Mombasa - The laidback town
Mombasa is Kenya's major seaport, an island city and the capital of Coast Province. Set in a deep, natural harbor on the Indian Ocean, Mombasa's Kilindini port facility is the best equipped on the East African coast. It was a strategic trading center for many centuries and has been ruled by Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Turks, and finally the British. Parts of the city have a North African feel with narrow roads, Arab cafes, and even places featuring belly dancing. It is a vibrant city with friendly, happy people with a laid-back attitude, which soon gets the traveler in relaxed mode. Mombasa is just an hour or two from three nice beaches, with glorious white sands.
Mombasa has the distinction of being one of the oldest settlements in East Africa. A town has existed on the island for over 700 years and some proof exists that would date Mombasa long before that. Stories exist from as early as the 12th century, but the arrival of Vasco de Gama in 1498 started everything rolling. After a brief and seemingly amiable meeting, de Gama was not allowed to enter the port. He left after a few days and went to Malindi, where he was greeted with open arms.
Fort Jesus, now a museum, became the focal point of the island. In the years between 1631 and 1875, the fort changed hands nine times. In 1631, the townspeople revolted and killed every Portuguese on the island, but the Sultan of Mombasa had no real support and the Portuguese reoccupied Fort Jesus and consolidated their control. The Omanis, who had been steadily gaining strength, took the town and laid siege to the fort from 1696-98. The Santo Antonio de Tanna sank in 1697 while trying to break the siege (and the museum holds numerous relics recovered from the ship). After 33 months Fort Jesus again changed hands, with most of the defenders having died from starvation or disease.
A mutiny by the African soldiers in 1728 resulted in the Portuguese gaining control for what would be the last time. A year later the fort was again besieged and the Portuguese surrendered, permanently ending their rule over Mombasa. The Omani overlords, who were of the Mazrui family, declared their independence from Oman. Civil war in Oman prevented much of a reaction, but the Battle of Shela in Lamu forever changed the balance of power. Fearing a reprisal from Mombasa, the Lamu victors invited the Sultan of Oman to occupy Lamu. From there, he continually attacked Mombasa, but did not gain control until the Swahili tribes invited him in after a dispute with the Mazruis.
British influence grew in the region and they crushed a mutiny led by the fort's commandant in 1875. England then leased the coastal strip from the Sultan of Zanzibar and turned the Fort Jesus into a prison until 1958.
Old Town is a section of town situated in the eastern part of Mombasa Island, east of Digo Road and Jamhuri Park. Take Makadara Rd, Nkrumah Rd, or any smaller road off of Digo east a few blocks, and you’ll find yourself in Old Town. It is maze of narrow roads slicing between tall white buildings and stunning mosques dating back to the early 19th century. It’s easy to get lost in this maze while exploring, so make sure you always know where west is. Old Town isn’t that big, so you won’t stay lost for long.
While checking out the Swahili architecture and beautify dressed people, stop into a bakery, restaurant, market, or curio shop. After 6 pm venders set up barbecue grills on the street corners and sell snacks for few shillings a piece. The street food beats most food you get in restaurants, for a fraction of the price.
While in Old Town, don’t miss its major attraction, Fort Jesus. Fort Jesus began as a Portuguese fort in 1593, then changed hands many times in the next three centuries. Today it has been turned into a museum that is open from 8:30 am to 6 pm.
The Mombasa "Tusks" are symbolic representations of entrance into the heart of the town. The tusks were built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the town in 1952, as they lay directly on the path from the port to the town. Ivory was considered to be an exquisite commodity during the time, and in essence the tusks were meant to embrace the Queen and the British Empire into the town and within its social structure. Coincidentally the tusks also spell the letter "M" for Mombasa.
North of the city centre on the way to Nyali is Mamba Village, East Africa’s largest crocodile farm, offering tours which provide insight into the behaviour and life cycle of these archaic reptiles, and which are concluded with a rather graphic feeding frenzy. Also of interest to nature lovers is the Bamburi Nature Trail, home to an enormous assortment of exotic flora and wildlife. On the northern coast of Mombasa, towards the town of Malindi, the Gedi Ruins are the remains of a compelling collection of Swahili rock structures dating from the 15th century.
Ancient mosques and temples abound in Mombasa. The dozen mosques in the Old Town are the most traditional, while more modern examples in town include the Skeikh Nurein Islamic Center and the Khonzi Mosque. The Hindu Lord Shiva Temple and the Swaminarayan Temple are among the many symbols of Mombasa's cultural diversity. Extravagant idols and stone carvings of the various religious beliefs are displayed within the temples. There is also a Sikh Temple, a Jain Temple, and a Hare Krishna Temple. The two main Christian churches are the Holy Ghost Cathedral and the Mombasa Memorial Cathedral.
The Bombolulu workshops are located along the north coast of Mombasa. Founded in 1969, these workshops are a project of the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya (APDK). It is a major tourist attraction, which consists of a cultural center with 8 traditional homesteads. The center also runs a traditional restaurant and entertains guests with traditional dances throughout the day. The center employs 150 disabled craftsmen/women, who produce jewelry, handprinted textiles, wood carvings and leather crafts. The products are sold in a large showroom and exported to 20 countries. Bombolulu workshops have grown to be one of the biggest rehabilitation centers in Kenya and have built a reputation as one of Kenya’s most reliable exporters.
On the north coast of Mombasa towards the town of Malindi lays one the most pre-historic ruins found in Mombasa, called the Gedi Ruins. Gedi was a small town built entirely from rocks and stones, which was inhabited by a few thousand Swahili people and ruled by a very rich Sultan. These ruins date back from the 15th century, and through careful preservation most of the original foundations can still be seen today. A well-informed and educated guide gives a tour of the ruins. The ruins are designated as a National Museum by law, and their preservation are a direct reflection of the commitment of the Government to uphold the country's cultural and historical background.
Moi International Airport, also Mombasa Airport, serves the city of Mombasa, and is the second most important airport in Kenya after Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The airport is run by Kenya Airports Authority. It has two runways, 03/21 and 15/33. Runway 21 is equipped with ILS. It was named after former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi during his tenure.
The airport was originally known as Port Reitz Airport, it was built during the Second World War by the British colonial government. It was expanded to an international airport in 1979.
Mombasa has a railway station and Kenya Railways runs overnight passenger trains from Mombasa to Nairobi, though the service is less extensive than it used to be. Highways connect Mombasa to capital Nairobi, Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam while northward road link to Malindi and Lamu. Within Mombasa, most local people use matatus (minibuses) to move between villages and Mombasa Island. Mombasa port is the largest in Kenya, but there is little or no scheduled passenger service. International cruise ships frequent the port.
Island Dishes on Kibokoni Road is a Lamu-themed joint that serves kebabs, chicken tikka, fish, fresh juices, and biriyani (rice with Indian curry).
New Recoder Restaurant on Kibokoni Road is a Kenyan-Swahili restaurant serving coast cuisine.
Singh Restaurant on Mwembe Tayari Road is operated by the Sikh Temple and is the best place for vegetarians.
Aridi 4 Restaurant on Turkana Road is a friendly, popular canteen with excellent juices and an array of grills, burgers, and fried chicken.
New Chetna Restaurant on Haile Selassie Road is a popular Indian vegetarian restaurant serving delicious South Indian dishes like masala dosa, idli, and thali meal.
New Overseas Chinese-Korean Restaurant and Bar on Moi Avenue is strong on seafood.
China Town Restaurant on Nyrere Avenue has great Chinese and Korean food.
Splendid View Restaurant on Maungano Road across from the Hotel Splendid offers a variety of cuisines from tandoori to Chinese.
Special Bokoboko on the corner of Kibokoni Rd and Nyeri St in Old Town. It is newly built by two Muslim brothers named Fuad and Fakur. After about 6 pm, the brothers offer a huge variety of Swahili and Indian food for cheap prices. There’s an air-conditioned room, many sauces on the each table, and excellent fruit juices.
For a good hamburger, try the Hamburger House on Moi Ave near the tusks. Also near the tusks is the Chinese Overseas Restaurant.
Casablanca Restaurant & Bar on Mnazi Moja Rd directly off of Moi Ave is a nice place to get a meal, then stay for a few beers. It’s an open-air double story building with a restaurant downstairs serving a wide range of continental food. Upstairs is a popular bar/disco with a dance floor, loud music, and cold beers.
If you are willing to spend the money, the Tamarind Restaurant, across the harbor is the best Mombasa has to offer. The food is excellent, of course, but expect to pay over KSh 1,200 per person.
Little Chef Dinners Pub on Moi Avenue is funky and dishes up tasty portions of Kenya and international food.
The menu at Baron Restaurant and Pub on Digo Road features ostrich, guines fowl, crocodile, and lobster!
Siesta Bar and Restaurant on Nyali Road is possibly the only Mexican restaurant in East Africa and has almost authentic Mexican food.
Fontanella Steakhouse and Beer Garden on Moi Avenue serves nyama choma (barbecued meat) and steak.
Hunter’s Steak House on Mkomani Road has an enormous array of meat dishes.
Rozina House Restaurant on Moi Avenue has plenty of seafood, but the prices are pretty high.
Cozy Inn on Moi Avenue is a friendly café serving lunch and dinner.
Pistacchio Café on Meru Road and Mwindani Road serves excellent ice cream and has popular lunchtime buffets.
Mombasa Coffee House on Moi Avenue serves fresh coffee, snacks, and meals.
Blue Room Restaurant, on the Haile Selassie Road is a very popular fast-food, self-service place. There’s a huge variety of Indian and American food.
Fayaz Baker and Confectioners on Jomo Kenyatta Avenue serves excellent cakes and muffins.
Anglo-Swiss Bakery on Meru Road is another good place for cakes.
Abdel Nasser Road and along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue. This is where you will find great street food. Try the green coconuts, sugar cane juice or kahawa thungu (thick bitter coffee flavored with ginger).
Bus Station, Nyrere Avenue. Here you’ll find full meals consisting of roast meat and pilau and great kebabs.
Whitesands. Whitesands is actually two restaurants in one. The Pavillions, which serves superb breakfasts with a massive selection of fruit and bread, and the Minazi which is a cheaper, less formal 24 hour restaurant. On the menu you'll find steak or chicken burger with very good sauces and french fries, pizzas and cheap beer. It is also a good choice if you’re traveling with kids.
Biashara Street is Kenya’s main center for kikoi, brightly colored woven sarongs for men, and kangas, printed wraps worn by women. Mombasa has an incredible number of skilled tailors, and numerous can be found on Nehru Road. Mombasa Tailoring Mart is recommended for tailored African shirts. Umed Mode is also reliable for safari suits.
Moi Avenue has loads of souvenir shops. There are stalls selling sisal baskets and spices in the main market. The Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Center has a showroom selling jewelry, clothes, carvings, and other crafts. Akamba Handicraft Industry Cooperative Society produces very fine animal woodcarving.
Bars and Clubs
The Office on Shelly Beach Road has nothing to do with anything executive or official. Is known for huge reggae nights.
Casablanca Restaurant and Club on Mnazi Moja Road pulls in a western crowd; music’s good and the beer is perfectly chilled.
Toyz Disco on Baluchi Street is a loud and lively hot spot.
Salambo Club on Moi Avenue is a popular Kenyan basement bar.
Check out the view from the 6th floor of the Royal Court’s Hotel Bar whilst mixing with the locals and sipping on your drink.
New Florida Night Club houses Mombasa’s liveliest nightclub.
Pirates is another club that has been going for years and is the place to check out the great nightlife in this buzzing city.
Skybar is billed as the best pub in town.
Tembo Night Club boasts one of the best music systems among all of the nightclubs in town. It is an extremely popular destination among locals and tourists who are out to have a wild night of pure fun and entertainment. Its layout is similar to Mamba, but is slightly smaller. Doors open early in the evening, and sometimes never close until after the following night!
Mamba International Night Club is situated in Nyali, next to the Nyali Golf Club. The club has 13 bars and an enormous holding capacity. Saturday night is definitely the best night to visit the club, especially if you love rap, reggae, dance and African music. Various promotional events and contests take place on Fridays, such as DJ “spinoffs” and performances by live artists. The club’s one of a kind laser light show and its size are what separates it from all others.
Castaways is a very popular bar situated next to the Bamburi Beach Hotel. It offers a wide array of drinks and also has a couple of pool tables (which are always busy). Castaways also shows all the live football and rugby action on their big screen.
Bora Bora Night Club is tailored more towards the adult crowd with its unique cabaret show, which includes local as well as Russian dancers; a relaxing place with fantastic shows, good music, and a lively atmosphere. Situated in the North Coast right before all the major hotels, it is ideal for a relatively quiet and enjoyable night out.
Starion used to be Mombasa’s premier nightclub but was closed down a couple of years ago. However on reopening under new management, the club has flourished back to its old glamour with its new décor. Whether it is to enjoy the music on the dance floor or a drink in the Kibanda Bar, Starion is always busy and frequent parties are hosted there.
Jungle Village is located next to Bora Bora Nightclub. Its architecture is reflective of its name, and includes "makuti" (palm tree leaves) thatched roofs. Jungle Village offers it customers an array of wonderfully cooked dishes and drinks. Customers have a choice of dining out in the open air or inside the restaurant; it is also equipped with pool tables and dartboards.
Mombasa has three main movie theatres/cinemas. Lotus Cinema and Kenya Cinema are located just minutes away from each other in the heart of downtown. Both these cinemas have been entertaining the locals for decades and offer both English and Indian movies seven days a week.
The newest edition to Mombasa’s movie entertainment venues is the Nyali Cinemax. Located in Nyali opposite Ratna Square, this ultra modern Cinemax offers state of the art viewing with a fully air-conditioned and surround sound screens. It is designed similar to North American cinemas and plays the latest box office releases.
Golden Key Casino is rated as the best casino in town. The casino is part of the famous Tamarind Restaurant, thus making it a marvelous place for an evening of superb dining coupled with wonderful entertainment. The restaurant and casino have a magnificent view of the town of Mombasa, as well as a stretch of the Indian Ocean where fishing boats and dhows regularly pass.
Florida Beach Casino is a very popular casino situated along the area known as Light House. It is highly visited by those who stay downtown and don’t wish to travel too far for a casino. Its grand view of the Indian Ocean is the best Mombasa has to offer and all ships that berth at the port of Mombasa can be seen passing a very close distance from the casino.
The Royal Casino is located right in the heart of downtown at the intersection is Moi Avenue and Digo Road. It offers all the popular board games and slot machines, with bingo and billiards on the second and third floors of the building respectively.
The Nyali Beach Hotel casino is situated in the heart of the hotel, right next to the Noon’s Nightclub. The casino is small and cozy, with an array of slot machines and tables, and additionally offers a lavish choice of foods from the hotel kitchen.
ACTIVITIES IN AND AROUND TOWN
Drive, chip, and putt to your heart’s content at Mombasa Golf Club or south of Mombasa at the Leisure Lodge Beach Resort or the posh Nyali Golf Club.
If you can sail, it is worth joining Mombasa Yacht Club.
Go camping to Tsavo East and West National Parks.
Stroll down any road and watch the craftspeople at work on the street corners.
Ride a camel along the beach south of Mombasa.
Island hopping: If you would like to get away from all the hustle and bustle for a few days and don’t mind the lack of running water, head out for Wasini Island.
Luxury dhow cruises around the harbor are very popular in Mombasa—they are an excellent way to see the harbor, Old Town, and Fort Jesus, and end with a fine meal. Topping the list is the Tamarind Dhow by the posh Tamarind restaurant. The other big operator is Jahazi Marine.
The Mombasa Carnival is a major annual event held in November. The Mombasa Triathlon in August is an open competition with men’s, women’s and children’s races.
Check out beauty pageants on the beach strips during summer.
Go bowling at Hollywood Bowl on Nyali Road; it has special family deals on weekends.
Dive into the open waters south of Mombasa or take reef trips; the main operators include Diano Marine, Diving the Crab, and SX Scuba.
Into water sports? The long stretch of beach offers banana boats, jet skis, kitesurfing, snorkeling, and windsurfing—contact H20 Extreme at Nomad Beach Hotel or Wet & Wild at Aqualand.
Go on a Baobab Adventure north of Mombasa, an ingenious complex of nature trails and wildlife sanctuaries.
Tana Guest House on Mwembe Tayari and Gatundu Roads is a simple but friendly place. Rooms and clean and tidy.
New People’s Hotel on Abdel Nasser Road is a basic hotel but has a good, cheap restaurant downstairs. It can be noisy, but all rooms are clean and have fans
Evening Guest House on Mnazi Moja Road is a good value place.
Two very affordable places are the New Al Jazira Hotel and the Lucky Guest House on Shibu Rd just off of Haile Selassie. Rooms are clean but without fans.
Glory Bed & Breakfast on Digo Road offers singles/doubles with breakfast.
Beracha Guest House is a popular central choice, and the rooms are in a range of unusual shapes.
The most affordable of the mid-range hotels is the Excellent Guest House on Haile Selassie Road. The rooms have fans, mosquito nets, and bathrooms.
Hotel Sapphire on Mwenbe Tayari Rd offers rooms with air-conditioning and include breakfast.
Another mid-range hotel is the nice New Palm Tree Hotel on Nkrumah Road. Rooms have fans, mosquito nets and bathrooms and include a breakfast.
Castle Royal Hotel on Moi Avenue has one of the best deals in Kenya. Every room has a TV, phone, fridge, iron-framed bed, safe, and stylish décor.
Lotus Hotel on Cathedral Road has quiet, well-sized rooms, two bars and a restaurant.
Manson Hotel has spacious rooms, a restaurant, TV, and pool room.
Hotel Dorse on Kwa Shibu Road has rooms with big beds, a balcony, and deals during the low reason.
Dancourt Hotel on Meru Road has rooms with carved doors and huge TVs.
Oceanic Hotel off of Oceanic Road near the Likoni Ferry offers rooms with a view of the ocean and have air-conditioning. On the beautiful grounds are three restaurants, a swimming pool, and a casino.
Royal Court Hotel on Haile Selassie Road is a stylish business hotel. The rooms are reasonably plush. You get great views and excellent food at the Tawa Terrace restaurant on the roof.
Tamarind Village on Silos Road is a highly superior accommodation complex, with a range of luxury serviced apartments.
Hotel Sai Rose on Nyrere Avenue is an odd narrow building but its Swahili-themed executive rooms and the blue honeymoon suite aren’t bad at all.