The best snorkeling locations in Kenya

Kenya is located on the east coast of Africa, between the countries of Somalia to the north and Tanzania to the south. The coastline on the Indian Ocean is over 1400km but a considerable length of this is comprised of mangroves, particularly to the north of the country.

Coral reef in Kisite Marine Park
The coral reef at Kisite Marine Park.

The remaining coast is fringed by coral reefs with extensive and beautiful white sand beaches behind them. Some of these reef areas are easily accessible from shore but others require a boat trip to reach. Despite this, the back reefs and lagoons include areas that are interesting to snorkel over.

Kenya has a complex of marine reserves and parks, these include the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve in the extreme south; followed by Diani-Chale Marine National Park and Reserve, south of Mombasa; Mombasa National Marine Park and Reserve, just north of Mombasa and finally Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve and Malindi Marine National Park, about 100km to the north.

All of these areas have good snorkeling within them although access is different depending on the area.

Tiwi Beach, Diani
Tiwi Beach, in Diani, is one of the best shore access snorkeling spots in Kenya.

It is worth noting that the tidal range in Kenya can be as much as 2.5m which will affect your entry and exit points if snorkeling from shore. The intertidal areas are in themselves interesting to visit.

Good snorkeling spots can be found off Watamu Beach and the adjacent Turtle Bay and Blue Lagoon beaches, all in the middle of the Watamu-Malindi National Marine Reserve. The reef areas can be reached from shore by swimming or wading out at low water.

Twobar anemonefish
The Kenyan reef flats teem with sea life, including in very shallow waters. In this picture, twobar clownfish in a Merten’s sea anemone in Nomad Beach.

The local reefs are known to support almost 600 species of fish and a diverse array of invertebrate species, to the extent that the area was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1979. Plenty of boat operators work in the area and trips to the Malindi Marine National Park will take you to see dolphins (Indo-Pacific bottlenose and humpback) and turtles, including the species that nest locally; green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, and olive ridley sea turtle.

Mombasa Marine Park and National Reserve also offer shore snorkeling, although the beaches are more popular with tourists and can be quite well used. Despite this, coral reef patches exist within easy swimming distance of shore, the shallow waters supporting diverse collections of invertebrates, seagrasses, and turtles.

Green sea turtle in Kisite Marine Park
Green sea turtles are frequently spotted along Kenyan coasts, both on shallow seagrass meadows and reefs. Here, in Kisite Marine Park.

Further south, the less populated Diani Beach offers shallow water snorkeling with access to the reef edge for those who are confident swimmers. Much can be seen in the backshore and reef lagoon area, dominated by seagrasses but with coral outcrops occurring at numerous locations. The best snorkeling locations in Diani include Tiwi Beach, Nomad Beach and Pinewood Beach, all three with shore access.

The final area is the Kisite Marine Park, maybe the best snorkeling spot in Kenya. Visits to this area, which is considered to be relatively pristine, are only by boat, with trips focussing on visits to healthy coral gardens inhabited by rays, turtles, groupers and thousands of colorful reef fish.

Red-knobbed sea star in Nomad Beach
Several species of starfish live on the shallow reef flats and seagrass meadows, including the very common red-knobbed sea star. Here, in Nomad Beach.

When to go snorkeling in Kenya?

The open coastline of Kenya faces southeast with the strongest, prevailing winds, from the northeast occurring between September and April, with peak wind speeds in November and December.

Lighter winds exist from the southern quarter for the rest of the year. The northeasterly winds can create a difficult wave climate at times, particularly on reef edges.

Diani Beach, Kenya
Diani Beach.

However, the main factor that affects snorkeling is rainfall, which can restrict visibility, due to the considerable number of silt-filled rivers that discharge into the sea. The rainy season generally extends from April through to July, with the driest period from December to March, although heavy showers may also occur between October and December, depending on the year.

Water temperatures are more or less uniform all year, with highs of 29°C in March and April, and lows of 25°C in August. Atmospheric temperatures reach their highest (37°C) between November to March, combined with high humidity.

A robust ghost pipefish in Tiwi Beach.
A robust ghost pipefish in Tiwi Beach.

Cooler, less humid conditions exist between June and August (28°C max.). The optimum time for snorkeling appears to be Feb-early March and October, where conditions can be calm and the water clear.

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