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In Kenya, Seeing the Sites by Dhow

In Kenya, Seeing the Sites by Dhow

There’s just something about a lager at sunset.

As we headed toward Pate Island by dhow, the traditional sailboat that is ubiquitous up and down the East African coast, the captain popped open my Tusker, a Kenyan beer, and passed around beef and vegetarian samosas. I settled back on large overstuffed white cushions, munched on the savory treats and reflected that life was always better with a sundowner.

Just about a half hour earlier at Manda Bay, the posh rustic resort on Manda Island where we were staying, I had donned the colorful plaid kikoy wrap I had bought the day before and my partner put on his swim trunks so we could wade out into the Indian Ocean and climb aboard the dhow, which comfortably carried the captain, his mate and the two of us.

Dhows have sailed the Indian Ocean for thousands of years, their triangular sails creating distinctive silhouettes. Made of woods such as teak and mahogany, the vessels vary in size from small fishing boats to spacious versions more than 100 feet long.

As for Manda Bay, the Italian musician Bruno Brighetti originally opened it in the 1960s as the Blue Safari Club. It was sold to Kenyans more than two decades ago. Now its thatched roof bungalows, with wooden bed swings on the porches, line a vast, private sandy beach (beachside rooms are $540 a night for single occupancy).

It takes about an hour to fly from Nairobi to the tiny Manda Island airport, then porters carry your bags out to the dock for a 30-minute boat ride to the resort on the island’s northern shore. Everyone from wealthy South African tech executives to members of the British aristocracy have stayed here over the years. (Lady Viola Grosvenor, a sister of the Duke of Westminster — who owns a good portion of London’s Mayfair neighborhood — married the son of the Kenyan owners in 2022, and part of their wedding celebrations were held at Manda Bay).

Mention a trip to Kenya and most people probably think “safari.” But staying at Manda Bay has a whole different vibe. In addition to dhow cruises around the mangrove-studded archipelago — which includes Manda Island, Lamu Island, Pate Island and the smaller islands of Kiwayu and Manda Toto — there are relaxed days by the pool; snorkeling on a nearby reef; day trips to Lamu Town and the village of Shela, both on Lamu Island; sailboats and kayaks to borrow; and offers of inshore and deep-sea fishing expeditions.

Aside from the fishing, we had just about done everything else during our week here…

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