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The Top Things to Do and See in Mombasa, Kenya

Get welcomed into Mombasa by its infamous elephant tusks before eating out in one of the many delightful Kenyan restaurants around
Get welcomed into Mombasa by its infamous elephant tusks before eating out in one of the many delightful Kenyan restaurants around | © Madeleine Jettre / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Corlena Bailey
23 August 2021
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Once the largest port in East Africa, Mombasa is now a cosmopolitan city – part of which sits on an island surrounded by white-sand beaches and the Indian Ocean, and connected to the mainland by a causeway. Experience Kenya’s unique blend of cultures by exploring the Portuguese-designed Fort Jesus and taking a traditional dhow boat trip to Wasini Island.

Kick Back on Nyali Beach

Natural Feature
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Nyali Beach, Mombasa, Kenya
© Avalon Red / Alamy Stock Photo

Mombasa gazes out onto the Indian Ocean, and as such, there are a number of beaches in the area that beckon visitors. Nyali is one of the best known and loved, connected to Mombasa Island by a large road bridge. The white sand beach rolls out into calm tropical waters and is overlooked by a range of gleaming hotels and spas – as well as areas where you can rent boats, learn to windsurf, or scuba dive over the vibrant coral reefs that hide just below the water’s surface.

Visit Fort Jesus

Museum, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Kenya, Mombasa. Historic Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593, is situated at the entrance to the old dhow harbour.
© John Warburton-Lee Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Fort Jesus was constructed at the end of the 16th century in order to guard Mombasa’s Old Port. In the time since, it has come under numerous different occupations – and even briefly acted as a prison during Kenya’s rule by the British Empire. Now, it stands as a striking monument to that turbulent history and remains one of the most well-preserved 16th-century Portuguese forts in the world. Tour the fort itself, learn about the local conservation operations and take in the coastal vistas.

Eat Seafood at Tamarind Mombasa Dhow

Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
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Seafood restaurants are dotted up and down the city’s central island, however, the Tamarind Dhow isn’t just a restaurant – it’s a boat. Arab dhow boats have been a common sight along Africa’s East Coast for centuries, but the Tamarind is unique, offering you the chance to munch on grilled lobster whilst floating on the sea. Enjoy a signature cocktail – or three – and take in live music aboard the 246ft (75m) wooden vessel.

Go Wildlife Spotting in the Shimba Hills Nature Reserve

Natural Feature, Park
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Kenya, Kwale District, Shimba Hills. A herd of Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) in the Shimba Hills, south of Mombasa. This population of Sable is rated Endangered by IUCN.
© John Warburton-Lee Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

East Africa’s coastal forests are brimming with wildlife and Shimba Hills is a shining example of this, just under two hours south of Mombasa by car. The park has the highest density of African elephants in Kenya – as well as being home to leopards, giraffes, hyenas, colobus monkeys and much more. Join a safari to see the animals prowling through the grasslands or opt for a night walk to spot nocturnal creatures on their evening escapades.

Feed Giraffes at Haller Park

Park
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Giraffe sitting in Haller Park near Mombasa in southern Kenya
© Philippe Demande / Alamy Stock Photo
Bird enthusiasts and animal lovers should head to Haller Park. It was founded in 1971 when Dr René Haller transformed abandoned limestone quarries into a thriving nature reserve. Today, it’s home to giraffes, cape buffaloes, zebras, waterbucks and hippos. In fact, the park gained worldwide fame in 2004 when 130-year-old tortoise Mzee adopted the orphaned hippo, Owen – and the video became an internet sensation. Feed the giraffes, peek at the sunbathing crocodiles and watch out for the monkeys.

Go Snorkelling in the Mombasa Marine National Park

Natural Feature, Park
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The Mombasa Marine National Park is not only popular for windsurfing, it’s also a top spot for snorkelling and scuba diving. Head beneath the waves to explore the mangroves and coral reefs where you’re likely to spot stingrays, seahorses and even turtles. Don’t like getting your hair wet? Book a tour on a glass-bottomed boat to explore the underwater world – without having to tug on fins and a snorkelling mask.

Snap a Selfie Beside Mombasa's Elephant Tusks

Memorial, Architectural Landmark
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Tusks, Moi Avenue, Mombasa, Kenya
© Madeleine Jettre / Alamy Stock Photo

A trip to Mombasa is incomplete without a photo next to the famous Mombasa Elephant Tusks. Located in the city centre along Moi Avenue, the tusks were built in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s visit. The intersecting tusks, made from aluminium, form the letter M for Mombasa and mark the entrance to the heart of the city. From a distance, the tusks resemble ivory and are known as “Pembe Za Ndovu” in Swahili, translating as “elephant ivory”.

Whiz Around in a Go Kart

Sports Center
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If you have children – or you’re a kid at heart – then go-karting is always a good idea. Located on Malindi Road, Mombasa Go-Kart offers a thrilling go-kart race course surrounded by tropical gardens. Hop behind the wheel and see if you can beat your relatives across the finish line. Top off the outing with a bounce on the trampoline, paintball tournament or a bowling game.

Sail to Wasini Island on a Dhow Boat

Natural Feature
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dhows with tourists cross to Wasini island, Shimoni, Kenya
© Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Alamy Stock Photo

The tiny island of Wasini Island lies south of Mombasa. Excursions to the island from Mombasa by traditional dhow boat are very popular. En route, you’re likely to spot dolphins, plus there are opportunities to dive off the boat and snorkel in the surrounding coral reefs. Explore the Shimoni Caves – thought to have held slaves before their shipment to Arabia – and stop by Wasini Village for fresh seafood.

Spot Crocodiles at the Mamba Village Centre

Park
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Take advantage of the opportunity to see East Africa’s largest crocodile farm at Mamba Village Centre. Keep your eyes peeled for Big Daddy, one enormous croc that lives inside the compound with his two wives. Not only will you learn more about these fascinating reptiles, but you can also watch the crocodiles fight for food during feeding time – usually after 4pm. Swing by the restaurant afterwards, which serves up game meat such as crocodile, ostrich and zebra delights.

Callum Davies contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 23, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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