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Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya and lies on the Indian Ocean. Located on Mombasa Island, it is a major port and hosts an international airport.
At the top of the hit list is the magnificent 16th century Fort Jesus, a Portuguese bastion that broods over the harbour and has a very bloody history indeed (buy the guide book as you enter). Next up is a walk around the Old Town, immediately adjacent to the Fort. Here you can shop, take in at least six magnificent mosques, wander around the Old Dhow Harbour (still full of trading dhows), dine on excellent street food and exit back on Digo Road, in the centre of the modern town. You may get lost, but there are plenty of willing guides. Also well worth doing is the Tamarind evening dhow trip around the harbour (inclusive of magnificent supper and cocktails), or an evening cultural stroll finished by dinner within the walls of Fort Jesus (which also hosts an excellent Son et Lumiere show nightly. Tel: Jahazi Marine Tel: 041 5485001-5.
Mombasa Old Town
Dating from the 13th century it’s easy to be transported back in time when wandering around the Old won in Mombasa, which has similarities to Lamu and stone town in Zanzibar. The narrow winding streets are overhung by filigree timber balconies and houses have intricately carved wooden doors, a symbol of status for the merchant residents whom commissioned them. Alongside the more recent Indian and colonial styles of architecture. Within the Old Town there are more than 20 mosques. During the 1800s slaves were shipped from the harbour as well as spices and mangrove poles. The Old Town has protected status as a result of a 1985 conservation project.
This Portuguese fort, built in 1593 is a huge bastion with a key position overlooking the old port of Mombassa. One of he oldest European buildings in Africa, it is surrounded by a deep moat. Designed by Joao Batisto Cairato, to protect Portuguese interests in East Africa, it is considered one of the finest examples of 16-century Portuguese military architecture. During the ferocious battles between the Portuguese and the Omani Arabs between the 16th and 18th centuries, the fort changed hands nine times. Subsequently, when Kenya became a British protectorate, in 1895, the fort was turned into a prison and remained so until 1958. Thereafter it was declared a national monument and made into museum. The museum houses artifacts from other coastal historical sites and the shipwreck of the San Antoni de Tana which sank off Fort Jesus in 1697. In the evening the fort hosts a son et lumière show Men baring fire torches mark the entrance to the fort as visitors are given a presentation of the coasts turbulent history followed by dinner served in Portuguese attire.
Other places of interest include:
Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve
Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre
The Baobab Adventure
Haller Park – a magnificent example of land reclamation by the Bamburi Cement Company named in order of Rene Haller who instigated the project over the past 30 years. Leafy oasis, game sanctuary, nature trail commercial fish farm – antelope, hippo, giant tortoise and Rothschild’s giraffe, crocodile, snake park and palmetium.
Bamburi Forest rails – picnicking BBQ Butterfly Pavilion,
Nguuni Wildlife Sanctuary, 5km from Haller Park reclaimed park Masai ostrich eland and oryx and bird life (260 species).
Mamba Village – crocodile farm with 10, 00 crocodiles, camel rides and horse riding.
Ngomongo villages – representation of ten of Kenya tribes illustrating traditional homesteads, dress and activities.
Jumba la Mtwan – 2 km north of Mtwapa creek the remains of a 13th center Swahili settlement abandoned after a century’s habitation
The large house of the Slave.
Mnarani Ruins – Just south of Kilifi creek the remains of a 15th century Swahili settlement including a magnificent pillar tomb and Friday mosque.
“Where to eat”
Swahili cuisine prevails on the coast, a glorious mix of spices, coconut, tamarind, fresh chopped herbs and chilli. Easily Mombasa’s most famous restaurant, and undisputedly its best is The Tamarind, which excels in fish (plenty of other choices) and runs The Tamarind Dhow, a Swahili sailing ship that tours the harbour for lunch and by night (supper and cocktails on board) Tel: 041 471747.
For the best place to meet (and fast and reliable food) in the heart of town, try the Castle Royal Hotel (Tel: 041 2220373). Mombasa abounds in excellent curry houses (but beware many of them do not serve alcohol): try the Shehnai Restaurant Tel: 041 2222847. Best ‘on-the-street food’ includes fresh-cooked Samosas (vegetable or meat; available just about everywhere) and the cassava crisps fried in old oil drums outside Fort Jesus and best eaten hot with fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of chilli powder.
Mombasa is a city of contrasts. Digo Road and Moi Avenue provide the axis for the modern town, bristling with everything from fashion stores, modern supermarkets, cyber cafes and bookshops to sari sellers and long-time Indian tailoring establishments (where you can get something copied/made within a day for very little).
Immediately adjacent to Mombasa’s heart, Fort Jesus, is the Old Town, where the streets are almost too narrow for cars, everyone walks, and it’s a real step back in time. Here every second shop is a ‘Curio Emporium’ or ‘Gallery’, and you can pick up everything from genuine Kenyan carvings, stunning soapstone, carved furniture and original art, to unashamed tourist trash, glitzy Indian trinkets and colourful kaftans. You can also liberate some great bead and leather sandals and choose from Kenya’s finest selection of kikois (rectangles of printed cotton that serve as everything from wraps to throws).
Bargaining is key to Kenyan shopping. Let the trader suggest a price; review the item and decide what YOU think it is worth, make a counter offer, and haggle from there on in.