Chale Island is a slice of heaven on earth that’s a short drive from Diani but is somehow one of the least explored locations in Kenya. It’s a small patch of land inhabited by some of the most exotic plants and creatures on the coast. There’s a subtle mysticism in the air, punctuated by a feeling of harmony and restoration.
The only permanent occupant of Chale Island is The Sands Hotel. You’ll most likely visit Chale Island by staying at the hotel or visiting on a day pass. This is also the best way to experience Chale, as you can soak up the island’s atmosphere while indulging in absolute luxury, far away from the crowded beaches of nearby Diani.
But, contrary to popular belief, Chale Island is not actually a private island, and it’s open to anyone. So, is it worth the trip? Yes.
Let me show you why.
Chale Island is a 40 minutes drive south of Diani, along Diani Beach Road, on the northern end of a bay near a small fishing town called Msambweni.
How to Get to Chale Island
You can only get to Chale Island from the mainland by boat or tractor (when the tide is low). But how do you get to the mainland?
The drive from Diani Town takes about 30-40 minutes. The road is quite rough and uneven, and it’s mostly asphalt from Galu (a little south of Diani). It’s best to drive a car. If you don’t have one, The Sands can organise a private taxi.
You take a flight from Nairobi from either Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson to Ukunda airport in Diani, and from there, drive to Chale Island. Again, The Sands can organise an airport pickup to take you directly to the resort.
You can take the SGR from Nairobi to Mombasa. The express train will take 5 hours, 30 minutes. From there, you can drive down to Chale Island via Diani.
Staying at The Sands Chale Island
The Sands may be the only hotel on Chale, but it’s also one of those rare resorts that leave a lifelong, evergreen impression. The resort can organise your transport from either Mombasa or Diani. Once there, the attendants will see you through check-in and guide you through everything you need to know about your stay.
I’ll cover the accommodation in the next section, but the general feel of The Sands is warm and welcoming. The staff is readily available to help with anything to make your holiday perfect.
The northern section of Chale curves inward into a coral sand bay beach that can only be accessed through the Sands. The white sands, pristine waters, and clear view invite you to lie down, dig your toes in, and have a few moments of precious nothingness.
To the restaurants, the menu is a combination of Kenyan, Italian, and Oriental cuisine. Three bars in different settings stock a wide selection of drinks for every taste and mood. The pool bar is especially remarkable, surrounded by water and overlooking the ocean.
You can enjoy your drinks and meals alongside one of several curvy pools. They are deep enough to swim in and kept extremely clean. The pools interlink so you can make a few minutes of discovering how far they go.
The Sands rations its power between 10 am and 5 pm, so be mindful of charging your gadgets adequately in the morning. You’ll want to take as many pictures of the wildlife, aquatic life, and sceneries during your stay.
Chale Island is made for exploration and activities. There’s much more on offer than you would expect from the little island. Here are just a few suggestions of what you can get up to.
Walk around the island
The first thing you’ll probably want to do after checking in is to just walk around the island and take it all in. Chale is as close to paradise as Kenya provides, and there’s much to leisurely marvel at here. Stroll into the forest or find your way to the tide pools. You can tag a guide along to point out significant spots and features of the island.
After exploring the interior, you can book a kayak to explore the outer regions of the island. The edges of Chale are riddled with crevices and water channels you can paddle into and along.
Mangrove boat tour
You can also book a boat to explore the mangroves of Chale Island. The mangroves are part of why the island is considered sacred (a kaya) and are home to rare birds and marine life.
Snorkeling and Scuba diving school
For more exploration, look beneath the surface. The diverse ocean life is easy to see in the clear waters of Chale Island. Snorkeling and scuba gear are readily available, as well as scuba diving training for beginners.
Trip to Gazi fisherman’s village
Find out how some local residents make a living by visiting Gazi, a village where the primary vocation is fishing. You can interact with the fishermen, listen to their mystical stories (there are always stories about djinns), and learn about their secret spots.
If you’re just looking for a pampered day, hit the Maisha Poa Spa and Wellness Centre, one of the best spas in Kenya. The spa captures the relaxed essence of Chale, surrounding you with the scents and sounds of the landscape as expert hands tend to your stress points. The experience is the original and natural form of what city spas struggle to recreate.
Beach volleyball and football
Grab a couple of friends or make a few new ones, grab a ball, and hit the beach. Volleyball and football are always fun ways to get a workout at the beach, and Chale has the equipment ready for both.
Chale Island Packages
The Sands offers seasonal packages throughout the year, which you can check out on their offers page as you plan your trip to Chale. But even if you don’t get a special package, here’s what you can expect from every tier of accommodation they have.
The standard rooms are set in the middle of the mangrove forest. The rooms are delicately decorated to complement the environment outside and achieve the comforts expected. The low-rising Swahili beds are comfortable, and there’s a small coffee table setup.
The Bandas are individual houses found right at the edge of the beach. The houses resemble traditional Kenyan homes, with rustic walls and thatched roofs. The beds and chairs are bigger and more comfortable than the standard rooms. Topping it off is a sunbed on the porch, big enough for two.
The penthouse suites are enormous! They have separate sitting and bedrooms, a verandah that goes three-quarters of the way around the apartment, and a lavish bathroom. The verandah is furnished with sofas and chairs, so you can easily host a small party here – but don’t keep your neighbours up!
The Water Bandas
Perhaps my favourite room, the Water Bandas are set a few feet into and above the ocean. These rooms are beautiful, from the polished stone design of the floors to the artistic carvings on the walls. The furniture here is more contemporary, including a workstation placed right next to a pair of sliding doors that open to the grandest ocean views.
Suite on the Rocks
This is the most luxurious of the accommodation available. The Suite on the Rocks is located on its own islet, accessed by a stone bridge. The residence has a jacuzzi, an upper level connected by a spiral staircase, and an opening in the middle of its thatched roof that lets rainwater pour down to a stunning internal garden. A massive verandah with multiple sunbeds faces out into the ocean. I’m confident you’ll spend a lot of time here. And the whole structure is surrounded by forestry, making it feel like its own little ecosystem.
The Honeymoon Package
The Sands offers an exclusive honeymoon package to celebrate recently married couples. On offer:
- A welcome drink on arrival
- A flower bouquet in your room
- A bottle of wine and platter of fruit
- A romantic candlelight dinner
- Couple’s massage at the spa
You’ll have to prove you’re on your honeymoon period to qualify for this package by providing your wedding certificate, which must have been issued in the last 6 months.
Chale Island is easy to access from the mainland, and if you’d rather only visit for a few hours and stay at a hotel in Diani, The Sands offers limited day passes to non-guests. You can either drive or take a taxi to the island by yourself or let The Sands organise everything for you.
A day trip costs Ksh 5,000 per person. This includes lunch, use of the swimming pools and access to the beach but excludes transport costs. Exploration of the island with a guide is free.
If you want to be picked up from the airport, it will cost:
- Ksh 3,000 from Ukunda air strip
- Ksh 8,500 from Mombasa (JKIA).
The private hire cars carry 3 people maximum.
To book a day trip, call +254 725 546 879.
Best Time to Visit Chale Island
Chale Island is basically a big beach resort, so the best time to visit is during the dry seasons: between July and October, and January to February.
For budget hunters, the off-peak season runs from mid-April to 30th June.
Chale Island makes you wish the rest of the world was like this. It’s green, it’s got wildlife, it’s lively in some places, relaxed in others… it’s the perfect escape. This tiny island finds a way to leave you spellbound every time you visit. I’m sure there are lots I’ve missed here, so let me know what you discover when you visit, and I’ll be sure to look out for it.