Mombasa City is the second largest and the second most popular city in Kenya. It is the main point of contact for anyone who wants to visit the Kenyan coast as it has the second biggest airport as well as a good railway and road system for travelling from other parts of Kenya and mainly from the capital city, Nairobi.
Mombasa’s history dates back to the 16th century where we had many traders sail to the town through the Indian Ocean and try to establish rule in this town. It was preferred by the traders due to its strategic position and good grounds to build a harbour for the many sailors. The town was seen as a good trading ground, many nations did try to enforce their governance here.
Arabs are believed to have the most influence in this town through their trade of ivory and slave that dates back to the 8th century. The Portuguese later tried to establish their governance and spread their trading area and in the process built The Fort Jesus. The Fort served as a source of protection from the locals against conflict as they traded in goods such as spices, coffee, cotton etc. Local slaves were also exchanged for these goods.
The Portuguese were later overthrown by the Omani Arabs who took charge of the Fort but their rule was short as they were later overthrown by the British who colonized the whole country till Kenya gained it’s independence 1963. The British took over the port and even build a railway line from Mombasa to Uganda which is still a landmark to date.
All this History that dates back to Centuries ago is still visible in this city with most buildings built by the Arabs still standing strong. A Mombasa City tour takes you back in history to discover how each nation that tried to rule left their mark. A safari on the town takes you back in time while trying to understand how the different cultures blend in and influence the people’s way of living. Some of the sites worth visiting in your tour are listed below.
Fort Jesus Museum
The Fort Jesus Museum is located at the heart of Mombasa city and touches the shores of the Indian Ocean. The Fort was built by the Portuguese at the end of the 16th Century to protect the port of Mombasa and control the Indian Ocean trade. This magnificent century-old structure is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains a great history of how the Mombasa Port became a great trading route.
Inside the Museum, you will find great displays of century-old artefacts as well as cookery pieces dating back to the 10th century. There are various rooms, towers and even a slave tunnel that was used for the slave trade. There are some local guides at the museum entrance who are ready to take you on a tour inside and explain the history of the port from when it was under the Portuguese rule to when they were overthrown by the Oman Arabs and after the British took over.
Outside the Fort has some nice curio shops to buy a souvenir and you can walk down to the ocean shores and enjoy a cool breeze as you watch the fishermen boats passing as well as some ship heading in and out of the harbour nearby. There is the option of joining the local people for a swim by the ocean.
Mombasa Old Town
Mombasa Old Town is famous for its century-old houses that were built by the Arab traders, the Portuguese as well as the British Colonizers. You start your journey just outside the Fort Museum walking through the narrow streets with tall buildings on each end that carry so much history. The bottom part of the building houses curios shops selling Swahili and Arab artefacts while the top part of the buildings is occupied by the city dwellers who mostly are Kenyan born but come from interracial marriages between the Swahili people and the Arabs, Indian, Portuguese descendants.
Some of the outstanding landmarks to see in this Old Town include the Mandhry Mosque, which is one of the oldest mosques built in the 15th Century. It has an outstanding architecture that is a combination of the Arabic design with the Swahili African design. The mosque is not open to visitors though can be viewed from outside.
Another outstanding feature to see is the African Hotel Museum which is believed to be the first hotel in Kenya now turned to a museum. Visitors are allowed to enter and check out the architecture as well as the old photo gallery of how the hotel looked like.
Jahazi Coffee House that is located on your way to the old port is also worth checking out, enjoy some delicious Swahili traditional meals as you take in great views of the old town.
Burhani Gardens and Swahili Cultural Centre
Just outside the Old town heading to the Central Business district is Burhani Gardens, a public park where one can go and relax while enjoying a cool breeze after the long tour around Old Town. You get to watch some youth either playing football or skating away under the trees. If you are a nature lover, you can check out the different species of century-old trees that make up the park.
You can also check out the Swahili Cultural Centre, a place run by the National Museum of Kenya that trains youth in the Old Town on how to make traditional Swahili crafts as well as business management.
Uhuru Gardens and the Ivory Tasks
One of the main streets in the City where we find most banks known as Moi Avenue, we have an iconic landmark locally referred to as ‘Pembe za Ndovu’ or Ivory Tusks which were constructed to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth. The tasks are however made from aluminium and spell an ‘M’ symbolizing the city name.
The place is common for photography by the tusks and opposite the monument is a beautiful park known as Uhuru Gardens that is a nice place to relax and enjoy the breeze that comes in hand during the day to cool down from the hot sun. A new tourist attraction in this park is over 5000 colonies of bats that have taken over the huge trees though they are proving to be a health hazard due to their smelly pop and loud noise. Tourist love visiting the gardens as early as 5 am to watch the birds return or late evening around 6.30 pm and watch the bats fly off to look for food.
Mirikiti Market is found on the busy side of the city and is very famous for getting the best types of natural spices, fresh fruits and vegetables. One side of the market also offers the best fabrics of the common kanga of the Swahili people. You also get to taste some of the best snacks common with the Mombasa people like dried mangoes, mabuyu (baobab seeds), madafu (coconuts drink), Kashata(grated coconut candy bar) and many more.
Mama Ngina Drive/Lighthouse/Kilindini Harbor Watch
Mama Ngina Drive is a private area at the shores of the ocean where people go to watch the big ship enter or leave Kilindini Harbor. The most common area known as Light House has an ample parking space where people can park their cars facing the ocean, sit and enjoy watching the ship.
There are many small restaurants that serve local delicacies as well as street vendors selling common snacks unique to this area like cassava crisps, roasted maize/cassava/sweet potatoes and coconut drinks.
This is a good place to catch the sunrise by the sea and also a good place to unwind during sunset while you enjoy a breeze and hang out with friends.
Jomo Kenyatta Beach or Nyali Beach
Jomo Kenyatta Beach is one of the most popular public beaches also referred to as Pirates Beach. It is one beach that has many activities going on and a good place to take a swim and interact with the local people. At times the people can be too pestering while they try to sell you their wares.
If you need a less crowded place to swim or just rest by the beach, Nyali Public Beach is the place to be. Nyali beach is a clean beach and less crowded. It is very secure and the people are friendly and fun to swim with.
Mombasa Marine Park
The Mombasa Marine Park is next to the Jomo Kenyatta Beach and offers great marine life experience. You get to enjoy boat rides over the marine life with an option of snorkelling or diving to discover more marine life under water. It is advisable to deal with the Kenya wildlife service guides to avoid being ripped off.
Haller Park and Butterfly Pavilion
If you would prefer a tour out of the city and want to see some wildlife, then Haller Park is a good option. This park was transformed from a quarry wasteland into an ecological area that houses many wildlife and plant species. Some of the animals at the site include elands, hippos, tortoise, crocodiles, bird species and many more.
If you love nature and enjoy nature walks, then the Butterfly Pavilion is a good option. It is found within the Haller Park and is a good place to enjoy nature and learn more about the ecology. This can be achieved through a bicycle ride through the park.
This is a crocodile farm and also serves as an amusement park. It is a good place to go with the family and watch big Nile Crocodiles being rared in the farm. The guides start with a brief presentation of the reptiles’ life cycle and their role in the ecosystem. A tour in the farm allows you to see crocodiles of all ages from hatching to large adults. The climax of the visit is the feeding time when you watch the crocodiles fight for large chunks of fresh meat.
Wondering where to stay while in Mombasa, check out some of the hotels and vacation rental near and around Mombasa City below.