Jambo (translated from Swahili to English meaning “hello”) and welcome to Trip101’s introduction to the gorgeous island of Mombasa, which is on the coast of Kenya. This little island has cultural influences from Africa, Arabia and India and is a true East African gem that is glistening and sparkling all day and night. Whilst it may be small, it has an abundance of things for you to do and we have pulled together our top 10 things you need to know about, see and experience if you’re going on a holiday to this stunning destination.
1. See the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Fort Jesus and Old Town
If you have an interest in history, then you will be pleased to know that Mombasa’s Fort Jesus and Old Town have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2011. Fort Jesus is located at Nkrumah Road, Mombasa 80100 and was positioned to guard and protect the Old Port of Mombasa from invasion; it was built and occupied first by the Portuguese. It was, however, designed by Italian Joao Batista Cairato and was created between 1593 and 1596 at the order of King Philip I of Portugal. As Mombasa changed hands many times throughout its history, Fort Jesus was also under Arab, African and British control. Can you believe that between 1641 and 1895, the fort was won and lost nine times by nations contesting control of Kenya? This is definitely a site alongside the Old Town to visit with the assistance of a pre-arranged tour guide. Check out my article focusing on Fort Jesus to find out more.
2. Visit the famous Mombasa tusks
Not only is Fort Jesus and the Old Town historically famed but so are Mombasa’s two elephant tusks located on Moi Avenue. Moi Avenue is a road that runs west to east from Killindi to a roundabout towards Digo Road. The Mombasa tusks were created in 1956 to commemorate the visit of Princess Margaret, who is Queen Elizabeth’s sister, at a time when Kenya was still a part of the British empire. As ivory was and is considered an exquisite, unique and special commodity, the Kenyans decided that creating arches in the shape of elephant tusks would really embrace Princess Margaret and welcome her to the city. If you want to find out more, take a look at my detailed article on the Mombasa tusks by clicking here.
3. Sample some delicious local Kenyan snacks
As Mombasa’s history is influenced by so many other regions (and specific countries), you won’t be surprised to hear that it has some amazingly flavoursome sweet and savoury snacks that are inspired from Arabic, Indian and European cultures. For example, Mombasa is known for its mahamri, which is a deep fried bread that is similar to a donut, and is infused with delicious hints of cardamom and sweet coconut milk. Accompanying mahamri is a dish called barazi, which is a snack that is more on the savoury side and consists of pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk. The saltiness of the barazi perfectly compliments the sweetness of the light and fluffy mahamri and creates fantastic blend that has to be tried out together. Other popular snacks include vizai karai, which are glorious deep fried potatoes covered in a batter with a generous amount of spices, and also samosas, which are triangular pockets of heaven that are packed with either meat or vegetables and deep fried until crispy. If your mouth is watering and you want to know more about these snacks, click here to see my in depth article on the best local snacks and where to find them.
4. Enjoy the view and some food at the Mombasa Lighthouse
If you fancy a view of the sea and a chance to enjoy some local snacks, then one of the best places to head to is the Mombasa Lighthouse as it offers phenomenal views of the port and the opportunity to munch on some real African street food under the sunshine or shade. You will be amazed with how much the street food vendors can do with simple vegetables and spices. Take for example, cassava (which is a starchy root vegetable), which you will see a street food vendor create at least three different snacks from this one vegetable. You could have handmade golden cassava crisps, grilled cassava or fried cassava with a generous amount of salt, lemon and chilli. Each is very different due to its texture, so I would have to recommend that you try each one (which may I add, goes perfectly with a drink of coconut juice!). Not tempted yet? Check out my experience at the Mombasa Lighthouse by clicking here and seeing the mouth watering photographs.
5. Learn about the hardworking local people
Do you think it is possible for one person to push a cart with over 15 mattresses in the sweltering heat? Do you believe that two people can ride a motorbike and one of those people have 50 large potatoes on their head? If not, I can tell you that this is only a small snapshot of what you will see in Mombasa. It is not only the historical sights and gorgeous food to experience but also the local people, who are so incredibly hardworking. Whilst you travel through and around Mombasa, make sure that your camera is out to capture the buzzing life of the city, which is really its people who are at the heart of it. You will see how strong and resilient the local people are through their day-to-day activities which they do to earn a living for their family. You may find yourself being surprised and equally impressed with what you see. The locals of this city do not shy away from hard work and their efforts are certainly commendable. Take a look at my detailed article here, which is dedicated to the tremendous work that these people do.
6. Check out the different types of transportation
Mombasa’s transportation is also a sight to behold and one that you may wish to experience or take a few snaps of with your camera whilst you’re out and about. Take for example the matatu, which is a mini bus that takes passengers on long-distance journeys. The reason that it really stands out in Mombasa is because of how brightly coloured these vehicles are and the fact that they’re labelled with big stickers and captions; see if you can find the bright pink matatu which is labelled, “bubbling hot!”. Another popular form of transportation is the, “boda-boda”, which is a motorbike taxi that wizzes people around the island. This form of transportation is very recent in comparison to the popular and free (for foot passengers) Likoni Ferry, which has been operating since 1937. Whilst wildlife in the safari game parks is not a suitable form of transportation, the camels found on the island of Mombasa can certainly give you a ride from one part of the island to another. Fancy finding out more? Read my article on the vibrant and unusual transportation in Mombasa by clicking here.
7. Get yourself over to the gorgeous Bamburi Beach
Africa is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world and I am pleased to inform you that one of its most incredible beaches is in Mombasa! Bamburi Beach, which is on the south coast of this cute little island, is one of the calmest, most serene and peaceful places on the planet. The beach is lined up with hotels, restaurants and bars, where you can relax and enjoy the rolling ocean views. Examples of places to stay include the phenominal Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa, the reasonably priced Kenya Bay Beach Hotel and the quaint and authentic Severin Sea Lodge. I would recommend enjoying the beach at sunrise or sunset because of the beautiful views. The Kenyan sunrise and sunset is like watching a fire ignite in the sky and create a burst of different colours that spread across the blue sky and create an artistic and natural sight. The red, orange, pink, purple and blue create a vibrant backdrop which contrasts with the shadows of the waves as they are coming to shore: a perfect photograph opportunity. Click on my article here to see and find out about the beach during the day and night.
8. Feel the adrenaline whilst doing some watersports
On the topic of the Bamburi Beach, if you’re a fan of watersports then you’re going to be excited to learn that there are an abundance of watersports activities that you can enjoy in this area. You are advised to visit the fantastic Aquadrom Yul’s, which offers an array of water sports activities including going on a 1, 2 or 3 seater jet ski as well as sitting on the banana boat ride. In contrast, if you want to enjoy the sea life from a boat, then one of the many boats bobbing on the surface of the ocean are recommended. These boats are unlike many others because they have a partially glass bottom, which means you can see the sea life as you’re travelling; it will feel like you’re in an aquarium that is moving! To learn more about the watersports and boating activities on Bamburi Beach, click here to find out more about timings and prices. Another spot for great watersports activities and good food is the Tudor Water Sports Marina, which is a short distance away from the Bamburi Beach; you can find out more by clicking here to read about my detailed experience there.
9. Sail on the Tamarind Dhow and enjoy great food
Fancy sailing around the coast and dining in style? Well, hop aboard the Tamarind Dhow. This is a cruise that will intoxicate all of your senses and is an indulgence that you owe to yourself and loved ones. If you do opt for this experience, you will certainly find yourself being struck by the incredible care and effort that has gone into transforming the Tamarind Dhow into an exquisite Arab vessel with a gorgeous seaworthy floating restaurant. From the ornate panelling to the impressive hand carved railings and the captain’s chair, which is like a perched throne for royalty, is a real sight to see and appreciate. It truly is incredible how the dhow has been brought to life without losing its authenticity and traditional aspects and I would thoroughly recommend that you enjoy it either at lunch or dinner time. To gain a deeper insight into the Tamarind Dhow, click here to read about my experience. If you don’t have a chance to enjoy the Tamarind Dhow, then I would urge you to visit The Moorings Restaurant instead, which is East Africa’s oldest floating restaurant; click here to find out more about my trip to this unusual and splendid site.
10. See Mombasa from a different angle at English Point Marina
Take a trip to English Point Marina and enjoy this contemporary development that is composed of a hotel, apartments, restaurant, jazz bar, gym, spa and a set of coffee houses and retail outlets. Whilst this place is one of the most modern places in Mombasa, it overlooks the most historical parts of the island. This is because from English Point Marina, you can enjoy the sublime views of Fort Jesus and the Old Town. In my view, pictures cannot really do justice to the astonishing beauty that can be experienced from English Point Marina, so I have to recommend that you visit it in person. The blue sky with little white clouds, the little historical buildings and the emerald waters in front of you create an unforgettable memory. Keen to learn a bit more about this fantastic marina? Click here to read my experience dining at Café Arabika, which sits on the marina.
Book your ticket now and start planning
Please make sure you remember that this article is only covering the top 10 things to do in Mombasa out of a number of fantastic things that you can do, see and experience! There are several other historical spots, wildlife sanctuaries and places to eat on this heavenly island (such as Medusa Restaurant, The Fort, Shehnai, Namaskar, Cafesserie and the very delightful MNKafe. The only remaining advice that we have for you is to book your ticket and to start planning your trip. If you’re looking for more things to do in Mombasa, please browse the rest of the Trip101 website, which has an abundance of informative content on this fantastic city that is sparkles on the coast of East Africa.