There is never a dull moment for anyone who chooses to venture out into the multi-cultural Old Town of Mombasa. The 180 acres of land with its tapered streets and ancient architecture provide a reflection of the mix of cultures of the Arab, Portuguese, Asian and British inhabitants who reside in Mombasa. We have listed some activities that will keep you occupied on your visit to Mombasa.
Fort Jesus is perhaps the most popular attraction in the Old Town. Constructed by the Portuguese during 1593-1596 and designed by an Italian architect, Cairati, Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it is partly damaged, Fort Jesus is a fine display of 16th-century Portuguese military architecture. Enjoy the exhibition of the wide collection of ceramics and pottery reflecting the various cultures that traded along the coast. Within the compound are many fascinating battlements and derelict buildings including the Omani house, a building with Omani jewelry and displays on Swahili life.
Located on the premises of Fort Jesus, Mombasa Butterfly House is yet another fantastic reason to visit the Old Town. The fairly new attraction features a paradise of tropical butterflies in a world class eco-tourism facility. The environment is cool thanks to the Indian Ocean’s breeze. There are a manicured lawn and a beautiful garden, ideal for a quiet picnic away from the hustle and bustle of the noisy town. Watch colorful butterflies in a natural environment as they feed, rest and flutter about.
History lovers will be in awe at the uniqueness of this once Portuguese-ruled town that attracts so many visitors year after year. The majority of the current residents of the Old Town are of Asian, Arab and European origin, and the architectural style of the buildings in the area reflects these cultures. Take your camera with you to capture the narrow streets, bordered by old buildings with ornately carved doors and balconies. Stop by one of the many shops that sell antiques, souvenirs, spices and fragrance oils, and dine at one of the many cafés in the area if you get hungry.
Kenya produces some of the world’s best Arabic coffee. While it is true that Kenya is not particularly a coffee drinking country, over the past few years coffee drinking has increasingly become a favorite pass time for many Kenyans. As a result, a variety of coffee shops has opened, serving good coffee and other hot beverages along with exotic teas unique to Kenya. Make a stop at Jahazi Coffee House or and order a cup of Kenyan coffee or tea.
Just a little outside of the Old Town, on Moi Avenue, you’ll find the famous Mombasa Elephant Tusks. The tusks were built in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit. A trip to Mombasa is incomplete unless you take a photo next to the tusks. The intersecting tusks, made from aluminum, form the letter ‘M’ for Mombasa and mark the entrance to the heart of the city. From a distance, the aluminum tusks resemble elephant ivory and are nicknamed ‘Pembe Za Ndovu’ by the locals, a Swahili word meaning elephant ivory.
The multicultural character of Mombasa is made evident by sites such as the Hindu Temples, which are a popular tourist spot. Inside the temples you’ll acquire knowledge about Mombasa’s past that the temple gurus are willing to share. You will be fascinated with the images of the Hindu gods, the stone carvings on the walls, paintings, pictures and other artifacts that are very important to the worshipers. You can join the worshipers for readings, Hindu prayers, songs and other temple activities.
Whether you feel like drinking beer, wine, cocktails or soft drinks, you can find it all in and around the Old Town. After a sightseeing tour, it is always a good idea to have a refreshing drink. Avanti is a great place to enjoy a cold drink and a sandwich. If you’re looking for a more upbeat option go to Bella Vista, a vibrant sports bar and night club. There are many other options that the friendly locals will be more than happy to direct you to.
Many of the Old Town’s Swahili architectural structures have been converted into souvenir shops and artisan stores where you can purchase silver jewelry, perfumes, beaded sandals, small furniture and cute little trinkets that make lovely gifts and souvenir items from your stay in Mombasa. You might find it difficult to find your way around the small streets since they all look so similar to each other, but you can hire a tour guide at a reasonable price at the esplanade of Fort Jesus.