Mombasa, Kenya. This charming coastal town in South East Kenya is the hometown of Hitesh’s family. Mombasa is different from other cities in Kenya. Because this area was a trading post for Arab merchants who traded between East Africa and the Middle East, you see a lot of Arab influence here, from decor, to architecture, to the people. While majority of people in Kenya are Christian, in this coastal area a lot of the folks are Muslim. You see many mosques and you even hear morning prayer calls from loud speakers in Mombasa. It really is a town with a unique character different from the rest of Kenya.
We have visited Mombasa many times over the years and have come to the conclusion that in this town when you go as a tourist there are five things you have to follow to have a great time. Relax, eat, sleep, beach, Lighthouse. Repeat. This is the best way to enjoy the laid back culture of Mombasa.
The weather here is sultry, sunny and warm, providing the perfect backdrop for a relaxing holiday. In this town you don’t get rushed when you sit down for coffee or a meal or a drink. Service arrives leisurely and you get to sit leisurely as well.
Since we were in Mombasa this past August for a little over a week to spend quality time with family, those five things I mentioned earlier are exactly what we did. Let me share with you some of the laid back activities and the beautiful pictures I took of this slow-paced, warm-hearted coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya.
Relax, eat, sleep, repeat: Hitesh’s family in Mombasa showed us a great time and made it possible for us to relax, eat and sleep as much as we wanted. We relaxed in our beautiful Mombasa flat overlooking the Indian Ocean and the Mombasa Lighthouse. We got to swing on the living room balcony overlooking the city of Mombasa. We woke up to the views of cargo ships sailing onshore.
We ate scrumptious breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by Mom-in-law and sister-in-law Deepa. We took afternoon naps. We hung-out and just reminisced of old-times and chatted till late at night. It was a great time spent with Dad-in-law, Mom-in-law, brother-in-law Amar, Deepa and niece Riya.
Ladies, when you have time on your hands, you don’t have to attend a wedding to get henna on your hands. A young local henna artist drew beautiful Arabic style henna designs on all the girls all the way up their arms. It turned out gorgeous.
The Lighthouse: We stopped by the Lighthouse a few times while we were in Mombasa. The lighthouse strip is like a boardwalk around the Mombasa Lighthouse, but locals affectionately call it “the Lighthouse.” When we hear “Let’s go to the Lighthouse” it means let’s drive by the strip on the water near the lighthouse. Here street vendors set up stalls every evening and sell just four things: fresh coconut water, roasted cassava and cassava chips, roasted sweet potato, and roasted corn.
Locals drive over to the Lighthouse, park their car, get out and grab a quick snack. You run into neighbors, friends, teachers, anyone and everyone. Everyone in this town stops by the lighthouse at some time during the week. It’s always a quick visit, just enough time to eat a roasted corn, share some roasted cassava, or drink coconut water or two. This is meant to be more of a pre-dinner snack than anything else. Then you go home and get ready for dinner preparations.
This is a very inexpensive way to socialize and grab a quick bite. I wish we had something like this here. It would be a great impromptu way to just get out, get some fresh air and meet a few friends and neighbors.
The beaches of Mombasa: With its pristine beaches Mombasa is a very popular vacation spot for tourists who want to relax in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The beaches off Mombasa and the surrounding areas are out of this world. The waters of the Indian Ocean are as warm as a warm summer bath, and the sands are as white as snow. In fact, there is even a beach called just that, White Sands. The reef here helps to keep the waves from getting too crazy rough and swimmers can go pretty far out into the ocean without worrying about choppy waves sweeping them away.
We headed to the gorgeous beaches a few times during our week long holiday. Where can you ride a beautiful camel on the beach? Well you can here. All the girls went on a camel ride during one of our beach excursions. These camels looked absolutely adorable with their large eyes and beautiful mouth. Their faces always looked like they were smiling and the camels were always chewing, it was a funny sight to see 😀😀.
Hitesh and the twins even rode on an ocean sofa. What the heck is that you wonder? It’s an inflated plastic couch that you get to sit on while a boat pulls you over the waves. From the looks of it they had a great time! Kayaking, glass-boat rides, and para sailing are all very popular as well.
Sunset Cruise on the Tamarind Dhow: We went on a sunset dinner cruise one evening on an ancient Arab sailing ship called a dhow. It was one enchanting evening. Check out my detailed post on this memorable evening Sunset Dinner Cruise on the Tamarind Dhow
In and Around Mombasa. Old Town, Fort Jesus & Heller Park: There are a few other noteworthy places in Mombasa that most tourists check out. Old Town is an especially unique area to stroll in. This is an old Arab neighborhood where the community still lives in the old traditional ways. In Old Town you can relax in quaint traditional coffee shops that serve Turkish coffee with a little bite of Malindi Halva. Other popular tourist sites include historic Fort Jesus, and Heller Animal Park, a wild-animal park where visitors can see giant tortoise and hippos to name a few.
Mombasa’s Historic Farmer’s Market: Here is one of my favorite spots that is not on Mombasa’s must see list. It’s the local farmer’s market. The Mombasa Market building houses produce and fruit stalls whose purveyors set up shop every day and sell their edibles from morning till evening. Not just produce, but spices and dry goods such as rice, maze and grains can also be bought at this market.
My Mom-in-law has been shopping at the Mombasa Farmer’s Market for over 50 years! She stops by every Tuesday morning to do her weekly veggie and fruit shopping at this historic farmer’s market.
When we stopped by the market on this visit to Mombasa, I noticed all the vendors had their stalls set up outside the farmer’s market building, instead of inside. I found out they were renovating the ceiling that was leaking, and re-painting the exterior of the Mombasa Market building. After we came back from Kenya, Hitesh showed me an article in the local newspaper that the President of Kenya came to Mombasa recently for the re-opening ceremony of this historic Mombasa Farmer’s Market!
I’m basket crazy. I love baskets; all kinds, from all parts of the world. I especially love African baskets. No visit to Mombasa is complete for me without a visit to the basket stalls at the market. Every few years when we visit Mombasa, I come home with a new collection of Kenyan baskets that are woven so tight that you can carry water in them! These are beautiful colorful baskets that are absolutely gorgeous.
A visit to Mombasa is a holiday in contradictions. It’s a sensory overload as it is relaxing. With it’s dusty and bumpy roads, slow and chaotic traffic it can be hard to get around. But if you go with a chill attitude and an openness to the culture, you will come away with affection for this town, and appreciation for the natural beauty of this coastal area. As the Swahili saying goes, the best way to enjoy life is “Hakuna Matata.”
One more thing before I end this post. We got a very cool departure experience at the Mombasa Airport. While saying our goodbyes we caught sight of a family of monkeys running around in the departure area and on the roofline.
Yes, monkeys at the airport! With all of us focusing on the monkey’s shenanigans, we couldn’t help but laugh and smile at their antics, and it helped to lighten the sad mood everyone was in about our leaving. This was the perfect ending to a perfect holiday spent in Mombasa, Kenya.