and some fun excursions.
This lodge oﬀers rooms with sea views, restaurant serving local dishes and a conference room.