An African Adventure in Mombasa
by Preethi Lalwani
When dreaming of potential scenarios for a perfect getaway, some typical defendants usually come to mind; luxury islands with ivory colored beaches, quaint towns that ooze character or urban jungles with the right mix of ‘It’ shopping and eateries. A place like Mombasa would probably not feature in that palette of ideas. However, opening up your mind to the prospect of visiting Mombasa will certainly change that perception.
Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city is a land of poetic history. Also going by the Swahili name – ‘Kisiwa cha mvita’ which translates as The Island of War, it is a fascinating conjugation of African, Arabic and Indian culture. Being the largest port of trade in Eastern Africa, it attracts a fair amount of vocational visitors every year. Be it for business or pleasure, a trip to Mombasa and its array of visit-worthy attractions will have you returning with fascinating memories.
Mombasa has a cultural personality as diverse as its famous exotic spices. A walk down the modest streets of Mombasa will put you face to face with religious architecture, colonial Omani styled buildings and a sea of people clad in the traditional ‘bui-bui’, ‘khanga’ and ‘kikoy’ outfits. A visitor’s first sighting at the inception of Mombasa’s old town would be the Fort Jesus Museum. This UNESCO world heritage site is a good starting point for those who want to gather a little knowledge about the city’s tumultuous past and historic war scars. After musing over the fort, wandering into the old town will lead you into alleys of old facades, spice markets, and antique furniture. The local vendors with their ‘Mkokteni carts’ may even tempt you into a little knickknack shopping, or to stop by and sip tea or home-grown ‘mafadu’ (coconut water).
The North Coast
Mombasa is divided into two coasts, both of which are seafaring delights for those intending to rejuvenate by the beach. More central to the main city is the north side, which comprises of the beaches Nyali, Bamburi, Shanzu and Kikambala. Apart from the usual water sporting activities that one can indulge in at any of these beaches, the Bamburi beach is home to the Mombasa Marine National Park, an impressive marine life reserve. Also in the vicinity is the Haller Park, Mombasa’s unique and unsurpassed wildlife sanctuary. Visit the Haller Park to experience serene nature walks, mini-safaris, and animal feeding opportunities within the city. Close to Shanzu beach is The Ngomongo Village, a place where visitors get a magnified insight on nine Kenyan tribal groups. Exploring this rustic locale would give tourists a chance to visit tribal huts, sample local food and brews, and interact with the native people (maybe even a tribal which doctor!). Those zealous enough can even indulge in a little tribal dancing, archery, fishing and other customary village routines.
The South Coast
For more upscale and secluded beach dwelling, the south side of Mombasa is idealized as a haven of Africa’s most sumptuous sand. As the only way to access the south side is by air or ferry, the exclusivity factor of this coast is higher and the beaches are home to some high-end resorts. Shimba Hills National Reserve, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and Kiseti Marine National Park are the south coast’s answer to travelers interested in exploring marine or wildlife ecological reserves.
Safaris in Mombasa
Tsavo National Park is one of the oldest and largest animal reserves in Kenya. Closest in proximity from Mombasa, it is a must visit for travelers who want the comprehensive wildlife safari experience. The park is split into Tsavo East and Tsavo West, and both are equally good hosts to quality game encounters. Tsavo East is especially popular for its size, drier planes and mammal sightings. The famous maneless Tsavo tigers and red elephants are found in this region. Some other highlights of this incredible animal oasis are the Yatta Plateau (world’s longest lava flow), Mudando Rock (heightened rock that doubles as a water enclosure; attracts animals to gather especially in the dry season) and Luguard Waterfalls. There is no dearth of accommodation within the park, and most of them are close enough to watering holes that are frequented by birds and animals alike.