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 north and south, Mombasa’s beach resorts are palm-topped with shimmering coral reefs. Tourists from Europe and beyond flock here to enjoy the many things to do – from dolphin watching on traditional dhows and deep sea fishing to diving and snorkeling the wrecks and reefs and sunbathing on the sun-drenched 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, Arab, Omanis, Indian and Chinese immigrants have enriched the city’s architecture and cuisine, and many mosques and temples adorn the city’s streets. In the Old Town , where fragrant spices waft from local markets, you can step back in time and explore the ancient buildings. Outside the city, natural parks, villages and ancient ruins complete the wealth of water-based fun.
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1 Fort Jesus
Built in 1593-1596 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, one of the world’s best examples of Portuguese military architecture from the 16th century. Built in the shape of a man, the fortress was given the name of Jesus as a clear religious reference. The fort changed nine times between 1631 and 1875 before finally falling to the British. Although partially ruined, the Fortress Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks for the garrison. Exhibits include an extensive collection of ceramics and pottery reflecting the different cultures that traded along the coast. Fort Jesus has many battlements and destroyed buildingswithin the compound, including the 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 provide access to the sea.
Locatie: Ndia Kuu, Mombasa
2 Haller Park
Haller Park is a hit with animal lovers. Formerly called Bamburi Nature Trail, this inspiring 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 every animal has a function within the thriving ecosystem. The game found here includes giraffes, Cape buffalos, zebras, waterbucks and hippos. The park was also home to a famous interspecies couple who became an internet sensation after the 130-year-old tortoise, Mzee, adopted Owen, an orphaned hippopotamus.
Birds are also abundant in the park. More than 160 species have been introduced to the area, including weaver birds, cranes, pelicans and storks. Hiking and cycling trails wind through the casuarina forests and a reptile park, palm garden and crocodile enclosures are other attractions. A highlight is giraffe feeding, but make sure you check times before visiting. Nature trails lead to a butterfly pavilion.
About a 15-minute drive from Haller Park, Nguuni Wildlife Sanctuary , with giraffes, ostriches, eland, oryx and many species of birds, offers more wildlife viewing opportunities. It is also one of the most popular picnic spots in Mombasa.
Address: Mombasa Malindi Road, Mombasa
Official site: https://www.lafarge.co.ke/wps/portal/ke/4_A_3-Haller_Park
3 Mombasa Marine National Park
One of Kenya’s busiest reserves, Mombasa Marine National Park protects mangroves, seagrass meadows, sandy beaches and coral reefs. Diving and snorkeling are popular activities – especially north of Mombasa, from Mtwapa Creek south to the Likoni entrance. Seahorses, stingrays and eels are among the marine animals that inhabit the reserve, and the MV Dania is a popular wreck dive here. Those who want to stay dry can experience 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 Beaches of the North Coast
The coastline north of Mombasa is slightly livelier than the south coast and the resorts are closer to the airport and Mombasa city. Palm beaches, crystal clear waters, coral reefs and an abundance of water sports, resorts and nightlife provide plenty of tourist action. Mombasa Marine National Park borders the coast here, with multi-coloured 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 are located here on the beach. Further north, Bamburi Beach and Shanzu Beach are also tourist hubs with a wide range of accommodation options from luxury resorts to beach bungalows.
5 Old town
On the southeastern side of Mombasa Island, the old town is reminiscent of the days when the Portuguese ruled this important port. The city’s residents are mostly of Arab, Asian and European descent and the architecture reflects their cultures. Ornately carved doors and balconies decorate the ancient buildings that crowd the cheeks to sidle along the narrow streets. History buffs can easily spend a few hours here, strolling the atmospheric alleys; snack at one of the many cafes; and shopping for antiques, fragrant oils, spices and souvenirs. The Portuguese-built Fort Jesus , one of Mombasa’s top attractions, overlooks the harbor here.
6 South Coast-stranden
The coastline south of Mombasa is a world of natural beauty. Turquoise seas lap the sun-drenched beaches, where tourists spread out under rustling palm trees. Rainforests with an abundance of wildlife and birds surround this idyllic stretch of coastline, and coral reefs protect the swimming spots from the sea. Shelly Beach , just south of the Likoni ferry, is Mombasa’s closest beach on the south coast. Tiwi Beach , 17 kilometers south of the Likoni ferry, is a popular spot for sunbathers and snorkelers. Diani Beachis the most developed area along this stretch, but still offers beautiful beach landscapes. European package tourists flock here to enjoy the busy line-up of water sports – from windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and diving to water skiing and parasailing.
7 Mombasa tusks
A famous landmark in the city, the Mombasa Tusks were built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mombasa in 1952. Built of aluminum, the tusks mark the entrance to the heart of the city where visitors will find most of the banks, shops, and markets. The intersecting tusks also form the letter “M” for Mombasa.
Address: Moi Avenue, Mombasa
8 Mamba Village Center
Mamba Village Center in Nyali is the largest crocodile farm in East Africa. Visitors can learn about the life cycle and behavior of these fascinating amphibians, and the center also offers horse riding and a botanical garden with an aquarium. Orchids and aquatic plants are the specialty, but the gardens also display carnivorous species. A highlight for many visitors is seeing the crocodiles fighting for tasty morsels during feeding time. Carnivores will love the restaurant, which specializes in game meats such as crocodile, ostrich and zebra.
Address: Links Road, Nyali
9 Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Center
Bombolulu Workshops is a project of the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya with four sheltered workshops, a cultural center and a restaurant. At the cultural center, visitors can enjoy tribal dance performances and explore traditional houses found throughout Kenya. Guests can also visit the workshops and purchase the handmade souvenirs including jewelry, textiles, wood carvings and leather crafts. Proceeds help support the center’s work. After touring the grounds, guests can stop at the restaurant to sample Kenyan dishes.
Address: Workshop Road, Bombolulu
Official site: https://www.apdkbombolulu.org/
10 Mombasa Go-Kart
Mombasa Go-Kart is a hit with speedsters and kids of all ages. Zoom around the smooth concrete track in go-karts, bounce around on the off-road buggies or learn to dig in a Bobcat excavator. After all the excitement, visitors can enjoy a bite to eat in the family-friendly restaurant with computer games, a large playground and a big screen showing sporting events. The karting track is illuminated at night.
Location: Bamburi Beach, Mombasa
Official site: https://www.mombasa-gokart.com/
Where to Stay in Mombasa for Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Mombasa, the best area to stay is along the northern beaches: Nyali, Mombasa, Bamburi and Shanzu. From here, visitors can snorkel the coral reefs of the Mombasa Marine National Park, which borders this coastal area. Haller Park Nature Reserve is nearby and Mombasa’s Old Town, with Fort Jesus, is a short drive away. Here are some highly rated hotels in these areas:
- Luxury hotels: On beautiful Bamburi Beach, Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa, with four swimming pools, tennis courts and a PADI diving centre, is a popular luxury option. For a quiet beach at the north end of Shanzu Beach, the whitewashed Serena Beach Resort & Spa fits the bill, with special family rooms and free breakfast. Voyager Beach Resort offers great value on Mombasa Beach, north of Nyali Beach, and features multiple pools, water sports and a kids’ club. All-inclusive packages are available.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On Bamburi Beach, Severin Sea Lodge offers excellent value for money. The thatched bungalows with two beautiful swimming pools look out into the palm tree-studded gardens. The Travelers Beach Hotel & Club also has an excellent location, with warm and friendly service. Built into coral cliffs along Nyali Beach, rooms at Bahari Beach Hotel offer stunning views with wide glass doors that slide out to balconies or terraces.
- Budget Hotels: The BEST WESTERN PLUS Creekside Hotel overlooks Tudor Creek and is almost equidistant from Nyali Beach and Fort Jesus, a convenient location for those who want access to both attractions, with Swahili accents. Located on Bamburi Beach, the Kenya Bay Beach Hotel offers excellent value for money. The nearby Kahama Hotel has bright, spacious rooms a few minutes’ walk from the white sandy shores.
Wasini Island is generally accessible by dhow and is a popular day trip from Mombasa. Dolphins regularly cruise these waters and passengers can stop to snorkel and dive the coral reefs along the way. The island itself is small – just five square kilometers. Sightseeing options include visiting Wasini Village , strolling through the coastal scrub where the ancient Swahili ruins lie, exploring the exposed coral gardens and dining on fresh seafood. The village of Shimoni is the starting point for Wasini Island tours and was once the headquarters of the Imperial British East Africa Company. Here visitors can visit the Shimoni Caves , thought to hold slaves before their shipment to Arabia.
Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
South of Wasini, the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park is a popular spot for snorkeling, diving and dolphin watching – mostly from the deck of a traditional dhow. The park includes four small islands surrounded by a coral reef rich in fish. Dolphins frolic in the Shimoni Channel and humpback whales swim these waters between August and October. Other marine animals include moray eels, angelfish, groupers, snappers and green sea turtles. Deep sea fishing is fantastic south of the Pemba Channel.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Shimba Hills National Reserve, about 33 kilometers south of Mombasa, offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy beach resorts. Forests, waterfalls, ponds, savannah and rainforest provide a home to a rich variety of plants and animals. Among the rare plants are endangered species of cycads and orchids. The park also protects one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Kenya, along with leopards, marten herds and an abundance of bird life.
Guided forest walks are available, and visitors can cool off in the swimming hole and picnic area at scenic Sheldrick Falls on the Machenmwana River .
Nestled in lush rainforest, Gedi was one of the ancient Arab cities along the East African coast and was probably rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today you can tour the ruins where the Great Mosque, the palace, coral stone houses and pillar tombs have been excavated. The houses in Gedi have a traditional Swahili style and some have ancient drawings on their plaster walls. Ming Chinese porcelain and glass as well as glazed pottery from Persia indicate trade links and a taste for luxury by those who thrived here. These items, as well as Spanish scissors and Swahili cultural artifacts, are on display in the on-site museum.
Arabuko-Sokoke National Forest
The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest remaining indigenous coastal forest in East Africa. Many rare species live in the forest, including birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. More than 260 species of birds are found here, including several endangered species such as the spotted ground thrush and Clarke’s weaver. Rare mammals that call the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest home include the golden elephant shrew, the bushy-tailed gull and the Ader’s duiker. The forest is a favorite picnic spot for residents and visitors.
About 112 kilometers from Mombasa, Watamu is a Swahili fishing village that has grown into a small seaside resort offering excellent snorkeling and diving. The coast is divided into three bays divided by rocky headlands. Offshore of Watamu is the southern part of the Malindi Marine National Reserve . The forests of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve and the Swahili ruins of Gede are also nearby. More than 600 species of fish are found in the marine reserve and whale sharks and manta rays are seasonal visitors to the reef.
Watamu is also an important turtle nesting area with green and hawksbill turtles as the primary species. Glass-bottom boats transport visitors to the reefs and provide a window into the kaleidoscopic world of coral and fish. For travelers looking for something other than snorkeling and diving, Watamu offers windsurfing, relaxing on the beach, dolphin watching trips and blooming rock pools.
Kilifi is a small beach resort on the banks of Kilifi Creek, where yachts bob in the wind. One of the main tourist attractions here is the Mnarani Ruins , an ancient Swahili settlement dating back to the early 14th century. A huge baobab tree among the ruins is rumored to be the largest on the Kenyan coast. Kalifi is also home to a first class golf club. Kilifi was once only accessible by ferry, but in recent years a bridge has been built to make it more accessible.
More must-see sights beyond Mombasa
In addition to Mombasa’s beautiful beaches and exotic attractions, Kenya is rich in colonial history and wildlife adventures. In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and largest city, you can see where the famous From Africa author lived at the Karen Blixen Museum, and tour safari parks and nature reserves near the city. In fact, both Kenya and its southern neighbor, Tanzania, have some of the best game reserves in Africa. Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, is a short boat ride from the beautiful Bongoyo and Mbudya Islands and you can even fly from Kenya to the sublime Seychelles.
For more wilderness adventures, head to South Africa, home to the top-rated luxury safari lodges, as well as the wildlife-rich Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape. In the country’s northeast, the World Heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal offers spectacular walks and in the Western Cape you can explore beautiful Cape Point, the Karoo National Park and the famous Garden Route. Both Kenya and Southern Africa is also home to some of the best all-inclusive luxury resorts in the world.