Mombasa, a tropical African city with centuries of maritime history, stands as the second largest in Kenya after the capital, Nairobi. Connected to the mainland by bridges and ferries, it is renowned for its picturesque resorts boasting sandy beaches and mesmerising coral reefs. Guests come from all over the world to explore everything Mombasa has to offer, such as seeing dolphins in traditional dhows, fishing, snorkelling and diving.
Apart from its stunning shoreline, Mombasa is also enriched by diverse cultural influences from Europe, Asia and the surrounding regions. Mosques, temples, traditional markets and old-world buildings fill the streets, inviting visitors to explore its historical past. Besides this, attractions outside of the city, such as wildlife reserves, villages and ancient ruins make for a truly unforgettable experience. Discover more about this culturally-rich destination with our selection of the top things to do in Mombasa, Kenya.
A cornerstone of Mombasa’s attractions, Fort Jesus is an historic military structure built between 1593 and 1596, renowned for being constructed in the shape of a man. Designed by the Italian architect Cairati, the fort is considered one of the world’s finest examples of 16th-century Portuguese defence architecture and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It managed to go through nine changes of ownership betwenn 1631 and 1875 before finally settling in the hands of the British. Although partially ruined, Fort Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks, that showcases a wide variety of ceramics and pottery that tell the tale of the many cultures that traded in this area.
Besides the Passage of Arches, a part of the coral walls that allows access to the sea, Fort Jesus is filled with battlements and ruins, like the Omani house from the late 1700s, with Arabian charms and displays of Swahili life.
North Coast Beaches
The beaches along the north coast of Mombasa are wonderfully vibrant with plenty to explore and experience. Resorts on the shore here are known for their crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, plentiful palm trees and abundant recreational activities. In addition, these locations are close to both the airport and Mombasa City.
The surrounding Mombasa Marine National Park also offers incredible diving opportunities, such as at the MV Dania, one of Kenya’s best dive sites. For those who prefer to simply relax, Nyali Beach is an ideal spot to leisurely stroll along the white-sand shore.
Bamburi Beach, further north, is popular for its variety of accommodation. Tourists can take a camel ride along the beach, or even enjoy watersports. Shanzu Beach in Mtwapa is another highly recommended destination, with scuba diving and glass-bottom boat trips being popular activities.
South Coast Beaches
Fringing the south side of Mombasa lies a picturesque paradise of breathtaking beaches, rainforests, teeming wildlife and abundant marine life, the perfect destination for beachgoers, holidaymakers and nature lovers. The crystal-clear waters, secluded coves, sun-soaked beaches and coral reefs make the south coast one of the most sought-after spots in Mombasa.
Among the long list of dreamy shorelines, Diani Beach is by far the most famous and bustling with people. Although the area is overrun with water sports and exciting nightlife, the scenery remains stunning and unblemished. The adjacent forests are alive with birds and other wildlife, captivating all who visit.
Tiwi Beach, located 17km from the Likoni Ferry, seems rather peaceful in comparison and is the place for laidback beach days. Here, snorkelers can discover marine life and sunbathers can unwind by the shore. The blissful environment also makes it one of the most romantic places in Mombasa.
Mombasa Marine National Park
Mombasa Marine National Park is one of Kenya’s busiest offshore conservation areas, teeming with lush mangroves, a vibrant seagrass bed, alluring sandy beaches, and a mesmerising coral reef. The park is a haven for a variety of animals such as seahorses, stingrays, and eels.
Adventure seekers can take the plunge and explore by snorkelling or diving, especially between Mtwapa Creek and the entrance of Likoni, or view the marine life from a glass-bottom boat. The wreckage of MV Dania, located within the reserve, is also a frequent spot for divers.
The reserves can be accessed through popular tourist beaches such as Nyali, Bamburi and Shanzu.
The Old Town area of Mombasa Island takes travelers back in time to the days of Portuguese control as this part of the city is mainly composed of people of Arab, Asian and European descent. This is also mirrored in the historic architecture that can be found amongst the quaint little streets.
Throughout the Old Town, visitors can find ornate doors, balconies and intriguing antiques, potpourri, fragrant oils and spices – ideal for those looking to buy souvenirs. When here, the best places to eat in Mombasa can also be found, with plenty of restaurants and cafes around the area.
What’s more, standing tall and watching over the harbour is the Portuguese-built Fort Jesus, a major tourist attraction of Mombasa.
Haller Park Mombasa is a wildlife sanctuary that was once the abandoned limestone quarries of Bamburi Nature Trail. After Dr. René Haller’s drastic transformation in 1971 that included increasing the mineral content of the soil, planting trees and creating a fish farm, the area became a flourishing nature reserve.
In Haller Park, visitors can marvel at the sights of wildlife such as giraffes, Cape buffalo, zebras, waterbucks and hippos. The giraffe feeding session is a must-see! Animal lovers across the globe also know the park from the Internet sensation featuring the 130-year-old tortoise Mzee and the befriended hippo Owen.
Apart from the many species of animals, the sanctuary also has 160 types of birds, such as weaver birds, cranes, pelicans and storks for bird watchers. Tourists can also explore the park’s reptile park, palm garden, butterfly pavilion and crocodile pens by cycling and walking around the casuarina groves.
Those who wish to see more wildlife can visit Nguuni Wildlife Sanctuary, a 15-minute drive away, where they can meet giraffes, ostriches, eland, oryx and other birds, while also being a popular picnic site in Mombasa.
Mamba Village Centre
Mamba Village Centre in Nyali is a must-see for animal lovers. Home to East Africa’s biggest crocodile farm, visitors can gain insight into the life and behaviour of the amphibians, even getting to hold baby crocs!
Feeding time, when the crocs fight for their food, is always a thrilling experience, and Mamba Village also offers horseback riding and a botanical garden with an aquarium, specialised in orchids, carnivorous species and aquatic plants.
The restaurant here also offers game meats such as crocodile, ostrich and zebra, sure to delight any carnivore.
For a classic Mombasa experience, one must visit the iconic Mombasa Tusks –two bright aluminum tusks built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit during 1952. These double arches, which resemble an elephant’s tusks, are positioned at the entrance of the city and serve as a gateway to the bustling heart of Mombasa, complete with banks, shops and markets.
Seeing the Mombasa Tusks is also a great photo opportunity – just be sure to navigate through the busy road carefully! It’s also fascinating to realise that their positioning forms the letter “M”.
Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre
At Bombolulu Workshops, visitors can shop till they drop while also supporting a good cause. This non-profit organization is run by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya and is comprised of four sheltered workshops, a cultural center, and a restaurant.
At the cultural center, tourists can watch tribal dances from various parts of Kenya and explore traditional homesteads native to the region. The workshops offer a variety of handmade souvenirs, such as jewelry, textiles, wood carvings and leather crafts – proceeds of which help sustain the centre’s purpose.
After touring the area, sample Kenyans cuisine at the restaurant located inside the centre for the ultimate shopping experience.
Mombasa Go-Kart is the ultimate playground for speedsters of all ages. Choose from go-karts, off-road buggies or an excavator, and enjoy a thrilling ride around the smooth concrete track.
To end the experience, stop by the family-friendly restaurant for a snack or some computer games. The restaurant also has a large playground and a big screen showing sports events with the track floodlit in the night.
Bonus: Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, situated south of Wasini Island, is a favourite among snorkelers, divers and dolphin-spotters. Its four small, picturesque islands are encircled by colourful reefs and teeming with fish. At this marine paradise, dolphins can often be seen frolicking in the Shimoni Channel, while between August and October, periods of whale migration can be spotted through the waters.
The many varieties of marine life include moray eels, angelfish, grouper, snappers and green sea turtles. Further south, the Pemba Channel is also a great location for a spot of deep-sea fishing.
Mombasa is a stunning corner of East Africa with vast cinematic shoreline, vibrant coastal cities and towns, and plenty of adventure lurking around every corner. From the lively north coast beaches of Nyali, Bamburi, and Shanzu to the historically-rich Old Town and the lush forests of the south; Mombasa is packed with exciting and memorable experiences, sights and sounds. The Mombasa Tusks, Mamba Village Centre and Mombasa Go-Kart are just some of the many quintessential activities found in this vibrant city. With a day trip to Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, visitors can also take in a natural paradise of diving, snorkeling, and dolphin-spotting. All of these attractions make Mombasa an idyllic holiday destination.