If you follow me on social media (I’m @lipglossgirl on twitter and @lipglossgirlxoxo on Insta) you’ll know I took an impromptu trip to Kenya the other day. It manifested the same way most of my travels do – off the cuff and spurred by great value – so, while this post will cover my holiday, it’s also going to help you put together your own ‘travel package’, regardless of the destination.
So, let’s get cracking!
While I’ve always got my eye on flight specials advertised by various travel agents many of my holidays have begun with checking out cheap flights on Skyscanner.net. I leave the ‘destination’ box blank which searches for ‘everywhere’ and select ‘whole month’ and then ‘compare across cheapest month’ as my depart and return dates. It then gives you a string of countries as options, listing them from cheapest to most expensive. This is how I became aware of the fact that Dec 2017 was a great month to get cheap flights to Kenya via Ethiopian Airways. (A quick search at the time of writing now tells me I can find return flights to Zanzibar from as little as R4 353 in March. Tempting!)
Top tips: Skyscanner isn’t the only way to find cheap flights. I also use Cheapflights.co.za a lot. In fact, I then used that particular site to search for more specific dates in December for Kenya and that’s how I found Cape Town return (on Ethiopian Airways) for just R6 320.
Now, a cheap flight is one thing but I never commit to buying unless I can find great value accommodation too. Much like flights, accommodation fluctuates but tends to cost less when booked way in advance or at the very last-minute. I’d also heard Kenya was expensive so I did a bit of research – checking menus of restaurants in Diani and chatting to those who’d gone – and yep, it turns out it was. Not crazy expensive, but pricy enough for it to really add up if you’re eating out for lunch and supper six days in a row. (Think R85 for a basic, no frills hamburger and R95 for a cocktail at a restaurant with a ‘fanciness’ level comparable to Jerry’s Burger Bar in Cape Town.) So, for this reason, I wanted to find something all-inclusive.
Top tips: I’ve done a lot of all-inclusive holidays because I love the idea of being able to order as many drinks as I like without worrying about the tally. This works out fabulously when you’re travelling to pricy destinations (Hello Mexico! I see you Mauritius!) but isn’t necessary if you’re going somewhere with a currency weaker than the rand. For example, don’t do all-inclusive in Thailand. There are just too many great restaurants serving up a killer pad thai for R17! Check out my post on Chiang Mai to get inspired.
So, I headed off to Bookings.com, searched all-inclusive resorts in Diani that matched my flight dates and found a great one called Diani Sea Resort. It had a huge pool, was right on the beach and it’s price included a buffet meal three times a day plus as many beverages as you can handle – everything from water, coffee, tea and soda to a myriad of cocktails and straight up hard tack like whiskey! As an added bonus, the resort also has a snack menu that you can order from between 12 and 4pm (burgers, pizza, sandwiches and fish and chips). The best bit? If you shared a room, it was R5 600 per person!
Top tip: Don’t let the reviews on Booking.com be a deciding factor as to whether your resort is hot or not. Check out an independent review site like tripadvisor where you’ll also find pics taken by guests which will give you a much better idea than the shots the hotel takes and hands over to Bookings.
Many of you have asked for the total cost so here it is:
Cape Town – Mombasa return via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines: R6 320
6 nights at Diani Sea Resort (including all food and drink): R5 600
Taxi from Mombasa to Diani Beach: R600 each way = R1 200 divided by 4: R300
Yellow fever injection and malaria tablets: R1 266
TOTAL: R13 486
Top tip: Know that malaria tablets don’t agree with everyone and, while my friends were fine, I felt like crap. They gave me a stomach cramps within an hour of taking them and made me feel super lethargic. For this reason I’d recommend you take them last thing at night as opposed to in the morning.
Now, one of many possible reasons for our flight being so cheap was it’s seriously long layover – 11 hours in Addis Ababa! I’ve travelled through Addis a couple of times before (mostly to get to Bangkok) so believe me when I tell it’s one of the most boring yet chaotic airports I’ve ever had the displeasure of transiting through. (My friend Dax refers to it as ‘Abyss Ababa’!) Weirdly, it’s also insanely expensive. Still, I packed snacks, a pillow, blanket and sleeping tablets in a bid to tough it out, viewing it as a small price to pay for such a great fare. But, how’s this for a surprise – Ethiopian Airways gave us vouchers to stay in a hotel as well as eat supper and breakfast there and even covered the cost of busing us in and out of it! As it turns out, this is something they do for all passengers with a lay over longer than eight hours. (Read more about it here.)
Top tip: If you’re like me (a freelancer who can work from anywhere) or aren’t too worried about losing two days of your holiday to travel, then I’d recommend that, if given the option between two similarly priced flights but with different long layover times, opt for the longer one if it meets the requirements for your airline’s long layover hotel voucher, should they offer it. Ten hours in a hotel is much more preferable to, say, seven hours in an airport. Still, in saying that, know that, in most cases, the hotels are by no means fancy. In fact, the two we stayed at were downright dingy (think The Shining in Africa) but hey, it was a total adventure and we got to sleep in beds as opposed to a bench.
After a long trip, we finally arrived at Mombasa international where we filled in a form to get a visa on arrival then hopped into a taxi set for Diani.
Top tip: The moment you set foot out of the airport you’ll be flanked by a throng of taxi companies waving boards listing the fare amount to different destinations. After a quick comparison we discovered that they all cost the same (5000 KES/R600 to Diani) so don’t bother haggling.
The one and a half hour drive went by quickly as there was so much to take in. You start in the heart of Mombasa which is big and loud and metropolitan (it reminded me of South Africa in the 80s) but, as you make your way to the coast (crossing a river in a ferry which is included in the fare), things start to get a lot more rural looking. Buildings give way to painted shacks and you’ll suddenly spot goats and cows wandering in the street that have changed from tar to dirt. While the trip is done by loads of tourists I didn’t really see many when I looked around and at one point I did wonder how safe it was but it was completely uneventful. Still, I was glad we drove during the day time and that I was with three other girls and not on my own.
Once we got to Diani Beach, however, it reminded me a bit of the islands in Thailand. Think dusty roads, palm trees, Ray-Ban rocking tourists and every second rustic little store selling beach buckets, slip slops and sunscreen. As for our resort, well that was magnificent! The grounds are lush and green and beautifully manicured, the pool is sparkly and blue and, like I said, it’s literally right on the beach.
If you’re looking at hotels in Diani, just know that Diani Sea Resort is an absolute gem and I’d stay there again in a heart beat. The food was fantastic and, as the buffet is so large and varied, even the fussiest of eaters will find something to enjoy. The resort also has daily activities you can participate in for free (think yoga and aqua aerobics) as well as live entertainment like singing and dancing after dinner. It was such an oasis we barely left it but from a location point of view it’s pretty great in that it’s within walking distance of a super market complex with an ATM and (several) pharmacies. Also, Diani’s famous 40 Thieves beach bar and (overpriced) cave restaurant is a short walk away too.
Top tip: You can buy pretty much any scheduled drug on the planet without a script in Kenya. This is me just sayin’. Don’t come running to me should you get caught with 10 000 strips of Oxy and land your ass in jail.
We visited 40 Thieves the one eve, walking up to it via the well-lit beach side as opposed to the main road as the resort staff warned us not walk around after dark, and popped out head into the cave but didn’t stay long. A mango margarita set me back almost R100 and the views and vibes it served up weren’t much different from our resort so we soon hightailed it back to the land of unlimited ‘free’ cocktails. (We unanimously agreed that Diani Sea Resort makes the best pina colada on the planet!)
Top tip: Go to Diani Sea Resort and drink a ton of pina coladas!
Another time we ventured out was to take a snorkelling trip that cost just R350. (I think! It could’ve been R450. I paid cash so can’t find a record of it.) We booked it via our hotel and it included all the equipment plus six hours on a boat with a bunch of guides who also gave us chapati (kind of like roti) to feed the fish. Non-hotel guests could’ve totally done it too. The touts selling the tour walk up and down the beach.
It was a fun day out but, as far as the actual quality of snorkelling goes, don’t go in expecting Thailand-level tropical amazingness. Still, the water is crystal clear and you will see a decent selection of sea life including everyone’s favourite, the clownfish AKA as ‘Nemo’. For the record, the best places I’ve ever snorkelled are Maya Bay in Thailand and Akumal (with sea turtles!) near Cancun, Mexico.
Top tips: Wear a T-shirt while you snorkel or you’ll burn the shizzle out of your back. Pick the snorkel with the smallest mouth piece that fits. (If it’s too big it won’t feel uncomfortable at first but a few minutes later your jaw will start to ache.) Also, don’t step on a spiky poisonous sea urchin a la Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon. I did that and it was kak.
In all, our trip’s goal was to enjoy an all-inclusive beach break that involved slothing it up between a pool and a sea as warm as bathwater so that’s exactly what we did. Sure, getting a taste of Kenya was fabulous, but exploring it extensively was by no means a focus so for those of you who asked me questions about game drives and the masai mara migration and what not, I really can’t be of much help. Like I said, this post mostly serves to help inspire you to not be afraid to ditch their travel agent and make up their own packages.
If you’ve been thinking about heading to the Kenyan coast and are looking for an awesome all-inclusive resort know that I can’t recommend Diani Sea Resort enough. Everything was fabulous, I can’t fault them on a thing and nope, they in no way sponsored this post. My friends and I paid for everything out of our own pockets and would happily do so again. But for now, I’m saving my pennies for another trip and this time I’ve got my eye on the Philippines…