Mombasa

Mombasa with a population of over 1 million, is the second-largest city in Kenya. It is particularly known for its warm and sunny climate, white beaches and coral reef diving.

Understand

Scene in the Old town

Mombasa is Kenya's main tourist destination. It is on the eastern coastline of Kenya, bordering the Indian Ocean which has made it a popular destination for its beaches. Mombasa offers a diverse marine life, world-class hotels and friendly atmosphere. There is a tropical climate all year and it is a great destination filled with activities for all ages.

Mombasa was founded in the 16th century and has been ruled by the Portuguese, Arabs and British. The city's culture today still exhibits that of its pasts. Historical ruins like Fort Jesus and the Old Town are attractions that display the history in Mombasa.

The central part of the city, Mvita, is an island in a river delta, accessed by bridges and from the south by ferries operating around the clock. It is a very cosmopolitan city, and you can see a group of Muslims wearing niqab (here known as "bui bui") and Giryama people wearing almost nothing at the same time and place.

Together with Nairobi, it is the only place in the country that has a status as both city and county.

Orientation

The city of Mombasa is divided into four administrative divisions. These are clearly geographically defined and are therefore useful for orientation.

As in many other metropolises, it is difficult to distinguish the newer areas from the original city (Mvita). As of 2009, 90% of the urban area was built up. And as in all major Sub-Saharan African cities, there are several shantytowns in the suburbs. The largest is Kisauni-Kongowea in Kisauni, and others include Chaani-Magongo and Miritini in Changamwe as well as Mtongwe in Likoni.

Most hotels and activities are concentrated on the island of Mvita and along the northern coast in the Kisauni division.

The four divisions of Mombasa
Mvita
The island where the original city was founded. The old town is calmer than the rest of Mvita and ranges from the old port to Fort Jesus which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011. South of the fort there are administrative quarters and three of the city's four hospitals. To the west there is the port area. Central Mvita, including part of the Haile Selassie road is a permanent market with colorful shops, stalls, street food and public places.
Changamwe
The gateway to the city if you're coming from Nairobi. Here are the international airport, part of the port and oil and chemical industry plants. Changamwe is connected to Mvita by Makupa Bridge.
Kisauni
Kisauni is often called the "north coast". This is where the largest slums of Mombasa are located, but also the sand beaches of Nyali, Bamburi and Shanzu, all bordered by luxury hotels and vacation houses. It is connected to Mombasa Island by Nyali Bridge and to the neighboring village of Mtwapa by Mtwapa Bridge.
Likoni
Often called the "south coast". Like Kisauni it has a large sand beach, Shelly Beach, but the accommodation here is mostly made up of apartments. It is connected to Mvita by ferry.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 32 32.3 32.6 31.2 29.3 28.4 27.7 27.9 28.8 29.6 30.6 31.6
Nightly lows (°C) 23.2 23.6 24.2 23.9 22.7 21.3 20.4 20.3 20.8 22 23.1 23.3
Precipitation (mm) 33 15 56 163 240 80 70 66 72 97 92 75

Source : World Meteorological Organisation
Nyali Beach

The climate is tropical with a major rain season between mid-April and late May and a minor wet season in October and November. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the summer, with temperatures above +32°C, occurs in January and March. At just 4° south of the Equator, the variation in temperature is relatively small.

History

Map of Mombasa in 1635

The first urban area was founded near what today is known as Old Town around 900 AD by a man named Sheheh Mvita. Its strategic position along the maritime route to India caused the city to be coveted by many powers, and it was a notable port for the ivory and spice trades.

Several travelers and explorers passed through the region starting no later than the 1st century, but the first written record of the city was by the Moroccan Ibn Battuta in 1330. It said Mombasa was "a very rural island without territorial dependency on the continent with mosques and forests and the inhabitants nourishing themselves on bananas and fish". On 7th of April 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived and stayed for six days, and this was the end of peace in this small town. Under orders of Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese returned to pillage the village in 1505 and 1528 before capturing it in 1529. They constructed Fort Jesus in 1593, together with five smaller forts, and made Mombasa a Portuguese stronghold on the route to India. The years between 1600 and 1832 were marked by successive battles between the Portuguese and the Sultanate of Oman, who ultimately conquered it.

In 1856 the sultanate of Muscat and Oman split into two and Mombasa fell into the sphere of the sultanate of Zanzibar, of which it was part until it was conquered by Britain in 1895. Mombasa served as capital of the East Africa Protectorate from 1898-1905. During this time the city's new port and the railway to Uganda were constructed. The East Africa Protectorate was dissolved in 1920 and the area was thereafter known as the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. Mombasa remained the capital of Kenya until the country attained independence in 1963, and has served as a provincial capital ever since.

Tourist information

Get in

Moi International Airport as seen from the runway
View towards Mombasa during landing

Mombasa is an important node for all forms of transportation. It is the end of the Transafrican route 8 from Lagos as well as the railway to Uganda. It has an international airport, Moi Airport, and one of Eastern Africa's most important ports, Kilindini, which is also the main port for goods to Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

By plane

The flight between Nairobi and Mombasa takes some 45 minutes, enough time for a cold drink and a view of the Tsavo East National Park. The flag carrier Kenya Airways as well as the budget airlines Jombo Jet and Fly540 (Five Forty Aviation). Moreover, there are direct flights from European destinations such as Bologna, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Rome, there are also flights from Addis Ababa, Zanzibar, Dubai, Kigali, Istanbul, Moroni, Dar es Salaam.

Airlines that fly to Mombasa are

By boat

Cruise ferry leaving Mombasa
The ferry MV Harambee

There are three ways to get to Mombasa by boat: by private boat, cruise ship or ferry.

By private boat

On Mombasa Island there are two sailing clubs open to non-members and two hotels with marinas open to non-guests.

By cruise ship

Certain companies offer cruises that call at Mombasa:

By ferry

If you are arriving overland from south, you need to cross the river by the Likoni Ferry.

By train

Jambo Kenya Deluxe arrives in Mombasa

The train ride on board the "Jambo Kenya Deluxe" from Nairobi takes about 15h and trains are operated by Kenyan Railways. The advantages of traveling by railway is the ability to see wildlife up close. There are three weekly departures in each direction; Monday, Wednesday and Friday night from Nairobi and Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday night from Mombasa. You will travel along the mythical railway leading from Mombasa to Uganda, which was built between 1896 and 1903. First class compartments have two beds, second class has four beds and in third class there are benches. Toilets on board the train are very basic. In the train's restaurant the food is simple but prepared on demand from fresh ingredients. The first class ticket includes dinner and breakfast. For safety, there are police officers on board the train.

By bus

Mombasa bus station

Buses, while not a major mode of transportation within the city, are mostly used for traveling outside the city. The major player in transportation in Mombasa is Matatu, which are mostly fourteen-seater minibuses, and are quite popular amongst the residents. One way fares from Nairobi are around KES800-1300 and the trip takes at least 6 hours, or by night bus, 10 hours. Companies operating this line include include Busscar, Coastline Safaris (Coastbus), Mombasa Raha, Simba Coaches and Modern Coast Express.

By car

Kenya drives on the left and it will likely take some time to adapt to the local traffic culture. Drive in daytime only and keep the car doors locked, especially in urban areas. In Kenya foreign drivers must have an international drivers licence. These can be obtained through automobile clubs, travel agencies, or from the Road Transport Office located in the Income Tax House in Nairobi.

Most international rental agencies are present at least at Nairobi airport. From Nairobi the distance to Mombasa is 525km and the drive takes everything between six and twelve hours, depending on the presence of police controls along the road, congestion on the section between Mariakani and Mombasa and the breaks you take. Voi is a good place to stop for lunch (this is also where buses stop).

From central Nairobi, take route 104 (Huhuru Highway) to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Athi River. From there route 109 to Mombasa.

Get around

There are no traffic lights in Mombasa and the traffic will likely appear chaotic to a westerner. Traffic laws are not respected, even when police are present.

By minibus

There is no regular public transportation network in the city. The closest equivalent are the aforementioned matatus (minivans) of which there are about 3500 (licensed ones have stickers on the windshields) in the city. They're cheap — ask someone at the hotel what the going rate is and don't let them scam you. Don't expect to be comfortable; as the drivers want to take as many passengers as possible, you will often be crammed in like a sardine. As of 2014 a matatu ride starts from KES25-80 but count on paying double if you want a vehicle which conforms to the traffic legislation. Certain lines connect Mombasa and Malandi, the ride taking about two hours at a price of KES120.

By motorcycle and bike

For the more adventurous there are tuk-tuks (motorized trikes with a cabin for the passengers), pikipikis (motorcycle taxis), and boda-bodas (bicycle taxis). The latter two are rather dangerous and scary modes of getting around. The price for a tuk-tuk ride is around KES70-100, pikipiki around KES50 and boda-boda around KES20.

By taxi

Normal taxis, both official and unofficial, are also available. Taxis don't have taxi signs on the roof, but license papers stuck to the windshields. The ride is in general paid beforehand after some negotiation and you can expect the driver to stop at a service station to fill up just the necessary amount to get you to your destination. As of 2014, a ride from the airport to central Mombasa costs around KES1000-1600.

By car

It is also possible to rent a car with or without a driver. If you need to get around a lot but are scared of driving, you can usually negotiate fares for longer periods (e.g. one day) with taxi drivers. Do this only after a "test ride", as taxi drivers are not always knowledgeable of the city.

See

The Santo Mathias bastion and the main entrance to Fort Jesus
Old town scene

Considering Mombasa's action-filled history, surprisingly there is just a handful of sights. The nature and a slew of different activities is what makes Mombasa interesting for visitors. In addition to these, there are a couple of sights within 20-30km north, west and south of Mombasa. These are listed under #Go next.

The Tusks
The New Dwarikadham temple
  •   Shri Kutch Satsang Temple, Coin de Haile Selassie Avenue and Bajuni Road. Constructed in 1957, it is the oldest mandir of Swaminarayan Hinduism outside India.
  •   New Dwarikadham Temple, Beach Road, Nyali. This complex of 8100m2 serves the Krishna Consciousness community and includes a vegetarian restaurant.
  •   Lord Shiva Temple, Mwenye Aboud Rd. Sikh temple worth visiting thanks to its gardens.
Mamba Village
Haller Park
Oryx and eland in Haller Park

Mombasa was a military base during both world wars, and there are two military cemeteries:

Do

Activities on Bamburi's beach: camel rides, diving boat and fishing boat

Beaches and water

Bambouri Beach

Even as the 13.5km of white sand beaches along the coast would tempt you to do nothing but bathing in the sun and the sea, Mombasa also offers other kinds of activities. All beaches in Kisauni offer camel rides and on Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach in Bamburi you can rent bikes too. There are also guided walks on the beaches.

Diving

Fishing

You can catch big fishes in Mombasa, including barracuda, yellow tuna and all three species of marlin.

Parks and greenery

A pond on the Bamburi Forest Trails

Mombasa Island (Mvita) itself doesn't have many parks. The two best known are Uhuru Garden at Moi Avenue near the tusks and Mama Ngina Park.

Culture

Souvenir shop in the old town

Sport

Gambling

Events

There are many kinds of events during the year:

Safaris and excursions

Elephants and safari vehicles in Tsavo East National Park

Buy

Kanga store on Biashara Street
Various vyondo

Like in all of Africa, haggling is common in small shops. Especially if you are an obvious foreigner, the initial price is usually higher than what is normally paid for the merchandise.

The best places for buying souvenirs are the districts of Kinyozi, Mwembe and Tayari which are surrounding Haile Selassie Road and also Biashara Street (Biashara means "commerce" in Swahili). Specialities include:

In the old town you can find stores selling silver jewelry and small furniture handmade in typical Swahili style. Also here, haggling is the rule.

There are two important workshops selling their productions directly to customers:

Banks ATMs

Shopping Malls & Supermarkets

Eat

Mombasa is a cosmopolitan city with Arabic, Chinese, European and Indian influences and this can be seen in the local cuisine. Many local dishes include coconut, for instance waly ya tui (basmati rice with coconut milk), kuku wa kupaka (chicken with coconut milk) and mahamri (coconut donuts with cardamom).

Budget

Locals eating street food in Mombasa

Pizzerias and snack bars serving Kenyan cuisine are found in Mvita and places that are frequented by tourists such as the beaches. Many hotels also offer this kind of affordable eating. If you want to try out the Kenyan cuisine in such places, check that the place is overall clean, that it does not smell of old frying oil. Moreover, ask for drinks in unopened bottles, avoid ice and peel any fruits. If you follow these tips you can have a great and affordable meal - KES250 will buy you a large serving and a beer.

Tea salons and ice cream bars

Self catering

For you who want to prepare your meals yourself, the easiest and most hygienic way to go are supermarkets such as Nakumatt, Uchumi and Tuskys.

Entrance to Kongowea Market

There are two malls in Kisauni:

Mid-range

Splurge

Fine dining with view of the city

Drink

Mtwapa, Beach Bar
Moon over the Indian Ocean

There are quite a number of good bars, pubs and entertainment spots in Mombasa Town and the North Coast. Nightlife is very vibrant in Mombasa and in the village Mtwapa (15km north of Mombasa, called "the village that never sleeps").

Tembo Entertainment Plaza

One of the largest and most popular ones is the renowned   Tembo Entertainment Plaza which is situated on Mombasa's North Coast near the Nakumatt Nyali Shopping Centre. It comprises 6 different outlets/attractions, incl. a huge open air disco, an exclusive disco lounge bar, a fully air-conditioned GoGo bar, an a la carte restaurant, a pizzeria and a 24h beer garden.

Sleep

Price categories as of 2016

Per person

  • Budget - under KES 1500.
  • Mid-range KES 1500-5000.
  • Splurge KES 5000+

There is a wide range of accommodation on offer in Mombasa from camping to Backpacker hostels to hotels and villas with all comforts.

Nyali beach seen from Reef Hotel

Budget under Ksh 1500

Mid-range

In Mvita

In Changamwe

Being chiefly an industrial area, Changamwe has little accommodation to offer, there are just two hotels.

In Kisauni

Nyali International Beach Hotel & Spa seen from the beach
Voyager Beach Resort seen from the beach
Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort

The hotels bordering the beaches of Nyali, Bambur and Shanzu are all equipped for arranging wedding ceremonies including religious weddings on the beach. These beach hotels are also famous for arranging Mombasa's New Year's fireworks.

In Likoni

Even as Shelly Beach is as beautiful as the ones in Kisauni, many of the beaches in Likoni e.g. Tijara Beach are private and can be rented (refer to the section apartments and villas). Just two hotels can be classified as three star hotels.

Splurge

In Mvita

In Kisauni

Apartments and villas

If you prefer something calmer than hotels, there are also apartments and villas to rent.

In Kisauni

In Likoni

Connect

Mail

Mombasa has several post offices open Mo-Fr 8-12:30 and 14-17.

In Mvita there's also the central post office that's open throughout the day as well as on Saturday:

Phone and Internet

All the Internet cafés in Mombasa have phone booths but the fees for calling abroad are very high. If you are staying in Kenya for at least 15 days, you might want to get a local SIM-card to save money, for example a M-Pesa by Safaricom. If you have a smartphone, use VoIP.

Wi-Fi is widespread in the city and many hotels and restaurants offer guests free access.

Cope

Governmental offices are in general open Monday-Friday 8-15, except national holidays.

Banks

Except for the central bank, banks are open Mo-Fr 9-15 and 9-11 on the first and last Saturday of the month. Currency can be exchanged in all banks. You can get money from ATMs using Visa and MasterCard credit cards. If you have a Maestro debit card you can use it at the ATMs too provided you have notified your bank of your trip to Kenya.

In Mvita

The Central Bank of Kenya

In Changamwe

In Kisauni

In Likoni

Veterinary clinics

If you travel with a pet, there is one veterinary clinic in Mvita and two in Kisauni.

Houses of worship

The Holy Ghost Cathedral

The majority of Mombasa's inhabitants are Christians and there is also a large Muslim minority. Adherents to these religions will not have difficulties finding houses of worship. Moreover, there are many Hindu temples in the city.

The most important Christian churches are:

Consulates

Stay healthy

Don't. Like most other developing countries, tap water is not safe to drink

Consult the safety guidelines for Kenya for general safety suggestions.

The area of Mombasa has about 60 healthcare establishments from hospitals to small clinics. Some of them also have a center for control and prevention of diseases in cooperation with the US governmental agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Mvita

Mombasa's major hospitals including Kenya's second largest public hospital, Coast Grand Hospital, are situated in Mvita. In addition to the maternity section "Lady Grigg", this hospital also specializes in otolaryngology, ophthalmology and odontology. It has modern equipment and a laboratory and pharmacy that are open 24 hours. The public hospitals in Port Reitz and Likoni are smaller sub units of the Coast General Hospital.

In Changamwe

In Kisauni

In Likoni

Medical flights

Opticians

Stay safe

Goats eating posters in the Makadara district

Emergency number: 112

Several countries have issued warnings that the city centre is not safe during the night, that car-jacking is widespread and that robberies after sunset at the beaches can occur. Use common sense and a healthy dose of scepticism for your surroundings.

As elsewhere in Africa it's badly regarded — if not outright prohibited — to take photos or film airports, banks, military areas, police stations, troops or police officers without authorization. In general you should ask people if you may take photos of them. When walking, watch out for pickpockets and don't show off expensive electronics. When driving, keep the car doors locked both in daytime and nighttime.

The police is present on public places, especially in areas frequented by tourists like Mvita and the beaches. Public areas like the airport, post offices, banks, malls etc. are guarded by security guards. Similarly, upper-class homes and apartment buildings are also guarded around the clock.

Following the intervention by the Kenyan military in Somalia, the terrorist organization Al Shabaab has committed several attacks in the country, some of them in Mombasa. If you are sitting at an outside terrace, do not sit next to the road. You should also avoid riding matatus, immediately leave areas with ongoing demonstrations of any kind, and never visit the slums without a guide. Before exploring the city on your own, you should ask the hotel staff which areas are safe.

Go next

Nearby

Elephants at Shima Hills National Reserve

Some points of interest, located less than 50km from central Mombasa, can be visited on day trips.

Further away

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.