Village of the Sweet People

Watamu means ‘sweet people’ in Swahili. While some see this as a tribute to the sweet nature of the folk here, there’s a darker possibility. It’s alleged that slave traders lured locals into their notorious slave ships with sweets. Certainly Gede, the ancient settlement at Watamu, was established during the days of the trade routes; the settlement originated in the twelfth century, when Arab dhows were ploughing up and down the east coast of Africa trading in leopard skins, tortoiseshells, rhino horns, ivory, gold and slaves.

Gede was abandoned in the seventeenth century, possibly because of attacks by bands of Turks, Ethiopians and Somalis, and possibly because the drop in the water table made water scarce. The crumbling houses, mosques and palaces have surrendered to the grasping fingers of the forest, and the site is now a picturesque fusion of ruins, roots and foliage. Now under the protection of the National Museums of Kenya, this archaeological site makes a scenic spot at which to wander, picnic and listen out for the echoes of history.

The Arabuko Sokoke Forest that has enfolded Gede in its embrace is the last remaining fragment of dry coastal forest in East and Southern Africa. Sprinkled with evocatively named sites like the Whistling Duck Pools and the Kararacha Pools, the forest is a vital habitat for endemic and endangered species of animals, birds and plants. With a network of walking trails, several viewpoints, tree platforms, picnic spots and campsites, the forest lends itself to vigorous activities, game spotting, bird watching, or the gentle contemplation of nature.

Along the southern fringe of the forest runs Mida Creek, a lovely inlet fringed with mangroves. It’s these mangroves that are responsible for the extraordinary numbers of fish species and bird species found here. Together with Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. An enterprising group aptly named the Mida Creek Conservation Community has build a boardwalk out into the creek, at the end of which sits the Crab Shack. Possibly the most idyllic place to while away an evening, the Crab Shack offers views of the setting sun turning the water golden and serves a delectable array of seafood.