Mombasa county is in the coastal area of Kenya as it lies along the Indian Ocean. If beaches, history, culture, sunrises, sunsets and having a good time is your thing, look no further, Mombasa is the place to be.
When you see the above tusks sculptures, know you are entering Mombasa town. Mombasa is greatly associated with fun and relaxation and thus jokes are made that entering is easy, leaving is a problem. The coast area is divided into North Coast and South Coast and I will start off with North Coast which is where Mombasa is located.
1: Visit the Beach:
There are several beaches in the North Coast that include Bamburi, Nyali, Shanzu among others. Bamburi beach is popularly referred to as Pirates beach due to a restaurant and club found there.There are so many things to do at the beach
a) Search for a ship wreck
There is a relic of a ship that seems to have crashed years ago. If you are adventurous, you can take a walk around the ship wreck or just enjoy observing it.
b) Get a henna Tattoo
Henna tatoos are part of the culture and history of the people of Mombasa. Worry not, henna is made from plants and thus the colour will eventually fade off. One selects a design they like and the henna artist then draws it on the selected body part. The henna is then allowed to dry for about an hour after which it peels off on its own revealing the beautiful print beneath. Ensure however that you get it done by a professional.
c) Support the local businesses
At the beach you will encounter several business people selling products like mnazi plant, shukas “shawls”, jewellery, accessories among others. Ensure you buy one or several products.
d)Walk on the beach/ Ocean
Take time to enjoy a walk along the beach or into the ocean during low tide. Feeling the soft sand under my feet as the water softly brushes my legs, is always an experience I enjoy. I also got to see some really great sculptures done on the sand by the local artisans.
e)Watch sunset on the Indian Ocean
This is truly a beauty to observe. Watching the sun seem as if it is disappearing into the ocean and having its rays reflected on the waters of the ocean always brings a smile to my face.
2) Visit Fort Jesus:
If history, culture, architecture, war, Portuguese, Arabs and security matters interest you, then you must visit this place.The Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese in 1593 to protect the port of Mombasa thus the wall “fort”. It was later captured by the Oman Arabs in 1698 and later on became a National monument in 1958. If using public means, drop off at Posta and take a tuktuk to Fort Jesus.
I know most of us believe you can walk around the area and just see for yourself. Yes, that is possible, however, I would highly advice you to hire one of the registered, official guides. These guides know and understand the history of the fort and thus are able to explain and provide lots of very important information. I think your trip would be a waste without them.
First up, do you know why it is called Fort Jesus? Anyone? Well, the Portuguese are dominantly Christian and mainly Catholic. When they conquered the area, they built the Fort in the shape of Jesus on the Cross to represent their Christian Faith and thus the name Fort Jesus. Cool , right? Take a closer look, do you see it, do you see it?
The Fort was built near the Indian Ocean to enable them to see invaders from the Ocean as well as from the land as it is raised and the wall has a view of all sides.
Within the fort, you will see several buildings built in both Oman and Portuguese style, observe actual wall paintings done during the past era that share stories of their hardships like their wives being taken to locals eating rats to survive.
There is a skeleton of an 8 month old whale that was apparently collected from the ocean bed and all the parts are yet to be traced. It is huge and I can only imagine what seeing a live one would be like.
3) Visit Old Town
I highly recommend that you visit this area as it gives you a glimpse of “Old Mombasa” and is a walking distance from Fort Jesus. The majority of the people living here are Muslim and quite conservative thus you will be met by both women and girls dressed in their buibui and/or burka, while the boys and young men dressed in their kanzu, which is similar to a long straight dress/robe. I highly advise all visitors and especially the ladies to dress as modestly as you can when visiting here, no shorts, no mini-dresses, no vests, no tanktops and the like, you will arouse stares and talk you do not need.
The area is truly an old town as you will come face to face with old houses, some I believe from the Portuguese era as well as some really run down homes that left me wondering about their safety. However, some new ones have come up and seem to be competing for space with the old. This however also enables one to get a better understanding of the culture both past and present. The alleys are narrow which made walking along them feel a bit scary and as if people were watching me.
Head down to the Port where you will get to see where the slaves were shipped off to sea via narrow “wells” as well as, watch the loading and offloading of shipment. I got to learn how they would purify the salty sea water using honey and also got to see the steps where slaves passed through as they headed to the ocean. Head thereafter to the fish market to buy fresh fish as well as visit the numerous souvenirs shops around, there is something for everything.
I highly recommend that you do not visit the area alone as you will not get an in-depth understanding of the area. Having a local also enables you to access the “not norm” areas like the former slave tunnels and he/she also offers you security of sorts. I used the same guide I had used at Fort Jesus to explore this area at a fair price, and well worth it. It being his home area, he was able to give me lots of insights of both the place and the people.
4) Visit Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve:.
This is one of my favourite places in Mombasa and should be on everyone’s must visit places. Purchase your entrance tickets at the Kenya Wildlife Offices near the beach. Kindly keep your ticket safe as we were stopped by the navy police who patrol the Indian Ocean and requested to show our receipts. Next, hire a boat from the beach and get on your way to navigate the deep clear waters . The boats normally have a glass floor that allows one to enjoy watching the fish if one cannot swim. For the swimmers, take time out to either snorkel or swim with the wide array of marine life, which is my favourite activity. Imagine getting to feel the fish slide past your body, getting a view of the fish that hide beneath the surface and trying your hand at touching them in what seems to be a hide and seek game-priceless.
5) Wild Water World:
This place is amazing and offers various activities for all ages and all levels of adventure and adrenaline junkies. No, it isn’t only to be enjoyed by children a fact I can confirm.
It is a great place to go with friends and family and I would highly recommend you spend at bare minimum a whole afternoon there which may actually not be enough. I sampled all the rides, all, with some being more scary than others but well worth it. My nephews also could not get enough of this place and were able to entice their father to join in, fun for all and sundry I assure you.
6)Eat the delicacies
The food is a blend of African and Arabian influence.Try everything you come across, the Mnazi, Biriani, Mahamri, Kaimati, Mbaazi , Kahawa Chungu , the list is endless. Your taste buds will definitely thank you.
The area is covered with coconut and palm trees. I love their sight and it’s always great to kick off my sandals and run in between them. They also provide great cool relief from the sun.
8) Attend the Mombasa Cultural Festival:
This festival should be on everyone’s bucket list. One gets to see and experience the various cultures of the people of Mombasa, all at one place. I had an amazing time when I attended as I got to learn the cultures of communities like the Borana and Mijikenda, enjoyed sampling their local delicacies and dancing to their beautiful music. For more on my experience of the festival, check out: Mombasa Cultural Festival :
Mombasa is referred to as “Mombasa Raha” meaning a fun place and thus the party never stops. So kindly remove your serious, official, boring mannerisms as you arrive and prepare to party till you drop. There are numerous establishments around Mombasa from the exclusive lounges to the admits all areas, thus you will definitely find several that meet your taste. You could also head down to Mama Ngina drive, park your car, put your music and party on the streets as you listen to the strong waves during high tide on the Indian Ocean.
You cannot and will not miss accommodation from the lowest end hotels to average priced villas to luxury hotels, the pick is yours. I assure you, you can travel on any budget, I have. Pack your bags and head down to the coast, Mombasa awaits you. Be warned, you may not want to leave.:-)
It is about 480km from Nairobi and thus takes about 45 minutes by flight, 6hrs by car, 8hrs by bus and 5hrs with the new Standard Gauge Railway train.
Go on, head down to Mombasa, a place that you will definitely not tire to revisit, I dont.For more on Mombasa, check out:
Mombasa Cultural Festival: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/mombasa-cultural-festival/