When you see the above tusks sculptures, know you are entering Mombasa town. Mombasa county is in the coastal area of Kenya as it lies along the Indian Ocean. It is about 480km from Nairobi and thus takes about 45 minutes by flight, 6hrs by car, 8hrs by bus and 5hrs with the new Standard Gauge Railway train being launched on 1 June, 2017. The place is dominated by the “Waswahili” community but is also very cosmopolitan. If beaches, history, culture, sunrises, sunsets and having a good time is your thing, look no further, Mombasa is the place to be. The Coast Area is divided into North Coast and South Coast and I will start off with North Coast which is where Mombasa is located.
Things to do in Mombasa:
1: Visit the Beach:
There are several beaches in the North Coast that include Bamburi, Nyali, Shanzu among others. Bamburi beach is popularly referred to as Pirates beach due to a restaurant and club found there.There are so many things to do at the beach
a) Search for a ship wreck
There is a relic of a ship that seems to have crashed years ago. If you are adventurous, you can take a walk around the ship wreck or just enjoy observing it.
b) Get a henna Tattoo
Henna tatoos are part of the culture and history of the people of Mombasa. Worry not, henna is made from plants and thus the colour will eventually fade off. One selects a design they like and the henna artist then draws it on the selected body part. The henna is then allowed to dry for about an hour after which it peels on its own revealing the beautiful print beneath. Ensure however that you get it done by a professional.
c) Support the local businesses
At the beach you will encounter several business people selling products like mnazi plant, shukas “shawls”, jewellery, accessories among others. Ensure you buy one or several products.
d)Walk on the beach/ Ocean
Take time to enjoy a walk along the beach or into the ocean during low tide. I also got to see some really great sculptures done on the sand.
e)Watch sunset on the Indian Ocean
This is truly a beauty to observe. Watching the sun seem as if it is disappearing into the ocean and having its rays reflected on the waters of the ocean always brings a smile to my face.
2) Visit Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve:.
This is one of my favourite places in Mombasa and should be on everyones must visit places. Purchase your entrace tickets at the Kenya Wildlife Offices near the beach for those accessing from various sites-there is one right next to Bamburi beach as well as the main entrance to the Park. Kindly keep your ticket safe as we were stopped by the navy police who patrol the Indian Ocean and requested to show our receipts. Next hire a boat from the beach which you can easily negotiate the price and get to navigate your way to the deep clear waters . The boats normally have a glass floor that allows you to enjoy watching the fish if one cannot swim. For the swimmers, take time out to either snorkel or swim with the wide array of marine life- this is my favourite.
3) Visit Fort Jesus:
If history, culture, architecture, war, Portuguese, Arabs and security matters interest you, then you must visit this place.The Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese in 1593 to protect the port of Mombasa thus the wall “fort”. It was later captured by the Oman Arabs in 1698 and later on became a National monument in 1958. If using public means drop off at Posta and take a tuktuk to Fort Jesus which will cost you about Ksh.50 to Ksh.100. (Not sure if the same rates apply for Foreigners.). The entrance fee for locals is Ksh.200.
I know most of us believe you can walk around the area and just see for yourself. Yes, that is possible, however, I would highly advice you to hire one of the registered, official guides. It is not costly- about Ksh200 for locals (for foreigners I believe the rates will be different ) These guides know and understand the history of the fort and thus are able to explain and provide lots of very important information. I think your trip would be a waste without them.
First up, do you know why it is called Fort Jesus? ..(Anyone?).Well, the Portuguese are dominantly Christian and mainly Catholic . When they conquered the area, they built the Fort in the shape of Jesus on the Cross to represent their Christian Faith and thus the name Fort Jesus. Cool , right? Take a closer look, do you see it, do you see it?)
The Fort was built near the Ocean to enable them to see invaders from the Ocean as well as from the land as it is raised and the wall has vision of all sides.Within the fort you will see several buildings,observe actual wall paintings done during the era and learn about the Oman Arabs culture. I assure you the tales of how wives were taken, to locals eating rats to survive during drought, seeing and carrying the canon balls which weigh about 20kg and finally I came to understand why most Arabs from the area either travelled often to Oman or even married there.
The journey is amazing, Oh so worth it. It must be in your places to visit in the Coast and it will take less than an hour if you are in a hurry. Then for those of us who have yet to see a live whale, you will see the skeleton of an 8 month whale that has been collected from the Ocean bed and all the parts are yet to be traced..It is huge.
4) Old Town
I highly recommend that you visit this area as it gives you a glimpse of “Old Mombasa”. The majority of the people living here are muslims and you will be met by both women and girls dressed in their buibui and/or burka while the boys and young men dressed in their Kanzu.
I highly advise any lady to dress as modestly as you can when visiting here-no shorts, mini-dresses, vests, tanktops and the like. The area is truly an old town as you will come face to face with old houses-some I believe from the portuguese era as well as some really run down homes that left me wondering about their safety. However, some new ones have come up and seem to be competing for space with the old.
This however also enables one to get a better understanding of the culture both past and present. The alleys are narrow which made walking along them feel a bit scary and as if people were watching me.
Head down to the Port where you will get to see where the slaves were shipped off to sea via narrow “wells” as well as watch the loading and offloading of shipment. I also got to learn how they would purify the salty sea water with honey and also got to see the steps where slaves passed through as they headed to the ocean .
Head there after to the fishmarket to buy fresh fish as well as visit the numerous souvenirs shops around-there is something for everything.
I highly recommend that you do not visit the area alone-I got a guide from the Fort Jesus -he was my guide there also. I insist on this because one, you will not understand anything or get a true understanding of the place unless you have someone explaining the happenings ,two- he/she can take you to out of the norm places and three-having a resident also offers security :-).
5) Wild Water World:
This place is amazing and offers various activities for all ages and all levels of adventure and adrenaline junkies and no, it isn’t only to be enjoyed by children.
It is a great place to go with friends and family and I would highly recommend you spend at bare minimum a whole afternoon there which may actually not be enough.
There is the basic swimming pool as well as various rides to enjoy-I tried all the facilities available and had a blast.
6)Eat the delicacies
The food is a blend of African and Arabian influence.Try everything you come across-the Mnazi, Biriani, Mahamri, Kaimati, Mbaazi , Kahawa Chungu – anything and everything. Your taste buds will definitely thank you.
7) Run around the palm trees
The area is covered with coconut and palm trees. I love their sight and it’s always great to kick off your sandals and run between them.
I mentioned Mombasa is “Mombasa Raha” meaning a fun place and thus the party never stops. So kindly remove your serious, official, boring mannerisms as you arrive and prepare to party till you drop. There are numerous establishments around Mombasa from the exclusive lounges to the admits all areas, thus you will definitely find several that meet your taste.
You cannot and will not miss accommodation from the lowest end hotels to average priced villas to luxury hotels-the pick is yours. I assure you, you can travel on any budget-I have. .Pack your bags and head down to the coast-Mombasa awaits you. Be warned, you may not want to leave.:-)