Situated on the Eastern coastline, bordering the Indian Ocean, Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city and the top coastal destination. The city, originally known by its Arabic name منبعثة Manbasa, was popular as ‘Kisiwa Cha Mvita’ Swahili for “Island of War”, due to the many changes in its ownership. Sitting on an island it is separated from the mainland by two creeks Tudor and Port Reitz.
Mombasa city overflows with an abundance in culture that dates back to its history as a significant trading center. The Swahili culture at the coast today has retained ancient customs and traditions highly influenced by the Portuguese, British, Chinese, and Arab settlers. The city is also affiliated with great explorers like Vasco Da Gama – the first European to land in the then town, with several memorabilia still standing to portray the historic presence of the Portuguese in the coast. The Mijikenda, Swahili, Arabs, Taita, and Akamba are among the Inhabitants of this beautiful land. Whereas the major religions practiced are Islam, Christianity and the Hindu.
Aside from being an important regional tourism and cultural center, Mombasa is also a significant economic hub. It boasts of a large seaport, the Kilindini Harbour, that serves not only Kenya but also links other interior countries to the Indian Ocean. The rich marine life is also something to brag about allowing individuals the pleasure of pursuits like scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing among others. Mombasa is also envied for its nightlife, its lovely weather, phenomenal white sandy beaches as well as its quality beach resorts. Revellers can enjoy a good time out in the many night spots available most of which are beachfront. Some of the top hotels here also offer their own clubs.Other entertainment spots in Mombasa include casinos, cinemas and a Little Theatre Club, the latter of which puts on some fun shows. The region is also known for its divine dining experience where travelers get to enjoy aside from fresh sea food, internationally-inspired cuisine, that includes but is not limited to Chinese, Indian, Italian, and Swahili.
Mombasa is the central access point for the entire coastal region. It can be accessed directly from Nairobi by air, road, or rail. There are scheduled flights to Mombasa as well served by Moi International Airport although travelers can also access the coastal city via various airstrips. The main mode of transport around the town is by matatus, Taxis and tuk tuks. Some of the historical sites in the city can also easily be accessed on foot.
Must do in Mombasa:
Fort Jesus is Mombasa’s most popular tourist attraction. The fort, located along the coastline near the Old Town, is a monumental piece of architecture that was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The fort has a museum that displays various artifacts from the era where Mombasa served as a transit point for the slave trade and commodities, and which enjoyed regular visits by seafarers and the like.
Its interior comprises of torture rooms and prison cells where slaves were kept in captivity before being traded. Weapons such as canons, which were used to defend the fort from invading foreigners as well as rioting locals, can be seen both inside and outside of the fort. The fort opens its gates for viewing in the morning and closes at dusk.
“Old Town” is the part of Mombasa that is reminiscent of the days when the Arabs exerted a heavy influence on the town and its culture, and especially in the architecture and language (Swahili has a lot of phrases derived from various Arabic dialects). It is well known for its ancient buildings, extravagant art designs and curio shops that sell antique and popular Kenyan souvenirs.
Old Town is best seen when explored by foot with an experienced guide, as the streets are too narrow to accommodate a large number of vehicles. The town’s inhabitants are mostly of Arab origin who’s forefathers once roamed the same streets of the town. Fort Jesus is located just a few steps away from where the town “starts”, thus a complete tour of the fort and the “Old Town” can be done in a single day.
Mombasa Elephant Tusks Like the great arches of St Louis and the Eiffel tower, the great elephant tusks monument in downtown Mombasa is probably the cities enduring monument and landmark known world over. Built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the town in 1952, the pair of overarching, giant intersecting elephant tusks sit astride eastbound and westbound lanes of the busy Moi avenue and are a symbolic representation of entrance into the heart of the town.
The “tusks” aside from symbolizing the ivory trade that Mombasa, and Kenya overall, was known for also coincidentally spell the letter “M” for Mombasa. Take a leisurely walk along this road and look at the various shops or buy curios. You can even stop by the many restaurants to eat your favorite Arab, Swahili or European themed foods.
Hindu temples are one of the many symbols of Mombasa’s cultural diversity. Temples are a popular tourist spot and a tour can usually be taken inside the temple, with a historical background of the particular temple given by one of the temple gurus. Extravagant idols and stone carvings of the various religious beliefs are typically displayed within the temple and on its walls.
A popular spot for locals and international travelers alike, Mombasa is undoubtedly the perfect coastal holiday destination.