Mombasa, a melting pot of languages and cultures from all sides of the Indian Ocean, waits like an exotic dessert for travelers who make it to Kenya’s coastline. Having more in common with Dakar or Dar es Salaam than Nairobi, Mombasa’s blend of India, Arabia and Africa can be intoxicating, and many visitors find themselves seduced by East Africa’s biggest and most cosmopolitan port despite its grime and sleaze, which somehow only adds to the place’s considerable charm.
Mombasa has a long history the traces can be found from the writings of the 16th century. Many traders did attempt to enforce their governance on the town due to its advantageously central location, where Arab influence is felt prominently till date.
The town of Mombasa remained the center of the Arab trade in ivory and slaves from the 8th to the 16th century. It is known that Arab traders sailed down around to the coast of Kenya from the first century AD who continued to build trade along the ports of Mombasa and Lamu.
Portuguese also had their influence on the port that changed the face of the land by burning it almost three times. It is believed that Vasco da Gama was the first known European to visit Mombasa, whose purpose of exploration was to spread the Christian faith to further expand Portugal’s trading area.
Mombasa became Portugal’s main trading centre of spices, cotton and coffee, where Fort Jesus was constructed. The Fort served as the major center for trading goods that protected the Portuguese from conflicts with locals the remains of which still attracts a great deal of tourists and visitors. As slavery was highly practiced during that era, the local slaves were exchanged for goods. Until 1698, the Portuguese controlled the city, but soon the Omani Arabs took over the charge.
Finally, the British took control of Mombasa in 1895, wherein the British East African Protectorate was established. It came under British administration in 1895 and was the capital of the East Africa Protectorate until 1907. Mombasa became a municipality in 1928 and assumed council status in 1959.
An exotic paradise in the African tropics is what comes to mind when people think of Mombasa. The cosmopolitan tourist hub is filled with lots of fun-filled activities and boasts amazing sites that guarantee you will never get bored. It is no wonder that hundreds of visitors grace its shores each year and leave with delightful tales to tell. Here are some amazing things you can do and see in Mombasa:
Visit the Beach
Lapped by the Indian Ocean, Mombasa has an amazing shoreline with white sandy beaches stretched out from the South to the North Coast, readily accessible to all. They say life’s at ease with the ocean breeze, spending time watching the ocean can be very therapeutic, especially when you know you have the beach at your disposal any time you need to seek solace.
A walk around Old Town
The historic Old Town of Mombasa is located just off Fort Jesus and sprawls over 180 acres (40.5 hectares). The tiny streets are lined with old buildings featuring ornately carved wood and architecture that is a blend of the influences of Arabic, Asian, European, and African cultures.
Located in the Old Town is the Old Port of Mombasa where merchant dhows (traditional sailing boats) from Arabia, Persia, India, and Somalia once graced its docks, making it not only a melting pot of cultures but also an integral part of the trade along the ancient maritime Silk Route. While wandering through the streets of the Old Town, stop by one of the many antique stores or sample some Swahili cuisine.
Visit Haller Park
Formerly known as Bamburi Nature Trail, Haller Park is a hit with bird enthusiasts and animal lovers. Take your family over and explore wildlife exhibitions of giraffes, Cape buffaloes, zebras, waterbucks and hippos. And don’t forget the famous inter-species couple who became an internet sensation after the 130-year-old tortoise, Mzee, adopted the orphaned hippo, Owen. More than 160 species of birds also call the park home.
Built between 1593 and 1596 by the Portuguese, Fort Jesus stands guard at the entrance of the harbor towards the Old Port of Mombasa. The Fort remains one of the finest examples of 16th century Renaissance military fortifications.
It was also one of the only forts to be maintained by the Portuguese along the Swahili coast although it was captured and recaptured nine times, falling between the influence of the Portuguese, Omani Arabs, and the British who would go on to colonize Kenya.
As of 2011, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Mombasa’s most popular tourist destinations. Inside the fort there is a museum that houses numerous relics from its occupation and offers some outstanding views of the Mombasa Harbor.
Mombasa’s Elephant Tusks
A trip to Mombasa is incomplete unless you take a picture next to the famous Mombasa Elephant Tusks. Located in the city center along Moi Avenue, the tusks were built in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit.
The intersecting tusks, made from aluminum, form the letter ‘M’ for Mombasa and mark the entrance to the heart of the city. From a distance, the aluminum tusks resemble elephant ivory and are nicknamed ‘Pembe Za Ndovu’ by the locals, a Swahili word meaning elephant ivory.
Visit Mamba Village and get to see East Africa’s largest crocodiles. Not only will you acquire superior knowledge of these fascinating reptiles, but you can also ride on horseback and admire the beautiful botanical garden and its aquarium.
The garden exhibits flowering orchids, aquatic plants and carnivorous species. One of the most exciting things to do is watching the crocodiles fight for food during feeding time. There is a restaurant that prepares game meat such as crocodile, ostrich and zebra delights.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
One of the joys of Mombasa are the endless marine activities that are held on the beach every day. For those who prefer a more adventurous maritime experience from the ordinary kayaking and swimming, there is the opportunity to go scuba diving and snorkeling.
The Mombasa Marine National Park provides such services where you will be delighted to see mangroves, sea grass beds and the coral reef that it protects. Be fascinated with the stingrays, seahorses and eels that are a part of its habitat.
Nguuni Nature Sanctuary
Located on the Nguu Tatu Hills about 4 km away from the Bamburi Cement Factory, the Nguuni Nature Sanctuary is home to a number of species such as giraffe, eland, waterbuck, oryx, and several bird species. It is the perfect place to experience a game ride, sunset, picnic, barbecue and enjoy sundowners.