Is Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve on your bucket list? Because if it is not, it’s high time you added it.
It’s been over a year since I packed my belongings and moved to the coast. For one, I needed a break from the city and thought the beautiful scenery and weather in Kwale were a perfect escape. I was also hoping I would take the time to tour the county, given the hilly landscape and long stretches of spectacular white sandy beaches.
I have been a little lazy about the last bit. But I finally managed to get off my couch and do more than eat out in one of the cafes in Diani. I visited one of the top tourist places in the county, Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve, and here’s what I made of the one-day trip.
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About Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve
The park was established in 1973 as a marine national park and reserve to protect its coral gardens, marine life, and the four neighboring islands. The park & reserve is about 39 sq km, comprised of 28 km of Kisite Park and 11 sq km of Mpunguti Reserve.
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How Much are the Park Fees?
The park is under the management of KWS. The current rates are Ksh. 215 for adult citizens and residents and Ksh. 125 for children (per person). The rates for non-resident adults and children are $17 and $13 per person.
You can always check the prevailing rates from the KWS website here.
Best Time to Visit
The park & reserve is great for all year-round visits. However, if you hope to enjoy some diving and snorkeling, the best time to visit is between October and March. The water is less rough and much clearer, providing ample visibility underwater.
Additionally, it’s best to visit early morning when the tides are low. The dolphins are usually around during low tides. Plus, it makes swimming, diving, and snorkeling safer.
How to Get to Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve
Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve is 30-45 minutes from Diani. If you are coming from Nairobi, you can fly directly to Diani using Jambo Jet or SafariLink, instead of flying to Mombasa. The other alternatives, which are more affordable if traveling on a budget, are taking the SGR or bus to Mombasa, crossing the ferry, and catching a matatu to Diani.
Whatever option you take, I’d recommend scheduling getting to Diani first and planning your trip to Kisite Mpunguti the following day. The trip is usually a whole day affair, and it’s important to get there early so you catch the dolphins!
Can you drive to Kisite Mpunguti?
Absolutely! You can do a self-drive. If you are driving from Diani, you will take the Ukunda-Lungalunga route. As mentioned, the drive is about 30 – 45 minutes from Diani. Along the highway, there is a junction on your right with a signage of the island that’s hard to miss. The drive from this junction to the park is about 10-15 minutes.
Once at the park’s entry, you will pay your park fees and engage the local tour guides who operate the dhows. These are the ones who will take you on the dhow cruise.
What About Tour Companies?
I have seen numerous tour companies offering packages to the park. If you are not driving, these are the best alternatives to using a matatu. Because first, I did not see any matatus operating from the highway junction to the park, which is quite a distance. Second, the tour company charges a one-time fee that caters to your park entry fees, activities, lunch, and pick-up and drop-off from your hotel.
The cost will vary depending on the tour company. However, be ready to part with about Ksh. 3,500 to Ksh. 5,000 for residents and $50 to $65 for non-residents. Some tour companies also pick you up from Mombasa.
Activities at Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park & Reserve
Now to activities! There are several fun activities
1. Dolphin & Whale Spotting
Speaking of dolphins, this was our first order of business and, perhaps, my favorite. I’ll admit it was my first time seeing dolphins, and I greatly regret having stayed in Kwale a whole year without making this trip.
Kisite Mpunguti National Reserve & Park is home to three species of dolphins, humpback, spinner, and bottle-nosed dolphins.
According to our tour guide and KWS, dolphins are not the only attraction at the reserve. One can also spot migrating humpback whales and whale sharks between July and December.
2. Diving & Snorkeling
Diving and snorkeling in these pristine and clear waters allow you to experience underwater life with corals and fish. There are several diving and snorkeling sites ranging from 2m to 32m (6 ft to 100 ft). This allows both professionals and amateurs like yours truly, to have this experience. Plus, the dhow cruises have guides who help you if you are inexperienced.
3. Swimming & Sunbathing
There is an isolated island during low tides where the dhow cruises anchor. Besides indulging in diving and snorkeling, one can also spend the better part of their time swimming and sunbathing on the white sandy beach.
4. Other Scenic Attraction: The Barrier Reef
The magical barrier reef is a sight to behold, extending from the south of the coast, Shimoni, to the north in Malindi. It’s home to numerous marine life and trees.
5. Village Walk
After our meals, one of the tour guides took us through a short walk through the village. The village is quite small, and the walk took less than 10 minutes. There was little to see, but the guide gave us a brief history of the village and a tale of its current lifestyle.
There are several restaurants with plenty of meal choices. The tour companies usually partner with these restaurants, and they’d have your meals ready.
From the restaurant the tour company had selected for us, we had a selection of either chicken or fish and veggies, cassava, chapatis, and rice. The restaurant also provided some seafood bitings with the option of buying a seafood platter.