There are many great places to visit in Mombasa. Kenya’s second-biggest city and main port is packed full of history and unique experiences. From the imposing Fort Jesus to a restaurant inside a 120,000-year-old cave.
The culture of Mombasa is a unique experience on its own. The people here are homely and friendly. They perfectly embody the mantra, Mombasa Raha (Mombasa joy). And while it might feel like it’s one Swahili culture, it’s not. Mombasa is very diverse, and each culture has its touch of style and fashion.
I’ve been to Mombasa many times and read up a lot more about it for this short guide. These are the 14 places to visit in Mombasa next time you’re there.
Mombasa Old Town
Mombasa Old Town feels like it’s frozen in time. On the south-east side of Mombasa Island, it was the traditional centre of business and commerce in Mombasa and home to the colonial British Government’s buildings.
Old Town has been inhabited by a mix of Kenyans, European and Asian settlers, and its architecture reflects that. The buildings have beautiful designs dating back centuries, brought alive by warm, vibrant coats of paint. The arches on the doors and windows are stunning. They’ll transport you to a different era.
A great place to visit while you’re in Old Town is Sanaa Gallery. The gallery was once the main office of an Ismaili merchant, one of the most influential businessmen in Kenya, who traded ivory and cotton. It’s now an exhibition of traditional art and furniture.
At the end of your exploration of Old Town, you can have a drink or a meal at Ndui Kuu cafe. It has some of the best Swahili dishes, Swahili coffee, and tea in Mombasa.
Fort Jesus is the most visited attraction in Mombasa. I don’t think there’s a time I’ve been to Mombasa and not gone there. It is quite easy to get to by private or public means.
The fort was built between 1593 and 1596 by Italian engineer Giovanni Battista Cairati and local Swahili masons to protect Portuguese interest in East Africa and their trade routes with India.
Designed to resemble a man pointing left, Fort Jesus is a treasure trove of architectural and archaeological artifacts. This is why it was declared a National park in Kenya in 1958 (despite it not being a natural attraction) and a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2011.
Street vendors sell minazi (coconut drinks), jewelry, cloth, and other African crafts around the Fort guides. It is worth a lazy stroll through any day of the week. Guides are available.
Mombasa Marine Park
Mombasa Marine Park is one of the most visited national parks in Kenya – and for good reason. The park lies between Mtwapa Creek and Tudor Creek and is easily accessible by private and public means. It costs Ksh 100 for residents and $15 for non-residents to enter the park.
The water at this park is stunningly blue, with brightly multi-coloured marine life adding liveliness just underneath. The beach here is where turtles seasonally come to lay their eggs. It’s quite something to see, throngs of turtles surfacing to do this at the same time.
The popularity of the park also means that it has plenty of fun activities. There are boats for hire and water sports like windsurfing, water skiing, snorkeling, and diving. Mombasa Marine Park will not leave you wanting.
Jahazi Coffee House
Jahazi Coffee house has a very Mombasa calm, homely atmosphere. You sit on cushions on a carpeted floor with enough space for about nine friends waiting to be served by very gracious hosts. And when the food comes, loosen your belts, ladies, and gentlemen.
Their generous servings are such great value, you almost feel like you’re ripping them off. Their food is fantastic as well. Most of their meals have coconut options, and they don’t skimp on the coconut. It’s delicious, and the prices are as fair (if not unfair to them) as can be.
Their snacks follow the same pattern: everything is oversized and filling. Try out their mahamri and samosas when you get there. Washed down with either choice of Swahili tea or coffee, this quick meal will leave you sated and happy for the rest of the day.
You can easily find Jahazi Coffee house on Thika Street.
Jomo Kenyatta Beach
Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach is always bustling with people. It’s very popular with locals being free, easy to access. You have to be aware of where you leave your belongings and cautious of the aggressive street vendors, but other than that, it is a beautiful beach.
From the people watching to multiple stalls offering food, art, and souvenirs, there’s lots to see and do. There are camel rides along the beach at affordable prices. And you can hire glass-bottom boats to get a great view of the underwater sea life.
Nyali Beach is quite the opposite of Jomo Kenyatta. It is still a public beach but far less crowded and more popular with foreign tourists. The white sand beach is lined with hotels and bars, making it perfect for strolls and picking shells.
The water is warm and calm most of the time, even at night. Divers particularly love the coral reef in Nyali.
[View on Google Maps]
Bamburi is another great public beach. The water here is shallow. You have to walk quite a bit into the Indian Ocean to get waist-high water, even at high tide. But once there, you can take a boat ride into the ocean and dive into the water.
Like Nyali beach, the kids can enjoy camel rides, face painting, and open play on the vast, soft, white sand.
Shanzu beach is excellent for relaxing, personal walks. It’s about 7 km from one end to the other with overlooking palm trees. You have to pay a small fee to the beach-line hotels to access the beach.
There are all the facilities you could ask for from a beach in Kenya. You can hire boat rides, snorkeling, skiing amenities, as well as sling chairs and umbrellas if you just want to pass the time on the sand.
Haller Park is also nearby if you want to step away from the coastline. More about that later.
Kikambala is unique. It has ruins that you can explore as you walk down the beach. There are licensed guides who can take you around and tell you about their history, along with a few legends and myths. Be careful to wear protective footwear as there are a lot of prickly sea urchins and reefs.
The usual array of snorkeling, diving, and glass-bottomed boat rides are also here. However, if you want to take a day away from the beach, there is the Kipepeo Aquarium nearby that you can visit.
Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant
This colourful restaurant is enveloped within a cave that’s over 120,000 years old. That alone makes it worth a visit. But their great food and great service make Ali Barbour’s a standout restaurant. You even enter the restaurant with a thrilling 30-foot descent to the dining area.
The restaurant has tried to keep the natural elements unchanged. Only the kitchen and bathroom have been updated with modern features.
Despite being about twice as expensive as most restaurants in Mombasa, a sunset dinner at Ali’s Barbour’s makes the cost forgettable. They have table-side flambé, shared platters, and, their specialty, seafood.
The restaurant opens daily at 6.30 pm, allows children aged above 6 years, and is strictly reservation only. Make sure you keep time to avoid any inconvenience.
There aren’t words to describe the experience of dining at the Tamarind Dhow – but I’ll try.
They have two traditional Arab boats, Nawalilkher and Babulkher, that were used for cargo trading along the Kenyan coast. These have been converted into floating restaurants where you can dine as you sail around Tudor creek.
The ocean’s whisper softly sings along with a live band. There’s an open grill on the other end of the Dhow, ready to barbeque anything you order. The service folk have the signature Swahili hospitality and are alert to your every need.
The menu is not just limited to seafood, even though this is what they do best. At reservation, you can arrange to have chicken, beef, goat, or vegetarian menus.
The lunchtime cruise departs at 1 pm and returns at 3 pm. The dinner cruise departs at 6.30 pm and returns by 10.30 pm.
Haller Park is a world-renowned achievement of restoration. The area was once a limestone quarry mined by the Bamburi Cement Company. The company enlisted the expertise of Dr. Rene Haller to rehabilitate the wasteland. Dr. Haller systematically introduced various plants and animals to turn the quarries into a viable ecological area.
It’s now home to a beautiful friendship between a tortoise and a hippo called Mzee and Owen. It’s also home to giraffes, buffalos, and antelopes, and a crocodile farm.
The park opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm. The charges are as follows:
|East African resident||500||200|
|Non-East African resident||1,400||600|
Nguuni Nature Sanctuary
Another quarry rehabilitation project by Dr. Rene Haller, Nguuni Nature sanctuary, is a beautiful, self-sustaining ecosystem found at Nguu Tatu Hills. It costs Ksh 350 for residents and Ksh 800 for non-residents to gain entry.
Friendly giraffes greet you on your way in, which the guides can bring to you on request. You can buy pellets to hand feed them. The guides also host education centres right in front of the giraffes or in the auditorium.
Ostriches also roam about the sanctuary.
There are trails for walking and cycling. Along the trails, you could spot a few more animals like antelopes and tortoises.
The sanctuary opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm.
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about crocodiles and their contributions to various ecosystems, then Mamba Village is the place for you. It’s one of those must-stop places to visit in Mombasa. Even Kenyan visitors make repeat visits.
It’s fascinating watching the crocodiles being fed to rapturous applause from the crowd behind the fence. These prehistoric animals viciously scramble and fight for large chunks of meat tossed in by the keepers.
Besides crocodiles, there are horseback rides, bouncing castles, other playthings for the kids, and a restaurant that serves crocodile meat.
Mamba Village charges Ksh 200 for resident adults, Ksh 100 for resident children, and $10 for non-residents. It opens at 10 am and closes at 9.30 pm.
Kongowea is Mombasa’s main fresh produce market. It’s hectic but also very friendly and surprisingly safe. That’s the Coastal spirit for you. This market has the cheapest farm produce in the city.
You can also get second-hand clothes, utensils, and toys here at almost throw-away prices. Just pick a day, dress comfortably and prepare to shop your wallet dry.
[View on Google Maps] – City Mall
[View on Google Maps] – Mtwapa Mall
The Maasai Markets vary in location depending on the day of the week. The main one pops up at City Mall in Nyali every Wednesday and Thursday from 8 am to 8 pm. The second pops up at Mtwapa Mall (Tuskys Supermarket) in Mtwapa every Friday and Saturday within the same hours.
Massai markets are popular for purchasing traditional ornaments, wood carvings, and fabrics like the Maasai Kanga.
The official name of Marikiti is Mackinnon Market, but that’s not fun to say. The market is legendary. Everyone in Mombasa has shopped at Marikiti. The market holds over 200 traders, with most being veterans of over 20 years.
It has the freshest vegetables and fruits in the city. And the spices here are second only to the Spice farms in Zanzibar.
North Coast Beaches
Mtwapa is a party beach. It’s located in the northern suburbs of Mombasa, where there are many resorts and club life. The water is not as clear as that of other beaches, but it is still swimmable and serves its role of providing the right ambiance for what you’re likely here for the party. If you aren’t, you can explore ten Jumba La Mtwana ruins that were centres for the slave trade in ancient times.
Kilifi resembles a place left behind by development. This works well for it. This feels like a discovered secret with bars and restaurants established as close to the ocean as is safely possible. It’s a place for putting up your feet with a good book or a few friends. Tranquility beach, it should be called.
South Coast Beaches
Tiwi is another quiet beach with a personal feel. There is beautiful coral life and Starfish to add to the colour of the beach. There aren’t many vendors or guides here, so all the exploration and discovery of swimming spots is left to you.
Diani is the gem of the beaches at the Kenyan coast. It’s a culmination of all the good things about all the beaches in Mombasa. It has soft white sand, sky-blue water, colourful aquatic life, water sports, camel rides, and face paintings for the kids… everything. They add skydiving to their menu of experiences, along with kite-surfing and windsurfing.
You can hire guides to take you through sacred forests, a turtle centre, and a monkey sanctuary. The Shimba Hills are nearby if you’re in the mood for a little bit of wildlife. There is also a wealth of restaurants, bars, and refreshments along the beach.
Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre
Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre is one of the most important social establishments in Mombasa. They provide work opportunities and housing units for differently-abled artisans and a place to showcase and sell their crafts.
Their showroom has a variety of Coastal style furniture, jewelry, carvings, textiles, and leatherwork. A restaurant called Ziga provides African food and drinks with an occasional dance troupe to entertain you.
In service to their mission, they provide clinics, nursery schools, sports facilities, and a HIV prevention program for their employees.
It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs and household items for a worthy cause.
Where’s Your Favourite Place to Visit in Mombasa?
I still get childishly excited any time I make my plans for places to visit in Mombasa. There’s just so much to do, from the laid-back culture and historic architecture to the great food and the beautiful beaches.
Mombasa is absolutely one of the best places to visit in Kenya.