By the 14th century, Malindi was an important Swahili settlement and it became one of the few places on the east coast to welcome the Portuguese. Today you can still see the stone cross erected by Vasco da Gama in January 1499 and the small Portuguese church nearby. Although Malindi makes an excellent base for visits to places like Gedi ruins and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, it remains a town unashamedly geared towards beach tourism. A great many tourists are drawn to the lovely long beaches. As a result, it has something of a resort atmosphere but this is pleasantly mixed with the earthiness of an African centre. Cotton and sisal production are still major earners here, as is fishing.
Whether you enjoy Malindi or not depends on how highly you rate the unsophisticated parts of Kenya, and whether you appreciate a fully fledged resort town for its facilities or loathe it for its tackiness. It also depends on when you're here. Malindi's best month, sea- and weather-wise, is August. During the summer-holiday season, as well as in December and January, the town can sometimes be a bit nightmarish. In a busy high season everything African seems to recede behind the swarms of window-shopping tourists and Suzuki jeeps. Even so, Malindi at its worst is still relatively placid, and the off-season can seem positively subdued.
Malindi enjoys a strong African center where commerce and business outside the tourist industry thrive. The local residents Arabs, Giriama's and Swahilis are used to visitors and love to mix with them in their own unhurried pace.
Malindi is well-served with restaurants, hotels, cafes and a post office. With the coral reefs having been declared the Malindi Marine National Park this is a great place for snorkeling and diving, as well as game fishing and surfing. The six square kilometers of the national park cover the loveliest areas of coral garden. Exploring the park in a glass bottomed boat was a ravishing experience.
Malindi still has some interest as a Kenyan town with an ancient history and a few places of interest other than its beach and reef. An interesting old Swahili quarter, one or two "ruins", a busy market, shops, hotels and plenty of lodgings all compensate for the tourist boutiques, beauty salons and real estate agencies. Northern Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is another major attraction in Malindi. It is located along the banks of the Sabaki (or Galana) river. To get to your location, you'll have to drive along the road out of Malindi towards Tsavo East. When you get there you can admire the natural beauty at the forest and the cultural heritage of the Jilore village.
As an Islamic stronghold, Malindi is home to twelve mosques, the largest of which is Juma'a Mosque in the heart of the old town. Malindi also features relics from its Portuguese inhabitants dating back to the 16th century. A tiny whitewashed chapel can be found at the southern end of town which is thought to have been the first Christian church in East Africa.
Malindi is also a perfect start for your Safari to Tsavo National Park, Lake Naivasha or Masai Mara Game Reserve.