Fort Jesus, Mombasa – Image courtesy of planetden.com|
Top attractions in Mombasa
Discover a great choice of must-see attractions in the Old Town of Mombasa, as well as several more just a short drive away.
Explore the Old Town, a maze of fascinating narrow alleyways lined with mosques, shops, Arab cafés, souks and historic Swahili houses. Climb the ramparts of Fort Jesus, a chunky fortress originally built in the 16th century by Portuguese colonists to guard the harbour entrance, then improved by subsequent Omani rulers.
Enjoy panoramic harbour views from the thick walls then visit the museum to see interesting artefacts and archaeological excavations.
In Central Mombasa’s Moi Avenue, ponder the city's signature landmark – an archway of gigantic aluminium elephant tusks built to commemorate a visit by Britain's Princess Margaret in 1956. While here, browse the curio stalls stocked with beaded bracelets, carved wooden figurines and soapstone sculptures. Nearby, shops sell brightly coloured Swahili fabrics including kangas (sarongs), kikois (stripy cotton wraps) and shukas (red Maasai-style blankets).
Explore Mombasa harbour on a sunset cruise aboard a traditional wooden sailing dhow, relaxing on a pile of cushions and sipping a refreshing dawa (the classic Swahili cocktail of vodka mixed with brown sugar, honey and lime).
Crammed onto a small 15km² coral island, Mombasa is linked to the mainland by a bridge to the north, a short causeway to the west and a ferry to the south.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Explore one of East Africa's last remaining coastal rainforests, spotting elephants and Kenya’s only population of rare sable antelopes. Shimba Hills is located 33km southwest of Mombasa.
Hike nature trails through the largest patch of indigenous coastal forest left in East Africa, spotting elephants, Sykes monkeys, yellow baboons and tiny duiker antelopes, as sunbirds, weavers and East Coast akalats flitter through the canopy overhead. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest lies around 100km north of Mombasa.
Explore the ancient ruins of this large Swahili town that dates to the 13th century. Remarkably the town remained unknown to Portuguese colonists who in later years maintained a settlement only 15km away at Malindi. Wander around the hauntingly beautiful walls and arches now overgrown by baobabs and crowded by huge buttress-rooted trees.
Stroll through the imposing arch of the Palace and ponder the sunken courts and maze of small rooms inside. Visit the ruins of the mosque, the pillar tomb and the museum, which boasts a varied collection of finds from the site, including Chinese Ming vases and Spanish scissors, evidence of far-flung trade by this now vanished civilisation. Gedi is around 100km north of Mombasa, a 1.5-hour drive.
Tsavo East and Tsavo West National
Parks Discover magnificent scenery in these two parks, which together form Kenya’s largest national park and are a wonderful location to watch lions, hippos, elephants, zebras and many species of antelope and gazelle.
Follow marked trails on foot along the Tsavo River or rock climb the 300m-high east face of Kichwa Tembo, which ranks as one of the hardest bush climbs in Kenya. Tsavo is around 140km northwest of Mombasa.
Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
Snorkel or dive in this pristine marine park, renowned for its beautiful coral gardens that are home to more than 40 varieties of coral, including staghorn, brain, mushroom and pencil.
Glide beneath the calm waters among more than 250 species of fish, including butterfly fish, parrotfish and angelfish. Look out for humpback dolphins, bonitos and frigate mackerels.
The 28km² protected marine park is located near Wasini Island, just 8km from Diani Beach, and is easily reached by boat or dhow.
Explore an amazing collection of coral caves created over the millennium by strong ocean currents. One such catacomb stretches for 11km and was once used as an underground dock for loading slaves on to dhows for shipment to nearby Zanzibar – you can still see iron rings on the cave walls that were used to imprison the unfortunate captives.
Located 60km south of Diani Beach, Shimoni is also an excellent base for big game fishing in the waters of the nearby Pemba Channel.