Mombasa happens to be one of my happy places. I might be biased because one of my best friends lives here. Bias aside Mombasa is an excellent holiday destination for the sheer fact that it offers variety in terms of a balanced holiday.
Mombasa is situated on the coast of Kenya. Its inhabitants named “Coastarians” for obvious reasons. I find it oddly funny. It’s like saying “I am a Towner” ok lame jokes aside.
This exotic town is steeped in history and culture. It also offers natural wildlife and pristine shorelines. If you’re looking for a tranquil break away from the hustle and bustle, Mombasa offers just that. Don’t get me wrong, this is a city and quite busy in some parts but overall more idyllic and scenic.
Mombasa has always been a popular tourist destination. However, due to sporadic terrorist attacks in the region, holiday makers are usually warned to against travel. Personally, I feel that the attacks have been sensationalized. Having said that, so what’s there to do in Mombasa?
Lazy beaching around If your intention is maximum relaxation and minimal activity then you have come to the right place. The beaches are a mesmerizing turquoise and teal. The shores laden with palm trees, fluffy white sands, tropical breezes and the gorgeous African sun caressing your skin – sunbather’s dreams are made of these. Most of the prominent resorts are lined up on Bamburi and Nyali Beach which are in close proximity to each other. Finding a spot shouldn’t be that hard.
Water Sports There are plenty of water sports and amenities available. The National Marine Park offers dolphin spotting trips on traditional dhows, jet-skiing, deep-sea fishing, diving and snorkelling and exploring the gorgeous reef. Hiring one of these dhows is as cheap as it is easy. We paid about 20 dollars to rent a boat for two whole hours to go to the reef and snorkel. The price includes snorkeling equipment. The boat operators are very knowledgeable on marine wildlife and know all the good snorkeling spots. They are super friendly and go the extra mile in making your experience worthwhile at a fraction of the cost. I would suggest a generous tip.
Culture/History I am somewhat of a history nerd. Nothing makes me happier than historical background to enrich my travel experiences. So, if you are like me then you will love a visit to Old Town. If you have been to Zanzibar, the similarities are astounding. Immediately you can discern the Arabic, Omani and Indian influences on the architecture, cuisine, language, religion and culture. Old Town is laden with derelict old buildings with the most beautiful doors still intact.
Forte Jesus is located just a stone’s throw away from Old Town. It is an important part of the history of Mombasa and also a World Heritage Site. It was built on a spur of a rock by the Portuguese in the 16th century to protect the strategic port of Mombasa which was a valuable trade route.
Bazaars The aromas of fragrant spices fill the air as you walk through the narrow passages Of Old Town. The streets are littered with bazaars and antique shops. Tourist shops aplenty with merchants luring you in to sell you their wares. If you are looking to pick up souvenirs and antiques, this is the right place to be. There are also restaurants where you can sample delicious African cuisine. Be sure to have comfortable walking shoes as you explore Old Town.
Wildlife/Nature Haller Park is a nature park that is home to over 150 species of birds including weaver birds, cranes, pelicans, and storks wild. Animals such as hippos, giraffes, crocodile’s zebra’s water bucks and many more can be found here. Giraffe feeding is a highlight of the Park. Walking and cycling paths are available and wind through the park. The cycling path ride is tremendous fun. Just be sure to follow the signposts or else you might be food for some wild animal (Just kidding).
Mamba village is a crocodile farm that you will love if you love amphibians. There are also a number of Safari companies easily available if you would like to go on safari or fancy a game drive deeper into the wild.
Accommodation There are beautiful beach resorts located right on the beach if you are looking for luxury. These range from about $100 and above. If you are on a budget holiday then expect to pay as little as $33 per night. Check out www.tripadvisor.com or www.booking.com and be sure to compare prices. Go on to the hotels website also and see if they offer more reasonable prices.
Cost of living In terms of expenses. Don’t count on Mombasa breaking the bank or leaving a dent in your wallet. This town is relatively cheap and provides value for money.
Food/ Night life/Hangouts Food glorious food. I have to just say that Masai Mombasa Restaurant opposite Reef Hotel has the best Ugali (traditional Kenyan staple maize meal) nyama choma (barbeque meat) and spinach. I had my meals here almost 6 times- that’s how good it was . I couldn’t get over the pure deliciousness of their food. I am salivating as I type this.
My next rave is about the beef burger at Yuls restaurant. It is to die for I just had to give it a mention. Yuls is also awesome for sundowners. Nothing beats sunsets with a cold beer in hand whilst perched on the upstairs sitting area at Bahari Beach bar Hotel. Sheba Lounge offers great Ethiopian food and ambience. Pangoni Resort is also one of my happy places but pretty empty as hotel occupation is low due to restrictions on travel in Mombasa. There are plenty of bars and pubs at almost every hotels.
Low points? One disheartening thing about Mombasa is the beach boy/girl phenomenon. You will notice a lot of “mixed couples” in Mombasa. Either a Caucasian older male or female with a younger beach boy or girl. Often due to poverty, a lot of coastarians would barter sexual favors for money from the Caucasians. It appears to be a generally accepted practice in Mombasa, one which I resent as I feel Africa has been exploited enough. Ok enough controversy!
What I learnt Mombasa taught me humility and the beauty of generosity. I was reminded that generosity is not about money. Extending kindness through gestures such as a simple smile, a hug or even a kind word is enough. The people gave of their time to share their heritage and culture without expecting anything in return. This is the humanity and humility I love about Africa. I also learnt that taking time to be quiet is essential for our well-being and sanity. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life” a wise Socrates once said. Sometimes we can be so caught up in to-do lists that we forget to relax and live in the moment.
Asante Sana Kenya you are always such a pleasure!
Have you travelled to Mombasa? What were your highs and lows? Please share with us.