Mombasa: A different side of ancient Kenya

Mombasa: A different side of ancient Kenya

mombasa beach cover

Posted February 19, 2024

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Mombasa is a sublime mix of cultures and one of the most popular destinations in East Africa for white powdered sands and five-star luxury resorts. At the same time, there is as much to experience for backpackers as there is for wealthy tourists and this is best seen in the variety of things to do in Mombasa.

Infinitely quieter than Nairobi and overflowing with breathtaking coastline, this stunning part of Kenya also offers an entirely different experience to the more popular tourist attractions such as the Masai Mara or Mount Kenya. In fact, this is quite often the end point for many visitors safari in Kenya and with endless beaches, world class food and a genuinely fascinating history, there is every reason to suggest that “the island of war” is worthy of such an impressive reputation.

Market in Mombasa Kenya

Here are some of the unique attractions and things to do in Mombasa:

Check out the beaches at Diani, Nyali, and Bamburi

As you might have guessed, the most popular of things to do in Mombasa is to spend some time on one of the many beaches. From the northern beaches of Nyali and to Bamburi to Shelly and Diani in the south, you will find the most incredible stretches of sand and crystalized waters which are perfect for taking a swim. Located close to most accommodation options in the region and certainly next to the five-star resorts, these beaches are also accompanied by a long line of fine restaurants to enjoy lunch or an evening meal at sunset.

Nyali beach resort in Mombasa, Kenya
Nyali beach resort in Mombasa

Local wildlife and nature

Although most of the attractions are quite centralized around the coastline, there are some very alternative things to do in Mombasa such as the beautiful Haller Park. Formerly known as Bamburi Nature Trail, this luscious haven is also home to many bird species, monkeys, zebra, buffalo and a wide variety of colorful flora. Although the butterfly pavilion here is also worth a visit, the Nguuni Wildlife Reserve is arguably he highlights with many more wildlife species such as oryx and the impressively large eland.


Another popular attraction in the region is Mamba Village Centre which sets the scene for the largest crocodile farm in East Africa. Simply put, this is arguably the best place on the continent to learn all about this ancient creature, and with the option to take a horseback ride through the plethora of orchids in nearby botanical gardens; this is certainly one of the popular things to do in Mombasa.

Day trips from Mombasa

Whether you venture by boat into the Shimoni caves on Wasini Island, snorkel amidst the turquoise water in Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park or explore the ancient ruins of Gedi in the heart of a nearby rainforest, Mombasa is perfectly located to take day trips in between some much-needed sun and relaxation. Accessible and affordable, each of these excursions is popular with tourists for a good reason and with a nice blend of cultural, educational and fun activities to experience; there really is something to interest every visitor who arrives on the island of war.

International influence in the Old Town

Mombasa is of course known as an island because it being attached to the mainland by a giant causeway. Inside of this enclosed landmass, you will find the old town and remnants of ancient times when Portuguese sailors arrived to take over the port.

Old Port in Mombasa, Kenya

With a fascinating mix of peoples including Arabs, Europeans, and Asians; the architecture and cuisine throughout town are quite similar to Zanzibar and other coastal ports in East Africa. That being said, this similarity is in no way a bad thing, and anyone with a penchant for history should be blown away by the incredible mix of spices, antiques, craft shops, cafés and quaint eateries.

Built around the imposing Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architecture and very atmospheric nature of this ancient civilization make it a welcome addition to the already endless variety of experiences to be found in this part of Kenya.

While the beaches in along the coastline of East Africa are deserving of their reputation, it is often the case that this part of Kenya is a lot less celebrated for the variety which makes it a truly memorable destination. Yes, Mombasa may be famous for fine sands or luxury resorts, and it is certainly a world away from the tribes, mountains and infamous Masai Mara but make no mistake; this ancient town should be part of every travel itinerary for East Africa, never mind Kenya itself.

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  • Derek Cullen is an adventurer and travel writer from Dublin, Ireland. Having traveled the world in search of new experiences since 2008, Derek now spends most of his time leading adventure tours through Africa.