Mombasa, Kenya's second city, captivates travellers with its intoxicating mix of cultures steeped in centuries of seafaring history. This island-city is a blend of Indian, Arabian and African inﬂuences and due to its position as East Africa's largest port has attracted more than its fair share of traders, invaders and sailors over the centuries. Dubbed in Swahili 'Kisiwa Cha Mvita' - the Island of War – Mombasa is a city of contrasts and its rich and vibrant history still reverberates today. Immigrants have enriched the city's architecture and cuisine, and beyond the Old Town, Mombasa oﬀers tourists lots of exciting things to do, including wildlife parks, diverse marine life and vibrant nightlife.
No visit to Mombasa is complete without a visit to Fort Jesus, one of the city's top attractions. This UNESCO World Heritage site, built by the Portuguese between 1593 and 1596 to the designs of Italian architect Cairati, bears witness to Mombasa's turbulent history and the interchange of cultural values. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875, before ﬁnally resting with the British. Although partially ruined, Fort Jesus houses a museum and exhibits include a vast collection of ceramics and pottery reﬂecting the various cultures that traded along the coast. Beyond being one the most outstanding and well-preserved examples of 16th Portuguese military fortiﬁcation, the fort also boasts stunning coastal views and oﬀers a great introduction to the fascinating history of this island-city.
The Old Town, where the fort is located, oﬀers further opportunity to step back in time and admire beautiful, if sometimes slightly dilapidated, old buildings with ornately carved doors and balconies. The meandering narrow streets are the perfect place to soak up the city's atmosphere and fully appreciate its rich cultural diversity. Despite now being home to many souvenir shops, the Old Town is very much alive and oﬀers visitors the chance to sample great street food and Swahili delicacies.
To further whet your appetite, it's well worth checking out the city's main spice market. This is an evocative experience where your senses are likely to be overloaded with the vibrant colours and rich fragrances of the mounds of spices, and the general hustle and bustle of this busy marketplace. For those looking for quality handicrafts, Akamba Handicraft Cooperative makes a great place to see skilled sculptors at work and buy a wide range of wooden souvenirs at fair prices. Just beyond the Old Town on Moi Avenue, visitors can ﬁnd the city's iconic 'Mombasa Tusks'. Commissioned in the 1950's to celebrate a visit to Mombasa by British Royals, today they are a key landmark and a symbol of this great city.
Mombasa's rich cultural and religious diversity is further evidenced by the large number of temples dotted around the city, alongside mosques and churches. The enormous Lord Shiva Temple is worth a visit, being light and airy and home to an interesting sculpture garden. It is best to enjoy its peace and tranquillity in the morning, as the temple is usually closed between noon and 4 pm.
A Tamarind Dhow dinner cruise oﬀers a very diﬀerent kind of dining experience from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town, allowing diners to indulge in delicious freshly prepared seafood in idyllic surroundings. The four-hour cruise includes cocktails and a resident DJ, but more importantly the chance to see the twinkling lights of Mombasa from the sea and enjoy stunning views of Fort Jesus from the comfort of an authentic ocean-worthy Jahazis – a
traditional Arab sailing boat.
In addition to dhow dining, another way to experience Mombasa from the sea rather than the land, is a trip to the Mombasa Marine National Park. The park lies between the Mtwapa and Tudor Creeks and its waters are ideal for a variety of water sports, including snorkelling and diving. This protected environment is home to a colourful variety of marine species including crabs, starﬁsh, stone ﬁsh, cucumbers, sea urchins, corals and turtles. The beautiful palm fringed beaches and azure waters also oﬀer the perfect setting for a little rest