You may well find yourself in Mombasa for a few hours or an overnight stop. The city (which is actually an island linked to the mainland by a ferry) is the second oldest trade center with Arabia and the Far East. Today it still plays an important role as the main port for Kenya. Although it lacks the beautiful beaches of the north and south, it has a rich, fascinating history. Visit the Old Town with its narrow streets lined with tiny shops and souks (markets). The Old Harbour, frequented by numerous dhows, is an ideal place to arrange a short cruise on one of these local boats that have plied the oceans for centuries. Fort Jesus, designed by an Italian and built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, is a major visitor draw and well worth a visit. In summer there's an impressive sound-and-light show.
What the Carnivore restaurant does for meat in Nairobi, this fine restaurant does for seafood in Mombasa. A 15-minute drive from downtown and a welcome house cocktail—a dawa made of lime, vodka, honey, and crushed ice—will introduce you to a memorable meal and unforgettable experience. Overlooking a creek flowing into the sea, the restaurant is designed like an old Moorish palace with fountains, high arches, and tiled floors. If you love seafood, you'll be in heaven. You can also take a lunch- or dinner-dhow cruise ($80 for a set menu) around Tudor Creek and soak up some sun and sea air by day, or watch the moon rise over Mombasa Old Town by night, as soft Swahili music makes the food and wine go down even better.
Hunter's Steak House
This small, intimate international restaurant is one of Mombasa's best, very popular with foreign visitors and Mombasa's expatriates. With trophy animals mounted on the walls, the place resembles a hunting lodge. Although it serves a wide range of dishes including excellent seafood and venison, Hunter's is best known for its mouthwatering steaks and homemade desserts like apple pie. It's also a good place to stop for a cold beer.
Serving the best samosas in Mombasa, this family-owned Indian restaurant has been in business for more than 50 years. It seats 140 people, making it one of the largest restaurants in the city. The menu features more than 65 items of both Western and Indian origin, and its bright clean interior with tiled floors and plenty of chairs and tables keeps people coming. The curries and Indian vegetarian dishes are especially good, as are the tasty snacks. Try the samosas, kebabs, or even fish-and-chips. There's also an ice-cream parlor. You'll find a cybercafé inside, where you can send an e-mail back home. You'll need a Ks5 coin to use the bathroom.
Built in the early part of the last century, the cathedral is a memorial to Archbishop James Hannington, a missionary who was executed in 1885. The influence of Middle Eastern Islamic architecture is clear in the frieze, the dome, and the tall, narrow windows. The paneling behind the high altar is reminiscent of the cathedral in Stone Town.
This massive edifice was built in the late 16th century by the Portuguese, who were keen to control trade in the region. When the Omanis captured the fort at the end of the 17th century, they made some adjustments. The walls were raised to account for the improved trajectory of cannons mounted aboard attacking ships. By the end of the 18th century, turrets were erected. For water, the garrison relied on a pit cistern, which was used for bathing when the fort was a prison, between 1895 and 1958. The captain's house retains some traces of the Portuguese—note the outline of the old colonnade. The exhibits at the museum include an important display on ceramics of the coast and the remains of a Portuguese gunner, San Antonio de Tanna, which sank outside the fort at the end of the 17th century. Objects from the ship—shoes, glass bottles, a powder shovel, and cannon with its muzzle blown away—bring the period to life. There are also exhibits of finds from archaeological excavations at Gedi, Manda, Ungwana, and other sites.
New Burhani Bohra Mosque
The elaborate facade and soaring minaret of this mosque overlook the Old Harbor. Built in 1902, it's the third mosque to occupy this site.
Dominating Moi Avenue are the famous elephant tusks that cross above the roadway. They were erected to commemorate the 1952 visit of Britain's Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II. Up close, they can be somewhat disappointing, as they are made of aluminum.
To get a good insight into the daily life of downtown Mombasa, head to narrow, cluttered Biashara (Swahili for "business") Street, which is just off Moi Avenue. Here, you'll find all sorts of small shops that have been around for generations—selling everything from leather to textiles, live chickens, and food. People are friendly and hospitable but, as in most poor backstreet areas, watch your belongings. While you're here, take a wander through the vegetable and spice market, near where Biashara Street meets Moi Avenue.