Less Than 48 Hours in Mombasa, Kenya
We arrived in Mombasa on a Friday afternoon after two nights at Maji Motto and being immersed in the Kenyan wilderness. Mombasa gave a completely different experience as was expected, but it had more to do with the make up of the people, blended cultures, history and its proximity to the coast. The hope wasn’t to top the safari experience of Maasai Mara, that experience was too surreal and special, but we wanted to have a completely different experience altogether.
Upon arrival in Mombasa you see women dressed in their hijabs and burqas; a sign that Islam faith is strong. This makes sense once you delve into the history of the city of Mombasa. It was still afternoon when we arrived and the streets were busy. Traffic in Mombasa is hectic and the roads were filled with cars. As chaotic as it is people were lively, out and about preparing for the weekend “turn up” and we were there for the weekend shenanigans as well. This coastal destination affords beaches and a nightlife with lounges and clubs in addition to lots of historical sights.
We arrived at the Cowrie Shell Beach Apartments that evening after spending hours in traffic and stopping for food. The accommodations, a stark contrast from the camp grounds of Maji Motto. We were glad for a change in scenery and a chance to see more of Kenya. I’ve become a fast traveler and so has Marlynne, Kenyatta, and Sonya as frequent travelers. The Kenya crew as we called ourselves were up for a three-in-one trip. I revel in seeing and doing as much in an allotted time frame with a budget that fits my pockets. By creating a three-in-one you give yourself more work to do in terms of planning, but you also give yourself a more well rounded experience.
This requires lots of planning, and my friend Marlynne planned this portion of the trip. She is meticulous as I am in planning and had arranged for our driver and tour on this leg. We spent our first night in Mombasa sleeping; exhausted from the early mornings and long drives to and from Maji Motto and then to the airport in Nairobi. As you get older your ability to bounce back becomes more difficult and resting before a long day of sight seeing was a smart idea.
In the morning we were picked up by our driver and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to Fort Jesus. Marlynne arranged for our driver and tour guide in advance through a friend from Kenya. A great way of planning trips in Africa is to use reliable contacts through friends and family. People are so interested in seeing you enjoy their homeland that in my experience they’ll go out of their way to make sure you’re squared away.
This 15th century fort was built by the Portuguese and seized by the Arabs in an exchange that happened at least nine times. The building itself is the best lesson in learning why Mombasa is so blended culturally and why you see shades of black and brown and different hues of dark skin. In addition to the Portuguese and Arabs settling into Mombasa for possession of the fort, which was a good vantage point for military battles. It was also a great trading post because of its proximity to the Indian Ocean.
The structure though commissioned by the Portuguese in truth was built by slaves they captured from West Africa. Thus adding to the mixture of ethnicities and religions in the area. By the time the British came in to formally colonize Kenya, it was already a cosmopolitan city. This I found fascinating because unless you see it for yourself you’ll always be in the dark as to what parts of Africa looks like.
After leaving Fort Jesus, we spent time touring Old Town and the Spice Market. Old Town is where you find tons of great shops that offer great steals. All the jewelry, clothes, and shoes are handmade. You’ll see the artisans working on crafts with the most delicate touch and precision. I finally bought me a pair of sandals made in Africa and purchased their too. Many of the shop owners were good at haggling with tourist and while they wanted a sale, they still wanted to make a profit.
So come prepared with a good game face. The architecture in Old Town is distinctly colonial. A sign of the past settlers who once ruled the country before independence was achieved. Mombasa as the second largest city in Kenya, next to Nairobi, was a great playground the for the colonial powers.
The old gentleman’s club that formerly only accepted elite white Englishmen is finally open to wealthy men and women who can afford the membership. After leaving Old Town we walked over to the Spice Market where you can find fresh spices, produce, meats, and poultry.
If you are one who enjoys homegrown and fresh produce and you have time to whip up a meal while in Mombasa, you have to shop here. Not only would you be getting great produce, but also you’d be supporting locals who depend on the money for their livelihood. We walked through the slums of Mombasa with the help of our tour guide. We walked through back allies and walkways carefully and vigilantly as we were warned of thieves and addicts.
But there’s more to Mombasa than the slums. In fact, there are golf courses in Mombasa and lots of mansions. We had lunch at Forodhani, it’s a well known restaurant known for it seaside views and seafood.
After lunch we stopped over by the Mombasa Tusks. The famous landmark was built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mombasa in 1952, which was supposed to happen after her visit to Nairobi but the trip was cut short due to the death of her father.
By the end of our day we ended up near a sea side park near the ferry where people lounge on weekends. You can see vendors selling cassava chips freshly cut and fried in front of you. We ended our sight seeing eating cassava chips and ice cream bars. We said our goodbyes to our tour guide, and headed back to our apartment to rest before going out for our last night in Mombasa.
Look, nightlife in Mombasa is not for the “play the paly.” Be ready to drink and dance. There are a few options as most of the hotel bars turn into night clubs. But we choose to go to two tapas bar and lounge Z lounge and Anuba Lounge. Both spots were packed and there was a strict dress code being enforced at Anuba Lounge. The waiters and waitresses at both places were eager to take drink orders and the Kenyan Shieling was at an exchange rate that afforded us to live a little. Besides we hadn’t spent much, if any money while at Maji Motto. So each person took a round at buying the group drinks a few times around and the afro-beats of East and West Africa were a constant reminder we were in Africa.
The night kept going and Sonya kept dancing, as if the whole day we spent out in the sun touring Mombasa never happened. It was a great time. We left the club and was asked by the security guard to give him some money. Not because he had done anything for us, but rather because he was nice to us. The honest truth is, we were tourist and that comes with a bit of attention. If you travel to developing countries you’re familiar with it and you respectfully keep it moving and that’s what we did, just kept it moving.
The next morning, we checked out and departed for the airport and got to take in some more of Mombasa through our commute. It was Sunday and the streets were still packed with folks coming from church. Despite only really experiencing Mombasa for one day it was still a great time and the only disappointing thing about this trip is that we didn’t get to go to the beach. We also missed out on experiencing the Jumba la Mtwaba (the old slave port), the bombolulu cultural center and Haller Park (Giant Tortoise Zoo).
We left Mombasa to head to Nairobi where Marlynne and Sonya had one night and Kenyatta and I had two nights and in that time I’d already lined up an itinerary that would help us experience enough of Nairobi to remember it.