Beach and spa bliss in Mombasa

by Kate.Pettifer

African sunshine, delicious food and a world-class spa – the Serena Beach resort, near Mombasa, is great for a beach holiday or as an add-on to a Kenyan safari trip


Being late for my Elemis facial because my plane had been delayed in Nairobi was quite an A-list way to begin my stay at the Serena Beach resort near Mombasa. And pre-booking an arrival treatment was worth every pore-soothing second of it. Since having my complexion restored with a little post-flight pampering (which twice resulted in me waking up to my own snoring), I can’t understand why this service isn’t on offer in airports…

The spa, a discreet complex of white-plastered buildings in the shaded hotel gardens, has plenty of treatments to choose from, both Elemis and locally inspired. Try the coffee body scrub - exfoliation meets Kenco; I felt like someone had emptied their cafetiere on me. The treatment rooms are spacious and an oasis of air-conditioned calm, and while the plinky-plonk music and surfeit of towels may come as standard, the sense of genuine welcome and care you get from the therapists is stand-out. Post-treatment, it was great to prolong the sense of relaxation with an outdoor Jacuzzi.

The Serena Beach resort is designed like a Swahili village, apparently. If you’re not too familiar with those, expect a series of low-level whitewashed buildings, with gently curved balconies and meandering pathways through the gardens. Its serene ambience is testament to good design: during my stay, I had no idea I could potentially bump into 163 rooms' worth of people. In the main buildings, Moorish-style lanterns, arches and rugs make the atmosphere Arabian-meets-African, with the heart of the resort organised around a bougainvillea-shaded courtyard.

Beyond the tall palms waving gently at the hotel boundary, a white sandy beach flanks the resort, at the edge of the deep green Indian Ocean. I found that the windy conditions and the stream of wide-smiling vendors touting everything from sodas to jewellery meant I was more at ease swimming in the hotel’s peaceful pool, but I did head to the resort’s water sports centre to sail on a catamaran – exhilarating!

Mombasa has a rich history, with Portuguese, Arabic and Indian influences. It's a sprawling city, but the main attractions for tourists are concentrated around the old town and the imposing Fort Jesus. The old town is dusty, scruffy and fascinating, dominated by Arabic-looking buildings, with only the intricate Swahili door carvings revealing you’re not in North Africa. The fort is vast, its turreted block walls serving as a reminder of Mombasa’s importance as a key coastal foothold in land battles of the past. Take a city tour from the hotel to see this and other sights, including the random but iconic Mombasa Tusks.

Lunch on the terrace at Tamarind couldn’t have offered a more contrasting side to Mombasa. The harbour views are the icing on the cake at this seafood institution, established in the 70s. I ordered the jumbo prawns, which turned out to be more like mini lobsters and, slathered in garlic butter, were the perfect beginning to an amazing meal.

The resort restaurants live up to equally high standards. I booked a table at the Jahazi Grill, Serena’s specialist seafood restaurant and enjoyed grilled lobster as fresh as the thatch-framed sea views. Breakfast is served in the Fountain Restaurant, with a huge choice of cold and cooked options – deciding what to have doesn’t get any easier as the week goes on: you have been warned.

This comfortable, picturesque resort is so welcoming and relaxing that any guilt you may harbour about flying and flopping when you’ve travelled so far dissipates with your arrival cocktail. However, should you wish to explore the area around Mombasa, the hotel’s excursions make this easy. And those who've already had an adventure in the Kenyan game reserves will find Serena Beach the perfect post-safari contrast.



I am a travel journalist with more than 10 years’ experience in consumer publishing. As well as writing about travel, I’ve worked as a campsite courier in France and a ski rep in the Italian Alps, and when I was 18 sailed transatlantic on a square rigger. These days I write about anything from hotel reviews to extreme adventure. Favourite places : It’s verging on cruelty to ask a travel journalist to create a shortlist, but Vietnam was an amazing country – spectacular in its scenery with an intriguing mix of cultures; the Windward Islands in the Caribbean are friendly and stunningly beautiful, especially the Grenadines; I’d love to go back to Croatia, which had the most inviting sea I’ve ever swum in, and the Hautes Alpes in France will always have a little piece of my heart.