Amazing Places To Visit In Mombasa
Mombasa is a belching, burping beachside city that is at least 800 years old. Ancient, handsome, steamy, dusty and tumultuous. Rich and poor, old and new, fight for space between the tuk-tuks and donkeys, the oil refineries and the white sand beaches. The best places to visit in Mombasa are scattered between the glittering ocean and the winding streets of Mombasa’s 15th century old town.
Mombasa is a port town, once one of the largest in the world. In its centre, Mombasa is an island in a turquoise bay of the Indian Ocean, linked to the mainland by a causeway, bridge, and ferry. The Mombasa municipality sprawls for 100 miles both north and south. Head north over the Nyali bridge and Mombasa runs into Nyali, Bamburi and Mtwapa the traffic and chock-a-block buildings petering out as you head towards the sisal fields of Vipingo. To the south, you need to catch the disconcerting Likoni ferry and head down toward dreamy, isolated Tiwi and the larger coastal resort of Diani beach.
Nowhere else in Kenya does the contrast between tropical beauty, heaving ports, and sprawling villages feel more apparent. The heat and humidity heightens colours, the sea sparkles, the buildings wear a coat of golden dust, and all over the city the roads and ferries sag under the weight of people hustling to earn a living.
Mombasa isn’t pretty to look at, but the bones of her are proud and strong. People have been fishing and trading in Mombasa since the 13th century. Mombasa was coveted and fought over by the Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Turks and British before finally being returned to its native people. It was the jewel in Kenya’s crown and it has a story to tell, scratch beneath the surface and Mombasa’s history is there for the taking.
Mombasa beaches – Nyali and Bamburi
Mombasa town is Cinderellas hot, sweaty sister, but she sits on a coastline so stunning that all is forgiven. The Kenyan coast is a paradise of sun-bleached sand and protected marine parks. Palm trees shake their fronds over a lapis lazuli sea and dolphins gambol out beyond the reef.
Escape to the beach at Mombasa and you will feel a million miles away from the traffic and hubbub of the city. The best beaches in Mombasa are Bamburi and Nyali, just outside the city to the north. Both beaches have several large hotels and restaurants to choose from and are the archetypal tropical paradise, although their proximity to Kenya’s second largest city means they are crowded and you may struggle with the large numbers of beach boys trying to sell you stuff. A simple ‘Hapana asante’ usually suffices.
Further afield are the less frenetic beaches at Tiwi (1.5 hours), Diani (2 hours), Vipingo (50 mins), Kilifi (1.15 hours), Watamu (2 hours) and Malindi (2.5 hours)
Visit Fort Jesus
The ancient Fort Jesus is extraordinary, its archaic bones stripped bare by five centuries of wind, sun and warfare. Constructed by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 and designed by Italian architect Cairati, Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The large compound is a partly ruined colossus of battle rampant, derelict buildings, tumbling walls and weighty cannons. Check out the Omani house, a building with Omani jewellery and displays on Swahili life.
The Mombasa Tusks are known locally as Pembe Za Ndovu. The Mombasa tusks are synonymous with the city, despite only being built in 1952. Located in the city centre along Moi Avenue, the tusks were built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit. The Mombasa elephants tusks form the letter M for Mombasa and mark the entrance to the heart of the city. Not a lot to do here but do they make for a good photo.
Dive at Mombasa Marine Park
Kenya has five major marine parks (read my blog on diving all five marine parks here). Mombasa’s underwater haven covers 84 sq. km of coral reef. It is popular with divers partly because of its proximity to Mombasa and because the dive sites are all close to shore. Whether you are diving or snorkelling, you won’t go wrong if you choose to spend a day ogling the coral reef that lines most of Kenya’s coast. You will see octopus, stingrays, seahorses eels, turtles, dolphins, sharks as well as the usual Indian Ocean tropical species. A visual feast for the eyes.
Visit the Old Town Mombasa
Topping my list of the best places to visit in Mombasa is the old town. Tiny cobbled streets over which ancient buildings tower precariously. Ornately carved doors and teetering balconies, intricate windows and dark dusty shops that sell antiques. Over the last 200 years, Arab, Asian Portuguese and British people have occupied and added to the architecture and history of Mombasa Old Town. Today the 72 hectares of preserved history is one of the best places to visit in Mombasa. A personal favourite. A walk through Mombasa Old Town takes you back in time, and even though the shops are more inclined to sell tourist tat than historical objects, there is still a frisson of excitement when you walk through a door and inspect items piled to ceiling height. What hidden treasures lie within? Perhaps it’s me but I always feel slightly unnerved walking alone with my camera. The streets get smaller and alleyways crowd in, I’d suggest going with company or even jumping on board an organised tour from CORAL SEA EXPEDITIONS. The Old Town is right next to Fort Jesus, so you can get your historical fix in one afternoon.
Visit Haller Park, Mombasa
Haller Park has a mesmerizing story, worth reading in detail here. A former cement quarry, the eyesore has been reclaimed by nature over recent years, partly with a helping hand from mankind but also in part by nature itself. It was Mombasa’s red millipedes that first populated the land, creating compost, as life began to bloom in the quarry other animals followed. Today Haller Park, formerly known as Bamburi Nature Trail, is filled with giraffes, Cape buffaloes, zebras, waterbucks and hippos. More than 160 species of birds also call the park home.
Mamba Village Mombasa
East Africa’s largest crocodile farm isn’t all crocodiles. On the ‘farm’ you can ride horses or camels, stroll through the botanical garden & aquarium or head to the restaurant and sample some of the park’s residents. The restaurant has a menu of game meat including crocodiles, zebra and ostrich. At Mambas Village Mombasa, all species of African crocodiles are at the park, and while crocodiles mostly lie in the sun not doing a lot, the daily crocodile feeding provides some snappish excitement as the ferocious killers fight for fresh meat.
Bombolulu Workshops is a non-profit organisation helping the physically disabled work towards social and financial independence. The centre has four workshops, a cultural centre, and a restaurant. It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs, the workshops sell Kenyan jewellery, textiles, wood and soapstone carvings and leather crafts, with all proceeds going to help those in need. Bombolulu workshops give you the chance to explore some traditional ways of living and they have daily demonstrations of local tribal dances.