The holidays are here and the hot coastal town of Mombasa beckons, with its beaches and the promise of good times! Sadly, many clueless people with grand dreams of having a great time at the beach will visit Mombasa and head right to Pirates Beach, which is hands down, the shittiest, most crowded of beaches in north and south of Mombasa.
So first, do yourself a huge favor and Go Swim in a Beach Other Than Pirates. Here is a list of 7 public ones I have swum in and loved:
1) Baobab Beach in Kilifi right next to the Baobab Beach Resort, is a long stretch of fine and white sandy shore. It is for me the best public beach in Mombasa so far. When we first visited it while living in Kilifi, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a private beach! It’s that good!
2) Watamu Beach in Watamu comes second even though the white sands rival those of Baobab Beach. The reason is that it is much further than Kilifi and requires a change of matatus to get to; and who wants that? Watamu itself comes highly recommended as an entertainment hotspot as well as a chill out place that is, if you can afford it.
3) Mafumbini Beach in Kilifi is a little smaller than Baobab, yet, due to its closer proximity to town it gets more action than Baobab Beach. You’re better off carrying packed snacks to this beach because there are no shops close by and we all know hell hath no fury like a tummy out from a long and fun swim.
4) Mnarani Beach: going into Kilifi town is a bridge with a view I never tire of. Before crossing this bridge is this small place called Mnarani, which has its very own stretch of beaches. While the beach is not as sandy white as Baobab, the yatches and the Kilifi bridge make for quite a view.
5) Coba Cabana Beach – when in the mood for fun beach time unfolding into a vibrant night life, head over to Mtwapa. Coba Cabana (that is not a typo. Brazil’s is Copa and we own the Coba suckers!) is a restaurant situated smack next to the beach named after it. It usually has really good music all day long, and affordable booze when they don’t have some famous star performing (then they double or triple the prices of everything on the menu). The party goes till very late literally every day.
6) Diani Beach is on the south coast and is the mother of waves. I haven’t been there for the longest time but from last time I was, it does not come highly recommended for unsupervised kids and amateur swimmers.
Malindi beaches are also pretty decent if you’re willing to go all the way to Kenyan Timbuktu just to sample them.
As a rule of thumb, transport around Mombasa towns is by Tuk Tuk or Boda boda, unless you’re heading to a place more than 10 minutes away. The matatu drops you at the town center and you take a tuk tuk to wherever. Know your names because while Google Maps thinks ‘Mafumbini’ is gibberish, a local transporter will know exactly where to take you. If you just say ‘Take me to the beach’ don’t blame anyone for being taken to one worse than Pirates Beach.
2. Walk through Old Town
And by walk I mean Walk. I am a great lover of Mombasa history and I like to walk through the streets imagining all the plush places that existed, how people dressed back then and the great wars fought that shaped the town. From ancient mosques to intricately carved doorways dating back to before the 50’s you’ll get a picture authentic Swahili culture, then and now. Most of the old buildings have merely been repainted but the old designs remain.
Some buildings have been condemned for years and if you want to take photos, most people will merely spare you a look before walking on, plus, there’s no kanjoo to harass like it is in Nairobi (unless that has changed recently because of Alshabaab). Just don’t point a camera into someone’s face.
Security is really not a concern because the streets are full of people and Mombasa people are known to be ruthless to thieves. Just don’t walk into some dark alley, this is pure common sense. Street food is available for foodies like myself and for shoppers there is no shortage of stuff from the throngs of Arab shops selling perfumes, genuine gold jewelry etc.
3. Snack at Burhani Gardens
This place is an old downright neglected garden that had working fountains in its hey days and I am sure it was a sight to behold. It is on the way into Fort Jesus and despite its setbacks, serves as a nice and clean chill spot to take a breather or a snack. The whole area is canopied in leafy trees and palm trees. It makes this list simply because I like it. And I am the writer of this post so…
4. Walk around Fort Jesus
All of us probably visited Fort Jesus on a school trip we hardly remember. You may go in (I highly recommend it) but do not ignore the outside either. Go chill at the beach down the stairs leading to the ocean and perhaps take ice cream while watching ten year olds cross the deep waters where a sign post tells all to go for a swim at their own risk.
Also the shops outside the fort hold some really cool Swahili art and souvenirs. You can even get those paintings of stick Maasais in the sunset if you like bad art.
On the opposite side of the fort entrance is a street leading to another section of Old Town. That street houses several ancient houses that can give you jitters if ghosts are your thing, and onwards some cool souvenir shops selling Swahili art pieces at really affordable prices.
5. Chill out at Mamangina Drive
Mamangina Drive is the very edge of the north coast of Mombasa that dips into the Indian Ocean and has a view of the opposite south side of the coast. It’s a really great outdoors chill spot because of the diverse forms of entertainment it offers.
A wide variety of street food is available all around and the Shawarma off some of the food trucks to die for! One thing you have to bring along is good money; not because stuff is expensive but because there’s so much to choose from, for both kids and adults. The daytime is kiddy time with horse rides, ice-cream and miniature car rides, while at night, it’s adults only because booze, sheesha and no sane person should have a kid out right by the ocean at that time.
There is ample parking and you can chill right in your car, smoking some high end stuff while watching the ocean if you’re deep like that. There is also no shortage of tuk tuks when you’ve had enough and need to head to wherever.
6. Ride The Likoni Ferry
I have a fond memory from high school drama festival season when Nairobi schools sought accommodation from our south coast schools. During this time, a bunch of us are from town heading back to school and there’s a group of Loreto Msongari girls ahead of us. After crossing the ferry, one of them exclaims “Haiya! Na hatukulipa!”
Inside jokes aside, the Likoni Ferry is not a ride you go through when you have no plot and your mind goes like “Hey! Let’s go ride the ferry!”
People only go through it because they have no choice. It makes this list because you should experience how it feels to be a Mombasa person. I’m pretty sure 99.999 percent of Mombasa people have crossed the ferry at least once and so who are you to not do as the Romans do?
Luckily, it’s more organized nowadays but you still have to walk into the ferry alongside hundreds of people, some of who depend on the phone in your pocket to make some extra money. There is usually some pushing and shoving to get to the best spots namely, the two upper sides of the ferry (insert Halleluyah jingle). Two types of people stand in the middle abominable part that holds the cars; those who didn’t shove fast enough to get an upper space, and those who couldn’t give a flying fuck what spectacle sea life is giving beneath the clear waters.
From the upper decks, you can get compensation for the annoying push and shove, and at least enjoy some of these spectacles, that is, if colorful sea life awakens the wonderstruck child in you, and also if you’re lucky enough to find them close to the surface, because fish have a life too, get over yourself human!
Apart from having much more to see on the upper decks, it’s also the safest place to be, because there are more floaters up there than there are, on the two lower sides of the ferry. If the Ferry ya Mtongwe incident is anything to go by (and it is!), you never know when shit might hit the fan and you’ll need to pull a Jack and Rose Titanic stunt. Whatever you do, always stay next to a floater when riding the ferry. There’s a reason huge ass ships can pass through safely; those waters run extremely deep.
That came out darker than I had planned. Sorry.
7. Visit Wild Waters
Onto a more fun note, if water slides are your type of fun, you should definitely check out Wild Waters. Don’t be a cheapskate and pay for the no slides option. Go to all the slides like the fun hog you are! It’s a holiday for heaven’s sake! There will be no other 2016 honey!
8. Walk across Nyali Bridge
This may seem unexciting at face value but trust me, the views of the beach below and of the lamps above will be well worth it! They redid the previous ordinary street lights and replaced them with vintage looking Swahili inspired lamps that are brass colored and hung super high. Sadly these belong only to this stretch of road and I wish they did it on all Mombasa roads and branded the city like the historic town it really is.
And that’s eight!
Of course there’s plenty other great places that didn’t make this list, but come highly recommended like Nawal Center for shopaholics, Biashara Street for people wanting the very best lessos in Kenya, Marikiti Market for foodies seeking a new coastal taste and Top Time for the best variety of perfumes.
I think the tourists- both foreign and local- that get the rawest deals are those that ride in air conditioned Tour buses that ferry them from stop to stop, then back to some fancy hotel for some fancy food. These are the people that must get souvenirs, not for their artistic value, but because souvenirs are the only memory they will have of the place they visited.
For me, the best way to experience a place like Mombasa is by all five senses. See it as it unfolds all round you, hear the mwadhini chant musically from a mosque you just passed by, touch what calls for closer inspection, and smell the spicy, sweet and sometimes horrid smells of the streets you walk through. Most importantly taste coastal food the locals eat everyday! Don’t just visit Mombasa, experience it!
Have a kickass holiday people and may your new year be filled with the satisfaction of ending this one making amazing memories! No “Merry Christmas” from me because atheism! LOL!
Featured image credits: http://blog.kudoybook.com