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The cosmopolitan port city of Mombasa is Kenya's second largest city after the capital Nairobi and the gateway to the tropical beaches of the Indian Ocean coast. The history of Mombasa goes all the way back to the 12th century and the Arabic, African, Indian and European influences of its past are still evident in the city today through the architecture, food and people. Its heart is the Old Town where this blend of cultures and diversity produces a unique atmosphere and the maze of alleys are well worth exploring on foot.
Mombasa's main attraction is the late 16th century Fort Jesus. It was built in 1593 as a coastal defence by the occupying Portuguese to keep enemies at bay and to protect trade routes to India and their interests in East Africa. It has battlements and a small museum to explore which includes artefacts from when Mombasa was a transit port for the slave trade. There are also torture rooms and cells where the slaves were held.
In the centre of Mombasa you will find giant aluminium elephant tusk arches which commemorate a visit by Princess Margaret in 1956.
Founded in 1969 Bombolulu Workshops support around 160 physically disabled craftsmen and women. They produce a range of jewellery, textiles, wood and leather crafts which are exported to 18 countries and within Kenya. There are four workshops, a cultural centre and a restaurant and tourists are welcome to visit. Handicrafts are available to buy.
Haller Park is the largest animal sanctuary in Mombasa. Established on the site of an abandoned cement factory it has an enormous variety of animals including giraffes, hippos, Cape buffalo, zebras and waterbucks. More than 160 bird species have been introduced. You can walk and cycle along the trails through indigenous plants and trees. There are also opportunities to feed and pet some of the creatures, under the supervision of the staff. Feeding time starts at 4pm making it the best time to be in the park. There is an education centre focusing on sustainable development and wildlife conservation.
The park became famous worldwide when an orphaned baby hippo named Owen became friends with a 130-year-old tortoise called Mzee, or 'wise old man'. The two no longer share an enclosure but continue to inspire people with their unique and unlikely friendship.
When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then Nyali Beach is only seven kilometres north. Diving, snorkelling and glass bottom boat trips to the Mombasa Marine Reserve are all possible here, along with kitesurfing and windsurfing.
The Shimba Hills National Reserve is 56km south of the city and whilst smaller than the more famous Kenyan parks, still gives you the opportunity to spot some fantastic wildlife. Elephants, giraffes, leopard, hyenas, warthogs and many other animals all roam here and it is also an important site for birds and butterflies.
The Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary is linked to the park by a fenced elephant corridor which allows these African giants to travel freely between the two sites. The sanctuary was set up in 1993 to protect the elephants and their habitat and help local people to earn a better living. They manage the park and make more money this way than they did from farming. Income is put back into the community to improve education and living standards. The sanctuary is just 45km from Mombasa.
At Ngomongo Villages, a sustainable eco-tourism project on the coast 10km north of Mombasa, you can find out about Kenyan culture and the rural way of life through the nine villages located here, each with its own tribe. Ngomongo was established on reclaimed land earmarked as a rubbish dump. It has been planted with thousands of trees and is flourishing as a major tourist attraction.
For a leisurely start to your evening in Mombasa take a sunset cruise round the harbour on a dhow before enjoying some fresh seafood, Swahili-style, for dinner. Mombasa has a range of nightclubs, casinos and bars and there are also two cinemas. In Nyali there is another cinema, a six-lane bowling alley and a go-karting track.
Mombasa is actually an island reached from the mainland by a bridge to the north, a causeway to the west and by the Likoni ferry to the south. Taxis are the easiest way to travel and are easy to find outside hotels and tourist attractions. Talk to the driver and agree the price before setting off. The busy matatus (shared mini buses), tuk tuks (three-wheeled auto rickshaws) and bicycle taxis called boda-bodas are cheaper alternatives but not as comfortable.
Flights from Gatwick and Manchester Airports go directly to Mombasa's Moi International Airport. If you are travelling from Nairobi then the flight takes about an hour, or go by train if you have more time. The overnight service takes at least 12 hours but first and second class berths are available.