Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
Kenya has since the 1970’s established a string of protected marine reserves and National Parks. The Mpunguti and Kisite, which jointly gained its status as a Marine Reserve and Park in 1978, actually consists of the inner and outer Mpunguti Islands and Kisite Island. Kisite covers 11 sq km while Mpunguti Reserve covers 28 sq km. The Marine National Park is situated about 100 km from Mombasa and is accessible by boat from Shimoni – a small fishing village in Kwale District close to the border of Tanzania.
From Shimoni to the reefs in Kisite-Mpunguti it’s a 4-8 km boat ride and on the way you pass beautiful and unspoiled Wasini Island. Due to visibility, depth, wind and waves – it is preferable to arrive at the reef for snorkeling around low tide. The exact time of the high and low tides varies every day so it’s a good idea to check the tide time tables at the hotel before booking a Dhow trip to Kiste-Mpunguti.
Marine life at Kisite-Mpunguti
The dhows anchor at the edge of the reefs at depths between 4 and 8m. From here you will have to swim forth and back to the reef, but the dhows should carry safety jackets and other floating devices to support the less experienced swimmers. After a couple of hours of snorkeling an exellent seafood lunch can be had – either on the boat or on Wasini island, depending on which company you book with. If the wind and tide permits, the dhows usually return to Shimoni by sail in the afternoon. In Shimoni there is an opportunity to visit the old slave caves where thousands of slaves from the inland where being held captive.
There are currently around 250 varieties of marine fishes, and over 40 varieties of coral species documented in Kisite-Mpunguti. The area offers exellent opportunities for diving and snorkeling and some of the marine species include parrotfish, trigger fish, moray eels, butterfly fish, angelfish, groupers, wrasses, scorpionfish, pufferfish, damselfish, rays and snappers. You can see green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles and dolphins.
Dolphins visit the marine park almost on a daily basis and it’s possible to jump in from an engine powered boat and take a swim with the dolphins for a limited amount of time. At Shimoni caves and Nyuli reef large marine life is always seen and sharks and stingrays are common sights. Also there are chances to spot humpback whales and whale sharks in Kisite-Mpunguti between August and October.
Corals like staghorn, brain, mushroom, liliac-blue, and lavender coral present great photo taking opportunities and the colorful beauty of the coral, complimented by the large number of yellow and red tuna and snappers are virtually unmatched. Parrotfish and hundreds of other species of fish in caleidoscopic colors live around the coral reefs in Kisite-Mpunguti. Fishing is not allowed in the marine park but deep sea fishing lovers can travel further out into to the Pemba channel to catch large barracudas, marlin, sailfish and kingfish. If you are not much into diving or snorkeling, we still recommend going on a tour to Kisite-Mpunguti because the surroundings are so beautiful and despite being a bit costly, it is wonderful to spend a day on the sea and maybe see some dolphins playing in the Indian Oceans deep blue waters.
Booking a trip to Kisite-Mpunguti can be done at some of the larger hotels along the (south) coast and they will provide transportation to Shimoni by bus and from there you will board on the dhow to reach the marine park. You can save a bit of money by booking with someone on the beach but chances are they are not authorized.
If you book with one of the dhow tours, the crew will provide you with a mask and snorkle of fairly good quality (fins are discouraged as they might harm the corals), but if you want to be sure to have equipment that fits you well, you might consider bringing your own. If you wear spectacles and don’t like to use contact lenses, a mask with built in dioptrics to fit your prescription will provide a much better under water experience.
Camera and maybe binoculars would be great to bring with you on the boat and when you snorkle or dive, you would also wish to have an underwater camera to capture the incredible beauty and caleidoscopic colors of the underworld and its hundreds of fish and corals because this is something you rarely will find and there’s no doubt amongst the locals; Kisite-Mpunguti has some of the finest coral reefs in the world and it’s up there with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
If you havn’t yet become acclimatized to the scorching African sun, the ultraviolet exposure from a whole day on the sea in the tropics can give severe sunburns that can ruin the rest of your holiday. Therefore you should bring a hat, sunglasses, some sunscreen with high UV protection factor and light clothes to shield exposed body parts from the sun. Also some medicine to prevent sea sickness can come in handy while on the boat as the sea can sometimes get rough.