Mombasa is Kenya’s second-largest city. And with a name that translates to ‘Island of War’ due to its invasion-filled history, you’d be forgiven for thinking twice about going there. Banish those doubts, though, because Mombasa is an African treat waiting to be explored, and the only people ‘invading’ these days are increasing numbers of international tourists determined to capture Fort Jesuson film rather than physically.
Visitors will notice many different cultures in Mombasa due to the city’s rich history. The various cultural influences can be seen from the Arab architecture of Old Town to the remnants of an old Swahili town at the Gedi Ruins. Today, as one of Africa’s tourist hot spots, Mombasa offers world-class hotels and some of the best beaches anywhere.
Mombasa’s Top 10
10. Old Law Courts Gallery Come and see a constantly changing display of local artists’ work.
5. Haller Park Visit the largest animal sanctuary in Mombasa and see if the guide will let you hold a snake.
9. Bombolulu Workshops Support the physically disabled in Kenya by buying jewellery and other craft items made by them.
4. Mombasa Tusks While they are made of steel, you’ve still never seen elephant tusks this large!
8. Mamba Village Watch the ferocious crocodiles attack their food during feeding time at this huge crocodile farm.
3. Old Town Roam the narrow streets and observe the heavy Arab influence in this area.
7. Diani Beach Enjoy a myriad of water sports. But if you’re planning to simply relax on the welcoming white sand, keep an eye out for the monkeys!
2. Gedi Ruins One of the most historic sites in Mombasa. Not to be confused with the Jedi Ruins found in a galaxy far, far away…
6. Bamburi Nature Trail Walk this trail within Haller Park, but watch out for crocodiles!
1. Fort Jesus Get an insight into the reprehensible slave trade and a time when Mombasa was used as a transit point.
- Fort Jesus – Built in 1593 by the Portuguese, it lasted through several sieges between 1631 and 1875.
- Mombasa Old Town – Contains many homes built with fretwork balconies that were designed to protect females from view of the outside world.
- Holy Ghost Cathedral – Built in the style of neo-gothic architecture. Includes enormous fans that were used to keep the colonial congregation cool during hot days.
- Gedi Ruins – The remains of a Swahili town that existed between the 13th and 17th centuries.
- Jumba la Mtwana – A ruined village that contains the remains of four mosques, a few homes and a tomb.
Mombasa Art & Culture
- Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre – This workshop is run by a non-profit organization that employs physically disabled people to make crafts. You can purchase jewellery and other handcrafted items.
- Akamba Handicraft Industry Cooperative Society – A non-profit organization that employs over 10,000 local Mombasa people to produce animal woodcarvings.
- Khonzi Mosque – A traditional mosque where locals worships. Non-Muslim visitors can only view it from the outside.
- Old Law Courts Gallery – Old courtrooms that have been transformed into art galleries. View art and crafts from local tribal groups.
- Swaminarayan Temple – A Hindu temple fitted with ornately designed doors and paintings from various Hindu mythologies.
- Books First – A book outlet located in the Nakumatt supermarket. There is also a cafe where you can sip coffee while reading.
- Main Market – A covered market where fresh fruits, vegetables and miraa are sold.
- Umed Mode – A store that sells clothing, including safari suits.
- Mombasa Tailoring Mart – Get tailored safari suits and African-inspired shirts.
- Barrels Wines and Spirits – A great place to get local alcohol for enjoyment during your trip to Mombasa.
Gay & Lesbian Mombasa
- Galck (Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya) – Homosexuality is criminalized in Kenya. This is an advocacy group that is fighting for equal rights for gays and lesbians in this area.
- Tamarind Village Apartments – A gay-friendly place to stay in Mombasa.
- Dinner’s Club – Located in Mtwapa, this is a popular gay bar.
- Kalifornia – A gay bar in Mtwapa.
- Simmers – A gay bar in Nairobi.
- Tamarind Dhow – Run by the Tamarind restaurant, this cruise includes a meal and a tour of the harbour.
- Jahazi Marine – Take a romantic night cruise. Includes entry to Fort Jesus and Old Town Mombasa.
- Haller Park – A sanctuary where you can interact with giraffes and baby hippos up close.
- Ngomongo Villages – An eco-cultural tourist village that is working to reclaim the surrounding area for nature.
- Nguuni Nature Sanctuary – A beautiful animal sanctuary where you can also camp and have outdoors celebrations like weddings.
- If you enjoy sailing, you can join the Mombasa Yacht Club, which participates in races on Sunday.
- Take in 18 holes of golf at the Mombasa Golf Club.
- Take a guided bush tour on a mountain bike with Extreme Safaris or Bike the Coast.
- Cricket is a popular sport that you can participate in or watch from the sidelines at the Mombasa Sports Club Ground.
- Play tennis at the local Mombasa Sports Club.
New Year’s Day is celebrated in style, with Mombasa hosting one of Kenya’s biggest parties. Expect lively concerts and loud fireworks.
There was bound to be a marathon in Mombasa considering Kenya is home to the world’s best long-distance runners. Mombasa Marathon takes place in May.
Both locals and foreigners enjoy the Mombasa Triathlon, held in September. Fancy a swim, cycle and run?
If you haven’t had enough exercise, there is also the Open Water Swimming Challenge in October.
Every November, the city comes alive for the Mombasa Carnival. Cue dancing, music and much raucous celebrating…
When To Go
With its tropical climate, Mombasa is warm year-round, with average temperatures ranging from 21°C (70°F) to 33°C (91°F).
January and February are the driest months and a good time to visit.
April and May are the wettest months, receiving up to 250mm (10in) of rain.
Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are a fun, popular means of transport.
The many taxis are also a convenient, if more expensive, way to move.
If you want to visit the south coast, you will need to use a ferry, as there are no bridges.