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.
The attractions in Mombasa include:
Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage and one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions. Built in the shape of a man, the fort was given the name of Jesus as a clear religious reference. Fort Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks for the garrison. Fort Jesus has many battlements and ruined buildings within the compound, including Omani house which houses Omani jewelry and displays on Swahili life.
Haller Park, which is a hit for 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.
Wildlife found here includes giraffes, Cape buffalo, zebras, waterbucks, and hippos. 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, and crocodile pens are other attractions. A highlight is the giraffe feeding, but be sure to check the times before visiting. Nature trails lead to a butterfly pavilion.
Mombasa Marine National Park, One of the busiest of Kenya's offshore reserves, Mombasa Marine National Park protects mangroves, sea grass beds, sandy beaches, and coral reef. Diving and snorkeling are popular activities - 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. Those wishing to remain dry 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.
North Coast Beaches The coastline north of Mombasa is a little livelier than the south coast, and the resorts are closer to the airport and Mombasa City. Palm-lined beaches, crystal clear waters, coral reefs, and a profusion of water sports, resorts, and entertainment venues provide plenty of tourist action. 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. Farther north, Bamburi Beach and Shanzu Beach are also tourist hubs with a wide range of accommodation, from luxury resorts to beach bungalows.
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; snacking at one of the many cafés; and shopping for antiques, fragrant oils, spices, and souvenirs. The Portuguese-built Fort Jesus, one of Mombasa's top tourist attractions, overlooks the harbor here.
Other attractions in Mombasa include: south Coast Beaches, Mombasa Tusks, Mamba Village Centre, Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre, Wasini Island, Kisite- Mpunguti Marine National Park, Shimba Hills National Reserve, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke National Forest, Watamu and Kilifi among others.