Explore Mombasa Streets by Day
Discover the magic of Mombasa
Discover the magic of Mombasa
Mombasa, a city of many faces, with a deep colonial past. Deep as the sky-blue waters that wash its shores, all rolled into one spicy treat for the adventurous traveller
This ancient Swahili city is the second largest in Kenya. It is steeped in a very long history of merchants and immigrants from Africa and India among other places. The country was ruled at various times by the Omani, Portuguese and British empires.
What better place to begin your walk through the town than at the impressive Fort Jesus, overlooking the Indian Ocean. Its battlements are a relic of the Portuguese defence of the island. The fort now houses a museum and is a unique example of 16th Century Renaissance architectural design built with local masonry and coral shells.
The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated on the island just off the mainland. Although the cosmopolitan mix of cultural influences speaks of old wounds and exploits, it now provides a banquet for the senses that take you on a journey like no other. The nostalgic ‘song’ of an Imam’s call to prayer, chaotic shouts of street vendors, and smells and aromas of the souks and stalls are ever present. The old buildings, ornate balconies and carved wooden doors are features of old Swahili architecture.
Getting around the town is easy. Stroll along the cobblestone roads and narrow alleyways or grab a tuk-tuk to be found on most street corners. Make your way past the various shops and stalls selling colourful printed traditional garments. Stop in at one of the sandal shops for a hand-crafted and custom-made pair at wholesale prices. Antiques and furniture carving shops abound, housing myriad collector’s items and memorabilia including Central and West African wood carvings and masks (Old town Antiques and Carvings, YA Gallery, Yusufi Antiques & Gallery). For new and antique Lamu furniture, head to the Old Port Souvenirs furniture carving showroom or Sanaa Gallery.
If it’s gifts or souvenirs you are after, support the local handicraft trade by way of the nonprofit Akomba Handicrafts cooperative working with thousands of local handicraft people, or the Imani Collective producing free trade goods by the women from a nearby Kilifi village.
Don’t leave without a glimpse of the colourful, aromatic Spice Market situated on Nehru and Langoni Roads and grab yet another delicious bite at the street food stalls outside. Just up the road from the Old Port Souvenirs shop, your nose will lead you to the Fish Market for a fresh pick of the day’s catch usually comprising octopus, snapper, kingfish and rockfish. The Main Market is always a hub for vendors of fresh produce and everyday wares.
Expect plenty of fresh seafood and spicy curried dishes infused with coconut and served alongside chapatti bread, beans or aromatic saffron rice. The region is also well known for its palm wine. The new Forodhani Restaurant overlooking the ocean serves local Indian and Swahili dishes with an international spin. Here you can enjoy a lobster dish and a glass of wine while watching the spice boats mooring in the harbour.
Or head to a local favourite, Barka, for healthy sized portions of local Swahili food served canteen-style. Blue Room diner serves fast food and sandwiches, or try the well-liked New Recoda restaurant also serving local fare. Take a short break at the famous Jahazi Coffee House for a rich local brew and pull up a chair in one of the lounges well-frequented by the locals and enjoyed as a popular meeting place.