11 Best Places to visit while at the Kenya Coast
1. FORT JESUS
Built in 1593-1596 by the Portuguese, Fort Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions.
Italian architect, Giovanni Cairati, designed the structure, which is one of the world’s finest examples of 16th century Portuguese military architecture.
Built in the shape of a man, the fort was given the name of Jesus as a clear religious reference. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875 before finally resting with the British.
Although partially ruined, Fort Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks for the garrison. Exhibits include a vast collection of ceramics and pottery reflecting the various cultures that traded along the coast.
Fort Jesus has many battlements and ruined buildings within the compound, including Omani house, built in the late 18th century, which houses Omani jewelry and displays on Swahili life. The Passage of Arches was cut through the coral to give access to the sea.
2. MOMBASA MARINE NATIONAL PARK
One of the busiest of Kenya’s offshore reserves, Mombasa Marine National Park protects mangroves, seagrass beds, sandy beaches, and coral reef. Diving and snorkeling are popular activities – especially north of Mombasa, from Mtwapa Creek south to the entrance of Likoni. Seahorses, stingrays, and eels are among the marine creatures inhabiting the reserve, and the MV Dania is a popular wreck dive here. Those wishing to remain dry can view the diverse marine life from a glass-bottom boat.
The popular beaches of Nyali, Bamburi, and Shanzu all provide access to the marine park.
3. NORTH COAST BEACHES
The coastline north of Mombasa is a little livelier than the south coast and the resorts are closer to the airport and Mombasa City.
Palm-lined beaches, crystal clear waters, coral reefs, and a profusion of water sports, resorts, and entertainment venues provide plenty of tourist action.
Mombasa Marine National Park fringes the coast here with multi-hued coral gardens, drop offs, and Kenya’s best wreck diving on the MV Dania.
Traveling north from Mombasa, Nyali Beach is the first stop. Shops and hotels line the beach here, including Mombasa’s first mainland beach resort – Nyali Beach Hotel.
Further north, Bamburi Beach and Shanzu Beach are also tourist hubs with a wide range of accommodation from luxury resorts to beach bungalows.
4. OLD TOWN
On the southeast side of Mombasa Island, the “Old Town” is reminiscent of the days when the Portuguese ruled this important port. The town’s inhabitants are mostly of Arab, Asian, and European origin, and the architecture reflects their cultures. Ornately carved doors and balconies adorn the old buildings that jostle cheek to jowl along the narrow streets.
History buffs can easily spend a couple of hours here strolling along the atmospheric alleys; snacking at one of the many cafés; and shopping for antiques, fragrant oils, spices, and souvenirs.
The Portuguese-built Fort Jesus, one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions, overlooks the harbor here.
5. SOUTH COAST BEACHES
The coastline south of Mombasa is a world of natural beauty. Turquoise seas lap the sun-bleached beaches where tourists sprawl under rustling palms.
Rain-forests with abundant wildlife and birds skirt this idyllic stretch of coast, and coral reefs protect the swimming areas from offshore swells. Shelly Beach,
just south of the Likoni Ferry, is the closest beach to Mombasa along the south coast. Tiwi Beach, 17 km south of the Likoni Ferry, is a popular spot for sunbathers and
snorkelers. Diani Beach is the most developed area along this stretch, but still offers beautiful beachscapes. European package tourists flock here to enjoy the busy lineup of water sports – from windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, and diving to water-skiing and parasailing.
6. MOMBASA TUSKS
A famous landmark in the city, the Mombasa Tusks were built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mombasa in 1952. Constructed of aluminum, the tusks mark the entrance to the heart of town where visitors will find most of the banks, shops, and markets.
The intersecting tusks also form the letter “M” for Mombasa.
7. MAMBA VILLAGE
Mamba Village Centre in Nyali is East Africa’s largest crocodile farm. Visitors can learn about the life cycle and behavior of these fascinating amphibians,
and the center also offers horseback riding and a botanical garden with an aquarium. Orchids and aquatic plants are the specialty, but the gardens also display carnivorous species.
A highlight for many visitors is watching the crocodiles fight for tasty morsels during feeding time. Carnivores will love the restaurant, which specializes in game meat such as crocodile, ostrich, and zebra.
8. WASINI ISLAND
Generally reached by dhow, Wasini Island is a popular day trip from Mombasa. Dolphins regularly cruise these waters and passengers can stop to snorkel and dive the coral reefs along the way.
The island itself is tiny – only 5 sq km. Sightseeing opportunities include visiting Wasini Village, strolling around the coastal scrub where ancient Swahili ruins lie, exploring the exposed coral gardens,
and dining on fresh seafood at the small restaurant. The village of Shimoni is the launching point for Wasini Island tours and was once the headquarters of the Imperial British East Africa Company. Here,
visitors can explore the Shimoni Caves, thought to hold slaves before their shipment to Arabia.
9. SHIMBA HILLS
Shimba Hills National Reserve, about 33 km south of Mombasa, offers a peaceful getaway from the hubbub of the busy beach resorts. Woodlands, waterfalls, lily-topped ponds, savanna, and rainforest provide a home for a rich diversity of plants and animals. Among the rare plants are endangered species of cycads and orchids. The park also protects one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Kenya, along with leopards, sable antelope, and abundant birdlife.Guided forest walks are available, and visitors can cool off in the swimming hole and picnic area at the scenic Sheldrick Falls on the Machenmwana River. Shimba Rainforest Lodge
in the reserve is a popular treetop-style lodge with a walkway through the rainforest, viewing platform, and a water hole that lures plenty of wildlife.
10. GEDI RUINS
Nestled in lush rainforest, Gedi was one of the ancient Arab towns along the East African Coast, which was probably rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, visitors can tour the ruins where the Great Mosque, the Palace, coral-stone houses, and pillar tombs have been unearthed. The houses in Gedi display a traditional Swahili style, and some have ancient drawings on their plaster walls. Ming Chinese porcelain and glass as well as glazed earthenware from Persia indicate trade links and a taste for luxury by those who prospered here. These items as well as Spanish scissors and Swahili cultural artifacts are on display in the on-site museum.
About 112 km from Mombasa, Watamu is a Swahili fishing village that has blossomed into a small beach resort and offers superb snorkeling and diving. The coast is broken into three coves divided by rocky headlands.
Offshore from Watamu is the southern part of the Malindi Marine National Reserve. The forests of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve and the Swahili ruins of Gede are also close by. More than 600 species of fish are found within the marine reserve, and whale sharks and manta rays are seasonal visitors to the reef.Watamu is also a vital turtle breeding area with green and hawksbill turtles as the primary species.
Glass-bottomed boats transport visitors to the reefs and provide a window to the kaleidoscopic world of coral and fish. For travelers looking for something other than snorkeling and diving, Watamu offers windsurfing, relaxing on the beach, dolphin-watching trips, and thriving rock pools.