Best Places & Tourist Attractions To Visit in and Around Mombasa
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
Mombasa is a fabulous city. At one level, it’s an incredible destination for its own sake. It’s a dynamic Swahili city filled with fascinating architecture, friendly people, and some first-rate attractions. But it’s also a gateway town for Kenya’s south coast beaches. And it’s a good place from which to launch excursions to the safari parks and reserves of the country’s southeast. Here is our guide to the best places to visit in Mombasa and nearby.
Fort Jesus, Mombasa
Of all the places to visit in Mombasa, Unesco World Heritage–listed Fort Jesus is the most spectacular. Ah, the history this building has seen! Built in 1593 by the Portuguese, it was also ruled over the centuries that followed by the Omanis, Swahili rebels and the British, and all left their mark. Wander the ramparts and enjoy the views, explore the architectural flourishes, and learn the fort’s fascinating history in the museum.
Spices at Mombasa market. Source: flickr.com/photos/111724946@N08/11822429785
East Africa’s Indian Ocean coastline grew wealthy on the medieval trade in spices, and that legacy lives on today in the region’s buildings and multicultural population. For the full sensory overload, and for evidence that spices still pervade everyday life here in Mombasa, visit the fabulous spice market. Vocal salespeople hawk pyramids of cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, turmeric and all manner of curry powders to provide a riot of color, noise and fragrance, with street foods making use of the spices just outside the market’s walls. The spice market lies just west of the Old Town, along Nehru and Langoni Rds, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Mombasa.
Hammock hanging between palm trees, Diani Beach, Mombasa
Having experienced the many tourist attractions in Mombasa, Kenya’s premier beach and coastal resort town, Diani Beach lies within easy reach of Mombasa and should be next on your list. A beautiful beach, a full slate of activities, fantastic eating and accommodation options, and plenty of nearby attractions are all possibilities in this wonderful place. There are other beaches (Takaungu and Tiwi) nearby, and the haunting, sacred forest of Kaya Kinondo is also close at hand. Come for a day, but, better still, stay for much longer.
Tsavo East National Park
Elephants covered in red dust in Tsavo East National Park
A safari to Tsavo East is one of the best things you can do from Mombasa. In fact, Tsavo East is the closest of Kenya’s major parks to Mombasa and offers an incredible array of wildlife. Highlights will almost certainly include elephants (which are very often coated in the red Tsavo dust), lions (look for the Tsavo males with their notoriously scruffy manes), zebras, giraffes and so much more. Cheetahs, gerenuk and Somali ostriches are other possible prizes.
Tsavo West National Park
Burchell's zebra in Tsavo West National Park
When thinking about what to do from Mombasa, Tsavo West National Park may not immediately spring to mind. But it’s one of Kenya’s best wildlife parks with some dramatic landscapes, and it’s close enough to make for a multiday excursion from the city. Admire volcanic rock formations or the green-as-green Mzima Springs with its baboons, crocodiles and hippos. You can also watch for wildlife (including lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras and others) in the Ngulia Hills area. You might even see rhinos, and the birdlife is amazing.
Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
Impala, Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
If you’ve made it as far as Tsavo, then don’t miss Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Run by the local community, it promises classic safari landscapes of savannah grasslands and lightly wooded hills. These form a backdrop for seeing lots of different animals that could include elephants, lions, cheetahs and klipspringers. Taita Hills is also known for its bird watching and there’s an intriguing WWI museum at the sanctuary entrance.
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary
Cheetah in Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary. Source: flickr.com/photos/191844316@N04/51667694868
Not far from Taita Hills, Lumo is another community-run sanctuary. Despite not receiving many visitors, Lumo is home to big cats, elephants and many more species. Over half of all the 1,100 bird species in Kenya are found here, including some real local specialties such as the Taita thrush, Taita white-eye and Taita apalis. Best of all, other safari vehicles are rare and you can go on night drives or even a walking safari.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Buffalo with birds on its back, Shimba Hills National Reserve
One of the least-known treasures of Kenya’s safari portfolio, Shimba Hills National Reserve is an outstanding excursion from Mombasa. Combining pretty, forested hills with ample grasslands, Simba Hills offers the chance to see elephants, sable antelopes, buffaloes, baboons, and giraffes. The reserve is also known for its abundant birdlife, and the butterfly population here has to be seen to be believed.
Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
Dolphins in Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park. Source: flickr.com/photos/bknabel/9390732232
It’s easy to forget that Kenya’s incredible wildlife is not just found on land but also under the sea. Down near the Tanzanian border in Kenya’s far southeast, off Wasini Island, Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park is home to dolphins, sea turtles, and all manner of sharks, stingrays and fish. The pristine coral reefs here are a dazzling underwater world that just has to be seen to be believed.
Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
Elephant in Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary. Source: flickr.com/photos/16348114@N02/13885864653
Barely known to international travelers, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary lives up to its name with lots of elephants on show. It’s delightfully quiet, and you may sometimes even have the elephant sightings all to yourself. The scenery, too, is pretty special, particularly along the Cha Simba Valley section of the reserve. A visit here sends a strong signal of support to the local community which oversees the sanctuary.
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