A Weekend of Breaks at Diani Beach

After assignments in Darfur and Mogadishu I needed a break. For the first time in a long time I booked myself a weekend at the Coast – at the splendid Jacaranda Indian Ocean Beach Resort.

I also needed a bit of therapy. On the Thursday evening I had gone to sleep a European; early on the Friday morning I woke as only a Brit. The Brexit news stunned me. I felt sad that the majority of my fellow-countrymen had voted in such a jingoistic, isolationist and illiberal way.

Then there was a third kind of break. Only ten minutes into our JamboJet flight to Ukunda, Benson, the in-flight steward, announced that we needed to turn back to JKIA because of a mechanical problem. We later discovered the problem was a cracked pilot’s windscreen.

I should pay tribute to Benson. His welcome-aboard talk and instructions were the wittiest and most informative I have ever heard. And he handled the turn-round problem in a very calm and reassuring way.

We took off again three hours later. This time Benson changed his script a little. He didn’t praise the replacement de Havilland Dash as ‘the safest of work horses’, as he had done before the first take-off. But he did say that the replacement would be faster. True, it was a quick and also very safe flight to the welcoming and warm Ukunda airstrip.

What was also welcoming was the fresh coconut juice in the elegant lobby of the Indian Ocean Beach Resort. I well remember this place from when I stayed there back in the early 1990s, when it was opened as Block Hotel’s flagship on the South Coast. The Jacaranda group took over the management some time ago and, recently, the hotel has been completely refurbished.

It occupies a huge plot of 35 acres at the northern end of Diani Beach, just before the mouth of the Mwachema River. There are many ancient baobabs, graceful palms and flowering shrubs. Among these, the resort has been created as a pretty Swahili village.

Unlike hotels back along the road, you don’t have to go down a steep slope to get to the sands. (Well, the more serious problem is climbing back up for, let’s call ourselves, more mature!). And I was fortunate to have a cottage right on the beach.

It had all I needed for my weekend retreat: an aesthetically pleasing bedroom with Swahili wood-beamed and white plaster ceiling; a clinically-clean washroom, with shower, hair dryer and such stuff; tea and coffee making equipment; a fridge for the more enticing drinks; DSTV (if I wanted to update myself on what I wanted to forget); a table and chairs on a small patio; the view – and the soporific sound – of the Indian Ocean.

The food was excellent, too: a generous buffet dinner, from which I chose the tangy grilled red snapper; a sumptuous breakfast, for which I went full-English; a lunch of vegetable soup and a tender lamb hot-pot.

I needn’t have worried that, this being the lowest of low seasons, I would be rolling around the hotel like a pea in an otherwise empty can. True, there were only a few of us there, but among the few were members of the Kenya Women in Tourism Association. There were only eight of them the first evening at dinner – but they made as much happy noise as eighty. Many more joined for their gala dinner on the Saturday.

Anyway, because of its Coastal architecture, its generous layout and its expansive garden, you don’t feel you are in a conventional hotel. As the General Manager (with the most appropriate name for someone in the tourism business – Ann Safari) said, ‘The main attraction of this place is that it is different’. The Kenya Rough Guide calls it a ‘little special’.

There is a serenity about this place. It is set on a quiet stretch of beach. Only a short stroll away on the sands is the ancient Kongo Mosque, with its barrel-vaulted roof shaded by some also ancient baobabs. It is thought to be the only remaining building of a Wa-Shirazi settlement of the 14th or 15th century.

Back to now… The Diani Jacaranda has a splendid Wariara Convention Centre, with a large and well-equipped auditorium that can hold up to 450 people. It has ‘break-out’ rooms on the upper floor and, back in the central main building with its restaurant and lounges, there is another ‘Traders’ room for seminars or workshops.

Like all other hotels along the Coast, in the face of the down-turn in overseas visitors, the Jacaranda Indian Ocean Beach Resort is looking to attract local tourists. For this low season – till 15th July – the hotel has a good offer. The price for a double room at half-board is KES.14,500; for a single, KES.9,500. And, if you pay this for three nights, the fourth night is free. Do you, too, fancy a break?

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation