Over the past long weekend that culminated in Labor Day, my family and I traveled to Mombasa together with another family that is close to our hearts. We had an interestingly thought-provoking experience which I will sum up in five points and pictures.
1.If you are looking for a proper beach experience, nothing beats Manda Bay! Save it for last.
If you plan on visiting different parts of the coast at different times of the year, please save Lamu as your last destination. I may not be an expert of the coastal exploration but my few trips down to Diani, Mombasa, Mtwapa, Kilifi and most recently Lamu (Manda) had me awarding Manda’s beach a perfect 10/10. It is clean, almost white, with very little traces of sea weed. While the establishment you end up in at whichever locality will account significantly to your overall experience, I think the beach matters a lot too. The two times I set my eyes on the beach over the past weekend in Mombasa left me feeling sad. Manda had raised the bar so high up. Its beaches are what the word pristine was coined for.
2. Never Ever underestimate reviews on travel sites.
We booked ourselves to Sun & Sand Hotel despite reading lots of negative reviews on Trip Advisor including “A run-down Hotel-..this hotel spins hazards for vacations!” (Dec 2016) and “Zero points for food.” (Dec 2016) and “Hotel terrible-Worst hotel ever!” (Aug 2016). Before you dismiss us as deserving of the horrendous experience, these reviews were old so we hoped that things had changed and there were also some positive reviews.
First of all, the journey from the airport took almost four hours as the traffic was monstrous. The hotel is located past Mtwapa. We disembarked at 5.00pm and got to the hotel at 8.45pm. The establishment looks heavenly from the gate, in fact, palatial is the right word to describe it. One of the kids who was initially sulking having insisted to the folks that they book Pride Inn Hotel in Mombasa was so excited by the sight that met him at Sun & Sand’s gate. He turned to the mom and said “Forget Pride Inn!!”
The hotel sits on colossal land and looked like it had capacity for over 1,000 guests. I kid you not. However, when we checked into the dining area that resembled a deserted hall, there was only one other family. How on earth the management is able to meet the hotel’s operating expenses is beyond me. The food was the most uninspiring meal I have had in ages, except for the pan-fried fish which was quite tasty. The rest was annoyingly plain. Overcooked spinach, mediocre mutton. The chicken was nothing to write home about and the desert (cake) was horrible. The rooms were hideous to say the least. The mister mentioned that if one was blindfolded and found themselves in one of the rooms, they would be forgiven for thinking they were spending the night at a bed and breakfast in Kericho. Or Makueni. Did I mention how dirty the dining room was? Specs of dirt laid around in different corners, something we only discovered over breakfast as the lighting during dinner time was horrible! One last thing, the manager mentioned to us that he had given us the best room that the establishment had to offer with the best view of the sea. You be the judge.
3. Unless you are entirely familiar with the establishment, never pay for your entire stay in advance.
Despite making a reservation for three nights, there’s no way we were going to last an extra day at Sun & Sands. In fact, the only reason we stayed there on the first night was because we were totally exhausted, having been on the road for close to four hours. We checked out immediately after breakfast on Saturday morning. Thankfully, we had only paid about Ksh 5k in excess of the cost of one night as deposit. Obviously, they were not going to refund the balance but we were willing to forfeit it for peace of mind’s sake. This was a great lesson learnt the hard way. Or the expensive way if you may.
4. Vipingo Ridge saved the day!
The whole trip was planned around a golf tournament that the mister and his friend were participating in at Vipingo Ridge’s Baobab Course, a PGA accredited golf course. Initially, the boys had suggested we book a villa at Vipingo Ridge but I was against it because again, if you’ve been keen in today’s class you know that the beach sits at the top of my priority list. Think of the cottages at Great Rift in Naivasha. That’s what Vipingo Ridge will offer you in terms of your overall experience and views, but in a more refreshing way. After our escapade at Sun & Sand and the depressing view of its dirty beach, I was willing to move to a hotel in the forest! Vipingo Ridge villas had been fully booked by guys participating in the EABL tournament but we were lucky to get a vacant one. Apparently, one of the participants and his entourage had an accident and had to cancel and that’s how we got lucky. I hope it wasn’t too serious and I pray that they recovered well.
In a nut shell, there’s not much to do besides play golf and swim. The property sits on prodigious tract of land which provides a great running trail for those in love with the sport. I did a quick 10kms on Sunday morning but covered most of the stretch outside the establishment as I wanted to explore the outskirts. Besides swimming, the kids can enjoy horse riding at a cost of Ksh 800, something Xena loved whole heatedly. She actually wanted her horse to gallop and cried when it didn’t. She told the guide off every time he tried directing her horse (she wanted it unmanned). The lack of a beach not withstanding, Vipingo Ridge makes for a great relaxation destination.
There’s a hotel within the property from where you can have your meals. It is expensive though so the best option would be to hire a cook for your entire stay. We got one who made us delectable dishes and was pleasant to have around. If you ever find yourself at one of the villas in Vipingo Ridge, you may want to reach out to him.
5. Vipingo Ridge has an airstrip and Safari Link will get you there at very competitive rates
If you don’t find any of the above info useful, I pray you take this home with you. Traffic in Mombasa especially during peak time is worse than Nairobi’s Mombasa Road traffic. If you intend to stay in Mtwapa or Kilifi, you are better of taking a Fly 540 or Jambo Jet flight to Malindi and driving down against traffic. But better yet, did you know that Safari Link lands in Vipingo Ridge and its rates are more or less similar to the other two airlines? If you plan a trip to Vipingo Ridge (or its environs), this is a no brainer. Book Safari Link and save yourself the trouble of sitting in traffic for hours. You can imagine our frustration when we discovered this after having paid for our Fly 540 flights which were non-refundable as they were discounted!
One last thing. We only have a few more days to go before the voting window for the Bake Awards is closed. If you appreciate the anecdotes and information that you get every time you come to this platform, please cast your vote? Never mind that this is beginning to sound like the party primaries for #Kenyadecides2017! Your one vote may be the deciding factor. Vote here for Best Lifestyle Blog, category 19.a.