Mombasa is a melting pot of cultures. Plus, there’s a chilled out, coastal groove to the place that is hugely appealing. It hums with a welcoming energy, and in a sense; art is everywhere. It’s in the way the street vendors cut out their fruit or prepare fresh coconuts for consumption.
Images shot by @Wolfstudios Kenya
It’s in the different Kiswahili sayings or proverbs adorning the colourful Khangas the African women wear. It’s in the way the Muslim call to prayer sounds as the day fades into night, and the night into day. Hearing this call awakens a spirit which can unite a westernized mentality with the East African soul. It always takes me back to the beauty and simplicity of the Kenyan coast through my childish eyes, where my dad once upon a time, tossed me into the ocean. Unconsciously harnessing in me, a confidence that I’d use to paddle through some pretty treacherous conditions in the later years of life.
Sure Mombasa is famed for its beautiful white-sand beaches, the anticipation associated with crossing the aluminum Elephant tusks flanking the main entrance into the city. Then there’s the delights of the Old Fort and Swahili architecture of Old Town. Whatever it is, if you’re open minded, I’m sure you will probably have a whole lot of pinch-me moments at the tropical coast that will stamp on your heart forever.
Here’s my pick at the top 10 things to do in Mombasa:
Watch a Sunrise
No doubt, Africa is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world and I am pleased to be able to share with you the beaches of Mombasa, that have the most special place in my heart. There is a soft amber glow onto the surface of the ocean every time the sun rises or sets, creating a real breath-taking display of radiant colours.
And a Sunset
You can take a stroll, collect seashells, walk barefoot or simply let your thoughts wander as you digest the day and breathe in the fresh air.
Go Resort Hopping
Ocean front resorts and villas in both the North and South Coast lie alongside each other on a long stretch of white sand along the coast. Some of the Hotels have beach bars with different themes and vibes.
I’m an artsy person so these pops of different energy with beautiful beach backdrops are fascinating. Most resorts have an ample supply of beach chairs, recliners, tables and umbrellas and are happy for you to eat and drink at their on-site restaurants.
Spend some time at the Old Fort
From the open promenade at the Fort’s entrance, you get a glimpse of what Mombasa once was. The Old Town peeks from around a corner. It’s truly quite special and reminiscent of Zanzibar’s old town if you’ve ever been there. The small narrow streets, the mix between Arab, Indian, African and Portuguese culture. In terms of landmarks, at the entrance of the old town is a coffee pot and cup, a gift to Mombasa in 1988 by a certain Sultan.
The old Fort has so much history, from housing the oldest hotel in East Africa to featuring Swahili doors with carvings over 400 years old. At the Fort, spending countless hours taking walks at the English garden, I learn from locals of folklore and I’m re-introduced to the way of the Swahili people. I’m reminded that the world is full of good people and that if you can’t find one, be one. I also learn that the Swahili word for water – Majini – is the plural of the Swahili word for Jin (genie or evil spirit). Water is called so, because legend has it that evil spirits were once chased into the water/ocean to perish.
The Fort seems to have some spiritual inclination, as it’s where I meet Ali, more affectionately known as Baba Paka (father of the cats). Strangers tell of how he sets aside one-fourth of his monthly earnings to feed stray cats. When I commend him for such a selfless act, he says “It’s not for me, it’s for Allah [S.A.W]”.
Lunch at Galaxy Chinese Restaurant& a Thali @ New Chetna Restaurant in main Town
The view from here is incredible. Picture witnessing ships – and their looming bulk of cargo passing a few hundred meters from where you’re enjoying your Goong Bao chicken and steamed rice. An authentic Thali at New Chetna restaurant is also a must try if you like Indian vegetarian food.
Get a Massage or some TLC at Frangipani Spa
Frangipani Spa situated at the Indiana Hotel is a real treat when you’re in Mombasa. They specialize in holistic beauty therapy, offering reflexology, aromatherapy, various specialized massages and organic body scrubs. I can guarantee you’ll have the most authentic holistic experience the North Coast has to offer. Book here.
Street Food by the Lighthouse on Mama Ngina Drive
For the last forty years, hundreds of locals in Mombasa, Kenya have gathered in the city’s lighthouse pier area on evening, so I heard. It is a place to socialize for young and old alike, who meet to enjoy street food which reflects Kenya’s historic blend of African and Asian cultures. One favourite is deep-fried cassava chips, flavoured with lime and chilli – usually washed down by coconut water. It’s an eclectic mix of where Mombasa’s residents feel most at home.
Visit the Lord Shiva Temple’s
There’s two Lord Shiva temples in Mombasa worth the visit. One of the temples is very ancient and immersed in a cave. Legend has it that Lord Shiva’s totem – the King Cobra – resides in this cave, reflecting the legend of Lord Shiva as the ultimate time traveler.
Take the ferry to the South Coast
Expect sun, sand and turquoise beaches like on the award-winning Diani beach in the South coast of Mombasa. Resorts with beautifully tendered tropical gardens, coconut palms and uninterrupted access to the ocean. Full of beautiful white sandy beaches, perfect for ultimate relaxation during vacation. Plus, the ferry ride to the South is quite an adventure, and the ride is dotted with quaint villages (and glimpses of the vibrant African culture) along the way.
Visit the Butterfly sanctuary at Serena Hotel
Stumbled across the Butterfly center at the Serena Hotel in Mombasa. One can get to see these beauties, learn about their conservation and even participate in the release of an adult one like the infamous African Queen.
When I think of Mombasa, I think of that feeling when you’re full. Of love, of laughter, of contentment. Of passion, of curiosity, and of peace. In Mombasa, I find myself dancing somewhere between a real world and a fictitious one. I think of pacing the streets stopping amidst the chaos for a tall glass of fresh juice (as authentic as it gets), searching the sea of faces as they embark into packed tuk-tuks which dangerously weave through the streets with no traffic lights. Then I’m quickly distracted by passersby disembarking a Matatu and I think of how the Kenyan transport industry is abuzz with creative symbolism (and how much I love creative expression). The daily commuter is most certianly exposed to some crazy matatu branding.
My mind then shifts to kids in the water, playing on rickety old dhows that float about ten meters off the beach. Other people are taking camel rides, on sand as white as snow. I think of life as one big African proverb, as my Swahili comes back to life in the land of its creation. Thoughts wind through my mind, revisiting conversations as seamlessly as I’d sip on a coconut bought from a beach-side cart through a straw; all within full view of the lighthouse port. I think of people warm and friendly (although there are those skilled at extorting tourists for cash), not at all concerned by the presence of strangers in their enclave. The sun has gone down now. The beach is still packed (a luxury not necessarily common to all African coastal towns). The camel isn’t working any more.
I hear the Muezzin call to prayer and it jolts my heart. Like an African beat – and in no time – I’m whimsically transported back to the ‘Raha of Mombasa.’
*Raha’ means happiness in Swahili
PS: I’m giving twitter a go again @Thmoderngypsy – yes TH without the ‘e’