Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city after Nairobi, offers travelers an exotic taste of the African tropics steeped in centuries of seafaring history. This cosmopolitan tourist hub is actually an island connected by bridges and ferries to the Kenyan coast. Stretching for miles along the mainland to the north and south, Mombasa’s beach resorts preside over palm-studded strands fringed by shimmering coral reefs.
Tourists from Europe and beyond flock here to enjoy the many things to do – from dolphin spotting trips on traditional dhows and deep-sea fishing to diving and snorkeling the wrecks and reefs and basking on the sun-splashed shores. But in the city itself, on the bustling island, a world of history and culture awaits.
Thanks to its legacy as the largest port in East Africa, Mombasa is a cultural melting pot. British, Asian, Arabic, Omanis, Indian, and Chinese immigrants have enriched the city’s architecture and cuisine, and many mosques and temples grace the city streets.
In the Old Town, where fragrant spices waft from local markets, you can step back in time and explore the ancient buildings. Beyond the city, wildlife parks, villages, and ancient ruins round out the wealth of water-based fun. Find out more about the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Mombasa, Kenya.
1. Fort Jesus
Built in 1593 to 1596 by the Portuguese, Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions. Italian architect Cairati designed the structure, which is one of the world’s finest examples of 16th-century Portuguese military architecture.
Built in the shape of a man, the fort was given the name of Jesus as a clear religious reference. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875 before finally resting with the British.
Although partially ruined, Fort Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks for the garrison. Exhibits include a vast collection of ceramics and pottery reflecting the various cultures that traded along the coast.
Fort Jesus has many battlements and ruined buildings within the compound, including Omani house, built in the late 18th century, which houses Omani jewelry and displays on Swahili life. The Passage of Arches was cut through the coral to give access to the sea.
2. Haller Park
Haller Park Mombasa is a hit with animal lovers. Formerly called Bamburi Nature Trail, this inspirational project began in 1971, when Dr. René Haller transformed the abandoned limestone quarries here into a thriving nature reserve.
Dr. Haller increased the mineral content of the soil, planted trees, added a fish farm, and created a wildlife park where each animal has a function within the flourishing ecosystem. Wildlife found here includes giraffes, Cape buffalo, zebras, waterbucks, and hippos. A highlight is the giraffe feeding, but be sure to check the times before visiting.
The park was also home to a famous interspecies couple that became an Internet sensation after the 130-year-old tortoise, Mzee, adopted Owen, an orphaned hippo.
Birds are also abundant in the park. More than 160 species have been introduced to the area including weaver birds, cranes, pelicans, and storks.
Walking and cycling paths wind through the groves of casuarina, and a reptile park, palm garden, butterfly pavilion, and crocodile pens are other attractions.
If you want to see more wildlife, Nguuni Wildlife Sanctuary is about a 15-minute drive from Haller Park. Here you can enjoy close encounters with giraffes, and see ostriches, eland, oryx, and many species of birds. It’s also one of the most popular picnic sites in Mombasa.
Address: Mombasa Malindi Road, Mombasa
Official site: http://www.lafarge.co.ke/wps/portal/ke/4_A_3-Haller_Park
3. Mombasa Marine National Park
One of the busiest of Kenya’s offshore reserves, Mombasa Marine National Park protects mangroves, seagrass beds, sandy beaches, and coral reef. Diving and snorkeling are popular things to do – especially north of Mombasa, from Mtwapa Creek south to the entrance of Likoni.
Seahorses, stingrays, and eels are among the marine creatures inhabiting the reserve, and the MV Dania is a popular wreck dive here. If you prefer to stay dry, you can view the diverse marine life from a glass-bottom boat.
The popular beaches of Nyali, Bamburi, and Shanzu all provide access to the marine park.
4. North Coast Beaches
Beaches on the north side of Mombasa are a little livelier than the south coast. Palm-lined shores, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, and a profusion of water sports, resorts, and entertainment venues provide plenty of tourist action. The resorts are also closer to the airport and Mombasa City.
Mombasa Marine National Park fringes the coast here, with multi-hued coral gardens, drop-offs, and Kenya’s best wreck diving on the MV Dania.
Traveling north from Mombasa, Nyali Beach is the first stop. Shops and hotels line the beach here, and the soft white sand makes this a pleasant beach for strolling.
Farther north, Bamburi Beach is also a tourist hub with a wide range of accommodation, from luxury resorts to beach bungalows. Like many Mombasa beaches, one of the most popular things to do in Bamburi Beach is ride camels along the shore.
Shanzu Beach is one of the top places to visit in Mtwapa, about 15 kilometers north of Mombasa. Scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, and glass-bottom boat trips are all popular things to do here.
5. Old Town
On the southeast side of Mombasa Island, the Old Town is reminiscent of the days when the Portuguese ruled this important port. The town’s inhabitants are mostly of Arab, Asian, and European origin, and the architecture reflects their cultures.
Ornately carved doors and balconies adorn the old buildings that jostle cheek to jowl along the narrow streets. History buffs can easily spend a couple of hours here, strolling along the atmospheric alleys and shopping for antiques, fragrant oils, spices, and souvenirs. If you’re looking for places to eat in Mombasa, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafés in this area.
The Portuguese-built Fort Jesus, one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions, overlooks the harbor here.
6. Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre
Are you looking for things to buy in Mombasa? At Bombolulu Workshops you can shop and help disabled Kenyans at the same time.
This non-profit organization is a project of the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya, with four sheltered workshops, a cultural center, and restaurant.
At the cultural center, you can enjoy tribal dance performances and explore traditional homesteads found throughout Kenya.
If shopping is high on your agenda, you can visit the workshops and purchase handcrafted souvenirs, which include jewelry, textiles, wood carving, and leather crafts. Proceeds help sustain the center’s work.
After touring the grounds, stop by the restaurant to sample Kenyan-inspired cuisine.
Address: Workshop Road, Bombolulu
Official site: https://apdkbombolulu.wordpress.com/about/
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