What to do in Mombasa

Kenya's premiere beach destination, Mombasa's north and south coastlines have attracted European vacationers for years, and are now home to Kenya's best array of lodgings for every taste and budget. While Americans may only think of Kenya for safaris, other nationalities have caught on to the sparkling warm waters, stunning reefs, and powdery sands of the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. Baboons and monkeys inhabit the seaside jungles, and Kenya's impressive wildlife refuges are close by: One of the country's largest and oldest parks, the Tsavo National Park, is an easy add-on to any beach resort stay. The parks are full of a diverse range of habitats—mountains, forests, lakes, and grasslands—and home to rhinos, lions, leopards, crocodiles, waterbucks, kudu, ostriches, zebras, and some of the largest herds of elephants in Kenya. The ocean itself is full of wonders too, including exotic sharks you can get up close to on Whale Shark Excursions. Many sea reserves and marine parks lie off the coastline, including the popular Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve.

Mombasa itself is the largest port in the region and Kenya's second-largest city after Nairobi. A center of trading from at least the 12th century, Mombasa has an international air to it, having been ruled by the Arab-Swahilis, Portuguese, Omanis, and the British. The region is steeped in history; just north of Mombasa are the must-see Gedi Ruins, a city that dates back almost 900 years.

Today, mosques, Hindu temples, and Christian churches all dot the landscape of Mombasa. With a population of about 730,000, it's a bustling city firmly focused on the ocean. Its harbor is filled with both modern tankers and ancient dhow sailboats (some offer dinner cruises, like The Tamarind). The main city is actually located on an island connected to the mainland by bridges to the north and ferries to the south. Although most travelers don't stay in the city proper, it's worth exploring the Old Town, with its narrow, winding streets, Arabic architecture, spice-scented air, and women wrapped up in traditional sarongs called kangas. A must-do is a visit to Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese. Food lovers will bask in the area's fresh seafood and internationally-influenced cuisine.

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