In the U.S, we talk of ghost towns– towns abandoned by people, and crumbling into oblivion. In my mind, I always picture clapboard buildings, meandering tumbleweeds, and the spooky sense that you’re visiting a place now inhabited by ghosts.
To me, there’s something tragic about a ghost town. It’s hard to see a once-thriving place abandoned to the wilderness. In the U.S., we usually know what outside causes led to a town’s demise– a local gold rush ended, a mine closed, the railway stopped traveling through.
In Kenya, I visited a very mysterious ghost town, now called the Gede Ruins. The great mystery of Gede is that no one knows what happened there. Gede does not exist in any written record.
Researchers estimate that people lived in Gede from the 13th or 14th century until the 17th century. That’s 300 or 400 years. The town was clearly established. Plus, during that time, Gede was a thriving trading post. Archaeologists have found beads from Venice, a Ming vase from China, a lamp from India, and a pair of scissors from Spain in the ruins.
So how is it possible that, on paper, this prosperous 300-year-old trading town doesn’t exist?
No one knows.
This mystery is compounded by the fact that it’s still easy to imagine people living here. Wells and pit latrines are still standing. Mosques, markets, and homes continue to crumble to the ground.
And Gede is sprawling. After an hour-long walk around the perimeter of the settlement, we had seen dozens of homes, several mosques, multiple tombs, and two layers of protective walls. I could picture the bustling town that once existed here, and I felt like a trespasser, walking in the footsteps of former inhabitants.
The Gede Ruins are a great place to visit in Kenya, both to feel the sense of history that pervades the site, and to escape from the chaos of the surrounding coastal Kenyan towns.
If you decide to visit the Gede Ruins, here are my tips:
- It’s about 65 miles north of Mombasa, or 10 miles south of Malindi, so you’ll need to drive in. (You can take a taxi, a matatu, or drive yourself. Most tour operators in Mombasa and Malindi will also offer tours to the ruins.)
- The entrance fee is 500 Ksh (Kenyan Shillings) for a non-resident adult. The fee includes a visit to the accompanying museum. (Prices for tourist attractions in Kenya have risen substantially in the past decade, so these prices may not be accurate during the time of your visit.)
- For an extra 100 Ksh, you can climb up to an observation platform built into a baobab tree and see a bird’s eye view of the settlement.
- The ruins are well sign-posted, so you don’t need a guide, although if you go with a tour company or taxi driver, your driver will probably want to act as your guide.
- Late afternoon is a great time to visit because the lighting makes Gede look even more spooky.
- The Kipepeo Butterfly Project is next door, and for 200 Ksh, you can take a short tour though this tiny butterfly garden.
- Bring bug spray!