Kilifi County

Attractions in Kilifi County

61. Mambrui

17 kms north of Malindi the compact town of Mambrui engulfed by sand dunes is reached. There are a handful of reasonable hotels and resorts along its 4 kms beach, including: Mambrui Golden Beach Bar and Cottages, Angel’s Bay Resort, Kola Beach Resort, Che Shale,Karibuni Villas, Barefoot Beach Camp and Ndoto Boutique Hotel, all within 6 km from the centre, which can double as jumping-off places to Tana River Primate National Reserve (145 kms north) or to Tsavo East National Park (300 kms west). Mambrui is also the last major town before heading to Garsen in Tana River County (95 kms north) or Mkowe in Lamu County (192 kms northeast). Of course, Mambrui is also historically relevant, as a successful trading post during the 12th and 13th Century, based on the artifacts unearthed here.  A small pitted brass coin excavated in 2014 by a Kenya-China joint team of archaeologists indicated a Chinese presence in this region to as early as 1400, and 100 years before the Portuguese arrived. On all accounts, the Chinese early presence along the East Africa Coast in undeniable.  Indeed, “the Chinese authors during the Dynasties of Sung (960-1279) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were well acquainted with East Africa – which they dubbed as Tsang-pat or Tseng-po.  They traded in gold, ivory and animal skins.

Sand Dunes at Mambrui Beach. Image Courtesy of KenyaPics
Sand Dunes at Mambrui Beach. Image Courtesy of KenyaPics

62. Mambrui Tombs

The most interesting of the Mambrui tombs was studied by Kirkman in 1950. It is a big tomb with a decagonal pillar about 1.6 metres wide and 5.5 metres high. In a frieze around the top of the shaft wore set ten late King blue and white porcelain bowls and plates, one alternating with the other, of late 16th Century. Adjoining this tomb on the north is a compound with a large tombstone on its east wall and, like the enclosure of the pillar tomb, with a doorway in its west walls. Nearby is another tombstone tomb, which once had a circular coral boss set in the centre of the tombstone; although the stump of this boss remains. The old Mambrui Mosque is located on some high ground just above the beach, east of the cemetery. Leading from the musalla out to the west was a single square headed doorway, while in the north end of the west wall was a niche or window.

Section of the Mambrui Toms. Image Courtesy of BIEA Blog
Section of the Mambrui Toms. Image Courtesy of BIEA Blog

63. Kibiraki Ruins

In similar style of the Kongo Mosque and the Munge Mosque by the sea, this is situated at the rear of Sheshale Bay, about 3 kms north of Mambrui, at a point where a channel sometimes washes water into the sea but at high water is itself filled part way up stream by the sea. The site of a single Mosque, Kibirikani is located several tens of metres from the beach, in dense bush on the south side of the river channel. The mihrab and a few walls on the southwest side stand, including a small cistern, from which perhaps the site takes its name (Birikani).

Historic Sites along Upper Coastline of Kilifi County. Image Courtesy
Sites along Upper Coast of Kilifi. Image Courtesy of Thomas Wilson

64. Ngomeni Shipwreck

All that structure known as the 16th Century Ngomeni Shipwreck measuring approximately 20 meters by 41 meters lying under water at a depth of 7 to 10 meters on geographical coordinates 04044.380″ E and 02°58733″ S situated under water in Ngomeni Bay was gazetted as a National Monument on March 31st of 2021. “For over 2000 years, the East African coast has been in contact with other parts of the world, made possible by the Indian Ocean’s winds and currents that facilitated sailing over long distances. Shipwrecks being recovered along the coast today confirm the region’s active past” – Caesar Bita. Mombasa was one of the most popular early trading towns along the coast of Kenya. The town had three ancient centres: Malindi, Mambrui and Ngomeni. Mambrui and Malindi were vibrant agricultural regions while Ngomeni was known for the production and export of mangroves. The small settlement of Ngomeni, lying 30 kms north of Malindi, is located near a headland where ships could possibly have come to grief in ancient times. It lies on the north side of an arm of land extending into the sea (known as Ras Ngomeni) that offers a protected shallow harbour. Up until the discovery of Ngomeni shipwreck, the earliest shipwreck found in Eastern Africa was the Santa Antonio de Tanna, dated 1769, while in Southern Africa the Oranjemund in Namibia remains the oldest, dating to 1533.

In Kenya, interest in underwater archaeology developed in the 1970s following the discovery and successful excavation of the Santa Antonio De Tanna. This excavation made Kenya, through the National Museums of Kenya, the first East African and sub-Saharan country to legally recognise the value of underwater cultural heritage and the first to initiate an underwater archaeological study. In 2006, National Museums of Kenya entered into a bilateral agreement with the National Museum of China under which archaeological surveys were made of the Kenyan coast. These surveys have since documented many sites, indicating this coast is strewn with several ancient shipwrecks. The highest concentration of these marine sites is around Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu. The shipwreck at Ngomeni was discovered in 2007 by fishermen who reported the find to Caesar Bita, the curator of Malindi Museum. The men mentioned of a wooden feature about 40m long, at a depth of 7-10m, partially covered in sand. The anchor line made of fibre (rope), they said, was clearly visible but could not be lifted for being heavily deteriorated. They also brought to the Museum some red powdery material they claimed to have collected from the shipwreck site. This was later analysed and found to be cinnabar. A reconnaissance mission was launched in 2008 to collect more information. The anglers had found Far Eastern ceramics, Persian green glazed pottery and rounded stones (ballast). Some of the anglers said they had sold artefacts to antique dealers in Lamu island and Mombasa.

A visit to the site confirmed the existence of a large wooden shipwreck. This led to later underwater archaeological studies in Ngomeni village in 2010, when archaeologists from NMK and the National Museum of China under the Sino-Kenya recovered Persian pottery from the 15th century and found complete lengthwise wooden planks from the bottom of the ship concealed under sand. Finally, from November 2013 to January 2014, excavation of an area of 3m x 5m on the northwest area of the site was carried out by the joint team. Though not yet fully surveyed, the site was found to have a spread of more than 40m with the ship base, including some ribs, still intact. With only a small section of the Ngomeni wreck excavated, the size of the timber planks and the extent of the site covering 20m x 40m, it can be deduced that Ngomeni was a very large ship. However, it is only upon complete excavation of the entire site and an artefact audit that it can be established whether Ngomeni was larger or smaller than the Oranjemund – 6th century Oranjemund shipwreck discovered off the coast of Namibia in the Atlantic Ocean. For now, the captivating Ngomeni is the oldest wreck discovered in sub-Saharan Africa, although research continues. After having conducted surveys and analysis the authorities have chosen an in-situ preservation with the idea of creating the very first underwater museum in Kenya at Ras Ngomeni. Ngomeni shipwreck and its collection of cargo provides an interesting attraction of the ancient maritime trade networks across oceans.

Ngomeni Shipwreck. Image Courtesy of National Museums of Kenya
Ngomeni Shipwreck. Image Courtesy of National Museums of Kenya

65. Delta Dunes Lodge

Lying 35 kms north of Malindi on the way to Garsen and Lamu, this is probably the only place in the Coast Region of Kenya which properly showcases the Tana River Dunes at its mouth, side by side with clean empty beaches and the open ocean. Once a tiny lodge with just one cabin, in 1982, it’s now well known for its spectacular bird life, unfamiliar landscapes and comfortable ambiance with all-round spectacular views. Delta Dunes Lodge has seven-open fronted cottages, perched on top of sand dunes on the side of Kipalo Hills, with a large central common area, and it’s a perfect location to experience these rare natural thrills for a day or two before heading out to Lamu. “It has fabulous views overlooking the Tana River on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. Delta Dune is an Island Lodge”. Access to the lodge is from the B8 Malindi-Garsen-Garissa Road. After an hours drive from Malindi you reach a pick-up point where the host with a small boat waits for you to get you across Tana River. In 20 minutes, you are at the famous Delta Dunes Lodge formerly dubbed as the Tana Delta Lodge.

66. Nyika Plateau

Nyika Plateau, an expansive lowland of wait-a-bit and grassland set on a gently rolling relief, which gradually rises to merge with Tsavo East National Parks, is one of the harshest region in the Coast Region of Kenya.  Nyika Plateau expands over north of Mariakani and west of the coastal plain and range in Kilifi County, then spill into Tana River County.  Nyika, the Swahili equivalent of “forest and thorn bush country”, covers about 50% of Kilifi’s surface area including Galana Conservancy and seven other smaller conservancies and ranches in the County.